SEO Is Back. Thank God.

At a meeting with media executives discussing a series of changes to the platform in Sydney, Australia, last week, Facebook’s head of news partnerships Campbell Brown finally said what everybody already knew. “Mark [Zuckerberg] doesn’t care about publishers,” she told the meeting participants. Nevertheless, she said, her boss “is giving me a lot of leeway and concessions to make these changes.” Without Facebook’s help, she said, “the ­reverse looks like I’ll be holding your hands with your dying ­business like in a hospice.” (The quotes were originally reported in the Australian.)

Grim — but also accurate. For several years beginning around 2011, Facebook’s News Feed served as a firehose of traffic, where one widely shared link could result in astronomical attention. Many websites tried to turn Facebook optimization into a science and chased those clicks for longer than they maybe should have, drastically pivoting (to things like video) in the hopes of appeasing the Facebook gods. The ebbing of News Feed traffic has widespread consequences for the news business. As Nieman Lab highlights, Brown also reportedly said this:

We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic and referrals any more. That is the old world and there is no going back.

Great! That old world absolutely sucked and made the internet ecosystem a discernibly worse place.

Sometime around 2012, the ecology of digital publishing underwent an epochal shift: Facebook overtook Google as the top traffic source on the web. Prior to Facebook, the best way to reliably obtain traffic was through search-engine optimization, formatting web content so that it would rank highly within search engines. SEO is a sort of guessing game, a digital Jeopardy! in which the person creating web content tries to think of the query that will get users to their web content. It’s why an article might be headlined “What Time Is the Super Bowl?” instead of “The Super Bowl Is Coming Up Soon.”

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