SEO is dead. Long Live SEO. A panel discussion.Where is SEO going? A panel hosted by Aaron Bradley, Internet marketing manager at InfoMine, Inc. at this week’s Semantic Technology & Business Conference in NYC took on the issue at full force. The session, featuring Bing senior product manager Duane Forrester,  semantic web strategist and independent consultant Barbara H. Starr, Swellpath SEO Team Manager Mike Arnesen, and author and analyst David Amerland (see our Q&A with him here), provided some insight into why it’s an exciting time to be working in both semantic technology and search – and why that’s also a scary proposition for some in the SEO set who’ve lived by keywords and links.

On the exciting side of things, Arnesen pointed out that it was always a somewhat unnatural process to have to advise clients to craft content so that it can match to specific keywords to get traction. “Now we can tell them to just write good content, put what you need to put on the web and it will be easier find because of semantic markup and semantic search,” he said.

The consensus of the panelists seemed to be that, while semantics is still a path many SEOs are just starting to step onto, there can be winners for those who take the adapt-and-adopt challenge to heart. “Search engines seem to be pretty hungry for markup and you can use that to make your search results stand out,” said Arnesen. And Forrester made the point that those who succeed will look past the technical applications of SEO and into how to leverage semantics for more predictive opportunities, “where you look at data to predict what this person is likely to do and what his pattern of behavior is, and if [you] stand here, they will come to [you]. That’s the future, and semantics is powering a lot of that back-end data.”

Hearing that “the keyword is the artifact of an earlier age,” as Starr described it, and not suitable for one where search engines are evolving to question-answer engines, no doubt is disturbing news to many in the SEO set. The disturbances run deep, as they’re already contending with Google no longer making it possible to track users by their keyword searches, as Bradley noted, by withholding the data from Google Analytics. Part of the concerns are around how to show they’re delivering value when the old metrics — such as optimizing for keywords that research shows are driving traffic to a site — no longer can apply. “You will need to put different structures in place for [semantic web] technologies to make sense from a marketing point of view, both for the SEO expert and those who pay for it or consume it,” Amerland noted.

Another area SEO experts may need to focus on is doing a better job implementing semantic smarts via schema.org vocabularies, for example, or rich snippets. “You can be just as crappy inside your marked up [content] as you can outside of it,” Forrester noted. “And when we want to serve content in the rich experience we have, you’ll look worse than your competitors.”