Automating the SEO process has been a hot topic of late. Loren Baker stirred up the conversation with his post “Can SEO Be Automated?” where he talks about the fact that search marketing agency, Commerce360 is developing proprietary software to automate SEO. As of today, his post has received 41 comments, mostly from people defending the fact that SEO cannot be completely automated. I agree!
Then Lisa Barone published an excellent post defending the fact that SEO still needs the human element. This leads one to wonder if search engine optimization can actually be accomplished with software or in other words, can monkeys do the jobs of humans?
First let’s look at what Commerce360’s plans are in their own words (taken from Loren’s post):
We’re on a mission: to create the future of search marketing. We started out thinking we’d build a next-generation online agency – that we’d be the first one to have numbers, analytics, statistics, technology in our DNA rather than brand strategy and creative. But we came to realize that the natural endpoint of our vision, and the natural evolution of the search industry, weren’t towards a new agency model. That the agency model is fundamentally corrupt. Rather, we and search were both driving towards software.
Because search is just too complex for humans to effectively grasp, Google has legions of Ph.D.s and acres of servers running the software those Ph.D.s write. Yet the typical paid search campaign is run by an English major with a spreadsheet. There has to be a better way.
So we raised venture capital and we’re building a search optimizer.
Not a tool, like Atlas or SearchCenter, but a true optimizer. A pivotal departure from everything that has come before it. We have something going on
Hasn’t this been tried before? Certainly it has and yet the most successful SEO companies are still using real people. Sure software can be utilized to help automate the process. Keyword research tools, backlink checkers, ranking software, web analytics, spider simulators and the like all have their place in helping SEOs to do their job. However as Lisa Barone so eloquently puts it:
“I’m sure there are parts of the SEO process that can be automated, but the bread and butter of your search engine optimization campaign has to be human engineered. Automated systems may help you to get the bleeding to stop, but if you want to be at all competitive, you need more than fancy computers and tools. You need brains and creativity and relationships and people capable thinking outside the (computer) box.”
That is one thing computers lack, the ability to think like humans, the ability to be creative, and most definitely the relational aspect. SEO is part technology but it is also a art and a whole lot of common sense. Software falls short in that it cannot always adapt to the multitudes of unique scenarios that can occur from project to project.
I’ve been doing this stuff for ten years and sure the fundamental SEO techniques are pretty consistent – keyword research, optimizing title tags, meta description tags, content, anchor text in internal links, alt attributes behind hyperlinked images, etc. However that is not all there is to SEO. There are unique challenges with each site and with each market. Not to mention site usability, the ability of a site to convert and the client’s specific goals.
Once again, Lisa puts it so well:
Anyone who’s been in this industry for awhile will tell you that SEO has never been about simply creating a page that’s technically sound, there are tons of human factors that go into it as well. This is especially true today when the engines are starting to focus on things like user intent and personalization. To be successful you can’t just create a page that’s better in the eyes of the engines, it also has to please your users. Your users who are human. An automated process isn’t going to be able to help you do that. I don’t care how smart you think it is.
It seems that no matter what industry, someone will always make an attempt to see if monkeys can do a human’s job. The bottom line is that monkeys work much cheaper than humans. In this case, the monkey is a software solution. While software is not a monkey, it is the same principle – trying to use a machine or cheap labor to get the job done. Sometimes it can be accomplished but at what sacrifice?
In my own experiences, software never would have been able to dig and dig and dig some more to discover the underlying problem that was causing a site to be banned in Yahoo, then fix the problem and finally beg the Yahoo powers that be to allow the site back in.
Software cannot necessarily look at a site and say, “this sucks! It is a usability nightmare and is aesthetically appalling.” Software cannot write compelling copy in a natural language that appeals to humans giving the site the best opportunity to convert. Software cannot effectively decide which social media sites fit the client’s goals and which do not. I could go on and on.
Lisa again summarizes so well why SEO can never be fully automated:
The fact of the matter is, as search engine optimization evolves and becomes more complicated, we need SEO to become more human-oriented not less. We need campaigns to be designed to meet actual user needs, not scientific formulas. If you want to automate your optimization efforts, go for it. Who cares about those users and their needs anyway?
I finish with this thought. Think about products such as musical instruments, automobiles, wine, cigars, furniture, etc. Aren’t some of the very best products we obtain made by hand? That has been my experience. Whenever I go for the cheaper product that was manufactured by some automated process (or cheap labor), it can never hold a candle to those that are made by skilled, talented, and even artistic human beings.
I think the same is true of SEO or any marketing for that matter. Automated tools may help us in the process as they do in any industry, but to devalue the human element is to sacrifice quality and ultimately, performance.
One more quote and it comes from my friend, Stoney deGeyter, who has been doing SEO for a long time:
“There are a lot of tools that can automate some of the research, but automated implementation of SEO? Now way. I wouldn’t trust that any more than I wouldn’t trust someone to automate a television commercial for me.”