I think it is, and I tweeted so  yesterday.  And the reason is obvious. What is SEO about? Ultimately, it is about one thing: the ‘website’. It’s about making a website and its pages discoverable, ranked favorably in search results, described appropriately so that searchers hook on the description etc.

But ‘websites’ are not ‘in’. Check the diagrams  from Google trends for websites below.

Website traffic for 5 major IT companies
Website traffic for 5 major IT companies
Website traffic for the 2 major consumer goods companies
Website traffic for the 2 major consumer goods companies

While the overall number of people online is increasing, the visits to the web sites keep falling.

At the same time the volume of searches for these brands shows a completely different picture.

Search volume for the 2 major consumer goods companies
Search volume for the 2 major consumer goods companies
Search volume for 5 major IT companies
Search volume for 5 big IT companies

In the last 12 months CG companies see a volume increase or remain steady (amidst the crisis) while, for IT, a longer perspective reveals a mixed picture that has to do with what these companies are and technologies they offer:

  • oracle and ibm are gradually decreasing,
  • apple is increasing,
  • dell  increases too  although less quickly,
  • and hp seems to hold its ground or slightly decreasing.

But there is an equally important movement undergoing: people shift their reliance from search to peers for news,  recommendations and answers.

I don’t remember how many times and about how many things I  have asked my twitter friends’ advise. And it always comes. And most of the time  it’s good too. Not so  abundant as  search results, but who reads search results past the first page anyway?

Enter social seach. Google injects results in search from our social graphs (opt in). I don’t have to reason the usefulness of this.

What should we expect? What else than  these two inversely related trends accelerating?  Less reliance on search, more reliance on peer recommendations.

There are some interesting implications here: SEO consulting and search advertising have profited from our reliance on search. Search won’t go away anytime soon, especially with the social element in it. But what would be the need for SEO? And what would be the need for adword advertising, if the important factor in search results turns out to be our peers?

Is Google shooting its own foot?  So it seems. But I am sure they have figured it out already and they are thinking of alternatives.

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13 thoughts on “Is Social Search a threat to SEO?

  1. Thanks for the interesting data. I agree with you about the growing importance of social discovery but disagree about SEO diminishing. In our small business base we see a similar trend in terms of an increasing amount of discovery coming through social media, but do not see the need for SEO diminishing as part of a holistic strategy.

    A few posts with some additional data related to this topic:

    – “Facebook is NOT the future of Search” http://bit.ly/1LLhUo

    – “Facebook now 1 in 4 Pagesviews in U.S. – What it does and does NOT mean for Businesses” http://bit.ly/28iVda

    – “Social Media Expected to Play Big Role in Holiday Shopping” http://bit.ly/MM6ZT

  2. As I’ve considered this further, I think that social search is more of a threat to paid search advertising than it is to SEO. The total volume of searches continues to rise, but with consumers trusting peers far more than advertising, the sponsored links in a search context will become increasingly ignored. My response with links back to your post here http://bit.ly/qD2XG.

    Thanks for kicking of a mental storm and interesting dialogue!

  3. Tim and ALex,

    thanks for your comments and links. Lot of food for thought here.
    Still, Alex, while, I am not evangelizing anything here, I truly believe SEO’s importance is diminishing, not only paid search advertising as you correctly point out. Further, I expect a new ‘doctrine’ to arise, if it is not already here: Social Search Engine Optimization. SSEO will not have to do with how you craft your website pages but how you string your relationships and how to empower your social graph regardless of social network, cross internet. But I think this is a theme for another post 🙂

  4. Very good article Nikos, with a very strong point. The only thing I would like to mention is that the title fits more for “traditional SEO” or as the original meaning of SEO. I am pointing this out since SEO has evolved into the social search as well, however mainly with blackhat techniques (e.g. getting your story dugg, not naturally).

    In the next years we will be seeing more social search engine optimization companies evolving since search engines like Google will introduce the social factor to their results.

    I don’t think that Google is shooting its own foot. I believe that is a matter of “short” time to introduce social factors to their algorithm which in fact will increase their revenue due to higher conversion rates.

  5. @geobak thanks!

    @John Nousis Thank you. Yes, I was talking about traditional SEO.
    Regarding Google, my question is how will it monetize UGC in search, if, as assumed here, it is more compelling than anything else. Why would a user click on an ad? And what kind of ad would that be?

  6. web business marketing and advertising is without question more or less all about the range of other sites linking to you. without those same links you’re dead in the water. this became apparent to me soon after becoming a member of what is certainly i believe the most effective semi-automatic one way link building software system you can get … promoting website

  7. Related article in Online Media Daily by @LaurieSullivan http://bit.ly/9L3A4M
    “Connecting means figuring out what customers want and using their language to communicate with them. They may sound the same, but the difference is in the attitude. SEO professionals need to focus on what consumers need rather than getting higher ratings in search query results.”

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