The Future of SEO?

I actually tweeted this article out into the WebDrafter Twitter stream yesterday (which I’d love for you to follow if you’re not already!), but I wanted to take a closer look at it and examine some of the possibilities.

An Australian site called StartupSmart published an article yesterday titled “5 SEO Trends to Lookout For in 2012.” Being someone who works at the intersection of social media and SEO on a daily basis, it was of particular interest to me. I want to go through each bullet point from the original article and give you my take on whether or not I think that particular change will manifest itself this year.

“Social media will be an even bigger factor in Google’s algorithm.”
The safest bet of the bunch. Social is already a bigger signal in search engine results than some would care to admit. Google’s search engine is only getting smarter as time goes on, and Google is starting to realize that, as good as some of their algorithms are, humans do a better job filtering the junk and curating the best content. 2012 will be a big year for social in search, no doubt.

“The search results page will continue to feature less organic rankings and more paid.”
Google puts a lot of focus on usability and simplicity. While the search engine results pages have gotten a lot more busy since Google first started out, I can’t see them reaching a point where paid search ads outnumber organic search results. In fact, I believe some of the newer formats Google is trying out are meant to increase conversions and revenue without having to put more ads on a page.

“Paid search will become more important in supporting SEO efforts.”
With the rise of “not provided” in Google Analytics, good keyword data is going to be a bit more difficult to come by — unless you’re also running AdWords campaigns. This one is a definite.

“Spammy SEO practices will get targeted even harder.”
What SEO is becoming is what it should have been all along — a process to make a site the most quality result for a keyword search, not through spun articles or conveniently-phrased keywords, but through genuine usefulness, with legitimate link and word-of-mouth endorsements through other websites and social media. The march toward this eventual goal is only going to continue, and Google will leave a lot of bloodied, down-ranked sites in its wake.

“SEO will become even more competitive than ever.”
This is going to be the year SEO and SEM as they are known today start to die. Search engine optimization companies that are skilled at developing great content  and online relationships on behalf of their clients will thrive. The multitude of companies who add more useless content to the Web will see what little success they’ve had start to vanish.

Thoughts? Shoot me a tweet (@shawn).

The old Abuzz

Before the Abuzz iPhone app, there was another Abuzz – a community site run by The New York Times.  You can check out a snapshot of the old site here, courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

Two things come to mind:

  1. I will never get to own the Abuzz domain – The New York Times still has it on lockdown until 2012 and I doubt they’ll be surrendering it after that.
  2. How ahead of its time was this site?

Launched in 1999, the NYT Abuzz site was “social networking” before sites like Myspace and Facebook took center stage.  There was a question/answer format (similar to Yahoo! Answers or Mahalo Answers), a discussion section (which isn’t that original – forums and USENET were around for years) and section for publishing commentary, such as book reviews, reactions to news stories, and so on.

On top of that, the site attempted what many sites are still trying to do today – filter information and deliver only what it thinks will be relevant to you.  Pretty amazing stuff.

As you can see here, the site shut down on September 2, 2004, citing limited resources.  The fact that the NYT has held on to the domain name long afterwards means they think the domain is a valuable asset (I agree).  Do they have plans to utilize it in the future?  Who knows.  If not, and if anyone at the Times is reading this, I’ll gladly take it off your hands. ;)

Back to the drawing board

I launched Abuzz last Thursday and heard lots of nice things from those who downloaded it.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of you. :)  The app was born out of my own need for it.  I actually went into the App Store one day looking for something like it and was astonished that it didn’t exist.  So I got to work – mapping out the app and its various features.  I brought someone in to put it together and, in three months, I had a finished product.

But I failed to get Abuzz significant coverage, and that is my fault and my fault alone.

Other than Louis Gray’s great write-up, I couldn’t get a single other blog to run with it.  That tells me more than anything that the app isn’t as polished as it should be.  I had considered pushing out incremental updates, adding features every few weeks, but it’s clear to me now that those would only be bandages on a much bigger wound.  So the next iteration of Abuzz to see the light of day will be 2.0 (it will, of course, be released as an update, not as a separate app – I’m not pulling any Tweetie stuff, here).

