It’s definitely not the end, and could possibly be the beginning for a whole new line of SEO services and products. Consider how Google works; it needs information to make determinations about what’s relevant and what’s not. Humans also need information about what’s happening with their SEM campaigns so analytics is here to stay. Even with a futuristic flawless search engine you still need an SEO expert to do all the on-site work (e.g. title tags, blog set-up, etc.) and you need them to analyze the results (e.g. analytics, reporting, optimizing, etc.).
Many people are asking this question in the context of social networks and will social networking become more important than paid for SEO? This is where the internet has been going. The idea behind the Internet is to give power to the people as citizen journalists. This democratic ubiquity forces companies to improve their offerings because the customer reviews and referrels influence conversions and loyalty. Getting brands to interact with consumers is positive trend and companies should embrace it but not at the expense of getting the basics right.
In reality not much changes. The difference is that the predominant links come from blog posts and profiles instead of long lists of sites we used to dump into site. Google has always used the voting power of the web to drive its algorithm. As long as people are searching for and recommending sites this formula will work. And as long as the formula works we’ll need SEO experts to direct marketing efforts down this path. The ability to personalize content and direct popularity perceptions just increases the importance that marketers place on SEO to reach the audiences building and reading these pages. SEO experts have a huge role in making these pages relevant to the appropriate audiences.
What’s clear in the shifting of SEO practices is that a contextual search environment is emerging. In some ways this means companies like ours are going to have to work harder and longer to achieve results for our clients. Link blasting has given way to highly specific contextual linking and the reality is that it takes a little longer.