Alan Hamlyn recently wrote a very compelling post about the end of SEO as we know it. For years search engine optimization has been touted as the number one way to drive potential customers to your site. Until now, SEO has been all about selecting the “right” keywords, building a well optimized site, developing compelling and relevant content and building in-bound links. That said social media is poised to change the way SEO is accomplished.

Let’s take a quick look back at the past six months:

  • Bing announced it would start displaying the “Likes” of a user’s Facebook friends in its search engine results.
  • Google includes relevant “tweets” in SERPs and identifies common links shared by a user’s follower base.
  • Google added the +1 button to their search results that would allow users to “+1” websites, articles, and posts they found interesting.
  • Now we have Google+ that allows users to network with other users on the Google platform while their searching and Google+ activity is all tracked by Google.

Search engines (in particular Google) are showing us that social media is important to them. What we, their users, think, is important to them and it’s becoming increasingly important in search results. As searches are starting to rely heavily upon social media activity, traditional SEO tactics seem a little antiquated. Of course, it remains important to make sure you have a well optimized site with strong structure, a comprehensive list of keywords and a focus on inbound link building as these factors will continue to play a key role in search algorithms. But social media demands that companies go beyond that. They must publish content that people want to read.

In theory, everyone was supposed to be doing that all along.

In online utopia, every website publishes content that is genuine and interests their readers and search engines reward those with the best content with higher search engine rankings. But in the real world, how many times have you caught yourself thinking “How can I rewrite this post to squeeze one more keyword in?” or “What can I write about that will make a popular website link to me?” In the new world of social searching, what you say matters. If people don’t like what you have to say, they won’t Like it or +1 it. If your post isn’t Liked or +1ed, people don’t find your content valuable or relevant to them. Social media is, in some respects, a test for your content. Social media allows users to deem certain content worthy of their friend’s attention. And now search engines are empowered with the knowledge of what real people think about content. It’s no longer acceptable to pass the test of the search algorithm; now you have to pass the test of real people as well.

To succeed in the world of social searching, content is still king. Write about what interests your audience. Make it informative, useful, funny, heartwarming, life changing, or ridiculous – whatever your audience wants. Know your audience and write for them. The more your posts interest your audience the more likely they are to Like, +1, Tweet, Digg and share it through social media.
Remember – there are real people out there who read what you write. Real people rely on the opinions of their friends in making decisions about what to buy, wear, eat, and read. Real people can read between the lines where a computer algorithm can’t. Real people can tell the difference between a shameless self promotion and informative content. Real people don’t scan a page looking for keywords and strong links. They read the post hoping it will grab their attention and give them good information. If your page does, they will reward you with the click of the +1 button and better search results. If it doesn’t, they will move on to something they like better.

As a final thought, consider this quote from Bradley H. Smith: “Content is king, if sitting on the throne of authenticity.”