I’ve listened to feedback and had a lot of great ideas come my way.  The interface will get an enormous facelift.  The user experience will be vastly improved.  The app will stand on its own both as a social media search tool and as a Twitter client.  I don’t want to let too much slip, but I’ll say this – I’m going to make sure the app is everything it should be.

Be sure to follow @abuzzapp for updates.

Prediction results for 2009, not good

This post takes a look back at my 5 ballsy social media predictions for 2009 post, written on December 20, 2008.

Needless to say, there will not be a predictions post written for 2010.  I am clearly not Desmond Hume (come on, LOST nerds).

  1. Twitter will be bought. Nope.  They did, however, get a huge boost from Oprah.  Oh yeah, they also negotiated a few search deals and started *gasp* making some money. (0 for 1)
  2. Plurk will disappear. Ahh, Plurk – the little microblogging service that should have quit a long time ago.  Instead, they persist.  I logged into the site for the first time in a year only to find that it looks exactly the same.  And by the same, I mean creepy. (0 for 2)
  3. Louis Gray will surpass Robert Scoble in blog traffic. I thought this one was a slam dunk.  Robert thought it could happen.  Where did it all go wrong?  The two were separated by as few as 16,110 uniques in May 2009.  But in June 2009, Building 43 was launched and Robert blogged a bit more often.  When FriendFeed sold to Facebook in August, it was game over.  Scoble returned to his blog fortress and made me wrong yet again.  (0 for 3)
  4. Pandora will all but kill Last.FM. Bzzzzt, incorrect.  Last.FM lives on due to the fact that, well, it works outside the United States.  Pandora does not.  In my own life, Slacker Radio has taken the lead – I suggest you give it a try.  And if you haven’t Groovesharked yet, please do it right now. (0 for 4)
  5. The labels will introduce a mixtape service. Can you say “oh-for-five”?  I could have cheated right here and counted Apple’s “compile a bunch of songs in a mix and buy them for a friend” feature as a mixtape service but the labels had little to do with that.  (0 for 5, in case you forgot)

Do you have the results of your own predictions?  I’d love to see them.  You could not have done worse than me. ;)

What’s Abuzz?

Well, it’s an iPhone app. :)

Abuzz lets you search Twitter, the blogosphere, the forumsphere (or whatever it’s called) and Digg.  It lets you organize your keyword searches into campaigns so that you can keep your related searches together.  You can search all the supported services at once or customize your search to include results from just one or two.Abuzz

What’s really cool about Abuzz is the built-in Twitter client.  It’s lightweight (just like the rest of the app) but gives you everything you need – you can tweet out, send replies, send direct messages, view profiles, follow/unfollow and so on.  You can interact with the tweets in your own timeline and your searches, which frees you from having to open another app if you want to take action on a tweet you’ve found in a search.

Let’s say you work for Apple and want to set up searches for the iPhone and Macbook.  You could open the Abuzz app, create a new campaign called “Apple” and add keyword searches for “iPhone” and “Macbook”.  It’s that easy.  You won’t waste a lot of time navigating through a dedicated Twitter app to set up searches or browsing through Safari trying to search blogs, forums and Digg.  Abuzz is social media search, plain and simple.

So where’s Abuzz?  We’re squashing our last round of bugs at the moment and we’ll probably have an App Store-ready app in three or four days. Keep your eyes peeled two or three weeks into January!  And if you have some search services you’d like to see available inside Abuzz, let me know!  Shoot an email to

When fighting back is acceptable

First things first – read this post.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait for you.

Now, let me try to figure out where you stand.  You could be in one of three camps:

  1. You respect Chris Brogan and you’re put off by that post,
  2. You think the blogger is raising some valid points, or
  3. You just don’t care

If you’re in Camp #1, you’re thinking and feeling the same way that I do.  If you sifted through the comments, you probably saw a lot of other people feeling the same way.  You might have even seen my comment.

