Is There Ever an End to SEO?

I’ve been talking with a good friend of mine a lot lately about SEO.

He’s working on a new business idea and knows that SEO, both on-site and off-site optimization, are crucial to his initial and on-going success.

However, he proposed a question that I felt I had the answer to, but wanted additional feedback from others.

The question was:

At some point can’t we just STOP the SEO consulting and rely on word of mouth and viral marketing to keep us in the top of the SERP’s?

is seo going to die in 2010?My initial reaction was NO. Once you’re at the top of Google you can’t just say, “All is well.” You have to CONTINUE to follow the search engine rules, continue to build quality links, continue to provide valid content, etc.

I told him I would ask around from a variety of sources. Here are some of the answers. Take note of the variety of names – there are some “big players” who have been involved in SEO for a long time. Thanks in advance for your responses.

Why SEO for a Big Business?

The Official Question:

Do big online companies (Twitter & Facebook) ever use or need SEO?

Aaron Wall, one of my SEO favorites

Brian Clark, Copywriting Tips

Janet Meiners Thaeler, Online PR

[16:17] Janet M: I don’t think they do
[16:17] Janet M: I don’t even think Google does
[16:17] Janet M: they own authority sites
[16:19] Janet M: 1 – they have brand recognition because they created something useful & easy to spread 2 – huge #s of people depend on their service, 3 – people constantly produce new content that sustains them & keeps them relevant
[16:20] Janet M: but that doesn’t mean all big companies don’t use it
[16:20] Janet M: they are fundamental shifts/game changers
[16:21] Janet M: if your big business isn’t great or something remarkable like that you need SEO
[16:21] Janet M: their SEO is link building happens & grows organically without them having to do it

Dan Patterson, SEO.com

[17:20] Dan: i’d assume that they don’t really do much. They’re viral enough that they’re doing fine. Could they benefit from it? Sure! Not everyone knows about them and there are definitely phrases out there they if they ranked for they could get more users.
[17:21] Dan: personally, I can’t think of a single brand that couldn’t benefit in some way from SEO
[17:21] Dan: heck, just yesterday i was on the phone with a guy i know that has a website, and he has NEVER heard of Google Analytics
[17:22] Dan: the more phrases you rank for, the more exposure you potentially have
[17:22] nathanmoller@gmail.com: true
[17:22] nathanmoller@gmail.com: think about coca cola, who obviously doesn’t do much in terms of SMO
[17:29] Dan: but Pepsi is launching a huge campaign
[17:30] Dan: http://mashable.com/2009/12/23/pepsi-super-bowl/

Ben Nettesheim, Online Backup Marketer

[17:03] Ben Nettesheim: my two cents…
[17:03] Ben Nettesheim: I would say yes. It’s all about reach and frequency… even for the big dogs. If a consumer runs into your brand over and over and over, they will tend to remember it. This runs true in print, on the streets, and most certainly online. If a user consistently see Amazon as an answer to a search, then Amazon will likely be at the front of their mind for a future search or question. Likewise with Twitter of Facebook – If their services provide an answer to a search or question, then look for them to be a likely candidate for answers to future questions and searches. They have become the authority because their answer is consistently on top… even if you could have gotten a better or cheaper answer elsewhere.
[17:06] MollerMarketing: but all in all I have formed my own opinions which are EVERYONE needs SEO if they plan to stay at the top of their industry
[17:07] Ben Nettesheim: i agree. I could see the argument that if they are big enough they will get it w/out trying
[17:07] Ben Nettesheim: but even a small effort yields big return
[17:07] MollerMarketing: yeah, that’s been some of the feedback
[17:07] MollerMarketing: one point was that even the big dogs follow seo rules
[17:08] MollerMarketing: Youtube is all about “link bait” – allowing people to embed code and share
[17:08] Ben Nettesheim: yep and my opinion is if you are that big, you already have an advantage… so use that advantage instead of waiting for someone to take your advatage away
[17:08] MollerMarketing: exactly
[17:09] MollerMarketing: there’s always the little guy that might be doing all the right things that will pass you right up
[17:09] Ben Nettesheim: i wonder if you could find some examples of big guys not at the top of the SEO list who could benefit by putting a little more effort into it

Russ Page, Utah-based SEO Firm

[16:23] Russell Page: They absolutely follow the principles. Just one small example of this was when Facebook added the ability for you to be able to change the location of a page or a group from a number-based URL to a specific keyword based URL.
[16:25] Russell Page: YouTube includes easy to copy-and-paste URLs to everyone of their videos, which is a link building tool among other things.

