It’s All About Discoverability: Is SEO Dead? Does It Matter?

Is SEO dead? Is SMO the heir apparent? Does any of it really matter in the the long march towards discoverability?

It’s All About Discoverability: Is SEO Dead? Does It Matter? image ornate throne at versailles 224x300Admittedly, I’m late to the SEO wake, which has apparently been a highly-attended on-again, off-again affair for years now.

The latest shovel of dirt tossed on top of SEO’s coffin came courtesy of The Atlantic’s Scott Havens, senior VP of finance and digital operations, who, in an interview with Mashable’s Lauren Indvik, was quoted saying, “Sixteen months ago we received the same number of monthly referrals from search as social. Now 40% of traffic comes from social media… Truly [our writers] are not really thinking about SEO anymore. Now it’s about how we can spin a story so that it goes viral.”

My guess is the writers at The Atlantic were never actively trying not to spin a story so that it goes viral, but that’s really beside the point. The bigger implication of Havens’s statement is that the writers at The Atlantic no longer think it’s worthwhile to take SEO into consideration when writing their articles. That’s a pretty bold brush-off, and the fact that it comes from a publication that, according to Indvik, has seen rapid growth, increasing its web audience from approximately 500,000 to 13.4 million monthly visitors since 2008, is a bit of a slap in the face for SEO advocates.

But if the aim of Atlantic writers is no longer to get the attention of search engines, what’s their new focus? Well, to get the attention of their readers (duh), but also to get them to share it.

No sooner has SEO’s body been laid to rest, than its brash younger cousin SMO enters stage left. Eager for a turn in the spotlight and its own line of clever t-shirts, social media optimization is not alone, a long line of advocates quickly group behind it, rallying round a cry of “Search is dead! Long live Social!”

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SEO’s followers rise to defend their fallen champion’s honor. Mass dorkery ensues and many an ego is bruised on message boards across the web.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I’m missing something. Why all the fuss? Does SEO really have to be dead in order for SMO to be a key focus? Aren’t the two actually not that mutually exclusive?

I think what web folks and content marketers can sometimes lose sight of is the fact that none of these strategies are goals in and of themselves. The point isn’t to be good at SEO or SMO. The point is to be good at them to improve your content’s discoverability. They’re both simply means to an end.

The trick is that the path to discoverability is constantly shifting and evolving with changes in technology and readers’ habits. Therefore, strategies for achieving discoverability need to evolve, as well. Indeed, SEO has. It’s actually leaning closer to what we think of as “social” every day. With Google’s algorithm placing more and more emphasis on inbound links the two are more closely connected than ever. In fact, to paraphrase Russell Jensen, a commenter on Indvik’s Atlantic article, since getting likes, tweets, and diggs provides inbound linking, doing social is doing SEO.

In other words, if you are making an effort to get your content shared you’re also helping your SEO cause at the same time.

In that sense, inbound link building provides a nice middle ground between social and search. In the scenario above, it’s the common theme that heals a divided web. It allows both sides to link arms and march together as one, united under the banner of discoverability.

Or maybe it’s just a great way to drive people to your content.

Now onto the useful portion of the blog post!

Here are a few examples of tactics you can use to build inbound links:

  • Guest Posts: In addition to blogging for your own site, try your hand at guest blogging by connecting with writers and editors of other similar industry blogs and offering to contribute some of your best material (and link back to your site). Not only does this help to introduce yourself to a new audience, it also gives you the opportunity to build relationships with industry influencers. Better yet, try to get one of your articles picked up by a major industry site/publication.
  • Get Controversial: One way to get folks to share and link back to your content is to spark some controversy. Take a side and start a debate. Just make sure your argument has substance and you’re not simply being obnoxious.
  • Write Catchy Headlines: According to Indvik’s article, this is an area The Atlantic is focusing on in order to help their content go viral. Unfortunatley, when pressed for the secrets to writing a good headline, Bob Cohn, editor of The Atlantic Digital isn’t incredibly helpful. “A great headline is just a great headline,” he says. Make it short. Make it witty. But don’t force it with a bad metaphor that doesn’t completely fit.
  • Conduct a Roundtable or Build a Top List: A good example of this is OpenView’s roundtable on the most common content marketing mistakes. We asked four expert influencers to weigh in and offer their advice. It gave them a chance to promote their own content and expertise, and it also resulted in exposure for OpenView because they each told their followers about it and directed them back to our site. You can see a similar benefit by creating a “top 10” or “best of” list of influencers, companies, products, or practices and informing the folks who make the list of their proud achievement.
  • Get Active in Forums: It’s not enough to post content, in order to connect with your audience you need to join larger conversations. Leave comments on industry blogs and forums. Get involved with LinkedIn groups. Ask questions and offer solutions, linking back to your content when appropriate.

For more ideas for building inbound links, HubSpot offers a fantastic 10-step guide. Tellingly, they call it a guide to “Social Link Building.” The dividing line between search and social is getting increasingly blurry all the time. Or maybe it was never really there at all…

Editor’s note: To get more tips on improving your content marketing strategy (and helping your company grow) sign up for the OpenView newsletter.

photo by: Oh Paris

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