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SEO Is Dead, And The New King Is ‘SMO’

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Ben Elowitz (@elowitz) is co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint, a web publisher, and author of the Digital Quarters blog. Prior to Wetpaint, Elowitz co-founded Blue Nile, the online retailer of luxury goods. He is also an angel investor in various media and e-commerce companies.

Over the past five years, Web publishing has been so heavily dominated by search engine optimization (SEO) that, to many publishing executives, the right keywords have become far more important than their sites

92 Responses to “SEO Is Dead, And The New King Is ‘SMO’”

  1. Slightly hyperbolic, but directionally correct. There is certainly a trend toward social data in the future. But I’ve been thinking for over 2 years that we were headed this way and I don’t see any slow-down in Google organic searches anywhere on the horizon…

    So, overall, I agree with the directions you are noting here. But I think your time frame is WAY off. This is a very very slow migration (glacier-like). The closing statement is simply an overstatement. Yes, people should be thinking about SOCIAL. But this is not the time to drop your SEO campaign (unless YOU really want to be left behind)…

  2. What a load of rubbish, this is probably one of the most ill informed hype articles I can recollect reading.
    How can a partnership between facebook and Bing possibly mean the end of SEO when Google holds a 71.6% search share? Im sure many other SEO’s will agree, when I quote the immortal “Mr T” and tell you to “cut out the jibber jabber” and “dont be babbling like no punk”.

  3. @Jamie:

    This just happens to be the twitter account for the company and I used Disqus to log in.My Name is on the profile @Jeffrey Smith, not a spam attempt. You are drinking your own kool-aid if you think I would try to spam a blog with comments (merely a misunderstanding).

    Had you read the comment, you would have realized there was substance to the comment. In any case, this is lame (arguing with you over SMO vs. SEO). Seriously, let me know when there is something worth discussing, this was obvious link bait. Good job, it worked.

  4. If Wetpaint – or any other site – is currently seeing more referrals from Facebook than Google, I’d see that as a HUGE red flag. Facebook is definitely growing, and I’m not going to say that it won’t outpace Google someday, but even in intensely social verticals that would be a proportion that’s way off. And it’s clearly because Wetpaint has some serious SEO issues.

  5. contentnext

    @SEO Design Solutions Please use your name and not a spamy company title to make comments. I was the one who deleted your comment because it looked like spam when I was filtering through our daily comments to delete spam that go through.


  6. SEO, SMO, word manipulation, phrase manipulation…. a rose by any other name is the same BS. Meta tags used to be the be-all end-all until they were relentlessly abused and became irrelevant spam. Eventually to become completely ignored by the indexers. SEO has been the dominant method of traffic manipulation over the last few years and the search engines are constantly coming up with new formulas to evaluate the BS and thwart it. It is no surprise that the first websites listed in many searches these days are worthless. Sometimes they are simply lists of lists. I’m sure that Google, Bing and the other multi-million dollar search engines don’t appreciate the manipulation — but the SEO’s are selling clients on their services through fear; fear of their competition doing it first — and that’s what keeps this market thriving and that’s what keeps messing up the Internet. It has gotten to the point where it is necessary to dig into the fourth or fifth page of search engine returns to find something that is truly relevant and useful.

    Now SMO is set to become the new BUZZ for getting a message out? What message is that? The list makers and the spammers have already infiltrated that arena too. In fact Facebook and it’s constant inane/insane games, polls and other ridiculous activities is part of the problem — harvesting responses for their advertisers and for future use.

  7. Joseph Q

    Hi Ben,

    Well, I’d say that I agree partially with you. Of course, is impossible to deny the power of social networks. And if you got good content, surely that’s going to be shared among users. But content produced at social networks themselves still seems kind of “shallow” in terms of quality content, if you know what I mean.

    Particularly, if I’m looking for a brand new notebook my destination are the search engines. That way, I can set some parameters to find precisely what I’m looking for. For instance, specific features within a given range of price.

    Besides, I’m able to find reviews and experiences posted by experts and geeks spread out through specialized sites and boards. This kind of information is quite valuable for me in order to define what product I’m going to buy.

  8. Ben, not quite sure why you deleted my last comment. I was merely highlighting the fact that this SMO vs. SEO “The sky is falling” Chicken Little approach and proclaiming the end of one traffic source being eclipsed by another is a blatant link-bait attempt.

    I have been in the SEO space since 1995 and seen a lot of fads come and go from Excite, hotbot, lycos, Yahoo, Angelfire, and dozens of others. But to say SEO is dead because Google finally has a challenger as a traffic source is a bit (in my opinion) over the top.

    I didn’t come here to bash you or your post, but in all fairness I would take a consumer “in purchase mode” from a search engine vs. a Facebook reader “who might be click happy to vote up a post” but then go right back to what they were doing “which doesn’t put money in the bank”.

    Don’t get me wrong, social media is fine (for socializing) but I honestly don’t see how you can compare apples to oranges and make a bold statement like that on a whim with a few traffic stats from a few select properties.