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say.  I was definitely going to say something – there’s no question about that.  I thought about the various avenues I could take.  Most social media types would tell us to be courteous, right?  Maybe I could leave a comment that politely acknowledged something in the post that had validity and then calmly make my case against the rest.  Yeah, that’s what I could do!

Nah.  I’d rather call him a tool.  That’s being real.

While we’re building all these relationships, we need to remember to maintain them, too.  That means having that person’s back.  If someone were to talk down one of my close friends, I would not let that fly.  When someone launches an unwarranted attack on a respectable guy like Chris, I won’t let that fly, either.

The same goes for my tweeps, my FriendFeeders, my PodCampers, BarCampers, blog readers and anyone else I like and respect.  If we’re going to push for authenticity and trumpet for more emotion by means of social media, then we need to start being more human.  I’m a pretty considerate guy and I try to be as nice as possible as much as possible.

But sometimes, you can’t be.  Sometimes you need to fight back.

Why you should send me a t-shirt

T-shirts are fun little conversation starters.  If I’m not wearing something utterly ridiculous (my “I <3 Hot Moms” shirt, for instance… that photo isn’t me, by the way), I’m probably wearing a shirt from a Podcamp or one with a Web 2.0 company’s logo.  When it’s the latter, I’m essentially a walking billboard for that particular company.  I don’t mind though – hell, I got a free shirt.

You wouldn’t believe how many people have asked, “What’s socialmedian?” or “What’s Strands?”  A guy behind the counter at a gas station in Hershey once asked me what BarCamp Harrisburg was.  And because I love this stuff, I don’t mind talking a bit about it.  Have I sent potential users to any of these sites?  I really have no idea.  There’s no Google Analytics for real life.  The potential is there, though.

So send more shirts out to more people.  Don’t just give them away in the Bay Area – send them everywhere.  You’ll generate some good will and possibly create an evangelist for your product.  If you want an example, look at this post.  I was more than happy to link to a few companies and I’ll be more than happy to talk about them in the future to anyone who asks.

How much did it cost them?  One t-shirt.

Enough with the snake oil posts

These posts trouble me.

Why?  Because social media is not an exact science.  Have you read any peer-edited journals on the subject, lately?  I haven’t.  What I have read, though, are books, blog posts and white papers that make pretty compelling arguments.  But I don’t take them for gospel and neither should you.  After all, you have a brain – right?  No one has a monopoly on ideas.

It bothers me that there has to be a certain method.  It bothers me that there are prerequisites being thrown out there.  “Well, if so and so isn’t doing this, they’re probably not the real deal.”  Spend less time talking about your competition and more time making your work better. I have to applaud GM for doing this – their “May The Best Car Win” campaign is great.  They’re saying, “Hey, we think we have a pretty good car, here.  So try ours, try our competition’s and may the best car win.”  That is confidence.

I will credit Advertising Age with producing the only true “snake oil” post worth its salt.  They don’t create a ridiculous list to celebrate themselves and disqualify everyone else.  In a nutshell, they say use common sense.

I won’t bag on those who are doing what I do.  I like you people.  I won’t claim to be a know-it-all because that’s impossible.  But I’m always learning and always trying to get better.  Call me crazy, but I think karma is a real thing – I’d rather help you than tear you down.

I wish everyone else shared that philosophy. :)

Stabbed in the back by FriendFeed

I haven’t written a blog post in about four months.  Life has been getting in the way and I just haven’t had the time to sit down and put some thought into a serious post.  This is the first time I’ve felt compelled to write in that span of time and it pains me to do so.  Whether this strikes a chord or is just another post echoing around inside the chamber, this is how I feel.


Earlier today, FriendFeed sold itself out to Facebook for a reported $50 million.  What will Facebook do with FriendFeed?  No one knows for certain, but many suspect this was not a purchase of FriendFeed but instead a purchase of FriendFeed’s tech and talent.  Much like Twitter acquired I Want Sandy a few months back and later shut it down, this might not bode well for FriendFeed users.

