Is social going to kill SEO?

Since the launch of Google+ and reading “In the Plex” by Steven Levy, I began thinking about what lay ahead for Google in terms of their future strategy for developing their core search product. What struck me was, the future of the “SEO” industry could be in major trouble as Google places more emphasis on their users social graph to display results, rather than rely on the collective knowledge of the Internet. Could this mean the end of SEO as we know it?

In the Plex

I’m only about half way through “In the Plex” at the minute, but what has really stood out for me so far was the thought that Larry, Sergey and the early engineers put into creating the best possibly product they could. Levy mentions the science and mathematics of creating algorithms that could “understand” what the user typed in. This could be as simple as distinguishing a person’s name, to understand the nuances of the English language in all it’s forms. Google clearly want to place the best possible results in front of their users, and so they are constantly developing and refining their algorithms to better accommodate all the variables that are need to understand, process and return the best possible results.

SEO is a game

Even the most ethical “SEO Experts” will agree that getting their clients to the top of a Google search result for a particular keyword is very much like a game. It is a game where you play by a certain set of rules in order to reach the top, pretty simple really. But it is Google’s job to ultimately display the best possible results for the users input. When an SEO company gets a page to the top of a search result, that perhaps is not the best page for the user, Google will gain data and then tweak their algorithm to place their results in a different order. What ensues is a constant game of cat and mouse. SEO can be seen as a form of spam, not in the traditional sense, but if the page is not what the user is intending to find, it is still spam. The rules that SEO play their game are constantly changing as Google make changes to stop exploits and improve results.

Google+, Twitter and Facebook

It is no secret that Google are placing a great deal of emphasis on their social strategy. For a number of years now they have been courting Twitter with a possible acquisition. Although they seemed to have cooled on that move, Google have recently released their latest social product, Google+. Google+ is a platform that combines aspects of Twitter and Facebook. Despite only a few weeks after launch, G+ is up to 20 million users and is growing fast. G+ also integrates Google +1 button, another sign that Google are looking towards the social aspect of the web as their next strategic move.

What does this mean for SEO?

If you are a heavy Google user, you may have already noticed how search results are now being displayed. For many months now, Google has been placing emphasis on the social aspect of their results pages. When you type in a keyword, Google will display you a mixture of their top results and pages that have been mentioned or liked by the people within your social graph. It figures that, if you’re friends have been talking about a topic, or they have explicitly liked something, it will be more likely relevant to you and source of information that would be of interest to you. This could have huge consequences for the SEO industry.

Essentially the SEO model is based upon ensuring that their clients pages are “optimised” for Google. In years gone by, this has meant that ensuring the pages were valid and contained the correct tags and content density. As Google moved towards incoming links, so did the SEO world, and so emphasis was placed upon building up incoming, keyword relevant text links. However, if Google continues down this path of placing greater emphasis on the social aspect of the web, how are SEO companies going to pivot into making their clients pages appear in the top results? As results are based upon the actions of the social graph, rather than any outside elements or optimisation, Google will be displaying more relevant results and SEO companies will not be able to affect that.

If I were an SEO company, I would be extremely wary of what the future lies.