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PubCon 2011: Is SEO Dead (Again)???

Leo Laporte of TWIG (This Week in Google) seems to think so – as he announced at PubCon this year.  Pubcon, a conference about search marketing, is a place for the greatest minds in search, SEO and marketing to come together, solve problems, create transparency and promote the industry. However, for the last couple of days,  the tension among those with differing opinions has been palpable – specifically among those in Leo Laporte’s camp and those in the Google camp (like Matt Cutts).

Jason Hennessey and Matt Cutts


Me and Matt Cutts at PubCon 2011.

During his speech at PubCon, Laporte essentially forecasted an end of days for Google – an assertion to which Matt Cutts later responded during his own keynote address. Here, you’ll find videos of both addresses [we apologize, we had to remove the videos. To experience the keynotes, though, please see the transcripts posted at the bottom of this blog!], along with a little bit of my own commentary thrown in.


“Google is Actually About to Fumble the Ball, Believe It or Not”

Laporte seems to believe that Apple will displace Google as the search engine of choice with its new technology, Siri. Laporte, mentioning an article he read by his friend Mike Elkin, asserts that Siri will serve as an “intermediate” to search; essentially, he and Elkin believe that people will begin to query Siri instead of visiting the Google search engine. Noting that he has seen many companies rise and fall, Laporte ominously predicts the epic fall of Google because of this and other factors (like the fact that Google’s social network will contribute to this failure  because Facebook is so focused and Google is not). Don’t believe me? Read the PDF posted at the bottom of this blog to read specifically what he said.

Laporte feels that Larry Page has a challenge when it comes to Google +; but he doesn’t stop there. He addresses the audience full of SEOs and search engine marketers, as you can see in the video, saying “If I were in your business, I would really be looking at alternatives to search engine marketing and search engine optimization.” He continues by adding that he doesn’t feel these are viable careers, as in the long run Google won’t be existent or won’t be the search engine of choice anymore. Why not? Because, he says, we don’t actively have to search for anything anymore – that times are changing and Google isn’t on the right side of the change.

As you might be able to imagine (or, as you experienced if you are here at PubCon), this speech wasn’t received well. Many SEOs and SEMs walked out more angry, though, than discouraged. Laporte had just asserted that our careers were not going to be viable down the road, in a speech that seemed more bitter towards Google than informative. This anger remained until Matt Cutts took the stage for his keynote, and renewed our faith in Google and SEO.


Matt Cutts Fires Back: “The Fact Is, SEO is NOT Dead”

Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, fired back at Laporte’s comments in his own keynote speech, which he presented and then reinforced with a Q&A. Google software engineer Amit Singhal also participated in this part of the session.

As his speech opens, Cutts addresses Laporte’s claim that SEOs will be out of a job in 6 months with an incredulous “WHAT?,” a dramatic spitting of his water in surprise (in response to a tweet in which someone quoted Laporte: “I don’t know if search engines are relevant in 6 months” and then added, “Somewhere, Matt Cutts just spit out his coffee.”) Cutts notes that everybody’s favorite “mean” is to say that SEO is dead – and then goes on to disprove Laporte’s assertion. From our seat up in front, we got a great video of the keynote [no longer posted here – again, the transcript is still posted below!].


Pubcon 2011


This is where I sat anxiously awaiting Matt Cutts’s keynote and response to Leo Laporte’s inflammatory comments. Once he came on stage, I could see Cutts’s genuine incredulity at the idea of the impending “end of SEO.”

How Cutts Disproves Laporte’s Theory

So how does Matt dispel the collective angst of the SEOs in the audience who have just been told to go find a new job? He tells us the truth – that SEO is marketing, and that “marketing appeals to human nature…and that’s never going to go away.” He assures us that what we contribute is useful, and notes that SEO is akin to coaching, making sure people present themselves in the best possible light. There is nothing wrong with that, he adds.

“There will always be a role for people who want to present themselves better.”

