As marketers lean away from Facebook, the question of what comes next is on everyone’s mind. Facebook’s demise has incited a plethora of pieces exulting in the return of SEO, while simultaneously taking it down for being boring, robotic, and mechanical. Brian Feldman’s widely shared piece, “SEO is back. Thank God.” gets so much right about social content, but, the notion that, “SEO is about manipulating robots into treating your content as the best example of sought-after information.” is patently false in 2018.

The internet has grown up, and so has SEO.

In 2006, SEO was about robots. Today, SEO is shorthand for problem-solving. After all, enquiring minds want to know:

  • What time is it in Moscow?
  • How to easily peel an egg
  • Lunch near me
  • Do I have a brain tumor or does my head hurt?
  • Why does pineapple make my gums burn?

These queries aren’t for robots. They’re for real people, answering real questions. While keyword stuffing and paying for backlinks was once the backbone of shady SEO, in today’s world that won’t fly. As we move forward with SEO, it’s time to talk about the truth of what we can do with it… something social content attempts, but SEO masters.

Social content is performative. SEO is informative.

As many have noted, social content tends to say more about the person sharing it than the person writing it. BuzzFeed, Elite Daily, and Bustle are all millennial-focused websites that thrive on this kind of viral social content. Who can forget about the dress, or the ubiquity of quizzes that determine your future spouse based on your favorite brunch food? (Not that it matters, but my future husband is John Krasinkski.) Social content isn’t better or worse than SEO, but it often fails to have the emotional connection outside of headlines. It’s shareable, but it doesn’t actually resonate with the sharer outside of their feed. Conversely, SEO content intent isn’t shareability, but functionality. It can amass more traffic, functioning for years, as it elucidates problems and reminds you how long it takes to poach chicken… or whatever.

Vulnerability & SEO

SEO is about answering humanity’s most private questions. Unlike social content, there’s no shame in search. People will ask a search engine questions they wouldn’t ask their best friend. Mastering technical SEO is about making it easy for users (and Google) to understand your site. SEO mastery is about content and psychology.

Responding to curiosities, commonly asked questions, and facts people forget are just some of the ways to grab attention. Getting to the heart of what people are unwilling to ask others is an underused method of amassing search traffic. After all, as Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, the author of Everybody Lies points out, “Google is a digital truth serum.” When we understand that Google is now a way we share and divulge our most embarrassing or vulnerable questions, it opens SEO content into a new realm.

What makes great social and SEO content?

The qualities of great social and SEO content are not so different. They both have to be enticing and valuable to the reader. Their difference comes down to this: SEO has to solve a problem or answer a question, where social has to ignite conversation or connect emotionally.

Consider the success of Alex Tizon’s, “My Family’s Slave,” last year. The piece spurred conversation in the form of podcasts, Twitter threads, and follow up content. For most social pieces, referral traffic is a great way to tell if your content worked. The time on page and scroll completion tell you whether the piece resonated past a headline or catchy image. If you have heat-mapping enabled you can get as detailed as the phrases and sections that worked.

Great SEO content answers questions, personal or useful, to help people. While organic traffic is just one way of measuring it’s impact, using Google Tag Manager to set up goals and visualize the use of the pieces can help you glean more information to improve the existing content. High bounce rates aren’t a bad thing by themselves, but if combined with low time on page, you can assume people may not be getting what they need.

Listen to your reader, measure your results.

Content is often created in a void. When you only think about shares or traffic, your audience loses. Build your community with your social content. Answer burning questions with your SEO content. Share your mission and flair through design. Use paid media to reach new audiences and share your message. Great content marketing works when it works together, regardless of the source. Ultimately, it isn’t that SEO is back or social is dead—it’s that good is in, and shitty is out. Welcome to the future.