Most of you read that headline and either thought "I really don't want to hear about Mahalo again" or "No they're not! They're algorithms!!" Well I'm with you on the first one, but you couldn't be more wrong on the second. Algorithms are programmed by the people, for the people and umm...of the people. In other words, every day that passes us by, search engines do a better and better job of replicating human judgement about the quality and authority of web pages. So why do some companies still think you can automate the process?

Loren Baker asks "Can SEO Be Automated" in a blog post about Commerce360's attempt to take that pesky human role out of search engine optimization.

Loren writes:

More recently more and more software companies are offering SEO oriented software which identifies what the competition is doing and the possible holes in their campaigns which you or your client should take advantage of.

But can the entire process of SEO become automated? Or is it a case by case human powered process which is built upon natural copy, relevant semantics, social tagging and real world relationships which bring about the right links and coverage?

Recently Commerce360, a very well known SEO company, has gone in the direction of proprietary automated SEO software in what may be an initiative to be the next aQuantive or Performics style acquisition or change the entire SEO industry if successful.

He includes several quotes from Commerce360's announcement. Here's my favorite:

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.

I you think they've attended a Search Engine Strategies conference in the last several years? Read any blogs written by industry experts? If they had, they might realize that search engine optimization is moving away from formulas at lightening speed. With the introduction of universal search, 3D search and personalized search, engines are serving up unique content to different users who enter the exact same search query.

Add in ideas like latent semantic indexing, better link analysis and the VERY real need to have a site that not only ranks well but actually converts and it quickly becomes clear that a human touch is essential.

My friend Matt Bailey likes to point out that the Internet is consummate proof that a million monkeys banging away on keyboards will NOT reproduce the works of Shakespeare. You laugh, but the point is an important one. You simply cannot automate customer experience. Those who try regret it.

There's a place in Internet marketing for automation. Analytics, keyword research, link research and coding all benefit from some level of automation. The key word there is "some." After all, a tool is only as good as the person using it.

Search engine optimization is no longer about running a numbers game. It's not about understanding how to market and how to deliver a good customer experience.

Still not convinced?

Ask yourself if automated phone systems for big corporations have made the world a better place.


September 18, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Wow, that last comment about automated phone systems really nailed it!

Great article; thanks.

The Jen,

I couldn't agree more! Google has been pushing for a better user experience since day one and automated service does nothing to improve that. I agree that there is a small level that is acceptable, like the keyword tools you mentioned.

Great Post!


Jennifer - You're right.

Unfortunately the copy from one of our recruiting pages, which Loren quoted in the beginning of all of this, used the term 'search marketing' in too generic a way in a paragraph referring primarily to paid search.

I explained more in the reply comment I left in Loren's post, which I repeat here for the benefit of your readers:

First and most importantly, the majority of the technology we’re building and the ‘future of search marketing’ phrase, in the paragraph you quoted, relates to paid search. Sorry we didn’t apply that term more carefully, but you’ll note that we referenced SearchCenter and Atlas near the end - both of which are paid search tools.

In the PPC world the complex interactions between keywords, ad-groups, match-types, text-ad creative, bids, landing pages, and the rest of the conversion funnel ARE far to complex to really optimize without automation. Most SEM tools to date take a rather simple approach to bid manipulations, and don’t fully consider or control enough of these other variables.

But I’d hasten to point out that even with very advanced and highly automated software the larger process of running paid search campaigns will clearly still require highly-skilled people. In fact, it will probably be more challenging and interesting work than most SEM campaign management today - because while the calculatable things get automated it clarifies opportunity for work on the higher-order strategic and ‘thinking-required’ tasks.

Regarding SEO we’re also building technology, but it’s primarily aimed at working around the technical limitations of many ecommerce platforms and CMS systems which as we all know confound the vast majority of on-page optimization efforts. It’s really technology that enables SEO on what are currently unoptimizable pages. Good old fashioned humans will still need to determine context and generate content. To be clear - nothing we are doing on the organic side is anything near automatic page generation. I agree that would be foolhardy.

I hope this clears things up, and makes more sense to you and your readers. I’ll go into more detail on our blog ( in the next day or so, and stay tuned in here in case I can respond to further questions.

- Craig Danuloff, President, Commerce360 Inc.

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