Cutts attributes the longevity of our careers to the fact that “more and more, SEO is about human nature – and trying to appeal to human nature.” While search engines continue to change, so will SEO. And we’ll all adapt to those changes. While it’s true that SEO was simpler years ago, today it encompasses so much more – search is a different challenge now with voice, mobile, and social elements. The most important point Cutts makes, in my opinion, is that with SEO, “The only constant is change.” SEOs have always understood this, as Cutts notes, as we don’t want to go where search engines are, we want to go where search engines are going to be.

The take away from Matt’s speech? Search engines will always try to improve  user experience – so as long as we are working with them, change will benefit us as SEOs.

The Rest of His Keynote

As Matt segued away from refuting Laporte, he brought up some interesting points about SEO and its future. We’ll just graze them here (you can read the keynote in full in the PDF at the bottom of this post).

First, he addresses Panda, noting that no algorithm is perfect and that Google uses mistakes that are made to try to improve the system. Reconsideration requests have also improved communication.

What the Future of Search Will Look Like

10,000 Foot View: Long Term SEO Trends

1. Mobile

2. Social – longer term, we will begin to think about social (Google +, anyone?!) – Social is a good way to create a reputation for authors (it seems like he’s referencing the rel=author markup). He notes that if the reputation of content authors is transparent, it will make the whole web better. He also adds that social is one of the areas where you don’t really have to optimize for search engines – this is a trend toward change for SEO.

3. Local

1,000 Foot View

1. Better Page Understanding- there is an algorithm change coming up for improving page quality, specifically when it comes to the content above the fold (I’m assuming this means, if you have so many ads above the fold that the user is turned off, this algorithm will not treat you well) – all for a better user experience (the theme of the speech – and of Google’s current mentality as a whole).

2. Search as a More Personal Experience -There is a trend toward people sending more personal searches to Google. Stay tuned.

3. Better tools for Search – Google is likely working on verbatim or literal options, to give searchers exactly what they want.

4. Communication and Transparency

5. Sending information to Google – What if when you publish content, you could send it to Google so they could know where it originally came from (to stop scraper sites from ranking higher than original content)?

1 Foot View 

In this portion of his presentation, Cutts provides tips to SEOs for how to keep up with Google and the changes to which we all should adapt:

1. Sign up for Webmaster Tools.

2. Sign up for email alerts.

3. Set up “fat pings”when you publish content.

4. Subscribe to Google’s Webmaster Blog, Inside Search Blog, and Webmaster Video Channel.

The Conclusion of Matt Cutts’s Keynote Speech: Yeah right, Laporte

At the end of his keynote and just before Amit Singhal comes on stage for the Q&A, Cutts takes one more shot at Laporte’s argument, asserting with a laugh that “I think search engines will be around for a little more than 6 months.” If all SEOs understand Google’s emphasis on the best user experience possible, we’ll all experience the longevity that everyone but Laporte feels Google will continue to experience. To  read about what Amit contributed to Matt’s comments in the Q&A,  view the PDF posted below – Amit joins Matt around the twenty minute mark.


Get the PDF and Tell Us What You Think

Have strong opinions like Leo Laporte and Matt Cutts? Want to provide some insight into this discussion? Comment here and let us know what you think!

Download  full PDF transcripts of Leo Laporte’s speech as well as of Matt Cutts’s PubCon keynote presentation with his and Amit Singhal’s Q&A.

Download the Leo Laporte Transcript here!

Download the Matt Cutts Transcript here!

More Information

For more information about SEO, social media marketing and keeping up with Google, please check our blog for regular updates and free SEO tips. With questions that are specifically about your business’s SEO efforts, call our Atlanta SEO Company for help at 770-481-1766.


Related Information:

Digital Atlanta: Discussing the Usefulness of Google +

Content Matters: AiMA Live Blog

AIMA Social SIG Event: Live Blog Coverage

Google + Brand Pages Are Here!

Google + Opens for Google Apps Users

Google Author Markup Gets the Google + Treatment

Google + Brand Pages Coming Soon

Google + Gains Users, Improves Hashtag Functionality

Google + Gains Momentum (Despite Facebook’s Overhaul)

Is Google + Becoming A Tool For An Older Demographic?