[16:37] Russell Page: Big news sites are finally starting to see the value of linking to older stories or stories that are similar or to topic pages
[16:37] Russell Page: I’m talking about sites that get millions of hits a day already
[16:37] Russell Page: so they are already in the large traffic category
[16:39] Russell Page: this is in the middle of a CNN story.
[16:39] Russell Page: http://screencast.com/t/NzY3YzVj

Ryan Miller

[16:49] Ryan Scott Miller: I know Twitter took steps to make their profiles more SEO friendly, but with the recent deal between Twitter & Google, Twitter gets special treatment in Google results.
[16:50] Ryan Scott Miller: Facebook might not need SEO simply because their user base is the size of the US population
[16:51] Ryan Scott Miller: For many people Facebook IS the internet much like AOL was in the early 90s [16:51] MollerMarketing: although Facebook follows SEO rules of Friendly URLs and they are now indexing some content for search
[16:51] MollerMarketing: so they must see some value
[16:54] Ryan Scott Miller: Ultimately SEO is valuable because it optimizes your presence on search engines which are what people use to access & understand the internet
[16:54] Ryan Scott Miller: Facebook, like search engines, has become that portal through which people access the wider internet in general
[16:56] Ryan Scott Miller: Hence the necessity to optimize your presence there like you need to on search engines

Devin Eden, Programmer, Eli Kirk

[16:21] Devin Eden: every company has to start somewhere.
[16:22] Devin Eden: I would be a little surprised if google has a white list of sites that will automaticaly rank high
[16:22] Devin Eden: however everyone knows who face book and twitter is.
[16:23] Devin Eden: so I would think their isn’t much need for them to “advertise”
[16:24] Devin Eden: However i think the real answer is it is more a business decision. I would use seo just as an other advantage over my compatetion
[16:25] Devin Eden: but thier are some easy ways to find out
[16:25] Devin Eden: one could be by paid adwords in google. The other would be by doing some search for hard to get key words
[16:26] Devin Eden: if they pay for ads then they for sure spend time with getting the site out their
[16:28] Devin Eden: It looks like facebook doesn’t
[16:29] Devin Eden: so far the only search that turned up facebook was social networking and it was only the social portion that goth the resolts
[16:32] Devin Eden: I am pretty sure apple spends a lot on seo
[16:32] Devin Eden: if you search for their products they are almost always the first one
[16:32] Devin Eden: I haven’t seen that as much with say microsoft
[16:37] Devin Eden: for more reasearch I would try searches that you would use to find a site like twiter and facebook
[16:37] Devin Eden: if you can’t find them then they don’t bother with seo
[16:37] Devin Eden: you could test that with some other larger companies as a comparison

Thanks to all of your for your responses.

After reading these over, this was my initial conclusion:

Initial Conclusion

If I were to ask the question again, I may clarify it like this:

At what point is a company (big or small) ok with ending their SEO Campaign? (ie. not investing the time/money to maintain placement because the word of mouth is strong enough to keep them at the top)

I actually did re-ask the question on Twitter and via Chat to a few more people. Here’s the follow up question:

Answers were a bit more clear:

Aaron Wall, PPC Blog

Well it makes sense for them to want to rank their profile pages for the associated brands. And if you have a copy of Google’s internal ranking documents they state that they want to rank these pages for brands. Optimizing the page titles is an easy way to help the pages pull in more traffic. And some social sites like WordPress.com create topical tag pages which accumulate pagerank and anchor text against a target keyword and then they rank well for those. The nice thing about ranking such pages is that it is free traffic that can be monetized aggressively without tarnishing up user profiles or harming the site’s organic growth.

I wouldn’t try convincing clients of anything. Either they are sold on SEO or they need to get a clue. It’s your job to sell them on hiring you, but it shouldn’t be your job to sell them on SEO because the ignorant often wishes to remain so. Most investors and start ups are doomed to fail because they think engineering is important but think of marketing as an after thought.

Thanks to Scott, Matt and Rick for their direct feedback!

Thanks Chris!

Final Conclusion

The bottom line is, SEO will never be an end all cure all process. You need to use all the online avenues to build your name and business reputation.

However, I feel a company should definitely invest the time and money to build a strong SEO presence. As they gain some recognition and placement from SERPs, they may re-allocate funds at some point to additional types of online marketing (social media optimization, video marketing, viral marketing, link bait, brand and reputation management, localized marketing, image optimization, etc.)

But a small to medium sized or start-up business should never fully eliminate on-site and off-site SEO!

As my great Arizona SEO friend said recently:

Will SEO Die in 2010?

  • Are you always going to need a properly coded site? (technical SEO)
  • Are you always going to need good content?
  • Do you want people to find your content?
  • Do you want people to find your images and videos?
  • Are you always going to need people linking to you?
  • Do you want people talking about your business?
  • Do you think you might use Google, Yahoo or Bing in 2010?

If you answered YES to any or all of these questions (which I dare any of you to tell me you didn’t) then YES, you will be using SEO in 2010.

