American sculptor Horatio Greenough coined the phrase “Form follows function,” which was later popularized by architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. The principle behind the phrase has long been associated with modern architecture and now the phrase and it’s principle can also be applied to SEO.
The main function of the web is to connect. The web connects computers, it connects networks of computers, and most importantly it connects people. It’s from this very social nature of the web that that springs the future of SEO. Today’s SEO understands that formulaic manipulation will no longer achieve results except in the least competitive of markets and since the function of the web is social in nature the form required to profit from it must also be social in nature. The true power of seo today lies in making the social web work for you. Throw in a little bit of karmic SEO and you’ll have the ability to bring traffic readily to many sites.
The Next Phase of SEO is Social Media Optimization
Enter Social Media Optimization (SMO). The initial insight into SMO belongs to Rohit Bhargava who said,
“The concept behind SMO is simple: implement changes to optimize a site so that it is more easily linked to, more highly visible in social media searches on custom search engines (such as Technorati), and more frequently included in relevant posts on blogs, podcasts and vlogs.”
It’s been going on for awhile and now it has a name. And if you look at the quote above you can see it’s all about the social aspects of the web. SMO is about getting the web to work for you instead of working to attract it to you. SMO is about making it easy for others to help you. SMO is about optimizing for people instead of algorithms. People are social. Algorithms not so much.
The beauty of optimizing your site for the social web is that you become less dependent on any one source of traffic. While the natural link profile SMO creates will help build authority for your site in search engines, you become less dependent on those very same search engines since so many other sources will be providing traffic to your site. The traffic will be targeted too as it ultimately derives from the recommendations of real people.
Germs are Social Creatures
Much the same way as germs can not live in a vacuum, a viral marketing campaign can not live without a social network. If you want something to spread virally it can’t live in a isolation. The way to start a viral campaign is to seed it in your own social network. You need to start the spread of the idea before it can spread on it’s own in the wild. Your initial goal is to increase the reach of the idea. If you have two friends then that’s how far you can send the idea. If each of your two friends has two friends that’s how far they spread the idea. And so on and so on (Does anyone remember that commercial besides me?)
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more people you can initially get your idea out to the farther it can go. Those people are your social network. The larger your social network the more traction you have on the social web as a whole and the more people you can quickly draw to your ideas.
Your social network is what turns your great content into link bait. Yes, I know, you have the best content on the web. It’s the greatest content that’s ever been created. But if no one ever sees it then no one ever sees how great it is. While it’s important to build links, it’s far more important to build the network that will give you links today as well as tomorrow. If you’re good to your network it might just even convince other networks to start to link to you too.
The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
We’re only six degrees away from anyone on the planet, right? That also implies your site is only six degrees away at most from a link on the whitehouse.gov site, or the Wikipedia, or cnn.com, or any other site you have your eye on. Maybe I don’t have any government contacts or know anyone at a major university, but I do know Tom, who knows Susan, who knows John, who knows Taylor, who’s cousin Jeffrey knows Kevin Bac…sorry, wrong network…who knows a professor teaching a class in my industry at Columbia University.
It is still important to understand how search engines work and what they want so you can build a site that’s crawlable. And it’s still important to understand how to optimize a specific page of your site to make it relevant to a search query. And it’s still very important to build a trusted link profile to show your site is an authority on its topic. Each will always be important. Along with researching the keywords you want to target, they are the foundations of SEO. But on top of that foundation is the social nature of the web and tomorrow’s SEO will be about making the social web work for you. The social web will build your link profile naturally in a way you never could on your own.
Yesterday’s SEO traded formulas. Today’s SEO trades links. Tomorrow’s SEO will trade social contacts. The function of the web is social in nature and the form for profiting on the web is also social in nature. The world of offline marketing has known for years the power of the network. SEOs may have been seduced at first by the technology of the web, but the industry has matured to understand it’s ultimately the social aspects of the web that drive it and make it work. And it’s the social web where SEOs need to look for success in the future.