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Online Audience Optimization OAO - The Next SEO?
The death of #SEO  is now official, but not a surprise. SEO was always an unsustainable system. SEO was too small. You could win the first part of the war, optimizing traffic to your site, but winning the second part was harder, much harder. 

The second part of SEO was always OAO. Bringing millions to a website that felt like bait and switch never worked, NEVER. Not only did tricking traffic via over optimization NOT WORK, but it was beyond expensive. 

Some brilliant black hat SEO is laughing at how naive I am, but those black haters are exceptions to the rule. For those of us who tried to do the right thing in the right way (and that changes all the time online btw) we couldn't win without OAO. 

We had to optimize our websites as a middle ground between US and THEM. This is the big change I see in the  last two years. Once social gets as large and in charge as it is now the very idea of US and THEM become barriers and useless concepts. 

With feedback flowing over the sandbags trying to stay dry seems foolish. Better to let the flood in and figure how to surf the tide. If Online Audience Optimization isn't new to most #ecommerce  merchants what is new is the SPEED, FURY and CONVERSATIONAL nature of THIS TIME NOW. 

Here are the 9 pillars of OAO in this defining post:

1.     Focus on the brand 
2.     Be consistent and clear about your strategy and purpose, 
3.     Cast a wide net 
4.     At the same time, cast a targeted net. 
5.     Encourage audience participation 
6.     Employ engagement mechanics and gamification techniques. 
7.     Integrate your mobile strategy
8.     Don’t obsess about keyword density
9.     De-emphasize metatagging

If CONVERSATION is the big change between NOW and THEN there are also hidden new truths. Conversations need to be sustained over time. Ever notice how when you see an old friend who you were close with the period between when you saw them last and now isn't important. You catch up instantly with a certain kind of friend.

In fact quickly it may seem as if no time has gone by. The nature of human interaction is we communicate with more than words. We communicate with gestures, time and nonverbal clues. 

Websites, at least great ones, can feel like an old lost and now found friend too. Great websites balance content, design and interaction between clarity, work and mystery. As we make this turn from a solipsistic SEO where talking to ourselves about ourselves was prized to a conversational social commerce some "secret" implications are worth exploring including:

* Telling consistent stories across media is important.
* Listening to customer and advocate stories across social nets is important. 
* Relevance is our new info architecture currency.
* Relevance must be subdivided by personas (what is relevant to me is stupid to you). 
* Don't make claims, but publish claims others make about or for you.
* Think and act less proprietary and more curatorial. 

If you like RULES this new time is unsettling. The only rule now is what is working now. I love a good 9 point list as well as the next guy and about half of this OAO list are on my all time favorite Internet marketing strategies and tactics (like gamification), but the missing idea, the  missing conversation, is LOVE. 

Love is implied, but smart IMers know in a battle for hearts and minds, and this one is shaping up to be a World War level battle, then the first to broach the LOVE IDEA wins. 

Every marketer and business person reading this just got a little uncomfortable and I'm not sure why. Surely every business worth its customer engagement is now and has always been about love. Our Puritan capitalist work first love later ideas fit so well with a rules based SEO where it was possible to win by executing the rules just a little better. 

This new time says you and your marketing are only as strong as your last post, share, curation, video, story, comment, LIKE or link. Those ideas cover the frontend. The backend is about creating an experience where time is rewarded by knowledge, connection, community and love. 

We want to laugh, play and cry together. We want to shop, learn and be entertained together. If you want to call all of these things by some new three letter acronym cool and OAO seems good to me. 

The problem with a new three letter acronym is we pattern creating humans may mistake THIS time for THAT. Not even close. We don't know the new rules yet and that is why every one of the 9 pillars are so general and things no IMer would ever say no to. 