What are your thoughts on this SEO discussion?

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26 Replies to “Is There Ever an End to SEO?”

  1. It is simple, you need SEO to build a critical mass and once that is done, viral (word of mouth, advertising online and offline and social media) becomes much more important.

    Funny thing is, when that happens, search rankings will take care of itself as you will be getting linked all over the place

  2. SEO has become a foundation of marketing — not just online marketing. Since online search is the most common way people find things, some sort of emphasis on SEO will always be needed.

  3. Is there ever an end to SEO? I say no, even for a big trusted brand.

    First, even if you rank well for many terms, you always want to monitor and know what competitors are trying to push you out of your spots.

    Second, it is rare that even large brands rank #1 for “every” term related to their business. This means that there are usually opportunities to develop more keywords, and improve the positioning for others.

    This also assumes that we are talking about SEO exclusively, and not PPC or Social Media Strategy, both of which require continual attention.

    Will SEO ever die? It could… I mean many other technologies have or are in the process of dying and no one predicted those.

    Will SEO die in 2010? Absolutely not. The market is still ripe because so many people have yet to understand or embrace it. Although, not being ready for the train doesn’t stop the train from leaving 🙂 The other factor is that technologies such as real time search and mobile are predicted to be huge this year and they will tie into SEO, so there is much work to be done yet.

  4. Will SEO die? – I am sure it will not. Will it evolve? – I hope so and believe it will. This is the most exciting part about our profession – the need to change. The Internet is changing fast – faster than any other sphere of life, therefore there’s so much talking about whether or not SEO is going to die.

  5. The companies that you are talking about are only the very very top echelon of companies that exist that perhaps do not need to do SEO because there name and product are one and the same.
    Even huge, established businesses like Amazon have to SEO to rank for competitive terms because they do not have the same monopoly as facebook.
    I would be interested to hear the business idea your friend has to reach this level.

    1. Couldn’t say it better:

      Even huge, established businesses like Amazon have to SEO to rank for competitive terms because they do not have the same monopoly as Facebook.

      Thanks for the great comment!

  6. ‘Stopping’ SEO makes no sense to me. If you find a reason to end your SEO efforts, you really lack any creativity or imagination.

    Look at major branding efforts for example. Lets say Pepsi runs Super Bowl ads and takes the #1 market share spot for soda. Do they stop all their branding efforts? No. Why? Because there is always more to be had.

    It works the same with SEO. Not to mention changing algorithms or the need for an ever-evolving link profile to remain on top, you can always find new/more keywords to target. If you rank #1 for “hotels,” now you can focus on “miami hotels,” “luxury hotels,” “pet friendly hotels,” etc. The keyword list is only limited by one’s imagination. With more keywords comes the need for new pages to be created (technology), new content to be written (copywriting), and new promotional efforts to make that new content sticky (link building, social media).

    1. Gennady!

      Great comment! This is one of the reasons I love blogging so much: you pose a question and get quality feedback that exceeds expectations.

      I totally agree about the keyword research aspect. I mean, is there really a limit on how many keywords you can be at the top of Google for?

      Thanks for the great comment!

    1. Thanks Ivan! Personally I feel some of the “traditional approaches” may stop (just ask newspapers how much they’re making now compared to 10 years ago).

      I agree that if you’re not doing the things that work, your COMPETITORS WILL BE!

  7. I think the definition of SEO is expanding each year as new data feeds make their ways into the SERPs.

    At the last count I think there were 8 feeds in Google’s SERPs – Organic results, PPC, news feeds, video, images, social media, Twitter (deserves separate mention as it’s got a feed of it’s own), product data feeds

    I know PPC is not strictly speaking SEO, but if you think in terms of providing services that help attract traffic, then PPC has it’s place.

    1. What you said about SEO is so true – it’s evolving into something new and unique all the time. There are so many MORE ways to “optimize your site” now than just the standard plug keywords in to your meta keywords and “keyword stuff away”.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  8. To me it’s very simple . . . if you wake up one day and people are using your brand name synonymously with your product, you probably don’t need to spend [much] on SEO anymore. Until then, people will search for the generic term to find your site, and if they’re doing that you need SEO . . . either to get to #1 or stay there.

    1. Good call Tim “…to get to #1 or stay there.” It’s hard when people think “they’ve arrived” and all is well.

      I liked what Alysson said about Nike and the little guys who pass them up. Nike and Coke are both used as the name of the product – ‘gotta put on my nike’s’ and Coca Cola – ‘let’s go get a coke’.

      Coca-cola doesn’t even seem to get completely how quality SEO = Reputation Management. They have negative press on SERPs with NO social network profile placement for coca cola – #10 today of 38,700,000 is killercoke.org and #7 for the phrase coke.

      Appreciate the comment!

