4 thoughts on “The Growing Irrelevance of SEO

  1. I’m still waiting for the expression, “Search Engine Optimization,” to be flushed out of existence and use. We need a new way of talking about human emphasis and metadata expansion, as you’ve made a case for. As long as “SEO” keeps circulating in literature, microcopy, and as key terms and tags of every kind, there will always be confusion at both client and provider ends. Businesses will always be misguided by the label, and misguided SEO providers will look for easy wins where content strategy hasn’t been introduced.

    I’ve experienced the damage that “SEO” has done to the minds of business owners. I’ve had one too many clients tell me, the strategy service provider, that I need to go back and stuff “search terms” into the delicious and vibrant copy I produced (among other things), because, you know, it’s not search-friendly enough. I can only assume these clients have either read some tired articles from questionable sources about search engine optimization on their own, or have had misguided “SEO” help a some point in the past. Either way, they drank the Kool-Aid; they stubbornly believe that what they learned before is the right way and won’t listen to new counsel, even when they’ve hired it. After all, “SEO” must be the right way, it’s shouted to the heavens by everyone and their pimply-faced cousin. Clearly we need more convincing resources and information to help show clients like this that what they’ve been told before (and maybe keep getting told) is no longer accurate.

    Does a new field need to emerge? Does it spin off from “SEO” crowds, or comes from the ranks of CS people specializing in metadata? Or is this another area IA can claim (we’re talking about taxonomies, after all)? Ugh! Regardless of what discipline “owns it,” the old tired “SEO” expression needs to dry up. I think a new name would probably help bury the old one faster because people need something to use, after all, to explain things in simpler ways. A new name would better reflect the human and extended metadata focus, or at least de-emphasize the “search engine” focus. Metadata Optimization (MO) seems pretty good to me.

    And now I need to read up on schema.org and API relationships. 😉

  2. Chapeau!
    After seven years of solid SEO work I have turned my back almost completely on the industry – in most parts because of the problems that you pinpoint. And I do not seem to be a single case. True, a lot of SEO consultants simply sell outdated services rebranded as content this or that (marketing, strategy or a combination of both and other empty terms). But I have the feeling that there is a growing community of search marketers who clearly understand the limits of what they were doing and what they can bring to the table in modern digital marketing practices. But these are usually skills not really inherent in SEO like analytics and such.
    Again: You have crafted a really great critical review of the current state and problems of the industry!

  3. Hi Michael,

    Interesting article and you make some good points. One clarification I hope to clear up is that as that as the author of the article on Moz you referenced, I never once encouraged folks to measure TF-IDF to “help” Google. Although I can understand why it might have been interpreted that way (my bad for not being more clear). My purpose in explaining how search engines might use TF-IDF was to combat the outdated notion of keyword density, and to encourage people to write “like humans for humans,” instead of writing for search engines.

    On this point, I believe we’re in agreement.

    1. Hi Cyrus, Thanks for reading my article and for your comments. I appreciate that someone as familiar with SEO as you found it made some good points. It certainly wasn’t my intention to nitpick a specific wording in your article. While I cited your article, I was making a more general point about writing by SEO consultants on semantic search. I’m gratified to hear when SEO consultants recommend that authors write naturally. I have been troubled, however, by a number of articles in recent weeks on Moz and elsewhere that seem to provide advice on how to prepare content for semantic search. These are not just articles that explain what semantic search is, or how it is supposed to work, but actually are prescriptive. I consider some of the advice to be essentially editorial: telling authors how to organize what they write about, or the range of topics they cover, in order to satisfy Google. This kind of editorial advice goes well beyond technical advice about anchor text.

      I’m aware Google search doesn’t favor “thin” content, but I hope that well-produced content is recognized by Google has credible without the need for special tactics to bulk it up. I hate to think the presumption is that an author’s content is thin. If it’s poor quality to start with, I don’t know that SEO measures will help it much.

      Thanks again for your comments, and I apologize to make remarks that are well beyond the scope of what you wrote about — I just wanted to provide you with a bit more context about my perceptions.

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