I’m a bit sickened by FriendFeed’s willingness to sell.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I have a few theories.

Maybe it’s the way the early FriendFeed adopters contributed so much and are now getting so little.  Robert Scoble and Louis Gray, for example, evangelized the hell out of FriendFeed and did so for good reason – they loved the service and thought it could do big things.  My idea of a big thing was not selling to Facebook, but I’m not sure how Louis and Robert feel.  And it wasn’t just Robert and Louis but tons more.  If I named every single person who talked up FriendFeed like it was the light bulb, I’d be writing here for days.

Maybe I hate this move because I will miss the FriendFeed community – the people I’ve met, shared laughs with and learned from.  What happens to them?  Do they vanish into thin air?  I don’t know.  For those who want to keep in touch, find me on Twitter (@shawn) or send me an email – shawnfarner (at) gmail (dot) com.

There’s one last reason I could be disappointed by this – maybe I thought the FriendFeed crew was above selling themselves out.  Maybe I thought they wanted to innovate on their terms.  After all, these guys left Google to strike out on their own.  That led me to believe that they were going to do their damnedest to make sure FriendFeed became all it could be, and by that I mean more than just a few new buttons in Facebook.  Guess not.

I’m sure a lot of others are let down by this news and are standing at the same crossroads, too.  FriendFeed is saying it still wants to be my friend (for the time being), but I’m not sure if I can do it.  If Facebook decides to keep FriendFeed intact, that will take some of the sting away but it won’t repair the trust – and what’s a relationship without trust?

Stop talking, start doing


Aaron Brazell (@technosailor) said something yesterday that really struck a chord with me.

“I’m really tired of the meta and the echo chamber. There’s so much happening in this world that actually matters. We’re on the edge of global economic collapse. There are companies starting and failing. There are people trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from. And we keep fucking talking about this fucking meta social bullshit. Honestly… I’m tired.”

How right is he?  There are probably enough “social media experts” to create a new country – all of them covering the same news and spouting out the same tired buzzwords.  There has to come a time where we say, “There are people who get it and people who never will.  It’s time to move on.”  Time to use these tools to further the causes we believe in.  Use them to promote the things we’re passionate about.  Use them to better the world and better ourselves.

I can’t talk about social media anymore.  There’s only so much you can talk about.  And what’s the point?  Why debate the possible ways Twitter can monetize?  Are you getting paid to do that?  I’m not.  Twitter hired someone specifically to solve that problem, so if you like working for free, I encourage you to keep the debate going in a public forum.  Is that really your passion, anyway?  What were you into before all this social media madness came to be?  Go back to it.  Go back to what you know. 

Imagine yourself twenty years from now. Zoom out and view the entire timeline of your life. This period of “Web 2.0” and “the social web” will be but a small blip that people barely remember.  The meta talk will long be forgotten because it has little-to-no impact.  Now imagine what could have been done if you had used social media as a tool instead of subject matter.  You’re into knitting? Create a knitting blog.  Create a community around knitting.  In twenty years, who knows, perhaps you’ll be credited with turning the knitting world on its ear.  You’re into flowers? Blog about it.  Take pictures.  Have “garden meetups”. Use your imagination.

I’m going back to what I know.  Most of my blogging here from this point forward will take a more personal tone and will discuss the things that I love.  A big one is community service.  On the right sidebar, I’ve added an “Upcoming Service Projects” widget.  When I am made aware of service projects in the area, I’ll add them to the calendar and they’ll show up there.  If you’re a Google Calendar user, you can also add it by searching “Central Pennsylvania Community Service” in the public calendars.  For future Central PA Tweetups (not tonight’s, don’t have much of a list yet), I’ll also try to make everyone aware of any service projects that are coming up in the near future.

There’s a whole, wide world out there – so many hobbies and passions just begging to be covered.  Let’s stop talking and start doing.

Thanks for the wake up call, Brazell.