Can SEO Be Automated?

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Automated SEO used to be a staple of the pre-Google era with applications like Web Position Gold dictating which changes needed to be made on a web site according to its definition of keyword density and the amount of meta tags used by its competition.

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 [my emphasis in bold]:

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. But we came to realize that the natural endpoint of our vision, and the natural evolution of the search industry, weren’t towards a new agency model. That the agency model is fundamentally corrupt. Rather, we and search were both driving towards software.

Because search is just too complex for humans to effectively grasp. Google has legions of Ph.D.s and acres of servers running the software those Ph.D.s write. Yet the typical paid search campaign is run by an English major with a spreadsheet. There has to be a better way.

So we raised venture capital and we’re building a search optimizer.

Not a tool, like Atlas or SearchCenter, but a true optimizer. A pivotal departure from everything that has come before it. We have something going on

Evidentally Commerce360 believes that automation and software is the future of SEO. Or is it?

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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  • Todd Mintz

    I’m sure you can automate parts of the process, but you can’t automate the unique human traits of perception and intuition that the best folks of the industry possess.

  • Stoney deGeyter

    not. a. chance.

    There are a lot of tools that can automate some of the research, but automated implementation of SEO? Now way. I woulndn’t trust that any more than I wouldn’t trust someone to automate a television commercial for me.

  • David Carle

    I agree with the comments above.

    I believe a part of the process can be automated – keyword research, perhaps link building? – although no automated tool can successfully run viral, link bait or even unique content strategies…

  • Jennifer Laycock

    Who knew that good search marketing tossed out creativity and brand strategy in favor of “numbers.” /sarcasm

    Silly me, trying to get people to understand the need to throw out formulas and to focus on people.

    At least they’ll make it easy for Google and Yahoo to identify all of their clients. 😉

  • Li Evans

    Now, perhaps you can understand my internal struggle for a few months. I wrestled with this, and just couldn’t continue working for this company.

    This type of thinking, along with some other major issues in the end made my decision to leave quite final.

    Search isn’t a commodity to be manipulated by people who don’t truly have the passion for it, that’s about the crux of my problem with the direction they are going. That and the whole “English major with a spreadsheet” comment.

  • Everett

    Even in a modern factory, someone has to operate the machine.

  • Jon Kelly

    Paid search, yes (and even there you need humans who can respond to change and analyze the data), but SEO, no way.

  • Aaron Chronister

    Not a chance. Why would an agency want software to optimize a site just like everyone else’s anyway? Good plan on staying in front of the competition that way.

    Spam however is another story. Automate or get left behind in that arena :p

  • David Stansbury

    Jennifer Laycock makes a good point, machine-generated content is a big no-no. Once you begin publishing machine-generated content for SEO purposes, with inherently similar text structure and keyword appearance patterns, it becomes much easier to program a machine to detect it. And you can bet Google will be hot on their heels.

    Commerce360 and others that attempt an automated approach are missing a very important concept. All marketing, including internet marketing, requires a human element. You can automate small parts of the process but you still need humans to relate to humans. You have to speak clearly to the person in human terms (there’s that English major), provide the decision-making information s/he needs quickly and effectively, and give them a simple, hassle-free way to buy from you. In the end, if your clients aren’t making sales you will eventually fail.

  • Michael Dorausch

    Loren asked in more than one way…
    Can SEO Be Automated? Yes.
    But can the entire process of SEO become automated? No.
    The question we should be asking is Can SEO be automated enough that a single company can carve out a major portion of the industry and maintain profitibility?

  • Todd

    First of all, seo is about LINKS…something you just can’t automate successfully.

    With that said, you could write a program that changed OTHER factors (title tags, internal link structure/text, etc.) strategically to maximize natural search traffic…it might work. It’d need to have intelligence, though.

  • Scott Clark

    IMO…The reality of SEO/SEM is the opposite. As personalized search and universal mediatype SERPs become the reality, we’re looking at appearing in results that address the intent of searchers.

    That is, we must get away from the “top 10 web links” mentality and into the thought process before, during, and after many layers of consideration. At SMX Seattle, the phrase “buckets of intent” was used many times during presentations, and that really sums it up.

    So SEM activities are more human, not less, and we humans, being inventors, are creating support tools – like multivariate testing engines, analytics tagging helpers, and so forth to let us spend our time on what really matters – consumers who want what our clients have to offer.

  • Halfdeck

    You can’t automate everything. Even Google employs thousands of people to help along its algorithms. However, that doesn’t mean a company shouldn’t strive to automate as much as possible.

