What the Hell is SEO Now Anyway?

Posted in Rants, SEM Poetry Slam

The disdain on their faces is usually palpable.  I’ve been experiencing subtle Facebook derision from mainstream SEOs now for two years. Last week’s edition was a conversation with Greg Boser, President and CEO – 3 Dog Media, a new friend and brilliant speaker on the SMX Search Marketing Conference series circuit.

Dude is a salty-dog SEO genius. However, as we each shared what we were planning to discuss with Australian conference attendees, I had barely started when Greg made it clear, with nary a word, that Facebook demographic segments are a bunch of bullshit.  He actually squinted when I referred to Facebook “organic” as “SEO.” Go figure…

I didn’t take it personally. I never do.  Lots of SEOs have shot me similar vibes. Greg is representative of a generation of classic SEOs pioneers ranging from Todd Malicoat, Michael Gray, Aaron Wall to Todd Friesen, Andy Beard, Mike Grehan & Bruce Clay. Even PPC gurus like Andrew Goodman have dutifully curled their lips at me whilst I blissfully evangelized Facebook.

Don’t hate ‘em for that,  FB marketing fans. Not many in our industry were taking Facebook seriously compared to Google in 2007.  At that point I was busy blogging to (mostly) nobody with such semi-classics as Hail Mary Facebook Ads Saved Christmas and Does Facebook Social PPC Belong at Search Marketing Conferences. In 2008 when the late FB product Lexicon made me publicly giddy for all its demographic research prowess, it seemed like barely anybody cared.

Hey All You Dudes, now Facebook is up yer’ snoots. Like it our not, Facebook organic is SEO.

The SEO Pie Is Bigger Now
Look, Google is a channel not a strategy-a place where we market to users asking specific questions by their typing in a box and pressing “submit.”  For the last decade organic and paid “search” have ruled the roost.  Google is the last search-super power standing, at least for now. The art and science of so-called “SEO” has always been about prominence in search engines. Thus our industry’s true moniker was born. SEM means search engine marketing.

Marketers were first drawn to social media centering on participation’s propensity to index in engines’ organic SERPs (search engine results pages).  SEOs and reputation managers have been playing a social profile’s tendency to index in organic SERPs for years now. That’s because using social media profiles for SEO is low hanging fruit. In  those early days conversational marketers didn’t quite have enough volume of users. The “inventory,” as represented by hundreds of millions of fanatical users, was  somewhere else… asking questions of search engines.  Now there are 400 million people in Facebook just hanging out.

SEO Just Grew Another Head
Enter Facebook. The statistics are mind-boggling.  Google is no longer the undisputed king of American traffic, engagement and loyalty.  Over coming weeks and months, we’ll all hear about “best practices this” or “research that” for optimizing fan pages, events, people (yep, optimized people), groups, status updates, etc… Facebook is, like, half the Internet.  Ironically, we have reasonable cause to believe that, on a number of levels, FB shows tremendous promise in the local space… a nut no search engine has ever effectively cracked.

Meanwhile, third parties ranging from Yelp, Yahoo! Mail and YouTube all clamor like rats to grab a piece of the 400 million fanatical user-mashup pie.  Dial in a heaping doseof incestuous-fan page-status-update-real-time-searches indexing in engines, and there’s really a case to be made that Facebook-organic is SEO too, boys and girls.

Adding stew to the soup, Facebook has blown the hell out of SEO by way of these insidious and lovely social pluginsMarketers now must concern themselves with research-driven usage of the social participation channels, without being full of shit. That sounds a like classic SEO to me :) .

Privacy Matters
Most Facebook users probably don’t know that clicking on an ad in the right hand sidebar easily results in our knowing exactly who they are, their progression within our website’s content and other stunning, albeit intrusive, behavioral insights. Your mom  doesn’t know that participating on websites mashed up with Facebook Social Plugs results in reveals her booty of interests for the entire world to see.

Personally I hate Facebook for these reasons. I only use the service to mirror restaurant-food-picture-from-around-the-world-tweets to my family and a few friends. I think privacy features are way too complicated for the average user.  It’s possible to clamp down the privacy settings as deeply restricted as possible, and still expose some profile attributes to complete strangers.

Reciprocally, ethical marketers like us can mine that data and leverage it for friending, leads, sales and other KPIs (key performance indicators). Dude, we’re all for privacy but if users are going to give us this data, we’re going to respectfully market to them. The problem is with affiliate dickheads who make hay on the backs of unsuspecting users.   It’s funny to think of Matt Cutts and other Google engineers quitting Facebook publicly. Really, who gives a shit? Where the rubber meets the road is that YouTube uses Facebook Share Buttons. YouTube is owned by Google. Go figure….

