Search Engine Optimization (SEO) heavily dominates the Web publishing over the past five years. Many publishing executives, the right keywords have become far more important than their sites’ actual content or audience. But this movement toward SEO has been dangerous, as it’s moved publishers’ eye off their most important job of creating great content, and onto the false goals of keywords, hacks, paid links, and technical engineering that their audience doesn’t know or care about.

Search was significant when answers to questions were limited. Google find an answer to almost any keyword query from among the zillions of pages on the web. But at a time when such answers are abundant, it’s far more valuable to find the best content. The encouraging implication is that the audience values content, not keywords. And so it’s time to christen a new era of social-media optimization, or “SMO.” The era of SMO liberates publishers from the exercise of tricks, hacks and keywords. Instead, the big opportunity is now once again creating and refining the most appealing content possible.

SMO strategy means appealing to the audience, not an intermediary; knowing what drives interest; and activating people’s desire to consume and share. Via Facebook SMO creates a positive feedback loop, where users are rewarded for both consuming and distributing content. The key is to develop virality in media like that of Zynga games and Groupon offers. Beyond, of course, creating great content and experiences that are worth sharing, publishers need to then reward their audiences with the full range of possibilities, including prestige, access, exclusive content and enhanced experiences.

For those who are still working on implementing search strategies: if you haven’t turned your focus to SMO, you will be left behind as the charm of gaming search engines fades into the past.

Peter Zmijewski is the founder and CEO of KeywordSpy.com . You can find more information about him at PeterZmijewski.com