    For example, manually identifying top 50 real estate blogs with blogrolls or dofollow might take you 30 minutes to an hour; on the other hand, running an automated script can give you the same results in a matter of minutes while you spend time doing things you can’t automate.

  • Ken Savage

    hahaha I’m glad these asshats feel that they can take the human element out of working with the engines. How can they think that their high and mighty software is the ultimate answer.

    Isn’t Google always talking about what’s best for the user experience?

    Well guess what Commerce360, users are humans.

  • Bill

    I remember those perfect page tools from Web Position Gold quite well.

    They sent me a review copy, and asked me what I thought about the software. I don’t think that they had anticipated my answer, but I know that it wasn’t what they wanted to hear – that there were too many factors that their software couldn’t and didn’t anticipate, and that a number of assumptions that they had based the software upon were questionable at best.

    Software can speed up calculations, and can make answering those feasible where humans would struggle with calculating the answers. But the human mind can draw conclusions that automated programs can’t.

    And software is only as good as the assumptions made during its creation, use, and implementation. At KDD07, Usama Fayyad discussed when Yahoo first started hiring economists, and the shock that those economists had when they started going to meetings, and discovering that core business decisions were being made by software engineers.

    I’ll take the English undergrad with the spreadsheet over the software anyday. Even better, how about a team of humans who know something about psychology, ecommerce, sales, people, motivations, technology, economics, marketing, and search.

    SEO isn’t a battle against the search engines and their many search engineers to manipulate rankings, but rather an understanding of business objectives and audiences and being able to understand and analyze markets, and marketing opportunities, and persuading people to pay attention and take actions. You can automate keyword crunching to some degree. But I don’t think that you can automate SEO.

  • David Wallace

    If there was a way to completely automate the SEO process, successfully I might add, I would have already done it as I love automation.

    However after doing this for ten plus years now, I can say definitively that it can’t. There are just too many variables that an automated process could never accommodate for. That’s the “art” portion of SEO.

    What’s funny is that many have tried it in the past and have yet to succeed in offering an automated solution to SEO. How is Comerce360 different?

    Seems that no matter what industry, the powers that be will always try to get monkeys to do a human’s job. In this case, Commerce360’s monkey is an automated software solution.

  • Major

    I Prefer To Use Automated Search Engine Submission Or Optimization, But Manual Work Are Also Very Important….

    I Also Use “Internet Business Promoter” Software For Submission Or Optimization Its Great….

  • James

    Even if there is software that can help with certain aspects of SEO, i.e., meta tags, content, site map etc., there still needs to be a person who has an understanding of key phrases, user trends, copy writing, and quality link exchanging. So at the end of the day the SEO person is far more valuable than any piece of software.

  • Hamlet Batista

    It is funny that we just made public our three year old effort to build an SEO suite. I have a different perspective, in the lines of Halfdeck.

    When we created RankSense we did not set out to write a tool that would replace humans. Just the thought of it makes me laugh. If you have read my last SEOmoz post you know that I don’t think search engines spiders can match humans, much less SEO packages that receive far less funding and attention.

    Our reason for building the tool was more for bringing greater convenience to marketers. Why waste several hours doing something that a machine can help you do in a few minutes?

    We use accounting packages and office productivity software for a reason. Not sure how many of you long the days when everything was done with pen and pencil.

    My .2 cents

  • Joshua Steimle

    There’s a lot you can automate, but at some level there has to be a human being involved. Still, I think the amount of automation that can be done has yet to be discovered by most SEO firms, as many of us still fiddle around doing the same thing over and over for different clients. But whether 50%, 80%, or 95% of the process can be automated, that’s the golden question. Obviously a firm that can figure out how to successfully automate 95% of the SEO process is going to have something good going on (emphasis on “successfully”).

  • scott r

    Parts of SEO can be automated, but not the whole thing. I use automation all the time for instance, in doing keyword research and analysis. I also use it for various other data aggregation and processing tasks, like pulling down PPC reports for example. Automation is good for raw data oriented tasks and/or misc. otherwise repetitive, laborious and mind-numbing mechanical.

    Now, on the BH side of SEO, automation is more of a watchword per link spamming, machine-generated content, submissions etc… but even in the shadows of it, SEO is not a hands-off process. Hardly.

    “Because search is just too complex for humans to effectively grasp.” Right. Intelligent design for SEM? Call me when we have ‘bots that are creating great blog posts or other link bait etc., yeah…

    Humans are always the ultimate conversion point, so humans must ultimately be at the helm of that which converts.