We may never be able to write such a clean rules guide for this time. This time may be too dynamic and variable always. Of course NOT having rules is a rule (lol), so relax, wax up the board and get ready to surf OAO. 
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Phil Buckley's profile photoMartin W. Smith's profile photoMark Traphagen's profile photoGina Fiedel's profile photo
10 comments
 
I'd love to share this, but my audience would crucify me for sharing anything with "SEO is dead" in it. SEO is far from dead; its just evolving. Is there some way you can redo this otherwise brilliant post without the hyperbole +Martin W. Smith?

The things you describe have always been a part of a good, wholistic search marketing plan. What's changing is they are just becoming more important.

I think what you mean to say is that certain black hat SEO techniques are "dead." Of course, many of those aren't really even "dead." They still work, but the ROI of doing them is becoming less and less.
 
I think +Scott Jenkins nailed it. Yes, the SEO tactics of 2009 are dead, and frankly, good riddance, but real SEO has never been about tricks. For as long as I've been an SEO it has been about optimizing a site to attract targeted visitors. Which sounds like the same thing as OAO.

But if you can get a client to buy OAO because they are worried about SEO, then more power to you ;-)
 
Thanks +Scott Jenkins +Phil Buckley +Mark Traphagen but I think we are all saying the same thing in almost the same way. Black Hat SEO only worked for a time because Google would catch up AND because bait and switch as a marketing tactic isn't sustainable.

I also agree "SEO" is far from dead since the term really came to mean the whole of Internet marketing. The title was on the piece I scooped and the pillars aren't mine they are from the original post.

Will try to be more clear but what causes controversy and energy makes me smile. Marty
 
Well then chalk this up to another example of why I don't use Scoop.it. If you're outside the scoopit community, the interface is very confusing. I couldn't tell at a glance whether that was curated content, your content or some mix thereof. 

I still can't share this post (a real shame) but not only because of the bogus title of the article you scooped, but your opening line of your own text, Marty, is "now that the death of SEO is official"....so no, with all respect, we are not "saying the same thing."

I think you may be unaware but there has been a huge backlash in the intelligent part of the online search marketing community against "SEO is dead" as nothing more than linkbait for a title. And that's not just from self preservation or over-sensitivity (some of it probably is), but because the phrase is patently false.

So I'm asking, if you agree it is false, why is your opening line that it is now "official." It is far from official.

I'm only harping on this because I hate to see an otherwise great piece of content become unshareable because of one poorly chosen phrase.

Love ya' Marty!
 
No worries +Mark Traphagen and I agree moving content from Scoopit to GPlus is not one of its strengths. I didn't know about the controversy and, as you and +Phil Buckley know, I've spent some time with Bruce Clay and am considered a pretty fair "SEO" myself having made millions with what I learned there so I don't kill Ceasar lightly or without pause.

What I mean, and I don't think even Bruce Clay would argue, when I say "SEO is Dead" is the over optimization of a site by changing its natural rhythm to capture traffic that only exists in the math and that tactic is clearly beyond dead BECAUSE it isn't supported by the now required confirming social signals.

Is Siloing dead? When I wrote Advanced SEO Siloing, Bottling and Bleeding http://scenttrail.blogspot.com/2012/06/seo-advanced-lessons-in-bleeding.html#.Un5Uko2E6SU it was a different time, but many of those tactics are also just intelligent information architecure so they probably still have merit.

Sorry you can't share this one Mark, but I will write a new one you can. M
 
Just so we're clear +Martin W. Smith I agree with everything your saying!

It's just that I know in the SEO forums where this sort of post would be valued, saying SEO is dead stamps a post unreadable on arrival.

The problem with the phrase is that it's too general. What you mean is that certain black hat and overly-zealous SEO practices are dead. Not that everything that SEO entails is dead.
 
No that's not what I mean +Mark Traphagen. What I mean is that the idea that a site can be tuned to the math is dead. "Tuned to the math" is wider than black hat SEO since my team and I, +Phil Buckley among them, would spend hours tuning to the math.

If I had all the time I've spent inside of keywords back I wold gain a year of my life. There is NO REASON to do that anymore (thank God). Here is the problem, as a former Director of Ecommerce I know that every one of my fellow Directors spent at least as much time optimizing as they did creating great content.

