Clash of the Titans: SEO vs Social Media – Who’s Going to be Left

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In a recent tweet, Micah Baldwin boldly declared, “If you do SEO for a living, you will be out of business or irrelevant in 3 years.”  For Shoemoney readers (My Definition Of SEO and How The Death Will Play Out) this is not news. We’ve been reading about the death of SEO since the late 1990s when SEO was still very much in its infancy. But lately there’s been something different in the cyber air about the future of SEO and it got me wondering …

In the race for relevancy, could 2010 be the year that SEO is forced to relinquish its organic search throne to give way to the power of search filtered through and against the social graph + geo?

I think so. Here’s why:

Twitter on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs)

A few weeks ago, Google started testing real-time Twitter search results. That got me ‘hmmm-ing’ like crazy.

If what I saw is what there is, wow. This thing is sooooo easy to game.  Check this out: Let’s say I’m looking for a new dentist. Do I really care about conversations about dentists, from dentists or dentistry in general? No, not really. But what if I could geo-filter those same conversations? Okay, that’s more interesting. Now what if I could add a second filter to these same conversations, only this time showing only those tweeple I’m following on Twitter? Ahhh ….

Are you hmm-ing, too? Now let’s take a look at this …

Social Graph Recommendations

With over 350 million Facebook users and growing, there’s a pretty good chance you have a ton of Facebook friends just a click away. With these incredible numbers, how long do you think Facebook will wait before it announces the complete revamp of its anemic search engine and launches brand-new, totally pumped search engine functionality that will make Google a little weak in the cyber knees? Perhaps it already is. Google’s recent integration of Twitter into its results is evidence of ‘first-strike’ thinking.

So ask yourself – when the search playing field finally becomes level in the not-so-distant future, which engine will be your first choice for research: Facebook or Google?

GEO the Evolution of Local Search

In a tightly woven global world, people still care most their needs at home. It’s the main reason consumers have stubbornly held onto their big yellow phone books, despite all the bells and whistles of Google and its SE brethren. When your toilet stops working, you need a local plumber. When your roof has a leak, you need a local roofer. GEO search technology? Of course! And its where EVERYONE is throwing money and lots of it.

Google Sidewiki

Love it or hate it (and most site owners seem to be crowding into the thumbs-down corner. That includes me, too.), there’s no doubt in my mind that Sidewiki’s ability to allow comments, rants, etc. adjacent to specific sites was done with an eye toward affecting overall search, perhaps even PageRank. By offering yet another way for people to comment and engage in the same space smells like another not-so-thinly-veiled strike against Facebook.

The power of social recommendation certainly isn’t new. Anytime we ask a friend to make a recommendation about anything – a new restaurant, a physician, an awesome new WordPress plugin – we’re using the power of relationship-based word of mouth (WOM). What’s different now, and incredibly exciting, is our ability to expand WOM beyond physical borders, time zones and even face-to-face personal relationships.

Today, everyone is a friend or a potential friend. Wow.

Add the quick hit of Google Adwords, Google Local 10 Pack, and a niche platform sites like Yelp (which Google is negotiating to buy for something like half-a-billion dollars, or maybe not.) Oodle and the upcoming Gowalla & FourSquare turf war (my bet’s on Gowalla) and with startups like SimpleGEO, there’s no doubt that the future of search will change. In fact, it already is. It has to. When you combine the search filter through the Social Graph and add GEO for recommendations, what you deliver are vetted results people will use and trust. Elegant. Simple. Completely awesome.

Stay tuned …

About Dan Martell

Dan is the Co-Founder of Flowtown, a web startup that turns email addresses into social profiles.

67 thoughts on “Clash of the Titans: SEO vs Social Media – Who’s Going to be Left

  1. Denny Sugar

    Well said Dan. I think that locally relevant, social vetted results will combine to give local business owners a shot at internet promotions. Up until this point the playing filed has been skewed in favor of large corporations (especially in hot categories like insurance, travel, dating, etc.)

    This is a huge opportunity for us marketers. Localizing the game will create a new goldrush in 2010 in local online marketing.

    It’s easy to get started locally. Just open that big yellow book and use it as a rolodex for leads. If a guy is spending $2,000 a MONTH on a phone book display ad, you should be taking to him about selling him leads for a commission.

