By Stephen Waddington, Managing Director, Speed

Search engine optimisation (SEO) has become mechanised to such a point that we’ve boiled down our audience to keyword terms. In this world, the company with the largest search budget and the smartest agency wins.

The issue is web spam. We’ve become so obsessed with SEO that we’ve filled the web with useless content and links in a bid to game search engines.

If you want evidence, look no further than the results from an informational search rather than a commercial search.

Search on a topic such prostate cancer and the results will be incredibly useful. But searches for commercial keywords such as car insurance, holidays in South Africa or coffee machines are almost always polluted as the company with the biggest budget or smartest agency rises to the top.

But I believe that a slow subtle shift is taking place, as media consumption and buying habits are turning to social media. In time search will give way to networks as a means of discovery.

In this sense we’ve yet to see the real power of social media. That will come when our personal networks are overlaid on today search results.

It’s coming. Google has already incorporated personalisation into its algorithm. Meanwhile Bing is incorporating Facebook ‘like’ into its search algorithms.

In future when I search for a film or restaurant results will be prioritised according to the opinions of people in my network. Facebook Instant Personalisation was launched in the US in October.

While it has yet to land in the UK I believe this is the future of search. A shift is taking place as media consumption and buying habits are turning to social media.

Here, reputation is built and products and services sold through word of mouth. That means you need to have a deep understanding of your audience and create compelling content that grabs its attention and inspires it to share.

As I a PR man, I’d argue that this is public relations. Identifying an audience and working out what editorially will get its attention. And then inspiring people to talk and share your brand.

Social media types talk of the death of SEO. That’s an overly dramatic stance. Online search isn’t going anywhere.

But the balance of power will start to shift from SEO to social media optimisation. Exploring its potential I believe will be the next wave for digital marketing.

Follow Stephen Waddington on Twitter: @wadds