I was at Innotech in Austin and one of the panel discussions was "The Future of Search." It was a great panel with speakers including: Kent Lewis, President, Anvil Media, Inc.,Michael DeHaven, SEO Product Manager, Bazaarvoice, Brian P. Combs, Founder, Ionadas Local and William R. (Bill) Leake, President & CEO, Apogee Search
During the talk, the panel mentioned that they hear SEO is dead about every year for the last ten years, and stressed the point that SEO is not dead yet. The term and methodology is here to stay.
As an SEO consultant I highly agree, but the question I asked as a follow-up was, what about SMO? Social Media Optimization is pronounced dead in some circles, and in other circles the term is just coming alive. I believe it was Bill Leake that said optimization for social media is already occurring, but he didn't feel the term Social Media Optimization (SMO) would ever catch on. He felt another term would eventually encapsulate it.
I think names make a difference. I noticed at the conference some of the folks didn't like the label "Social Media" at all. Maybe calling it Social Media Optimization is too limiting. I'm curious about the label, and whether or not it will stick and hold the prominence that the term SEO now captures. I think the best way to make a prediction is by looking at the history of Search Engine Optimization as a term, its creation and history and then try to see if the same history arch might apply to Social Media Optimization as well.
The traditional view from Wikepedia is that according to industry analyst Danny Sullivan, the earliest known use of the phrase "search engine optimization" was a spam message posted on Usenet on July 26, 1997." However, according to Adam Audette's blog (http://www.audettemedia.com/blog/search-engine-optimization-history/) John Audette first used the term on his webpage on Febuary 15, 1997; and his evidence seems compelling. I also read that Bob Heyman and his partner Leland Harden said they coined the term in 1995 in his post: http://searchengineland.com/who-coined-the-term-seo-14916. The main point I pull from all of this is that SEO as a term is at the very least 15 years old.
Now trust me, I get it. People love to get in really early on stuff. However, from my own prospective working in a web-design company, SEO was a term not understood by the average business owner or even marketer. Eventually people started asking the question how do I rank in Google? This took a long time. Google wasn't founded until 1998, and at that time they were not the dominant force.
The dot.com bubble peaked as we know in 2000, and people weren't worried so much about ranking as they were about the viability of online businesses. In the early days of search, which I define as "search pre-Google dominance," blackhat SEO was in full-force. Keywords blended into backgrounds, link farms, all of the exploits that "gamed" the system. It took Google some time to crack down and make search viable. Google's policies and strategies and algorithms around search is one of the reasons Google is Google. Many enterprise level and early adopter large to medium businesses started moving heavily into SEO, and there were plenty of agencies that started to deploy SEO as a primary service for clients. However, I would argue that it took some time for "SEO" to find prominence in the lexicon. So the path from conception to everyone and their dog knowing about the term SEO took anywhere from six to nine years.
Now that the term SEO has been fully adopted, I rarely get a client who hasn't heard of it. SEO is a prerequisite of all site design for any sized business.
Now let's talk about SMO. Wikepedia gives credit to Rohit Bhargava in his blog,
"The Five Rules of Social Media Optimization" for coining the phrase Social Media Optimization. (SMO).http://rohitbhargava.typepad.com/weblog/2006/08/5_rules_of_soci.html
This puts the starting date for the term at August 10, 2006, just four years ago. I know four years seems like a long time, especially in social media, but Facebook launched in 2004 and Twitter launched in 2006. Linkedin launched in May 2003, but it took some time to catch on.
When you compare timeframes, the term SEO took 6 - 9 years from conception to recognition. SMO is only about 2 - 3 years into the life cycle of the term, half of what it took SEO to become a household name. These numbers can be argued of course, but I don't think you can make an argument that we can rule the term SMO outdated, based on how long it's been around.
I think the better argument against the term SMO taking off is that SMO and SEO are fundamentally different, and that social media is changing so rapidly that old SEO methods can no longer be applied. The term optimization doesn't fit social media according to some. I agree that social media is a much different animal than a standard html web page. Social Media has many moving parts; and applications are expanding, changing and going away so fast it is difficult to keep up with it all. A good example of this argument ishttp://www.dailybloggr.com/2010/05/social-media-optimization-smo-is-an-obsolete-term-used-abused-over-and-out/ by Mani Karthik, where he lays out some reasons he believes the term is obsolete.
Still, my thought process follows this line. Social Media as a term exists, and the companies and agencies of choice have all adopted it to describe the social tools and strategies of this new online marketing landscape. As companies move marketing dollars into Social Media campaigns, which they are doing now in a big way, there will be someone at the other side of the paycheck that expects some ROI. Social Media folks tend to want to play down ROI, and I understand why. As hard as it is to explain ROI in Search Engine Optimization, which is seeped into analytics, imagine showing ROI in Social Media which has the distinction of being very nebulous. I heard many Social Media experts throw out the idea of ROI, when it comes to social media; they are offended by the term. Social media is about building relationships, which in turn leads to customers. The general belief system of Social media is about engaging your audience and being a real person. For these Social Media Experts, making money is the byproduct of the campaign, not the focus.
I agree with them, but maybe I'm just not the salesman they are because I tend to deal with medium to large businesses that care quite a bit about the bottom line. Maybe these businesses need to get with it, and adjust to the changing times. I think it is important that they do.Yet for me, having a systematic approach to social media, a course to map out, and a methodology in general, helps me to draw in those that know they need social media, but don't really know why. This is why companies like Radian6 and Trackur do such good business. People still want the tangible.
If the term social media continues to hold prominence as the term for this new way of marketing, and more and more businesses start to wade into social media as they are, then businesses are going to want a way to optimize. What is the point of optimization; to be found, to be dominant, and to drive business. With mobile growing as it is, companies are fighting for narrower and narrower space. How many people search for a company on page two on their mobile device? This was brought up in the same panel, and the answer seems to be nobody. Whether traditional SEO helps customers find companies, or SMO helps customers find companies or a mix of both, which is the most likely, I don't see companies really caring so long as it gets done. Companies want to be found.
So what is the term for being optimized on social media if not social media optimization? I, and I am sure marketers as a whole, are open to a term that better describes social media as what it truly is, and I know driving business is only one of the many benefits of social media. I don't have this compulsion to clamp down ideas, put them in boxes and categorize them; I just think the term SMO has relevance and will probably be added as a list of services in most social media campaigns. It already is in a few. I feel like one of the folks with their ear closest to the ground on social media is Brian Solis. When he uses the term, we might want to pay attention.http://www.briansolis.com/2010/02/social-media-optimization-smo-is-the-new-seo-part-1/ .
Whatever we inevitably call optimizing the social space, we are already doing it. I'm just one of those guys that like to have names for things.