    If you test what you proclaim (and use conversions as a baseline) I would love to see your published results of SEO vs. SMO from the perspective of profitability and conversion.

    Until then, this is sensationalism at its best, and I may as well panic and just stop conquering competitive vertical online markets now (and start buying Facebook ads).

  9. I always have to laugh when I read posts like this.. because it’s always such a great marketing post and it’s clear why it’s being written. I just have to wonder why it’s not clear to so many responders?

    Great post. Mission accomplished, Ben. ;)

  10. Great link bait article, SEO is dead…..again. Why does SEO always have to die, lmao, how come it can’t work in cahoots with other forms of marketing? It can, and does, and IMO a smart online campaign incorporates both SEO,Social Media and other forms of online marketing. Enough with the hype, its comedy if nothing else.

  11. SEO (google) = Answer Now
    SMO (fb,twitt) = Answer Maybe

    Is the world that patient?

    Not me.

    SEO > SMO = (that post would not have gotten my a (google alert) attention

    SEO+SMO = stronger relationship, not death of one over the other, (but that would have slipped by my vfisual filter also).

    Interesting thoughts though Ben.

  12. SNEMarketing: Thanks for the comment, but don’t forget that SMO is all about focusing on the customer, which is about the most sound place to start you can imagine.

    Darrin and Karthik, thanks – and you’re right. But the news is actually good news for people who have been in the SEO business. Now they have a chance to help their clients and employers truly succeed by leading the SMO wave. As for why ‘SMO’ rather than ‘SMM’, social media marketing has seem to come to mean everything to everybody and it’s a problem. But my focus is on getting media properties to reenvision what it means to succeed in a new digitally- and socially-wired world – and whatever monikers help us get there the better.

    Nuttakorn, don’t confuse the goal with the tactics. The goal (for media) is to engage and monetize audience. Getting exposure in search is just one way to move in that direction. And it’s a pretty limited way.

    Ed, Jesseluna, Aarn, Tampa, Cheryl, Nathan: thanks for the comments and links.


  13. Ben,

    I work for Meteor Solutions, and we’re in the thick of measuring this stuff every day. I agree, SMO is the way forward– I posted a full response:

    I wanted to pull a few of those numbers, though just to help prove your point:

    1) sharing drives approximately the same traffic as search, but these users convert at a 1.5-4x higher rate (i.e. they buy more, view more videos, etc.).

    2) Some traffic sources can drive 10-20x the traffic when counting sharing, e.g. a niche blog can drive a huge amount of traffic through sharing, but that won’t show up in the direct traffic.

  14. James Burns

    SEO combined with SMO is current you need to use both to run a successful
    business platform. Alot of the current market is so far behind the trends it’s
    not even funny. Facebook is great… however from a business owner’s standpoint
    most dont use it. I am out everyday talking about all of it and see the response.
    They will all need to be combined to be successful currently SEO, SEM & SMO.
    I am sure this will be more defined in the next few years but we are in the now….

  15. Good SEO has ALWAYS been about content. I wish I had a dime for every time someone claimed SEO was dead. Come on, can we admit that SEO is evolving and will continue to evolve? Now SEO incorporates elements of social media. Great. That doesn’t make it anymore dead than when airplanes became jet planes. Evolution, not extinction.

  16. Thats is plain wrong. SEO (search) is very important if you want your customers to be able to find you. Dont you use Google anymore?

    There are no Kings, every tactic should be part of an holistic strategy where every bit counts.

  17. SEO is DEAD!!! Long Live SEO!!

    I’ll agree 100% with Bill Slawski. Ben I assume you’ve read a post or two on his blog? People continue to sing the song of how SEO is dead… but, Google’s still one of the few companies that continue to show profits. Facebook continue to not make money… why? Because as Garrett Smith pointed out, it’s all about intent. People visit Facebook, Twitter or any other social medium to socialise. When people are hitting a search engine they want a genuine answer/product.

    I’d rather go and chase the market (even if it is smaller) which is more likely to convert.

    Last point, “SMO” or I prefer “SMM” should have been part of a complete online marketing plan from the get go. Any website that chases only a single source of traffic will and always has struggled to be successful.

  18. SMO should be sub-set in SEO in off-page optimization process. SEO is not dead. You need to get the strong fundamental such as Site Structure, Content, Keywords, before you get the back links via SMO. First mission for SEO is making the website to be crawl-able and indexable , without these two, you will get any exposure in search engine result.

  19. Ben is on to something, though the SEO IS / IS NOT DEAD argument is not a particularly productive framework for discussion. In my mind, two important points are clear:

    (1) Many people are finding much of the content they need on social networks, where others have shared it. As this shared / LIKEd content makes its way into search, traditional SEO will be disrupted. The Facebook/Bing partnership already carves out a special place on page 1 for social content, and I think everyone can agree that more product developments are on the way.

