Is Social Media Optimisation (SMO) the end of SEO?

For about the last five years, there has been so much hype about Search Engine Optimisation that the reality has been obscured. The reality is that standard Web searches may be useful, but they are getting less so everyday.

Search engines use software to find web pages that are relevant to the words input by the user. Increasingly, it’s a website developer’s mastery of Search Engine Optimisation techniques, rather than a sites’ content, that determines which websites appear in search results. No matter how much the search engine companies attempt to fine-tune their search processes, the problem persists. The reason is simple: software programs, not people, search for and grade websites. The upshot of this problem becomes more evident to web users every day: search results list pages that have low quality content. Even websites that appear on the first page of search results are often of little use to the searcher.

In theory, the solution is simple: get humans rather than software to rate websites. Having a website recommended by a human being has obvious advantages. But it’s only of real value if many people recommend the same site. Could this be achieved on the web? Actually, it’s already happening. Social Bookmarking is one example. Social Bookmarking sites like Delicious enable users, who come across interesting websites, to easily recommend them to other users. In this way, people with similar interests filter the good from the bad based on what really matters: the page’s content. Social Bookmarking sites have millions of users. A website recommended by even a small number of these users is likely to be more useful to other users, than a site recommended merely by software.

Social Bookmarking sites are not the only places on the Internet where Social Media Optimisation operates. It’s widespread also on Social Network sites, like Facebook. On these sites, people constantly recommend products and services to each other. Facebook has taken this model a step further by allowing site owners to embed the “Like” button on their pages, spreading like wildfire across millions of pages across the net.  That’s Social Media Optimisation in action: driving web traffic to specific sites by having them recommended by humans.

Social Media Optimisation is a welcome development. Yet, it’s too early to conclude that the idea will significantly improve the web search experiences of average users. Currently, Search Engine Optimisation is manipulated by unscrupulous webmasters to bring extra web traffic to their sites. More than likely, they are currently trying to develop similar tactics with Social Media Optimisation. This may be difficult for them though, since users will easily become aware of their ploys and quickly alert other users to the trickery. The unscrupulous person may well end up doing his website more harm than good.

Google, Bing, Yahoo! and the other search engine giants are hardly resting on their laurels while all this is happening (already, Yahoo! owns Delicious). Thehy’ve already started integrating Social Media Optimisation technologies into their search engines results pages (Google and Bing both incorporating rraltime results from Twitter and Facebook).  So, with any luck, future search results will be based more on the combined brainpower of many intelligent like-minded people, than just on highly sophisticated but ultimately dumb software code. People power at last, perhaps.

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Omar Kattan is Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital, the MENA region's first specialist content marketing agency headquartered in Dubai. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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  • Craig Galway

    I think the future of search will still be software.  You need the software to parse and evaluate a pages relevance to the searchers query across millions of pages.  The social media input will be a quality signal to help determine which pages get into the running in the first place.  I think it will become increasingly difficult to rank without social factors.

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