Is search really dead?

Unless you have been living in a dark cave for the past few years, you will have noticed the inexorable rise of MyspaceFacebookTwitterYouTube,Bebo and countless other social networking sites.  Social Networking has been The Next Big Thing for a long time now, and whilst Google et al have been holding on to our hearts and minds, they have been losing ground to Social Networking for a number of reasons.

When I talk about Search Engine Optimisation, I have quite a specific view of the best way to treat SEO.  My key points are to think about SEO upfront in the design process, not to expect any short cuts to success, measure results over time and to continually evolve your site in order to get better search engine rankings.  But it is possible to obsess about SEO and to spend too much time and effort for a disproportionately small gain.

When you submit your site to a search engine there is no guarantee that they will even list you at all, never mind list you any time soon or at the top of the rankings for your chosen keywords.  SEO is a medium-to-long term game which requires patience, you may not see the results of your SEO work for a long while.  And here is the first advantage that Social Networking has over search.  Immediacy.  I know that as soon as I make a blog post, or twitter update, or change my status on linkedin, it will take immediate effect.  Conversely, if I tweak the keywords on my home page, it may be days, weeks or months before I see it make any difference, if it makes any difference at all.

Then there is the constant barrage of minutiae regarding Search Engine Optimisation.  How many words here or there for the best performance? Are you using ALT tags? What file names have you got?  Good grief.  Should you really be spending so much time trying to beat an algorithm?  Or would your time be better spent connecting with potential customers using other channels?  Search engines are the scatter-gun approach to web marketing, you are trying to reach maximum eyeballs for minimum outlay.  Social Networking is more refined.  A sniper rifle if you will.  If people choose to connect with you on Facebook, or to follow you on twitter, or to read your blog, that is much more qualitative result and ensures that they are kept up-to-date whenever you use those communication channels to reach them.

Finally, there is relevance.  It has been proven that Google and Bing could not keep pace with Twitter and Facebook during one of the largest breaking stories this year, indeed, it was apparently celebrity tweets that were at the forefront of breaking the news that Michael Jackson had died.  A single Lindsay Lohan tweet can spread news faster than two multi-billion dollar search engines.  Knowing this, even I’d follow Lindsay Lohan on Twitter if I could just figure out which is her real account! Interestingly, Yahoo – utterly decimated by Google in the search space – was actually on the ball with breaking news of the death of Michael Jackson. A coup for them no doubt, but one which only people on the fringes of SEO geekery seem to know about.

In reality, Google is still a dominant player, the main gateway to the web for millions of people, and other search engines are looking to close the gap with Google.  Of course people will still use search engines, but from a business point of view it just doesn’t make sense to focus all your energy in that area unless you have a lot of time and an equally large pot of money.  Search is now just a single piece of the online marketing puzzle, it is not the be all and end all that it once was.  Social Networking is now just as valid a tool as search, even if it is for different reasons.  Search is dead.  But by golly, long live search!

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