Is social now a compulsory SEO skill?

by James Duthie October 20th, 2009 

The convergence of SEO and social media as interrelated disciplines has been evident for a number of years. Smart SEOs jumped on the social bandwagon years ago realizing the potential of social media to drive traffic and links. Today, search marketers (along with marketers in general) are some of the most active in the social arena. And for good reason. Well executed social media activity offers a range of SEO benefits, perhaps best captured in Adam Singer's diagram:


Image Source - Future Buzz

Yet whilst they are clearly interrelated, the two disciplines remain distinct in approach. One aims to satisfy robots (SEO). The other aims to satisfy humans (social). The question I have is whether a person with a purely robotic approach can still be an effective SEO...?

The question arose as I discussed link building tactics recently with an SEO colleague. His approach to SEO is predominantly a robotic one. Tweak pages and build links. While he certainly understands the benefits social media delivers from an SEO perspective, his hands-on experience with social tools is minimal.

When SEO meets social

My colleague began taking me through his personal blog commenting practices for link building purposes. As a blogger myself, I gave a publishers perspective on the issue. I view comments that contain links with obvious anchor text extremely pessimistically. I know exactly what the commenter is trying to achieve. And I probably delete 9 out of 10 comments of that nature. But Im probably more of a social media purist than others.

Of course, views towards acceptable blog commenting practices are subjective. A definitive shade of grey exists around exactly what constitutes a constructive comment, particularly when there is an ulterior motive. A fierce debate raged on an Australian blog recently with social purists attacking blog commenting policies with blatant commercial intent. However, over at Search Engine People, a perfectly rational discussion on essentially the same topic drew a completely different perspective from a predominant SEO audience.

However, the specific debate over blog commenting practices wasnt really what interested me. It was the larger issue of whether the pure robotic mindset was still valid as an SEO. This SEO was somewhat blinded to the perspective of the social purist because of a lack on hands-on experience. And while he had a basic sense of the type of behaviour thats acceptable, a true understanding of social media etiquette is difficult to comprehend without truly experiencing it.

The proof came when I asked him to send me some examples of comments he had left on blogs. He sent me three links to posts he had recently published comments on. However, as I viewed the posts, all three had been deleted. Zero percent strike rate. After viewing the original comments I could see why. The comments werent the inane great post you see from the laziest of comment spammers, but despite being well-intentioned, I would have deleted them myself.

Other blunders from robotic SEOs

Ive seen similar blunders from SEO colleagues when attempting to establish blogs for SEO purposes. They understand that search engines love blogs, yet they dont understand how to establish a successful blog. Instead of creating useful and valuable content, they farm out copywriting to India for $3 an article, treating content as a commodity. The blog is doomed to failure. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

Different problem, but same symptom. The robotic SEO has failed to truly understand the mechanics of the social web. Content for contents sake will never attract the quality inbound links they crave. Blogs dont work simply because they are in fact a blog. They thrive based upon the quality of content published. Plain and simple.

So with these examples in mind, I pose the question " is it now a necessity for an SEO to have practical social media skills? Can purely robotic SEOs continue to survive in a world where social media skills are increasingly required? Or are they an endangered species?

Over to you.


James Duthie is an online marketing strategist and also writes & manages his own online marketing blog. You can subscribe here.

James Duthie

I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.

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5 Responses to “Is social now a compulsory SEO skill?”

  1. […] Is social now a compulsory SEO skill? [SEO Writing], The SEO Scoop […]

  2. I certainly think that social media is vitally important in SEO – but am starting to notice a number of "robotic" social media tactics being employed also – i.e. just setting up a profile on a social site for the sake of it or for a link back and never expanding it's true potential of building an audience/following.

    So really it's all about changing the mindset of an established tecnically minded SEO bod, I'm fairly new to the SEO arena and am open to adpoting new methods, but come from a technical web background – so whilst I've read up over the years (and indulged in) the robotic practices that are carried out (and still essential in some cases when executed correctly), I'm able to expand into the social media circuit without breaking any old habits.

    I guess the way SEO is going, the old school need to adopt the new techniques to thrive, and not just adopt them but embrace them properly and not just see them as ultimately a tactic that can be carried out robotically.

  3. Eric Swain says:

    Thanks, James. I've been having this very discussion/debate with colleagues recently and you have crystalised the issue beautifully. And thanks for making me aware of Adam Singer's diagram.


  4. Very good post,
    the picture above depicts the total social media marketing process very well.
    Thanks keep it up….

  5. Iceland says:

    Social Media has to form part of a SEO strategy. Not only can it provide good 'crawlable' but the traffic it provides is great. Within Social media, there is nothing better than bragging, The 'look what i've bought' or 'look where i've been' mentality, is quickly catching on fast. Where it will get even more important is when Google start to include social media links to the search results based on your friends list.