    Shoe has a great post here on local affiliate marketing that I highly recommend as well. Also, check out the business model of groupon, they get it. (and just raised $30 million in VC)

  2. Cary Bergeron

    SEO and social marketing is changing for sure. How it all plays out will be interesting to see. I don’t think Google will just site around and let their search traffic take a hit.

    1. Ships

      The thing I want to add to this, is that SEO is turning into social media optimization (SMO). it can bring high traffic to you also.

  3. Purposeinc

    This is why I have bet heavily on facebook. If you just imagine all of that data about every user sitting there, the opportunities are utterly amazing, and not just for us to sell the users more stuff, but for utterly relevant problem solving for that individual user.

  4. Eric Itzkowitz

    Nice article Dan. I like your thought process! No doubt that local is the place to be and if you are not already there, you should be jumping in head first.

    Just my opinion, but those who specialize solely in SEO will have plenty of business for a couple of years even in if they do nothing else. There are plenty of business who still don’t get and/or don’t have the resources to get into the game and will look to an SEO to get them started. Having said this, however, anybody who has thrown all of their eggs into one basket (in this case the SEO basket) better diversify ASAP or risk losing their business to those who have diversified their skill set.

    Think local.

    1. Dan Martell Post author


      Thanks for the positive feedback. Coming from you it means a lot, and agreed – 2 years for SEO’s, but the bigger money will be figuring out the new stuff.

      That’s what I’m working on.


    1. Will

      Ha, well, they can do it now in certain areas. People advertising with or Sponsored Tweets should be able to measure ROI since they see all the stats.

  5. WebsterJ

    Geo/local – SEOs are currently and will continue to mop up in the local search space. It’s the lowest hanging SEO fruit out there.

    Regarding the social graph, this statement:

    “SEO is forced to relinquish its organic search throne to give way to the power of search filtered through and against the social graph + geo”

    only makes sense if you define SEO in a static way.

    Once Google incorporates social graph info into it’s algo, social media becomes part of SEO. It doesn’t replace it – which is what it appears you are saying. That’s like saying linkbuilding replaced SEO. When Google incorporates new elements those elements now fall under the umbrella of SEO. As long as there are search engines, there is SEO.

    It’s fair to say that SEO will change a lot, but saying social filtered search replaces SEO seems wrong.

    1. CJones

      I think you’ve said it best.

      ‘SEO vs Social Media’ is the wrong way to look at it.

      It should be:
      ‘Social Media is/will be part of SEO – Adapt or die.’

  6. Michael Martine

    Well I know a couple people who are going to look a little silly in a few years. There may be sometechnical aspects to SEO that will change, but not only is it not going away, it is in fact needed more than ever.

    Christ, there’s still people who don’t have freakin’ clue about titles, first links, backlinks, or other basic SEO knowledge. And don’t even get me started on the dumbassery around link building.

    SEO gone in 3 years? Snort.

    1. Brian Harnish

      SEO is dead? Quite honestly, I doubt it. Not by a long shot. With as long as I’ve been in the industry I see it year after year. And, if anything, SEO becomes even more important as more businesses attempt to compete against each other and work to dominate the SERPs. If anything, Social Media metrics may end up becoming a ranking criteria (especially with the advent of real time search and display of Twitter feeds), but only time will tell.

      As Michael Martine pointed out above, many people (including many of those in my industry) still don’t know anything about even the basics (title, description, link building, semantic markup, and other attributes that go into successfully SEO’ed web sites). Sorry. But I doubt SEO’s going away any time soon. If anything, with the adjacent rise in competition and many businesses scrambling to become #1 on Google, SEO is going to continue to be a strong foundation necessary for online success.

  7. erich nolan bertussi davies

    SEO optimisation at the platform level is a given or rather. NOT CODING barriers to your content is a given.

    so if your not in the loop yer toast, but yes hyper local matters, that is why one of the most used tools around here now a days is geochirp, for the corp twitter accounts the ghosts.

    but it always was about hyper local it’s just google thought it could broker that game, but no, the twitter sphere the global public chat / blog / conversation space mash up of twitter has and seems to be accomplishing that…

    cause at the end of the day we really do want to know what people are up to, around the corner next door down the street, or near our friends place, or our fav vacation spot..

    this is why the promise of the levelling of the playing field is still going to win for the little guy, the micro guy, the tiny biz person.

