OK, that sounds a bit over the top for a site with SEO in its name so I’ll clarify. I did not mean Search Engine Optimization, as we know it, is dead. Nor did I mean to say that SEO has become Search Engine Marketing, Online Marketing or anything else. No, what I meant was, SEO is finished, kaput, sleeping with the fishes, in a word, DEAD!

I came to the realization while preparing for my 2000th post in our forum. As a person who has never considered himself an SEO, I began to wonder how I managed to reach this milestone. Certainly many of my posts qualify as off topic or mindless drivel. Nevertheless, buried in the slag heap there have been a few gems. And some of those gems have been valuable to our members as they pursue SE… umm, whatever it is they do.

And, that’s my point. Nobody here does SEO.

What we do is run forums and businesses, promote products and services, and provide information and entertainment. Few of us actually have SEO in our job titles (and those who do are constantly explaining to potential clients that Search Engine Optimization really isn’t Search Engine Optimization anymore). Calling ourselves SEOs is a bit like referring to truckers as teamsters in spite of the fact that they’ve never seen a mule team.

So, What Killed SEO?

I almost believe it was top ten lists. That, instead of optimizing our sites, we were searching for that elusive tenth item to complete a blog post that should have ended with seven. Nevertheless, I find the format irresistible, so here’s my list of the Ten Things that Killed SEO:

  1. Google is the only game in town and it’s broken: Does anyone really “optimize” for anyone else? Even spammers don’t bother promising number one rankings on MSN and Yahoo. As the dominant search engine, Google has become increasingly quirky, making optimization increasingly difficult and decreasingly rewarding in relation to competing methods of online marketing.
  2. There are other towns: Google may be the only game in search but increasingly people are moving to MySpace, Digg and other online communities for their information needs. Indeed social network marketing, not search, is the focus of most “SEO” buzz these days.
  3. AdSense and AdWords: Google successfully leveraged its search technology into the AdSense/AdWords cash cow and in the process spawned millions of MFA (made for AdSense) pages that clutter up our search results and inspire us to look elsewhere.
  4. Clutter: Once upon a time Google was about search results. Now it’s about ads, maps, stock charts and more. I’m sure our friends at SEOchat worked hard to rank highly for the term “SEO.” Too bad their listing now falls behind:
    • Three ads (and along side eight additional ads)
    • A stock listing for STORA ENSO OYJ
    • Two Wikipedia entries
  5. Search is fracturing: Google now offers web search, image search, video search, news search, local search, “more” search and “even more” search. Do you optimize for one, a few or all types of search? How can you optimize if, as may already be happening, satisfying the demands of one algorithm causes another to punish you.
  6. Search is old news: Whether or not the legendary sandbox exists, achieving high search rankings is a long-term proposition. In a dynamic world driven by change and innovation, search results are yesterday’s news. That’s great if you want to know how many trips Columbus made to the New World (4) but less than helpful when your world is changing daily.
  7. Social networks: I’ve mentioned social networks before but they have an additional advantage over search engines. If search is about “old” news, social networks such as Digg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us and – on a small scale – forums like this one are about what’s happening now. They allow users to bypass Google by recruiting an army of like-minded people to do their searching for them. In the process they offer members the possibility of reaching an audience of tens of thousands almost immediately.
  8. New technologies defy search: Flash and Ajax pages contain data that cannot easily be parsed by a search algorithm. You can’t optimize what Google can’t understand.
  9. Link baiting/building isn’t about search: A bit of common sense here: link baiting is popular because – when done well – it works, it works quickly, and its effects linger. If one of those lingering effects is improved Google rankings (it’s not guaranteed) then so much the better. But improving your rankings is a side effect of link baiting/building not the reason for it.
  10. The “rules” of SEO aren’t about search engines anymore (if they ever were): Consider a few “rules:”
    • Use keywords in your title
    • One major headline <h1> using your keywords per page
    • Lists and “how-to” articles are popular
    • Create compelling content
    • Provide fresh content regularly

Which of those rules won’t apply if Google disappears tomorrow? How are they different from what you would tell an aspiring (offline) newspaper reporter? SEO rules are mostly common sense. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t easy to program into an algorithm, not even for Google.

Then Why Are We Here?

What we have in common is not SEO but the fact that we live large portions of our lives online building websites, communities and businesses. We’d like to be better at it and we’d like more people to discover what we’ve created. So we’re here asking questions about design, coding, servers, business, installing blogs, managing forums, writing haiku, and – occasionally – Google.

We could call ourselves “unstable people hanging out on a – relatively – stable server” but SEO Refugees is catchier and more to the point. We have, after all, escaped the mindset that our success is dictated by Google’s results and landed on an island that celebrates what we achieve, whether it’s a pastor’s blog, a Vista forum or just a bunch of random crap online.