SEO Means Any Attainable Organic Search Result, Independent of a Specific Channel.

Facebook is an ecosystem sporting both organic contextual (fan pages, events, groups, profiles, apps’ & other participatory nodes) and paid contextual (Facebook PPC, MS brokered ads & Google Content Network). Organic nodes are fueled by participation and whole-hearted adoption of Facebook tools to organize a sharing community of real people.  Paid channels are all about mining extremely personal user attributes and serving highly-focused walk-by traffic.

Search Engine Optimization isn’t just for search engines. The moniker has grown to mean much more. SEO means optimizing content that appears any place people hang out.  However, if you must have that “search-in-a-box” mentality, simply start with  Facebook’s internal search engine focused on people, fan pages, apps, etc… greet that query with prominence advised by research. That’s SEO.

Then, get used to the idea of optimization of organic contextual.  There are so many people walking by so much content in Facebook that valuable collateral interrupt-marketing can be highly targeted and made more compelling by “SEO.” Trust me dude, the whole world is going to be making sure their events and fan pages are “optimized” soon enough.

Say it’s not really SEO. Say it’s called mango chutney IT botany. Whatever… just don’t call me late for dinner.  There’s little time for semantic disagreements amongst pundits. SEO only focused on Google will be relegated to being SEO for half the Internet. Even so, Facebook organic contextual will index more in traditional search engines as the social graph advises those precious Google & Bing algorithms. The question begs to be asked: What the hell is SEO now anyway?

Additional Resources:

Picture “Where the Hell Did YOU Come From?” courtesy of Lauren Litwinka (@beebow)
  • Danny Sullivan

    Almost agree with you, Marty:

    “Search Engine Optimization isn’t just for search engines. The moniker has grown to mean much more. SEO means optimizing content that appears any place people hang out.”

    What I’ve always said is search marketing means targeting people anywhere they express a search intent. Often, this is done through a search box. But you bring up TV listings on your DirectTV guide? That’s a search — so where do those listings come from, and how do you get present within them. You want to find a restaurant and start browsing listings using Urbanspoon on the iPhone? Again, that’s a search — even if no keywords were issued — so a good search marketer understands how to show up within them.

    So SEO is for search engines — it’s just that people often limit the definition of search engines to mean something with a search box and/or Google. Instead, it’s anything that allows people to find something. SEOs understand how to show up in the free listings provided in such places. Search marketers understand how to show up in either the free or paid listings.

    Simple as that.

    • Marty Weintraub

      @dannysullivan: Yep, dude I was thinking of our conversation way-back-when about what is “search” and what is not.

      You wrote“So SEO is for search engines — it’s just that people often limit the definition of search engines to mean something with a search box and/or Google.”

      That’s how to think about it. Now I call “SEM” “online marketing.” There are basically two flavors of online marketing, search and contextual. These two main types have two sub-types, organic & paid. It’s as easy as that.

      Classic social media by participation is organic contextual. AdWords has both search and contextual products. Facebook has organic contextual, paid contextual and also a small but growing paid & organic search. Thanks for stopping by Danny. We missed you in Sydney and look forward to SMX London & SMX Advanced coming up in Seattle. Cheers mate!

  • Will Scott

    Marty,

    You’re beautiful!

    So seriously, this is really timely. We were talking today about the need to segment tracking from Facebook “PPC” and Facebook “Organic”. For tracking purposes – particularly when introducing rubber to road – it’s meaningless to look at the Facebook channel as one big homogeneous entity.

    I completely agree that it’s time we broaden our definition. For a long time I’ve tried to take the high road describing what we do as “online marketing” or “internet marketing” and I’m flummoxed when I have to go deeper. They say “what’s that?” and I say “you know Google”?

    But the reality is I can now say “You know Facebook” because when Facebook is big enough to be the 3rd largest country on the planet the answer is “Yes”! They definitely know Facebook. And instead of being purpose driven like when they’re on Google, they’re hanging out – easy picking for smart marketers.

    And to Danny’s point, just because they didn’t type words into a search box, the demographics tell us what they would probably search for if they had.

    All hail the nomenclature change.

    Long live “online marketing”.

