Loren Baker has asked a thought-provoking question: “Can SEO be automated?” Coincidentally he asks the question just a day after we released a product at TechCrunch40 with just such a goal.
It seems that the folks at Commerce360 are working to build a product similar to our RankSense. There is a fundamental difference in approach, however. We are not trying to replace the human element; we are trying to make humans work far easier and simpler. Truthfully, I don’t even think their goal of fully-automated SEO is possible. In many ways search engine optimization is plain old marketing—and marketing is driven by creativity. No machine can quite claim to be creative just yet.
How to build an SEO product
Everyone sees the great value in search traffic. The advantage you have placing on the first page of Google’s search results is indisputable. But so far your options to accomplish this have been:
1) DIY pay-per-click. This is the easiest way to do search marketing. Give your credit card info, follow some wizards in Google Adwords and you will start getting customers in minutes. Unfortunately, the competition has driven click costs to levels that are no longer affordable to people without some advanced skills.
2) DIY SEO. Many say it is as simple as writing great content and attracting links, but as I have explained before, there is far more involved in doing successful SEO. People trying to do it themselves rely primarily on SEO education via blogs, e-books, seminars, and conferences. Education implies that substantial time is necessary, and in many ways SEO can be very technical and not necessarily exciting to most. (My readers excluded, obviously 😉
There are also a bunch of useful SEO tools available from multiple vendors, but the only integrated options like WebPosition and WebCEO haven’t updated the processes they modeled 10 years ago! What’s the use in submitting your site to thousands of unknown search engines anyway? Perhaps if you need more spam in your inbox, but I can’t think of any others.
3) SEO experts and SEM agencies. We have two big extremes. On the low end are cheap ‘SEO’ submission services and scams mailing solicitations dressed as invoices, who together are giving our industry a bad name. On the other hand, we have reputable companies that do get results but the price per hour is no way near the budget of a small business owner. Demand for SEO services is bigger than the number of companies offering it. SEO experts get many requests for services but their time is limited and the price goes up.
All this leaves a big segment of people that have a limited budget, don’t have several weeks to learn SEO on their own, don’t want to pay high PPC prices but still want results. Given my affiliate roots and how I built my business with no outside funding, I relate a lot with this group.
SEO on shoestring budget
I think this is where intelligent productivity software helps. Software is scalable and can be made available to the masses while still keeping costs low. I envisioned RankSense more than 3 years ago with this goal in mind: powerful software at the touch of a button to help (not replace) people.
My team has worked to automate everything that can be automated, while including a lot of unique ideas and SEO insights gained through years of optimizing our own sites. We still have many more ideas of things that can be improved and perhaps automated in the future, and we’re welcome to outside ideas as well.
At the end of the day, though, nobody can replace the human component of creativity, social networks, and emotions necessary in this endeavor. Search engines have a long way to go before they start producing results that really please human beings. SEO software in comparison, where only modest investment is being made, has an even longer way to go.