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Mike Grehan, host of the Search Engine Strategies Expo London, wrote a comment on ClickZ last week that made quite a statement.
That statement: "SEO's glory days are over. And we should get over it. Nobody is online looking for content."
My response: absolute nonsense.
Grehan argues that:
"No one visits a public-facing Web site to get content. Depending on their information needs, they come for information and guidance, offers and recommendations, and advice and reviews. They come to be informed, inspired, engaged, entertained, and connected with others."
He cites Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and the thousands and thousands of online communities that exist today as evidence that content is not king. In Grehan's opinion, these online communities are a panacea for everything and a replacement for the "text-based document[s] for a dumb crawler to analyze."
Grehan makes some valid points. It's true that social media is extremely important today and has changed the way that many internet users are using the internet, consuming content and producing content.
But this is not an either/or proposition. It's not community or content.
Not everyone is using online communities today yet how many people do you know who are using online communities exclusively? How many do you know who don't use Google and don't visit content destinations? I'd challenge Grehan to find a single internet user who hasn't used a search engine in the past month and visited a content destination - whether it's a news website or an online gossip rag.
The truth of the matter is that content is still king and always will be.
What has changed is that content comes in new forms; it's not just a bunch of articles written by professionals or videos produced by media companies. To some, great content can be found in a tweet, a blog post or in a Facebook application.
What content works for you and your business? There are a lot of ways to provide "information and guidance, offers and recommendations, and advice and reviews."
That's why there are still public-facing Web sites. That's why people haven't stopped using Google. That's why a significant number of online publishers still count on search engines (and SEO) to help internet users find the information they're providing.
On most of the websites I'm involved with in some capacity, more than 50% of the traffic comes from organic search. On some websites, it's in excess of 80%. And a lot of that is due not because those websites offer content for SEO purposes but because the valuable and useful content they do offer has been optimized for SEO where appropriate. Legitimate SEO is about more than producing text for a web crawler, which is what Grehan implies.
I think the major problem with Grehan's post is that he mistakes his experience for that of everyone else. He writes:
"I carry an iPhone and I have at least a dozen apps on it now. The most useful little toy I have is the OpenTable app. Perfect for eating out. It finds my location exactly, then lists all the restaurants surrounding my current location."
"I have only one word for it: marvelous! And, in my opinion It beats the pants of Google's local search."
Does that mean that Google's local search is done for? Of course not! It means that it's not the only game in town. Which is great. But most people aren't carrying an iPhone and using mobile applications. The average person has a difficult time setting up their phone. And in more than a few important demographics, the majority of people aren't using Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter. Should we shut them off from the spigot of information or kick them off the internet altogether?
Grehan ends his post by asking: "So should we be still thinking crawler 1999 and that old content? Or should we be thinking audience, engagement, and end user experience?"
My answer: if you want to be successful online, you need be thinking about everything. You can't ignore content and expect to build an audience and engagement. You can't build a great user experience but have no plan for letting people know it exists and attracting them to it.
SEO is as important today as it was in 1999. And for some companies, the social media and community aspects of the internet that Grehan clearly loves will be important components of a successful online strategy too. In all cases, companies today need to think holistically. We now live, work and play on an 'all of the above' internet. Short-sighted either/or thinking doesn't work.