I was reading a thread at a big webmaster forum yesterday which made the claim that "SEO is dead." Now, it's hard to say whether or not the original poster was being serious or sarcastic, but he referenced some other news he'd been reading on a few authority sites that made the "dead" claim.
The notion was that, because of the prevalence of Web 2.0 community sites, the idea of needing to optimize for any of the engines was going away -- and fast. The idea was also put forth by another poster that, because of the huge number of content management systems that are already setup to be "search engine friendly", the need to have any additional knowledge to rank well was quickly diminishing. Just search for "seo is dead" in Google and you'll find many people expressing the same ideas.
My answer to all this? Poppycock.
First, while it is true that there are many CMS programs that are search engine friendly out of the box, on-page factors matter so little to ranking (at least in Google) that even if the on-page playing field was leveled, it would make little difference in the current search engine results.
Second, SEO is about far more than just what's on the page. The way you analyze what keywords are worth optimizing for, the way you write the content around those keywords, and the links you get to the pages that you want to rank for those keywords all have a large role to play in how much traffic you get from the search engines -- and that analysis takes specialized knowledge. Anyone can learn to do it, but it does have to be learned.
Third, and most importantly, Web 2.0 is nice, and sites that revolve around that kind of community are huge traffic mongers (e.g. YouTube), but there will always be a need for full-text indexing of the web.
Seriously, does anyone go to YouTube to find information on important topics like cancer treatments or solar power or mortgage refinancing? Uh, no. Does anyone go to Facebook or MySpace or Friendster for any of those important searches? Hardly. As for Twitter... how much serious information can you put into 140 characters?
The only real Web 2.0 contender I've seen in those areas is Wikipedia. However, I have never seen a "how to" article in Wikipedia. I've never seen a review of a commercial product there, either -- just two of the many very large markets that info-sites like Wikipedia have no share in.
To understand why many people will never rely on Web 2.0 properties for important queries, hop over to Yahoo Answers and read some of the responses to the questions asked there. Many answers are completely devoid of referenced facts. Some are barely legible. Others are clearly written by teenagers -- or people who have the mentality of teenagers anyway. That's not the kind of resource folks will turn to for serious inquiries.
No, people will still go to the big search engines which, hopefully, will rank pages from sites that demonstrate some kind of authority in such matters.
This whole "SEO is dead" foolery reminds me of the popular idea going around some years ago that "print is dead." The thought was that because computers are so commonplace now, people would stop buying books. After all, it's so much easier to search through information on a computer, and it's faster and cheaper to produce books on a computer, so people would in time stop reading physical books.
That was more than 20 years ago. Have people stopped reading books? Let's see. In 2007 Barnes & Noble sold $4.68 billion in books. Borders sold $3.41 billion. Amazon, $4.63 billion. According to Reuters Entertainment, the UK publishes 206,000 new titles per year. The USA publishes 172,000 per year. So much for print being dead, right?
Web 2.0 sites are good sources of traffic, and are not to be dismissed when planning your site's traffic-generation campaigns, especially if you are in a niche that caters to the kind of content readily found on such sites. But to drop all efforts at ranking in the search engines because Web 2.0 sites are popular would be a serious mistake. I daresay that most of the people who are serious about buying aren't the kind of folks who would turn to such sites for advice or direction. They'll go to the search engines -- and our sites will be waiting for them.
It really seems to me that the folks crying "SEO is dead" are the folks who have been unwilling or unable to do what it takes to rank well in the search engines. They want SEO to die because they think it will be better for them. They feel that Google and the other big engines will eventually include social media sites into their search algorithms, and then all those optimized sites will drop out of the rankings.
But guess what? SEOs have been using social media sites to improve their ranking for years! And if Google ever does include social media ratings and rankings in their algorithm, how long do you think it will take the SEO crowd to start finding ways to improve their social media rankings and improve their search engine results? Yup, SEO may change a bit, but it will still be alive and well.
But hey, I hope folks take this "SEO is dead" nonsense seriously and drop out of the competition. That makes more room for us to step in and get their traffic, right?
Please post your thoughts in a comment below.