E-marketing Strategy: SEO Is Dead. CDO Rules
To all you publishers who are struggling and stressing about catching up on the latest techniques for search engine optimization (SEO) in the hopes that your books will become more easily discovered by searchers:
Take a breath.
SEO is dead.
We've entered the days beyond SEO.
We're now playing a new game.
Since the earliest days of search (remember AltaVista?!), search engines have been locked in a battle with Web developers for control over their search engine results pages—or SERPs. In order for search engines to have any credibility at all, it is critical that they maintain control over their SERPs. If control is lost to the manipulations of wily Web developers, search engines would only produce lists of the most-optimized pages for any search, not the most-relevant.
Here's the quick backstory. In the very beginning of search, search engines ranked Web pages by analyzing a page's content. This worked for a while. But, when Web developers discovered that they could push their pages higher up in the SERPs, and therefore drastically increase their traffic, just by editing a few keywords on their pages, SERPs were suddenly filled with false results—Web development company pages appearing at the top of the millions of searches for "Britney Spears," for example. This approach to ranking content quickly flopped.
Google exploded onto the scene because it recognized that the ability of Web developers to directly manipulate SERPs was an inherent flaw in the system, and the main contributor to poor search result relevance. It designed its new search engine—and improved search, and revolutionized the industry—by tossing this model out the window. Google, instead, ranked a page based not on what it contained, but on the importance, relevance and number of external sites linking to that page. This flip hindered the ability of Web developers to manipulate the search results—as they could no longer edit their own sites to manipulate the search engine. This made Google's results far superior to all other engines—a blow from which the other engines are still trying to recover.
Then, one day, something happened.
Using trial and error tactics, an unimaginable wealth of patience, and decades of cumulative man-hours, some clever Web developers again learned how to manipulate the Web to improve a particular page's search engine rankings. By figuring out Google's secret external-link ranking methods, and seeking out the important sites Google used to rank their own sites, Web developers were able to begin placing links in strategic places around the Internet in a way that changed Google's results. This practice has come to be known as link-building. (The practice of Google Bombing—wherein thousands of sites link to one Web address using the same keywords within the link, and thus skyrocketing that one address in Google's search results for those keywords—proved the concept.)
This is where the war has been stalled for the last few years. Web developers have been pushing SEO tactics and link-building strategies, and Google has been trying to fight them off. It's been a slow struggle—and one that has been confusing and expensive for those of us on the sidelines.
In March 2011, Google struck the first of two killer blows to the world of SEO. It introduced a new page-ranking algorithm into its system that took into account social and site-usage metrics. This is what's known as the "Panda Update"—named after the update's main developer, Navneet Panda.
The Panda Update allowed Google to rank pages by how many times a page had been "liked" on Facebook, or "tweeted" on Twitter, or "linked" on LinkedIn, or "tumbled" on Tumblr, and so on. This update also allowed Google to rank pages according to how long a visitor stayed on a site, how many pages were visited, and what actions were taken while there. For the first time since search began, a search engine could rank pages according to whether or not visitors found that page useful or not. The Panda Update brought us all into the era of intelligent search—powered by the collective intelligence of the massive crowds squawking online.
The second killer blow to SEO arrived in January 2012. Google integrated its young—but growing—social network, Google+ into its SERPs—further removing its results from the grasp of Web developers, and officially moving the battleground for content discovery from search engines to social networks.
Search Engine Optimization—at least as it has existed for the past five years—is dead. Google can now differentiate "useful" content from "optimized" content.
To many of us—and to content-producers especially—this is a big, fat gift from Google. It is now less important to understand the intricacies of meta tags, keywords and link-building strategies than it is to understand how to produce valuable and compelling content that people will want to read and share—something we've already been puzzling over for years! This is the dawn of Content Discovery Optimization, or CDO.
CDO, unlike SEO, does not focus primarily on optimization techniques to drive high search engine rankings and high traffic. CDO focuses on content discovery across all platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, the blogosphere, and your own website. In many ways, this is an easier—or at least less technical—strategy: Produce valuable content and present it beautifully.
Google has coronated social content discovery, and other search engines are following suit. They've realized that the recommendations of millions of people are a more accurate indicator of quality than easily manipulated website links and content. And, therefore, in very short order, people will use only their social networks to discover new books, magazines, articles, videos and other content. Search engines will primarily search social networks. Google believes it. In fact, it has staked the future of its core product on this idea. It is already ceding the control of its search results to a third-party: you and me, and the rest of the mob.
In my next article, I will discuss the technical steps for improving your Content Discovery Optimization—making it easier for people to share and find your books and content on their social networks. (Hint: Google+ is Google.) While it's less technical than SEO—at least for now—there are some steps you can take to get ahead of the game. BB
J.S. McDougall is the author of "#tweetsmart: 25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Community" (O'Reilly, 2012) and "Content Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Making Your Content a Valuable Marketing Tool" (O'Reilly, 2012). He is a digital strategy consultant to the book publishing industry and can be reached on Twitter at @jsmcdougall or through his company's website at catalystwebworks.com.