Moz recently refocused their business on SEO and effectively reversed their decision to refocus their business on social and content. This is less of a criticism of the fact they laid off a significant portion of their staff and more of me asking why any company would bet their future on SEO?
Some of this perspective is going to come from the standpoint of a former Moz customer. I also happen to have a lot of thoughts on the state of the digital marketing landscape and where search optimization (both organic and paid) sit on that landscape. But to be clear, I’m not questioning the dollars and sense of their decision, both to focus on the product in their suite of tools which was actually financially viable, or the decision to part ways with some members of the team. Moz makes good products. I wish we still used them where I work. Our issue was one of reporting and price, but the toolset itself I thought was fantastic.
I haven’t built a platform but I do pay attention.
I’m a marketer. I study marketing and hold an extreme reverence for good marketing. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met or worked with are marketers. Marketing and podcasting are pretty much all I care about. So before I say what I want to say, I want to offer a disclaimer: Its obviously very easy to question the decision to go back to focusing on SEO when you’re just a guy with a blog. I know that. I actually had pause to write anything about this topic when I saw one of my heroes (unbeknownst to him, surely) Wil Reynolds post some tweets defending Moz.
Can’t take people throwing shade @moz, trying hard to keep my trap shut bc sprouting off at the mouth is negative, & imma stay positive, but
— Wil Reynolds (@wilreynolds) August 19, 2016
You might not like moz, but what have you contributed to our industry? What platform have you built to give people a voice?Stop talking shit
— Wil Reynolds (@wilreynolds) August 19, 2016
Clearly Wil is talking about other people in the SEO industry, but his passion on this topic made me wonder if I was being too critical. After thinking on it, I decided I wasn’t because I think Moz is actually a great company but disagree with doubling down on search. Let me explain.
I’m not talking shit, but I’m just saying..
There was a time I considered myself a professional search engine optimizer. SEO is a noble profession. It really is! If you can make money from helping people clean up their content to make it easier for search engines to understand then you are providing a valuable service. So long as you aren’t being a black hat scumbag, I think SEO is just fine.
But SEO’s time has come and gone and I’m pretty sure SEOMoz knew this when they changed their name back in 2012. They knew that although they remained committed to “fight for the legitimacy, value and importance of SEO” that from a marketing perspective, and indeed a search perspective, recognizing that social and content are the more important part of the more holistic marketing program they wanted to build.
As hard as I’ve fought personally and we’ve fought as an organization over the last decade to make marketers and organizations think more holistically about organic search, the branding of the past remains. SEO is seen as a narrow set of activities that move rankings up and bring search visitors in. To truly help with SEO, we have to do more than just place keywords, make sites accessible, and build links, but first we need the influence to make these changes. A broader marketer is often granted that influence, while pure SEOs still, unfairly, must strive for it. ”
Over the years I’ve seen SEO’s go into client meetings and bloviate over their services. Empty promises for top rankings on desirable keywords and phrases. Outrageous charges for what ultimately ends up being meaningless site updates. SEO is mostly guess work even today. I applaud iteration and experimentation, but as a content producer I don’t want to spend my time thinking about how people find my content. Give me a search engine that can understand me and my intent, my location, the things I’m interested in and the people I care about.
The landscape is different now.
Wait a minute. Aren’t we moving towards a search engine that can do that? Isn’t that what Google and Facebook are building? And hold up, isn’t Facebook telling publishers that they can supply a feed of their content and they will optimize it for them? Everyone talks about Google, but what about Alexa, Cortana and Siri? Those are search engines too, and they don’t necessarily care about SEO.
I wish I could cleverly link to an article where I called all of this years ago. I had a pretty good idea, but didn’t put much thought into blogging back then.
The truth is, there are only a few people that can predict these trends with certainty. They are the heads of the top internet companies. If you’ve been listening to what they’ve been saying, or watching the moves their companies are making, including their investments, you might start to think AI is going to play a much bigger factor in how we find information. This is to say nothing about just the changes that Google has made to search over the years, from cards to Google Now.
Its hard to objectively argue for SEO’s strong future. A future where Google isn’t going to get much, much smarter about delivering the information that we need right when we need it. A future where our friends recommend new products and services to us rather than us having to go out and look for them. A future where we talk to our phones and devices and they go out and return with the information. A future where the places we spend most of our online time also host our content, or generate it for us on the fly.
Much of this technology already exists and its only going to get better. I truly believe that the days of us going to a search engine to find things are coming to an end. It won’t be this year or next, but if its 2016 and I am betting my company’s future on SEO then I am feeling a little worried.
Where I hope Moz will go next.
If I had to bet, Moz will find some way to incorporate content and social into their search product. Maybe having different products for those were the problem. I’m more disappointed than anything that Moz wasn’t able to be successful with their vision of the holistic marketing program. There hasn’t been a company in my estimation which has a killer product that somehow covers the important parts of SEO, mixed with useful social and content creation tools. There are many companies that have tried. I suppose Hubspot has done the best job at social, content and search but I can’t think of any one player in this space who has blown me away.
I respect Moz’s decision to do what is best for the company in the short term, I just question the long term future of SEO and that is what makes this news disappointing to me. Hopefully they make it as a company, I’ll be rooting for them.