    so long as their site has no Barriers to bots and they let us know where they are and what they are doing and why we should buy from them whilst engendering themselves to some of your neighbours and friends alike so that when they say buy from me you say o yah such and such said you were kewl. maybe i will cause at least i can have a relationship with you, you are real and your not a faceless nameless policy driven mega global national corp…

    hyper local is a return to our pre-industrial experimentation.

    memes that allow us to be the social animals we are and get trusted advice before we trade value for service or value are going to be where we gather and cluster.

    in the 90’s we thought it was the portal or the ‘home’ page with a million links, i knew it was not,

    but SEO will still matter for HUUGE portions of the non digitally hyper aware as are the users in the twittersphere, but in a different way.. SEO scammers should get flushed out, we’ll all be on decent CMS’s by 2013 surely, but if we are not, then we can’t afford a SEO ‘expert’ at the end of the day either…

    things are settling down God, er um goggle has made some decent commandants er um rules.. we the maker doers are all obliged to follow them like it or not for now..

    until Google gives none of us any traffic…

    but the sudden dip we’ve seen this year as it has been replaced by social media does not remove them entirely from the equation for ever..

    it just makes it obsolete, and that is indeed as you suggest the path we are currently on.

    bottom line we are social animals this is what the internet promised us and it has taken us the better part of the last 20 years to get some where, where finally we can look to a new decade with the knowing that we are going to get this s#@$ worked out!

    & users will be happier and spend less and less and less and less and get more and more and more and more…

  8. Five Minute Builder

    This is an interesting topic but, I don’t think SEO will be dead anytime soon.

    I think that SEO techniques will just have to continue to evolve to include more and more Social Media techniques.

    I think link building especially won’t be going anywhere for quite awhile. Along with internal linking strategies.

      1. KSmith

        Link building is dead? I have to say, everything I am reading here today sounds like overblown theory from affiliate marketers.

        I have been link building for years with over 100 companies and let me tell you…99% of the time a site’s link profile explains why or why not a site is ranking.

        We must be careful not to label trends in certain niches to all of search as we know it. People love Google, and in my experience most are not as savvy as we believe. Google knows that best.

        By ignoring SEO, you are ignoring competitors in your niche who are probably making a lot of money.

  9. Jeremy

    Great post Dan.

    Local search is becoming more and more important and I really like the way Google and others are embracing social media and including Tweets in SERP’s.

    I am noticing many facebook and twitter pages coming up in several organic searches and it’s going to be neat to see the results of this, and how Facebook, Google, and others react to their findings.

    When you mentioned “which engine will be your first choice for research: Facebook or Google?” it made me think…and Facebook undoubtedly could take some market share from others in search, but one major thing Google has over Facebook is a brand that is known as searching something. More often than not people “google” their research, not search for it…at least in North America.

    Facebook would most indefinitely take some market share because of their large user base but a social tool most likely won’t level off a search giant anytime soon.

    Happy Holidays!

    1. Dan Martell Post author

      Jeremy, thanks for the comment.

      What’s happening is a change in where & how people search.

      Facebook is going to eat away at Google / Bing – hence the reason they paid $25M to Twitter for data, they need a social graph + geo filter.

      It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

  10. ZK @ Web Marketing Blog

    I do not think that SEO is going to die but yes now work and format of work will change.

    What ever may be the way Search Engine or other thing is going to adopt SEO will follow that one will try to know how that work and will start working on that.

    But yes in between few months things changed quite fast …

  11. jarvis

    I hope more companies focus on the twitter/social medic crap that is hyped all day at techcrunch and the like…seo, will still have a place in the market

  12. Davor Gasparevic @ Cheap internet marketing ebooks blog

    Wow, you got me seriously worried with this article dude.

    Luckily, I started harnessing the power of the social sites lately, and I guess that I sort of “caught one of the last trains”, because if your predictions are correct in 3 years or more, if I keep building relationships like this, I might be in the “winning team”.

    I am sort of a long-term seeker, but there are so many variables now, especially because of all this 2012 thing, which I consider as a year when some bigger world movements occur… positive movements, because right now, with all this economic crisis, 2012 seems like something that will create a new hope, a new vision.

  13. Rajat Garg

    I think importance of new factors like social media marketing is definitely going to grow over next few years but I don’t think SEO will go away.

    There are still number of niches where technology is still in infancy and SEO will continue playing out there.

  14. Brian

    Who wants to search for, “How to make money online” and see a bunch of spammed tweets, facebooks updates, etc.

