SEO Is Dead. Long Live, er, the Other SEO

In November 2003, the earth moved for a lot of SEO people when Google rolled out a little thing called Florida. If you think that was scary, you’re in for a much scarier ride. A couple weeks back, Google rolled out what it calls universal search. And that changes everything.

However, universal search won’t happen overnight, like Florida did. There are elements of it creeping into the results already. But for the anally retentive SEO professionals still caressing their carefully disguised CSS (define) H1 tags, you can continue to make hay (or H tags) while the sun shines. You can still convince yourself that a PageRank of seven or above will make you fit, wealthy, and more attractive to women. And that title tags hold the balance between the life and death of a Web page.

Conventional SEO wisdom says title tags should have compelling text to induce the user to click through to your page and not your competitor’s. I couldn’t agree more. Except, what if the results look like this?

Would you rather click on an appealing image or video clip (see this search for “Spider-Man 3,” complete with show times) or a text link? Or does that old-fashioned style of a crudely presented list of blue text links still seem so compelling?

If you really want to see what the future holds for presentation style that will require a whole new approach to SEO, search Ask for “Spider-Man 3.” It’s virtually a portal page on Spider-Man. With the three-column approach, I can’t imagine why I’d ever scroll down the page, let alone click through to a second (did people really click through to the second page in the Fred Flintstone SEO era?).

Like most researchers in the search space, I’ve long believed that this list of 10 blue links ranked in some sort of order has to go away. It’s just so archaic. No, it’s not going away overnight. But look at the Ask results page. Isn’t that closer to the way we should have results served?

End users are lazy and don’t have a clue what they expect to see when using search engines. I know. I’m an end user, and I’m as stupid as the next one when it comes to using search engines. But think of my delight when I throw in a vague two- to three-word query and find a page that answers even more of my potential questions before they’ve been asked.

What does it mean for SEO professionals moving forward? It means we’ve finally reached point where better marketing counts — and not H1 tags. I want my company’s site pages to be found with links to audio/visual presentations and images and blogs and…well, everything that can provide the best user experience, ever.

But, surely, I’ll still need an SEO geek to tell me really interesting stuff about search engine crawlers and load balancing and code…and z-z-z-z-z-z-z.

Recently I looked into the Google Webmaster Central accounts of one of my clients. I was surprised, delighted, and fascinated to see a note from Googlebot himself. And he told me that, if I could afford the bandwidth, he’d crawl many more of my client’s pages. All I had to do was check a radio button.

Imagine. I’m directly contacted by the Google crawler, I say yes, and the next day I have twice as many pages indexed. Why would I ever need an SEO geek again?

When getting images, A/V presentations, and, yes, your A/V advert played among the search results starts to happen (soon), isn’t it a marketer I need? I haven’t yet met a pure SEO professional who would know creative if it bit him.

Thank you, Google. Thank you even more, you lovely, innovative guys at Ask who actually have a third column to play with without going bust (as Google would if it had to abandon that third column for unpaid results).

All I ask now is that we get rid of this stupid search engine marketing/search engine optimization nomenclature that persists in this industry.

We just moved one step forward in search, and it deserves a fresh description given by real marketers. Eisenbergs, are you listening?

I’ve run out of space again. I’ll come back to the stupidity of the latent semantic indexing issue in my next column.

Meet Mike at Search Engine Strategies on June 12-13 in Toronto.

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