  9. As with most other aspects of search marketing, there’s no right or wrong answer to that question. Not all “rules” will apply to all businesses, regardless of whether they business is small, medium or large.

    Some businesses serve very specific niches, and as such, have much less competition to deal with. For them, a strong initial SEO campaign encompassing basic on-site and off-site SEO best practices is enough to keep them atop the SERPs for their target terms with little ongoing SEO investment.

    That said, most small businesses that don’t target very specific niche terms will benefit greatly from ongoing and concerted SEO efforts. Many small and medium sized businesses never reach a level at which word of mouth or brand reputation alone are enough to keep them atop the SERPs for competitive terms.

    Even big businesses benefit from ongoing SEO efforts. Take Nike, as an example. You would expect such a widely known company to rank very well even for an uber-competitive term like “running shoes”, yet they’re no where to be found within the first 5 pages of organic results – which is as deep as I was willing to go to try to find them.

    Nike.com is outranked by brands that would be considered by many as lesser known – like New Balance, Puma and even Asics. Not to mention Finish Line, Zappos, Foot Locker and endless other retail sites to whom that term applies.

    I guess the question really should be this: “If Nike can’t keep a number one ranking for ‘running shoes’ based on word of mouth and viral advertising alone, what makes any business think they could?”

    1. Wow! This is such a CLEAR & CONCISE VALIDATION of exactly how I feel about SEO for big brand names.

      Think about how much money Nike is probably leaving on the table because their “smaller name” counter parts are Crushing It!

      I love the question you posed at the end – “If Nike can’t dominate SERPs via word of mouth, what makes ANY business think they could?” Well said. Well said!

      I also really like what you said about niche businesses. Yes, they need initial SEO but once they’re there, they may not need as much aggressive SEO later on. I’ve seen this with my clogging shoes site, ClogOn.com. It’s so niche that, after some basic SEO work, it’s dominated the terms I want to be at the top for.

      However, even a niche site has the potential to expand in to other verticals that are more broad. I’ve looked at branching out in to more broad categories for ClogOn like “dance bags”. If I want this to really come to fruition, my SEO efforts will have to be more focused and aggressive again.

      Summary: SEO WILL NEVER DIE!

      Thanks so much for your knowledge Aly!

  10. Initially I was a bit confused about the headline and the meaty insights into the big brands, but realized there’s some great stuff in that alone. And then I saw how you brought it back around as well.

    The one thing that stands out most to me here is Aaron’s saying

    “I wouldn’t try convincing clients of anything. Either they are sold on SEO or they need to get a clue. It’s your job to sell them on hiring you, but it shouldn’t be your job to sell them on SEO because the ignorant often wishes to remain so.

    I couldn’t agree more – this is one of the most challenging realities I face all the time. It’s only in recent months that I’ve come to accept that once I’ve communicated the reality, if a client continues to fail to take action, I can wash my hands. But it wasn’t until Aaron’s statement about how some people wish to remain ignorant, that I really stopped in my tracks and said “OMG that’s true.”

    It reminded me of how we can shake someone all we want, knowing there’s a better way, yet if they’re not truly open to it, all the shaking in the world won’t matter. It’s up to them to be ready to actually hear, internalize and act.

    1. Thanks Alan!

      Knowing how to sell is a big part of SEO :). Having been in sales way before I even THOUGHT about SEO and online marketing, I’ve seen this first hand over and over again.

      If a client feels like you’re trying to convince them they need something, even if they really DO NEED the Product/Service, 9 times out of 10 they won’t buy.

      I’ve come to realize from the “school of hard knocks” that I’m ok to say “no”, “sorry – can’t do that for that price”, “you’re welcome to look elsewhere”, etc. Because the best clients I work with are the ones who already know SEO is an ongoing long-term strategy. They KNOW it’s going to cost. They KNOW the skills I bring to the table are going to benefit them short and long-term.

      Thanks again for the comments!

      (Any recommendations on how I can clear it up to make it more understandable to other readers would be appreciated too!)

  11. When I was in High School and College I ran track. It was common to watch preliminary races where one guy could beat the rest of the pack by 2 or 3 seconds in a 400 meter. In races like this the lead runner (usually the winner) would slow down because they didn’t want to exert more energy than was necessary. SEO is just like this. If you are winning the race there are times that you should save resources or money to focus on other areas of your business or focus on conversion path optimization to get more out of your SEO efforts. Just like in a race I don’t think you ever quit SEO but you do slow down as you begin to win the race.

    1. Thanks for the insightful comment James. It did remind me a bit of the tortoise and the hair story though. 🙂

      I do agree that you need to balance your online marketing efforts, but it seems to me that those that “slow down” will eventually get complacent and the new, energetic SEO will pass them right up.

      I guess the question I throw back at you would be, when does the race actually end with an online marketing plan?