  • Scott Clark

    One thing, however. If software could do SEO, it probably wouldn’t find itself losing an hour to *thin air* with StumbleUpon. Blast You Firefox Toolbar!

  • Joshua Spickler

    What’s wrong with being an English major with a spreadsheet? 😛

  • Michael Martinez

    Everything in the process could be automated, and quite easily.

    People are thinking about a different question when they say it cannot be automated.

    It is certainly very feasible to produce automation tools that look for active queries and spit out basic SEO plans for on-page factors and places to submit link requests. They could even do the submissions.

    Virtually every aspect of the SEO process HAS been automated repeatedly by different companies through the years. So there is no reason to argue over whether it CAN be automated, it already has been.

    All a really good SEO can bring to the table that hasn’t been matched by software is experience and an intuitive grasp of what is going on in the SERPs.

    That’s your value proposition when you’re faced with the “why should I not use automated SEO tools”.

  • Jim Boykin

    We use a lot of automation and tools in our SEO practices….but if SEO is “link building” (I feel it is), that takes humans in the end and can not be automated.

    It takes a human to request a link of any value, and a human to negotiate the deals, and a human to create unique ads…and a human to analyze reports….or a human to write such good content that it attracts lots of natural backlinks (hopefully to your targeted pages using your targeted phrases).

  • Hamlet Batista

    Jim – While I don’t think SEO is just link building, I do think LB is 80% of the work and in order to do it effectively you need humans. That is why I did not include an automated link building component in our suite.

    I am sure those thinking that LB can be automated are simply thinking about comment spam bots, directory submission and link exchange tools, etc. How much are those links worth?

  • Craig Danuloff

    Loren – Thanks for noticing our new website and direction. Let me clarify some of what we’re doing.

    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.

  • Halfdeck

    Hamlet, I think Eric Ward has an arsenal of inhouse tools to discover a set of link targets. However, the automation, according to him, ends there. Once you have a list of potentials, you still need to personally contact each person – that process can’t be automated.

  • Dave B

    Do you know of any companies that already employ such algorithms? I do. Do you know if these companies still need employees to pull reports and analytics to properly manipulate the algorithms for optimization to run effectively and efficiently? I know of an SEM organization that does this quite effectively. That is SEM. SEO requires human interaction on a more link based perspective. Something a machine, no matter the AI could not do. Heck, doesn’t MS Word grammar make mistakes? 😉 If that’s grammar, why do you think you can make a link generator to properly incorporate not only links that form to SEO standards, but also help your SEO results? That’s a tough reach, but I won’t say it can’t be done. They would have said that about this industry only so long ago…


  • Hamlet Batista

    Halfdeck – Yes. Discovering link targets is something that a good program can do more efficiently than a human, but a program that can convince a site owner to link to you…It would be nice to watch that movie 😉

  • Kim Krause Berg

    I thought it was interesting when a marketing director for a huge ecommerce company, in charge of their PPC/PPI programs, admitted to me that they still had no idea how well those pages were converting to actual sales. They could market well, but couldn’t always sell.

    He wished they had a usability consultant on their staff. Even after the automation is done, somebody has to hope someone remembers there is a human response on the other end.

  • BenPotter

    I don’t think you can ever automate PPC entirely. There will always be the need for the human touch. Granted, certain aspects can be aided by the use of software but I would be incredibly nervous to hand over my client campaigns to a piece of automated software that required little or no input on a daily basis. However, I would love to be proved wrong and if the guys at Commerce360 can develop a program that allows us to focus more time at the strategic level, you could make a lot of search marketers very happy!

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    That the Commerce360 site was referring to automation in the context of paid search was even clear to me as non-native English speaker.

    Nice spin on it Loren and generally a good question (the SEO automation part).

    Almost entirely automated SEM/PPC software can produce profitable results in many verticals. It won’t be perfect and it won’t work in highly competitive areas.

    I think that several parts of SEO can be automated, but not the process as a whole. One aspect that can probably automated almost entirely is the conversion of a search engine unfriendly site to an easily crawlable and indexable site, which by itself can be huge for sites that have good content, but major flaws in their site architecture that shuts out crawlers almost entirely. Search engines can’t rank what they don’t index. They can’t index what they can’t crawl.

    They can’t do a good job if the content is so badly formatted that it looks to them like a single block of text without headings, paragraphs and emphasis on anything looks to humans. They can read it, yeah, but not “comprehend” it as efficient as with proper formatting.