    (2) At the same time, traditional SEO cannot be ignored. Search engines will not simply stop using page rank and switch to social content – they will develop hybrid strategies that rely on both algorithmic and human input.

    I’ve written more about the consquences of the Bing / Facebook partnership for commerce here:

  20. The web on the whole is becoming more organic. And that’s the tipping point.
    People are more attuned now to the idea of discovering content through sources other than search engines. My inference from experience is that, this shift is a pleasant change.

    And Ben, you are right about facebook being the start page :)
    in fact it’s more than a start page, it’s an ecosystem.

    People will talk about search engines, and they will talk about SEO, about keywords, link backs and web copy. These are the people who are feeding the bots to feed themselves.

    Though SEO isn’t nailed in the coffin and significant money is still spent on it, the media spend chart is more friendly with the idea of creating content that people can use and share, and in finding and friending real people.

    I wish someone someday throws light on how nasty the search advertising world is; Google included. They do, do evil.

    p.s: why is it being called SMO ? I would prefer a more organic term, Social Media Marketing.

  21. Ben,

    I don’t know what “intentionally left blank” supposed to mean but you could have kept such sentiment to yourself. SMO has long been established before you wrote this article and SEO has been debunked over 7 years ago very quickly as quack science.

    Until anyone can come with any true methodologies instead trying to create a circling wagon to protect misleading people with SEO (FTC sued plenty of SEO people by the way), then this discussion is just people engaged in social chatter.

  22. When an entire industry becomes known by the phrase, “I can get your site to be #1 in Google for $300 a month” that industry is in trouble. Strategic analysis of the intended audience dictates intelligent, focused content that yields results, whether in social media or search engine results pages. There are no shortcuts, no automations, no quick fixes for anything in life or the internet (which may be same thing to many.) Remaining focused while creating content is the right way to get results.

  23. Great post, Ben. I think you are making SEO “experts” a little worried. However, SEO will still be required (to a certain degree) just not viewed as the “one ring to rile them all” as was previously thought. SMO will obviously play a huge factor in future search, especially as developers/businesses start utilizing Facebook’s Open Graph protocol.

  24. Tim, thanks for the comment.

    Mr Branson, everything you comment on assumes the search engine is the customer. It’s not. For media companies, success is cued to reaching an audience, and a distributor like a search engine is only an intermediary.

    Michael L, while search will still certainly fulfill a need, increasgly success as a media company means getting the right content to a user BEFORE they search for it. We haven’t had such an incredible opportunity to do that in the 15 years of online media as now that hundreds of millions of people plug into a social stream to discover what’s important. And media titles can be part of that stream. If they’re not, they’ll be trees falling in the forest for most people.

    Maddmatt, those who are using Facebook and social media optimization well are taking advantage of the Facebook and social environments as a way to acquire consumers for life. That’s where the power has been in my experience. And you’re right: a fully integrated program can’t be beat.

  25. I think SEO is changing. SEO tied to excellent quality is a good combination. Tied to reputable sources, it makes for a great combination. There are still a lot of ways to game social media sites by using SEO. For example, last night there was a big bruhaha over a MarieClaire article which had disparaging remarks about “fatties” (the author’s words, not mine). I did a Twitter search to get more info and saw dozens of Twitter accounts spitting out the same link to a lame SEO ad focused site. It took a lot of digging to get to a good quality source sites. This is the same problem as doing a Google search over other breaking news.

  26. Garrett, yes, I’m talking specifically about media here. Increasingly, Facebook is the new ‘start’ page – for EVERYTHING. The importance of that for media can’t be overstated: the ‘start page’ for people’s day a generation ago was the morning paper; now it is Facebook.

    For media companies, having your content and brand featured in people’s Facebook feeds is the key to earning them as habitual audience.

    Jurgen, thank you for your comments. There are too many media companies that look to SEO as a ‘shortcut’ to get them traffic, instead of focusing on the customer.

    Terry, for media properties, there is nothing more valuable than building a brand. Facebook presents a far better opportunity to build a loyal, habitual audience than search engines do.

    Khemraj, the customer should be the base of every activity. SEO is not a customer. SEO is just a set of distribution ploys.

    Thanks for the comments, Searchbrat, Steffen and SEOvalencia.

  27. Show me someone who says SMO don’t work and I’ll show you someone who can’t explain how US President Barack Obama is able to get the word out quickly and effeciently to his base.

    Here is a real world test for you – a new Facebook app called “commit to vote” just came out and last week, I received over 50 direct messages from friends and colleagues asking me if I’m commited to vote. I have a feeling this may change things come next Tuesday?

    50 of my friends telling me to do something versus SEO quackery…does this really merit a debate?

    • But if I want to buy a bicycle chain how does Social Media help me with that? I can go to Google, type the name of my bike and the words “buy bike chain” and come up with 50 pages where I can immediately purchase what I want. How will social media change that? It won’t. Social media is great for content like LOLCat videos, but not for widgets. I’ve never Stumbled Upon a bike chain.