    Will

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Will Scott: Well said friend. What’s fascinating is how both organic and paid in FB have a good propensity to propagate by going viral. It’s a pleasure serving targeted paid contextual “walk-by” ads in a space where it’s easy to send along to yer mum. :) . Also don’t forget that Facebook has a search engine inside and it’s foolish to think that FB is not thinking how to leverage it. FB internal search is growing. There’s not much question to my mind that optimizing for discoverability in FBs engine for events, apps, groups, fan pages, people etc… IS SEO. It’s an engine. There’s a box. Someone types and presses submit.

      We’ve been attributing “intent” to social segments for years now. It’s a no brainer that a b2b businesses can brand followed by direct response to users who self-identify as hard core tradespeople. Let the bells ring out. Long live SEO. THAT’S what the hell SEO is. Thanks for stopping by Will. I’m very much looking forward to speaking with you at “Advanced.”

  • JP

    I really wish I understood this more fully, but I can get the basics I think. Facebook is more and more open to being harvested for consumer/user data and obviously, lots of cross pollination with other sites on the web, remote “like” buttons nad all of that. Am I catching a portion of your drift there?

    This is so fascinating I really wish that I understood it better.

    Earlier this evening my wife and I were talking about a friend she has kind of lost touch with I was surprised because I know they are good friends. She said “we used to be really close … on myspace.” As tacky as that sounds, I relate. I used to be “close” with many people on myspace, too. Several years ago Myspace was a pretty alive social network, now its like a qhost town. I even saw a funny you tube video about the death of myspace that made fun of people who still had accounts (I won’t post a link here since I’m not sure if that is allowed.) Anyway, my question as a total layperson is … What happens if the 400 million Facebook users begin to migrate elsewhere in response to the deeper and deeper commercialism or data mining. It really turns a lot of people off. You said yourself that you hate it for that reason and that you only use it with family and a few friends now.

    So … isn’t that essentially what killed Myspace? Commercialism, data miners, hackers and p@rn bots? I think I understand the outline of the new opportunity you are excited about (and I am excited, too it’s not a bigger piece of the pie, it’s like a massive NEW pie.) but what if in 2yrs, facebook becomes another has-been social network like MySpace is now?

  • Kathy Jalivay

    Marty, oh Marty I love this post…. even I get it – every day I am amazed at your insight!

    This past week a girl friended my son who lives in the Phillipinnes and told him she wasn’t wearing any panties… ummm he is 13 and doesn’t know anyone in the Phillipinnes, I think I need a lesson on how to set those privacy settings..

    OH BTW I blocked her…. please don’t tell me that doesn’t work

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Kathy Jalivay: Thanks. Earlier in the life of aimClear Blog, I went off on tangential rants more. Lately I’ve been a bit more corporate. It’s good for the heart to go off. Sometimes a rant is good. So far as privacy settings, blocking the user will probably work :). Thanks for chiming in here in this thread. We’re glad the post resonated.

      @JP: Facebook cleaned up a lot of the shit before it blew out way mainstream. It will be a constant cat and mouse game forever. If you build it someone will spam it. So far as the creep factor, right, it’s real. However, keep in mind that FB, albeit an awesome social tool, is free software. By using it, we submit to FB terms of services, written by a legal team managed by Mark Z, a dude who says the age of privacy is dead. Funny, Google is looking pretty much do-no-evil compared.

  • Dana Lookadoo

    Did Will just call Marty “beautiful?” I agree! :-) Just look at those lips, especially of his 80s pict. But, I digress…

    Admittedly, this post coupled with your SEMSynergy interview on WebmasterRadio today along with the dramatic increase in referrals from Facebook in analytics is making me realize the potential for optimization. Heck, its Lexicon is an insightful keyword research tool.

    Maybe SEO should be called “Semantic Engagement Optimization,” and if so, then Facebook is the hub of engagement. It’s getting a closer look from many of us now.

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Dana: WIll’s a metrosexual of the first degree. Don’t forget my eyes in addition to the lips :). “Semantic Engagement Optimization” rocks.

  • Dana Lookadoo

    Marty, ALL parts of you are beautiful, coming from a pure heterosexual…

    And double agreement to Will’s “All hail the nomenclature change.” As Danny said, “SEO means optimizing content that appears any place people hang out.”

    Marty, you’ve beautifully expressed the importance of optimizing for discoverability on Facebook and anywhere people search!

  • Amin

    Hi, your post is really interesting. I’ll be back and read some more infos. Bookmark!

    Amin

  • Jey Pandian

    Danny hit it on the nail with ‘intent to search’ == SEO. Also enjoyed reading your post very much although I’d like to point out in my honest opinion that anything with a recommendation engine of any kind requires SEO: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, the list is endless. :)