Hub Spot credits Jeremy Schoemaker of Shoemoney for writing the very first “SEO is dead” post back in 2005.
Here we are almost 7 years later. Thousands of “SEO is dead” posts have followed. People are still making the claim, especially now. A recent Forbes article used the infamous question as its headline. It also led off with a link to a Search Engine Watch article noting the end of Jill Whalen’s 20 year SEO career.
Search Engine Watch noted that Whalen was one of the “first major personalities in the SEO industry.” She says she is moving on because “Google now works.” In her opinion, there simply are no more tricks that you can play to get your website ranked if it does not deserve to be ranked. (Whalen was always famous for promoting content over tricks to begin with, and says she no longer needs to be “a voice of reason” in the industry).
If you believe SEO is about tricking search engines then it is, indeed, dead. And it’s certainly possible that the discipline is mis-named.
But SEO isn’t really about tricking search engines at all. So while it might eventually adopt a new name (“content marketing” seems to be a leading favorite right now) it will never truly be dead.
SEO is aligning your site with Google’s mission.
What is Google’s mission?
Google wants to provide the very best search results to end users that it can. That is what Google has always wanted.
Why do you choose keywords or key phrases? Because you know that Google’s search engines look for those to determine what your site might be “about.” It can’t decide whether or not to display your site as an option to end users without that knowledge.
Why did the SEO industry obsessively pursue link building in the past? Because for a long time, everyone knew that Google had decided that links were a sign of a great website. Now that Google has evolved, you don’t rely on link building alone, because Google doesn’t rely on link building alone.
There were, of course, two types of people who used these strategies pre-Panda and pre-Penguin. The wise SEO took note of what Google was doing and used it as a part of a broader strategy. As they developed great content they also pursued these strategies in a targeted fashion. They chose their keywords, then developed great content with those keywords in mind. They built links, but chose to target websites that had something to do with their content. In other words, they were focused on building great websites, while remaining aware of the signals that would help Google determine what was and was not a great website.
The unwise SEO got focused on the wrong things. The unwise SEO built links at the expense of content, and believed that any content would do so long as it targeted the right keywords. That type of SEO practitioner has, indeed, died. You simply can’t make that strategy work any longer.
But you can never, and could never, go wrong by trying to give Google exactly what it asks for. All that ever changed were the methods used to send Google the signals that told it that your site was delivering the goods. It just so happens that those signals are now so difficult to fake that it’s not worth the time and effort to fake them.
SEO is a long term strategy composed of best practices.
Many people get into trouble with Google by treating it like a vending machine. “Internet marketing gurus” of the past have fostered this mentality for over a decade.
The thinking goes something like this. Build a website according to the right “SEO magic formula.” Rank overnight. Start bringing in $10,000 per month in thirty days or less.
This mindset doesn’t work, and it never worked. Even “internet marketing gurus” had to put a lot of effort into promoting their sites, effort that went far beyond targeting the search engines. But the mindset has filtered down to just about everyone, even really savvy, really intelligent marketing managers at really big companies.
Thus, you get companies who still ask “how long will it take me to rank,” or “what kind of ROI will my website give me?”
They are endlessly frustrated by the truth, which is: “There’s no way of knowing.”
Sam McRoberts, CEO of VUDU Marketing, addressed this mindset a year ago in his blog post Investing in SEO the Warren Buffet Way.
In the world of SEO, rankings fluctuate all the time…80.2% of SERPS change every single day, much like the stock market.
Because change is the only constant in our world, you simply can’t look at SEO or investing through a micro lens.
…You simply can’t approach SEO with a short-term investment mentality. If you’re looking for a quick hold-and-flip, that isn’t SEO. If you want to know with some measure of statistical certainty what your ROI will be over the next quarter or year, that isn’t SEO.
If on the other hand you’re willing to invest for the long-term, if you have a long-term vision and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to reach your end goal…that’s SEO.
SEO is a long-term investment, and can sometimes take years to really pay dividends. At the same time, it isn’t really optional.
In other words, you can’t just pop 5 pages of content into the system and expect big money to fall into your lap. You can, however, build up your website over time, adding to its content (that’s what blogging is all about, really) and working to make it better.
And while you can’t “game” the system, you can continue to stay aware of what Google looks for. Right now, Google looks for lots of great, unique content with its own voice, phrase-based keywords that help them answer questions (Hummingbird), a site that runs well on both PCs and mobile devices, a site connected to the web through high-quality links, and a site that is “plugged in” socially. This information helps you understand that it’s time to get the clunky Java app off your site and that it’s not a bad idea to focus on growing your social media following, just to offer a pair of examples.
There’s a world of difference between “gaming” a system and adopting these best practices. One is impatient, short-term thinking that is doomed to fail. The other aligns with a long-term strategy that will pay dividends over time. We have entered the era where long-term thinking is the only thinking that will succeed.
SEO is multifaceted.
SEO is a broad umbrella. Beneath it you’ll find things like local SEO, mobile SEO, and even social media.
This is important, because doing SEO for a local, family-owned coffee shop in downtown Denver is going to be very different from doing SEO for a mommy blogger who could theoretically be read all over the world but who makes most of her money from the United States and Canada. And they will both be different than doing SEO for a national corporation with over 900 locations around the country.
All of this means that you have to choose the right tools for the task. Every website will require a different strategy. What works for one will merely result in wheel-spinning and frustration for another. You could build citations all day long for the Mom blogger, but it’s not going to help her. The same practice will, however, super-charge that coffee shop’s visibility.
SEO is the fuel for your company’s overall image.
Once, branding, marketing, reputation management (also known as PR) and customer service were all in neat little silos, completely separate from one another. In the offline world, these silos still make sense.
Most people, however, are no longer reaching most of their customers offline. 90% of all customer interactions start online. That means that you need to be conscious of the way that your online presence plays into each of these areas.
Writing a piece of content and getting it to rank serves multiple purposes. It might help someone new see your website (marketing). It might also build your brand with people who are aware of your website, and that brand will continue to grow as you continue to add content. It also provides a positive entry into Google’s SERPS pages, which means that you place another brick into a virtual wall that guards your online reputation. It’s all related.
Understanding SEO in this context helps you approach the Internet in a better way. People who misunderstand SEO treat it as a mechanical exercise meant to tackle the vagaries of a really big, really powerful computer program. Those who know what SEO really is treat it as an exercise in virtual reality: they are building a powerful avatar and spokesperson who looks great, radiates charisma, and commands positive attention wherever that person goes.