Facebook and Bing, announced last week, an agreement that would allow Microsoft’s search engine to return results based on the Facebook “Likes” of the searcher’s friends. Additionally, Google recently began including Twitter updates in its search returns. It’s a natural innovation that fits into the business models of both companies and takes the trend of individualized search results to its next logical level: results tailored to the searcher’s existing social footprint.
SEO insiders have wondered whether this new search innovation would affect placement strategies. And the simple answer is: yes. Yes, there will be changes to the way SEO professionals run their clients’ campaigns. Yes, this will affect the industry as a whole. And yes, we believe SEO professionals will have to adapt to meet ever-evolving needs.
Changing the Method, Not the Mission
But to think that this development is rocking the SEO world is to misunderstand the realities of the industry. In its roughly 15 years of existence, SEO has grown from being a small wildcat operation run by webmasters and content services to being one of the most dynamic, fast-growing sectors of the tech market. The reason for this rapid growth is because — not in spite –- of the constantly evolving nature of search engines.
Of course, as with any complex question about a dynamically evolving industry, there is a caveat. While the Bing-Facebook agreement and the recent updates to Google will change elements of how we do our business, the fundamentals will remain the same. As much as innovation shapes the day-to-day processes of optimization, the core foundations of the industry remain unchanged. The goal was — and still is — putting clients at the top of results pages, whether this is through organic search, paid search or social media.
Social media is nothing new in the world of online marketing. Facebook alone has 500 million users. We have already seen certain Twitter feeds included in Google search results. Before long, results may integrate other social networking sites, like Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and myriad other sites that haven’t even been developed yet. For SEO professionals, this change highlights the need to integrate social networking if they haven’t already.
The Bing-Facebook agreement is indicative of the many changes that have taken SEO from a small-time game to a major, innovative industry. SEO is not about counter-punching, and it’s not about simply reacting to the changing search-engine landscape. Instead, it is about growing alongside search engines. It is about evolving with them to ensure that searchers get the results they need.
SEO Firms Must Become Digital Media Agencies
For years now, successful SEO firms have not been focusing their efforts strictly on organic search results. They’ve been steadily evolving along with changes in search engines: new Google algorithms, the emergence of Bing, the development of Google Local, instant searches, paid search, and searchable Twitter feeds. At my company, we believe that to be successful, SEO firms need to become something more advanced: Digital Media Agencies.
A modern DMA resembles an SEO firm from 2002 in the way that a Ferrari resembles a Model T. The basic elements remain the same, but sophistication and complexity have resulted in a better product. DMAs are about handling the many online representation needs of their clients. While top search engine placement remains the major goal, it is just one aspect of what they seek to do. A DMA also seeks to manage a client’s online reputation, create and maintain their social presence, and handle the many other aspects of a client’s online brand.
Will SEO professionals have to change their strategy in reaction to a new social media paradigm? The answer is yes. Their evolution into full-fledged Digital Media Agencies is imperative. And as the social and search industries continue to change, so too will DMAs need to innovate.
Joe Devine is the Chief Executive Officer of The Search Engine Guys, LLC (TSEG), a full-service web marketing company based in Austin, Texas.