Are Search Engines Here to Stay?

Richard Hoy voiced his opinion on search engine optimization (SEO) a couple of weeks ago. He stated the whole business model has a limited lifespan, suggesting major engines will no longer index web sites. In fact, he guarantees “that a year from now, sorting through raw search results will be a minor way for consumers to find things on the Internet.”

Hoy sees the dynamics of search engine optimization strategies running counter to what search engines are trying to do (i.e., deliver results based on quality of content), further stating that “search engine marketing companies are only interested in delivering results based on who’s paying.” He sees search engine marketing firms’ goals as “antagonistic” to search engines’ goals.

Hoy describes search engine marketing firms as “those companies that for a per-click fee, will optimize your position in the major search engines,” later stating that these firms focus on “beating the system.”

Lastly, Hoy thinks a budget for search engine marketing is better spent a few different ways, like “dumping it into an affiliate program. Or seeking out comarketing arrangements…”

I’d like to present a different viewpoint. Having been a search engine specialist since 1995, I’d like to paint a kinder, gentler picture of the SEO industry. This is an industry without standards or regulation, and it’s evolving at warp speed, like everything else on the web. It’s one where there are both responsible businesses and rogue operators.

Are All SEO Firms Alike?

I don’t believe the work performed by search engine marketing firms is “antagonistic to search engine goals.” It’s true that in the early days there were probably more scam operators than authentic search engine specialists, and there are still plenty of questionable operators out there today using shoddy techniques. But lumping all SEO firms into one unfavorable category is simply misleading.

Let’s talk about the search engine marketing firms that are reputable. There are plenty of them out there. They are working long hours on client accounts, complying with search engine regulations, and getting clients registered in the major search engines and in the human directories as well.

Most reputable firms will first visit the client site and optimize its pages. They’ll list clients in all industry-specific directories if applicable. They frown on automated software, knowing that manual registration is the only sure way of listing and positioning a client’s web site. They’ll later verify that the client is registered in the top engine databases. They will track and report the client’s listings, even show the client a screen shot of it. This is the way search engine optimization should be performed, in my opinion.

I do not believe the work performed by my firm is “antagonistic” to any search engine’s goals. Why? The clients I have want to be found on major search engines and directories, and they pay us a fee to make sure this happens. We find the right keyword phrases through which the client’s web site can be found, and we optimize the site so it will be indexed. We also list clients on directories, following specific procedures, and calling a category editor when necessary.

In so doing, we are not only helping our client, but we’re also helping the end user and the search engine or directory. The search engines and directories want to index or register relevant commercial information for their users. The users are looking for specific products and like to find them on the first few pages. It’s a win-win-win, not work that’s antagonistic to anyone’s goals.

Reputable search engine marketing firms do not charge per click-through and are not confrontational with search engines. Such firms build traffic for clients who think the rates are reasonable; otherwise, they wouldn’t purchase these services. It’s similar to the traffic you get from affiliate programs, comarketing arrangements, and banner ads, except that search engine traffic is known to be highly qualified, perhaps making it more valuable.

But it’s hard to prove any one marketing tool is more cost-effective than another. I would simply question whether small-business firms are better off with affiliates and comarketing deals than with search engine optimization. Ideally, these firms should try all three.

Is the SEO Business Model Viable?

It’s hard to believe the SEO business model has a limited lifespan. If so, why are we constantly bombarded with research findings revealing that the majority of people find sites through search engines and that search engine strategies are among the most successful marketing methods used? For example, here are a few of the latest stats I’ve gathered from various industry news sources.

Ever since GVU’s 4th WWW User Survey (in 1995), study after study after study have shown that more people find web sites through search engines than by any other method. So I find it hard to believe that search engines will disappear off the face of the web. Both search engines and directories will continue to evolve as part of the web culture.

ClickZ readers, what do you think? Do you believe that a year from now, few people will be looking for products and services on search engines? Ping me. My hunch is that people like doing what they’re used to doing it’s called habit. People have been using search engines since the web was spun and will continue to do so as the web matures.

Search engine optimization is a viable marketing strategy that has been used successfully by savvy marketers to help launch online brands for some time now. There’s a place for it in every integrated marketing plan, even those of small businesses. I look forward to the day when the industry can standardize terms and define best practices.

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