    Maybe it’s just me but I want to see established, authority sites.

  15. Kyle

    As an SEO myself, I can agree that the industry will be getting much tougher… but the guys with enough real estate out there will still bank.

    Just need lots more sites and pages.

  16. SEO services

    I think that SEO techniques will just have to continue to evolve to include more and more Social Media techniques.

    I think link building especially won’t be going anywhere for quite awhile. Along with internal linking strategies.

  17. Pop Sift

    SEO could die… yes it’s true. But I dunno about anyone else, but I’m getting really burnt out on Twitter and Facebook.

    Soo exhausting. It’s like a high school reunion that never ends.

    Probably likely there will always be a need for SEO/search…. seems like I remember predictions on how email would be obsolete, yet everyone’s still using it… right?

  18. Why Do Monkeys Throw Poop?

    Social media is dead. SEO is the shiznit.

    I have secret documents that detail the upcoming collapse of social media. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are actually run by the CIA.

    Soon, the government will REQUIRE all citizens to post to Twitter or Facebook or face jail time.

    Now…. do the math. Jail time… or SEO?

  19. Nancy E. Wigal

    SEO won’t die, but it will evolve to adapt to the changing internet environment. No doubt social media is having a huge impact and will continue to do so. As for FB becoming a SE factor relative to Google…I’ll wait and see. I agree it needs to be better; I can’t find a darn thing on FB’s engine.

    As long as Google is still commanding better than 75% of all search requests, and as long as they still say content is king, SEO will continue to emphasize what Google wants.

    Let some other player take over a significant portion of Google’s search traffic, then we’ll see how SEO will be impacted.

    But a good post overall…very thought provoking.

  20. SEO services

    I do not think that SEO is going to die but yes now work and format of work will change. SEO will always be around. Visitors from search engines are more purposeful.

  21. Chris Peterson

    Thanks for great post. Your article is very simple to understand but to give answer is difficult.
    If will compare both then both are equal but I want to say both is necessary for online business.
    Social Media is giving good traffic in short period in case of SEO it is taking time.

    1. Dan Martell Post author

      My overall thesis is that 2010 more than any year previous, will have a major shift in how current SEO is done.

      Yes, SEO is about search, so it will all be SEO from that point of view. However, it’ll be dramatically different then it’s being done today.

      I appreciate the comment.

  22. Shane

    Interesting post.
    I personally don’t think SEO is going anywhere, anytime soon. But no doubt the game is going to keep changing just as it always has been changing.

    Currently, SEO and social media are two quite different beasts and I wonder if they will merge more and more, in the future.

    Be that as it may, both search engine rankings and social media sites are basically popularity contests. I think the most fundamental change in the industry would be if that principle changed somehow.

  23. Dan Lew

    I don’t agree at all that SEO will be gone. As long as their is search engines their will be SEO. And I don’t really agree that facebook will compete as a search engine. It just wouldn’t make sense they would need to be a public engine to offer search results like a normal engine.

    Also The reason also why Google wants to display twitter is so they can get a piece of the pie that’s all, just like they did with dmoz and almost every other site on the planet!

    Google is already going social with their google wave which once officially launched will blow Facebook of the face of the earth and make it look like crap. I have tested google wave already I know how great it is, much more then a status update and phoo album which facebook has.

    1. Dan Martell Post author

      You really think Google is implementing Twitter to get a piece of the pie? No way dude.

      Google Grabs Plaxo’s CTO To “Turbocharge” The Opening Of The Social Web

      They need social graph data, and will use it – hence Twitter.

      Google Wave??? For real. You think 350M people (Joe Six Packs) are going to use it. Come on.

      You work for Google?

  24. Kelly Reeves, SEM Manager

    We have been noticing more and more results in local SEO and search marketing. It has proven to be one of the most effective tools for smaller businesses. Really liked your post and reference points — lot to think about!

  25. Jeff


    This is becoming a boring standard practice. Call the industry dead, get people all upset, gain some links, and increase your rankings, then 3-5 years later do it again.

    It’s been 9 years since I was told I’d never make a living doing SEO.

    Those in the industry may use search engines less and less, but the majority of users are still using Google, and will continue to use it.

  26. Ken Montville

    I have to admit that this blog post is just a a tad over my head but it i get the thrust of it there seems to be movement toward totally local search.