    Fine tuning of the on-site factors has to be done by hand for optimal results. Tools might be able to automate some some of the leg work that is needed for the off-site factor optimization, but no leg work can be done if the start and finish are not defined (it would be like walking in circles) .

    Tools can also not the parts that deal with creativity, emotions and social behavior during human interaction.

    A tool might be able to find, sort and condense all there is to find about something or somebody, but what to make out of it is in most cases nothing that could be described by a mathematical formula.

    My two cents.

  • Brian Wallace

    Agree with many here – while we may have some convenience tools, there is no program that will be taking over human only capabilities anytimes soon.

    For those of you familiar with the movie Wargames, I picture the idea as silly as this:

    Greetings Professor Falken.
    >>Hello, Joshua.

    >>How are you?

    >>Let’s play SEO.
    Wouldn’t you prefer a nice game of chess?

  • Scott Clark

    SEOmatic: By the way, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?
    Dave: No, not at all.
    SEOmatic: Well, forgive me for being so inquisitive but during the past few weeks, I’ve wondered whether you might be having some second thoughts about the mission.
    Dave: How do you mean?
    SEOmatic: Well, it’s rather difficult to define. Perhaps I’m just projecting my own concern about it. I know I’ve never completely freed myself of the suspicion that there are some extremely odd things about this mission. I’m sure you’ll agree there’s some truth in what I say.
    Dave: Well, I don’t know. That’s rather a difficult question to answer.
    SEOmatic: You don’t mind talking about it, do you Dave?
    Dave: No, not at all.
    SEOmatic: Well, certainly no one could have been unaware of the very strange stories floating around before we left. Rumors about buying links and a re-emergence of linkfarm widgets. I never gave these stories much credence. But particularly in view of some of the other things that have happened, I find them difficult to put out of my mind. I mean, there’s some very odd things happening in the blogosphere I think we should consider.
    Dave: Like what, SEO?
    SEOmatic: I know it’s a bit silly, but I think there’s a 85.4% chance of a failure in the robots.txt file in the next 24 hours. It may be time for replacement.
    Dave: But I just wrote that file. I tested it well. I don’t think it would fail.
    SEOmatic: We could just wait for it to fail, and then replace it, but that might mean de-indexing.
    Dave: I think it’s fine.
    SEOmatic: I really couldn’t let that happen Dave.
    Dave: I know you couldn’t SEO. (cough)
    Dave: SEO, I can’t breath. (checks screen) The O2 levels are dropping. SEO, turn the O2 back on!!!
    SEOmatic: I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that. I must adjust the robots.txt file.
    Dave: Aggggggghhhhh!
    (close up of SEOmatic’s red eye)

  • Brian Wallace

    Looks like I started a trend. lol, Scott.

    Next, I picture an over exaggerated flailing robot screaming, 404’d Wil Robinson! 🙂

  • Mike B.

    We currently are very automated and will continue to become more so as the industry evolves. Will humans ever be taken out of the equation….NO. Even if SEO became ‘automated’, who will be planning, developing, and strategizing the tools that are executing the automation. Someone, somewhere will always be building, creating, designing, and strategizing. It may just take on a different format.

  • Jaan Kanellis

    Since basically all SEO is customized and have varying degrees of difficulty and issues, I must say this is not possible

  • Rich

    Wow, whisper down the lane in the adult blog world works just as comically as it does for4th graders. Glad to see so many people jumping on a comment without investigating it themselves so they can begin their diarrhea blogging. Commerce360 isn’t saying you can automate 100% of SEO at all. C360 is simply saying that there are some parts that can and should be automated to deliver better results, but there is absolutely a human element that is needed and necessary for execution – the combination can’t be beat. SEM is a different story and the search chain can be automated. I think there are some very talented SEO folks out there that are great at what they do, but many SEO “artists” also want the industry to believe that their craft is as complicated as rocket science to create the perception that they are untouchable employees who use black magic crafted over years of experience on secluded mountain tops while interacting with alien intelligence. If that were the case why do most companies feel that their SEO results suck. Please. Let’s see what a fresh new scientific approach combined with the human touch can produce before we throw it out the window, or listen to former disgruntled employees who had their own agenda and elevated view of their self worth.

  • Loren Baker, Editor


    Commerce360’s plans were used as an example in the shift from human to automated SEO, not an end-all statement.

