Innovate or Die: the Changing Face of SEO

In a recent article called The Diminishing Value of the SEO Shop, Clickz’s Mike Grehan predicts the end of the SEO firm as we know it. As search engines become increasing complex, Grehan says, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to rank using “textbook SEO”, or the basics of search engine optimization. Yet people are still employing these tactics. Who? Small shops of highly technical professionals with little marketing experience, and small business owners who buy their books for less than $100 US and attempt to do it themselves typically use these practices.

The search engines are innovating, Grehan says, and though the SEO shops are doing their jobs by providing technical consulting, it’s becoming clear to Grehan that is not going to be enough to succeed in an evolving search landscape. In this sense, he’s basically echoing Gord Hotchkiss, who made this point in his Search Insider article Search Engines Innovate, Why Not SEMs? last July.

Grehan’s right about much of his article, including this last point; but his claim about the value of the SEO Shop is only accurate if you believe an SEO company is “doing its job” by providing technical consulting rather than obtaining qualified traffic from search engines. Search engine optimization, by nature, or at least as we see it at Resolution Media, is at its core about optimizing content to maximize profit from search engines. And it’s a constant challenge to achieve that given the tendency of this industry to change. In the past it may have been enough to stuff your meta tags full of irrelevant, high volume keywords or get in thousands of low-quality directories or implement a large scale paid link campaign in order to rank well, for example; but that’s clearly no longer the case. Prior to the launch of Universal Search in May of 2007, it may not have been necessary to optimize different types of content or to think about a user’s query intent in order to optimize content to maximize profit from search engines, but that also has changed. By nature in this industry, the technologies and the signals used to index and rank pages are going to change, and SEO companies that can’t keep up are undoubtedly doomed to fail. But SEO companies that don’t provide value to the client, and look at SEO more as technical than a marketing discipline, or whose only value-add is their intricate knowledge of SEO for Dummies, have probably failed already.

So while I agree with Grehan’s thesis that the old school SEO-only shop that fails to integrate with other forms of marketing and that delivers a highly technical solution while failing to innovate in step with the needs of the clients and the developments of the search engines is ultimately doomed to extinction, I for one think it’s better off dead. Those of us in SEO Shops who live to create value for clients are more than up to the challenge.

Posted by: Bryson Meunier, Product Champion, Natural Search


joie said...

quite an interesting article. i will guess that a lot of folks will choose 'die' as opposed to 'innovate.' but then again, i'm a cynic.

and on the topic of innovation, may i congratulate you all on this blog. what a clever idea, the blog. corporate blogs are where it's at.

bokumbop said...

Bryson, great point. I recently read elsewhere, likely inspired by the same article, that search agencies could be headed for a smaller scale dot-com bust of its time. Partly because not all can remain relevant over time, and partly because clients are finally wising up to the fact that they're needs aren't being met. And, it's a business reality. Leaving search out as a one-off cost isn't going to fly as organzations develop spend management and sourcing strategies mandating integration.

Search agencies that grow and build comprehensive, turnkey competencies, or can fully integrate into/with full-service marketing organizations stand a better chance of surviving overall. It will only benefit clients and our industry overall. We know firsthand that multiple channels impact each others' ability to reach their full potential. And, it affords the search agency to transcend to the next (and more interesting, IMO) realm - not only capitalization of existing demand, but demand creation, breathing life into brands. (...enter social media)

Great post.

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