It was unavoidable and it seemed to be what Google wanted since those who got really good at this form of "over optimization" seemed to WIN your traffic.

In such a MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) world you did what you needed to in order to survive and win. We spent $10K to send me and several others to learn SEO from the master (Bruce Clay) so we could optimize better than the next guy.

Those tactics were NOT black hat and they are now officially dead as door nails because they are unsupported by social. Does that mean we should not create relevant titles, watch our "stop words" when we write and pay attention to other "technical SEO" things?

Of course not, but you tighten my definition of SEO is Dead too much. I know that the system every Dir of Ecom worried obsessively about is over because it doesn't create the social support to sustain itself.

To me that means "SEO is Dead" if that causes controversy, backlash and whatever that's also fine. Teams I've managed, including Phil, have made more than $30M using optimization tactics as one of our strategies, I know that day is gone and anyone who insists it isn't is about to have a very expensive and lonely life because optimizing a website for SEO means next to nothing now since it doesn't produce a single confirming social signal (period, full stop)
 
+Scott Jenkins that's because we are in danger of overblowing social signals at this point. Social signals will grow in importance in the coming years. Indeed they may ( may ) have been given a boost by Hummingbird. But even there, it is most likely that Hummingbird just demonstrates Google's ability to move toward social signals being truly useful, not that they have that full-blown turned on. 

Marty and I disagree about this, I think, but I do not see social signals as having tremendous impact yet especially for immediate gain. I see Google being extremely cautious toward them. We all assume that just getting a bunch of social mentions around a post should equal higher rankings, right? But that ignores that it is profoundly difficult to evaluate the meaning and value of each of those signals.

That's why even within the past several month, Google's Matt Cutts has said that links on web sites remain the single most valuable and powerful signal for search. Now, I agree with Danny Sullivan that it is horrendous that Google is still dependent on Links. In a recent interview, Sullivan brilliantly declared Google's hangin on to link dependency to Western government dependence on fossil fuels. They work, but they are almost hopelessly polluted.

But on the other hand, as I said, social signals are much harder to evaluate and use reliably than most people think. In addition to the difficulty of assessing what individual signals mean (someone plussed that post, but why? or is this Tweet a positive endorsement or negative blast?), there is the fact that social signals are much more easily handed out and more fleeting than web links.

That being said, we do have statements from Google reps that they are moving toward being able to use things like social signals and author and page subject authority; they just aren't there yet. But things like we see in the technology behind Hummingbird give hope that they are well on their way. 

In the meantime, the most sane and sensible approach to social signals I've heard in a long time came from Matt Cutts at last month's Pubcon keynote: social signals have little to no short term effect, but can be very big over the long haul. He seemed to be saying that what Google is looking for is not so much how many likes or retweets or +1's your blog post got, but how much positive social activity is there around you or your site measured over a long period of time. Do you have staying power? Do people keep on recommending you day in and day out.

In the meantime, it makes sense to me to:

1) Keep on doing the best parts of traditional, white hat SEO, including site optimization (but not to excess), speed and UX, and the encouragement of quality, natural links for other sites (and for that last one, social can be very helpful)

2) Building powerful, strategic social networks centered around "fans" and "evangelists" who like your brand and/or content and will share it with their audiences.

3) Build contextually-rich in-depth content centered around the needs and questions of your prospects.
 
I plus 1'd this for the comments. For a person like me, simply getting to be in the room for this conversation is a tremendous privilege. My main job is to keep learning and then apply what I can and pass on what I understand to our clients most of whom don't have extra SEO budgets, they just want the basics done right and some good results and that's been primarily up to me. These days, it's a collaboration and they have to participate more heavily than they often want to. At any rate, I just want to say thank you to you for the opportunity to learn here +Martin W. Smith! +Mark Traphagen, +Scott Jenkins, +Phil Buckley.
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