    On the other hand, as a Realtor, I see movement toward more widespread search as in a quasi-National Multiple Listing Service that allows consumers in the MD Suburbs to see what home values are like in Tempe, AZ.

    So, either those guys are missing the boat or there may be somethings other than a dentist, plumber or roofer that can adapt themselves to National and/or Global search.

  27. Sionne Roberts

    Dan, very good points made however I think the real value of your post is in the conversation that has resulted.

    Darwin’s principle of Survival Of The Fittest states that it is not the strongest who will survive and thrive, but the one(s) most adaptable to change.

    So when you said “…but the bigger money will be figuring out the new stuff” in the Comments section you are exactly right…those who fully understand the evolving trends in how sites are found AND also iterate their approach accordingly will always win in the end.

    People, it’s actually an evolution, not a revolution. Don’t ever forget it.


  28. Toby Schroder

    Proper SEO nowadays has become so much more about creating content that a pro really is needed. You can’t just be clever and game the system anymore and creating content is expensive to do in or out of house. At the end of the day a few truths will still exist no matter what year it is.

    1.) At the heart of any search engines is an algorithm that can be optimized for.

    2.) The more SEO and SMM for that matter is about content creation the more a professional is needed not less.

    3.) The amount of money spent and made on the internet is going to increase not decrease.

    Anyone savvy enough with the internet to be a “good” SEO in this year will be well positioned to handle whatever service SEO morphs into or gets replaced by. They certainly are not wasting their time and will not become irrelevant. They’ll adapt and continue to make shining piles of cash that create haters like they always have.

    I like Micah. He did a great talk at the Big Omaha conference but he should just stick to his expertise instead of making baseless predictions.

  29. Everett

    A: Most of my friends on Facebook and Twitter are idiots whose opinions I neither trust, nor care about. My cousin recently asked me on Facebook what a “cookie” was. Like I’m going to trust him on a search for “best laptop”.

    B: Your example of filtering for a dentist or whatever sounds like a royal pain in the ass. I want to type “Dentist” and get an Fing dentist. Period. I don’t want to wade through social media filtering options to get something relevant.

    C: As you said, have you seen how easy it is to game realtime search on Google? Clearly it’s not ready for prime-time and won’t be for awhile.

    D: Most search engine queries are NEW.

    E: SEOs have been evolving with an industry they largely created for many years and will continue to evolve for a long time to come. Jump off the bandwagon.

    1. Everett

      Or, I should say, most search engine queries are NEW to the person making them, thus they have no history on which to go. Sure, personalize them within their network, but I have lots of friends, family members and business acquaintances in my network with whom I have VERY little in common.

      Also F: SEO is about more than just ranking these days. I do keyword trending and research to help purchasers decide which products to buy for the coming season based on what people are interested in and searching for. Again – evolve.

  30. Jay NaPier

    SEO is over! It’s all a bunch of trickery anyway and Google is all about changing thing up.

    Social Media is WAY better and allows you to connect to your market in an easy way.

    Best option for 2010 – Become a Social Media Addict

  31. Jason

    I hope SEO doesn’t change to much a lot of peoples online businesses depend on it to support there families etc… If it does we will have to be like Chameleons and change with our surroundings.

    I hope SEO isn’t changed to drastically in the coming years. I guess everyone has to be prepared for change if it does. After all the world and the Internet are changing daily.

  32. Joshua Ziering - A Phoenix SEO

    The reality is that unless they have a human ranking every single result page, there will be a market for SEO. Algorithms are inherently vulnerable, and will be “exploited”. Even if they have a human ranking the sites, there will still be SEO, it will just be called bribes.


  33. David

    for one thing Facebook may have 350 million users , but Google has about 10 times that number . Also , Google’s attempts at adding Tweets to SERPS have been pretty useless and irrelevant . Looks as if they haven’t applied their algorithm to the Tweets

  34. Tim @ internet marketing

    It’s not the strongest that survive, it’s the ones that are most responsive to change. Doing the same old thing won’t work forever, we have to stay up to date with all the changes going on at Google etc if we are to get good positions.

    1. Sionne

      Tim, re: “It’s not the strongest that survive…” I said (almost) exactly the same thing back on December 23rd. Great minds think alike, right?

  35. James

    I think the death of SEO is probably a good thing. So many searches seem to have become irrelevant due to craftfully written website copy. I think using social media to rank websites will result in more accurate searches.

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