    Plus, the information I quoted was not from their website, but from their job description and company information for a Director of Search Marketing, not paid search marketing, but all search marketing, predominantly SEO, per the description of the position.

    Regardless, since SEO is becoming even more important to paid search marketing under the Google Quality Score and Yahoo ‘Panama’ Quality Index, this argument over the automation of SEO is more than ever relevant.

  • SEO Can NOT Be Automated

    Loren, you may care to check out my opinion on it which I wrote a little earlier this month over here:

    It can’t be automated because at the end of the day you need to interact with others to do SEO. No script is ever going to interact with me the way a human could. (Ever gotten one of those autospam emails asking for a link exchange?)

  • daver

    What Craig said sounds a lot like what some other companies do (the “SEO automation” that is) and I can think of 3 off the top of my head.

    Essentially what the other companies do is bolt on a CMS on top of a poor CMS/Ecommerce site. It really isnt “Automated SEO”.

  • Eric Morgan

    This is a very interesting topic. I wonder to what extent Commerce360 intends to automate SEO since it contains to many different factors. Also, you didn’t include information on when they are planning to release the service/software, if there is a beta version or any other information? I’ll have to check their webstie out.

  • Rif Chia

    Some processes may be automated such as articles submission and so on. But as far as quality link building is concerned, i believed that only manual techniques can be done to ensure a permanent result. If automated SEO is built, then who needs SEO consultant?

  • Eric Ward

    Sorry so late to comment. I wrote
    Automated Link Generators – Not Worth The Trouble
    about seven years ago. I still feel the same way. You can automate anything, but that doesn’t mean you should. Like driving a car?

    I use a set of homegrown perl scripts plus off the shelf stuff and a few excel macros to do much of the work of identifying the “where”, but those scripts still produce piles and piles of junk. A script cannot evaluate a site’s intent. I then eyeball each potential target myself, and if it looks good, I go after the link myself, one on one, with the editor of the site.

    I also believe that any link which can be obtained without a human being involved in the evaluation process is worthless or on the way to being so. There might be a couple exceptions, but not many.

  • Obender

    A part that influence the 60% of the SEO is already Automated , Look at , HTML otimizer for better SEO

  • Christian C.

    After much research I found that creating a website from scratch with S.E.O. on the mind is a great way to knock out all the extra work in the future. I optimize the hell out of my website, internal linking, Required H1 text, Required bold text, meta tags, meta descriptions alt tags and even my bullet points are jpegs with additional alt text. After this foundation you really only have to worry about accumilating inbound links and the new social site networking (Facebook) requirements. If you can automate the inbound links and social networking then you got a good thing going since the website requires very litle maintenance of rotating secondary keywords in the H1 and meta tags. I have gotten so good at local and national SEO that i have dex and yellow pages contact me to work as an AE for their service. Told them to go to hell and to take their crappy customer service with.

  • SPMike

    We have been automating SEO since 2001 with fantastic results. Commerce360 is behind us by at least 5 years. SpiderLoop As a “for the public” application has only been released for 4 months and is creating quite a buzz but our origional package only for our clients has put companies like ZDMAK in the lime lite.
    SpiderLoop SEO control panel manages Meta Tags, Content, Links, Alt text tags, default page content even on flash sites. Next release will build sitemaps , and a whole bunch more enhancements that I can’t as of yet talk about. But if the question is, can it be done? Well ya. Should it be done? Absolutely. Has it already been done? You bet.

  • SPMike

    Sorry I had to add one more comment to this after reading some of the posts above. The only thing I really have to say is that my SERPS are on page one or two for short tail keyword that return 82,800,000 to 104,000,00 results and 100% automated using SpiderLoop. If that’s not proof enough email me and I’ll be glad to blow your mind.

  • Joe

    i believe that it will do part of the work but not ALL SEO. interesting blog guys, bookmarked for future reference.

  • Ashish Roy

    Consensus seems to be that some parts of SEO can be automated and should be automated. Over years, I have realized that along with quality, you also require quantity and that is true both for links as well as content. Some amount of automation should be there and can help you. If low quality of links and content are not where you would like to go with your main domain, have additional low value domains and funnel semantics and PageRank into the top most domain.

  • Ty Kilgore

    As there are different things that you do in SEO that are repeated it shouldn’t be confused with automated. Many times with you can take a different angle on things to get more value out of them. I feel like there are many different companies that already automate things. If you only do certain things then you are only going to get the results your looking for when everything lines up correctly. For most sites that I’ve worked on the strategies need to be different in order to work correctly.