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The Decline of SEO and the Rise of Discovery

by Dustin Chambers, EffectiveUI / June 6, 2012

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

During a recent internal meeting at EffectiveUI, a colleague explained to the group how a client would not implement a certain feature (fairly integral to the overall user experience) because of SEO concerns. At the time, this led me to label the SEO industry as nothing more than snake oil salesmen. After that fairly knee jerk reaction, I would like to revisit that assertion.

To clarify, it is not that I believe all SEO professionals to be modern day swindlers, but I do think that clients and brands should never delay or kill features, aimed at meeting the needs of their users, based on concerns over a SERP ranking or SEO. In fact, I would encourage brands to reallocate their SEO budget altogether as the entire field of SEO is becoming irrelevant.

Is Internet search irrelevant?

The truth is that the World Wide Web and its users are going through some fundamental changes. People are no longer primarily interacting with the Internet through a search engine, nor are they relying on search engines for their basic information needs. Instead, users are finding new and better ways to access more relevant content. This shift in behavior has led to search engines abandoning old SEO practices as they seek to refocus and redefine user relevance. It is based on these changes that I believe SEO to be approaching irrelevancy, and something that brand managers and product owners should no longer prioritize over other concerns.

A New Definition of Relevance

Traditionally, a user’s primary interface to the Internet has been Google or another search engine. As time and the Internet have progressed, we are now far more likely to interface with the Web through a social network (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, even a browser bookmark). According to Facebook, people “like” more things on Facebook on a daily basis than they search for on Google, and that figure is rising quickly. Recent reports say more than half of Americans find their news through friends. It is also true that teenagers spend 79 percent of their online time on social networks, with 50 percent checking their status when they wake up (27 percent before they even get out of bed). These facts underlie the shift in the way people are using the Internet – from search to discovery.

Think about how you found this article online. Did you search for the content or did you discover it through one of your many social connections on the Internet? It is probably unlikely that you found this on a Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP), and if you did it certainly had nothing to do with any SEO tactics that were employed.

In response to this shift in behavior, search engines have begun changing the way they serve content. In early 2011 (with the introduction of Panda), Google made changes to their search algorithm in an attempt to raise the rankings of high quality sites, lowering that of poor quality sites. Following Panda, last month Google introduced Penguin, an additional tweak to the search algorithm that further condemns sites with poor quality content and underhanded SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing and irrelevant link schemes.

In addition to changing the way sites are indexed and served up, Google also released comprehensive documentation aimed at providing clarity to Web developers, designers and marketers on how to best navigate the new search. Within this documentation they place a renewed emphasis on the user experience, stating in their Technical Guidelines, “(Our) goal is to provide users with the most relevant results and a great user experience.” Google further clarified their position on Web design and the influence of SEO in a basic principle in their Quality Guidelines: “Make pages primarily for users, not search engines.”

Seemingly following suit, Microsoft’s Bing has just begun a rollout of the “most significant update” to its search algorithm since Bing launched three years ago. In a recent interview with Fast Company, Bing Director Stefan Weitz explained the key philosophy behind the revamp: “…people are as important as pages.” He pointed to the influence of social recommendations as a key theme in their redesign. Weitz stated that the latest Bing attempt is to “…mimic that natural tendency to ask questions and have people answer them.” This admission to the fundamental change that is occurring in search and the Web is further proof that we should not be concerned with designing content for search engine relevance, and instead focus on providing relevant content to our users.

At EffectiveUI, we are constantly working under constraints (technical limitations, archaic business policies, unique user behaviors or contexts, legacy systems, etc.), compromising where we must, all in an effort to create the best experience possible for users. When it comes to prioritizing features in any UI design project, nothing should outweigh those intended to solve specific user needs or improve the overall user experience, least not the increasingly irrelevant field of SEO. With people consuming content in new ways and search engines clearly disregarding blatant SEO tactics, SEO should never again become a restraint or reason for not adopting UX recommendations.

 

Originally posted at: http://blog.effectiveui.com/?p=8602

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Comments

  1. Spencer Kelly on December 12, 2013

    An interesting article Dustin, and one that addresses the gradual growth of social search vis-a-vis traditional search.

    I've seen a lot of coverage of this topic but usually without delving deeper into the marketing speak of Facebook. I'm not disputing Facebook's claim that more people like things on Facebook than they search for things on Google, but what I'd be keen to see is a more detailed breakdown of "liking" and how this ultimately results in a meaningful transaction for a company.

    From my own experience of Facebook I see a lot of people liking other people's status updates and photos they have posted so I don't see how this effectively replaces traditional search as there seems to be a lot of inane clutter in that space that equals if not out weighs the clutter created by bad SEO practice.