At least once a month, someone writes an “SEO is dead” post. While SEO is far from dead, and these sorts of posts usually make me laugh, these doomsayers are actually partially correct…you see, SEO as a discipline is far from dead, but it has transformed so much in the last few years that it’s almost unrecognizable as the SEO of yesteryear.
Google, the most dominant search engine on the planet, is sitting on a throne worth $50 billion plus in revenue, every year (and increasing), and that throne is built on the concept of providing the best possible search result for any given query. You can bet your bottom dollar that with $50b+ on the line, this is something that Google takes VERY seriously.
SEOs, historically, have operated by making things easier for search engines to find and process, while simultaneously finding ways to manipulate various search signals to increase rankings. Many SEOs take offense at the term “manipulate”, but it is what it is.
One of the great weaknesses with machine learning is that it must adhere to programmable logic, and where there are programmable rules, there are always loopholes. Google doesn’t like this one bit, and in the last few years they’ve engaged in a very personal war against SEOs everywhere.
What does and doesn’t work has changed so dramatically in the last 5 years that SEO today is almost totally different from what it was then (other than basic on-site optimization). In fact, it looks a lot more like branding, PR and traditional advertising than it does “SEO” as we’ve come to know it. SEO, instead of being it’s own marketing silo, is now just one part of a much larger overall picture.
Once upon a time, there was an entire range of SEO tactics, from the pearly white to the darkest black, and things worked across the entire spectrum. As Google has made changes, they’ve targeted their efforts towards the chunky middle of this spectrum, the grey area.
What qualifies as grey? Manipulating links and anchor text ratios through non-editorial link building (think blog networks, buying links, low quality guest posts, comment spam, forum spam, etc.), spinning content, manipulating search and social signals…things of this nature.
None of these things are particularly dark or devious (certainly not when compared to true black hat tactics, many of which would leave you with your jaw on the floor), and they’ve worked spectacularly well for a very long time, but those days are coming to a swift end. Many of these tactics still work (to some degree), but they are providing a diminishing return, and the risk of using them is growing constantly as Google releases more and more algorithm updates that target and penalize these sorts of SEO tactics.
What Google has done, essentially, is eliminate the middle ground for SEOs. True black hat tactics still work spectacularly well, but their lifespan is limited and those tactics are designed for quickly achieved, short-term wins. Sparkly white hat tactics also work spectacularly well, but they can take a very long time to show a positive ROI, and they can be quite costly to implement.
Google has effectively limited the playing field of organic search, because only certain classes of businesses are willing to engage in black hat SEO, and only certain classes of businesses can afford to engage in SEO the right way.
For small and many medium sized businesses, this is a huge blow, because it is becoming infinitely more difficult to rank organically, and more costly to even try. Most small businesses just can’t afford to play in the SEO space any longer, at least not doing it the right way.
To sum it up: if you aren’t a brand, and aren’t willing or able to turn your business into a brand, organic search is probably out of your reach (or will be in the not too distant future).
Now, brand doesn’t have to mean Coke, or Apple, or Starbucks. We’re not talking corporate behemoth here. A “brand”, in the eyes of a search engine, is an entity composed of a certain set of “brand” signals: social activity (likes, shares, comments), branded search queries (growing over time), a cohesive brand presence across numerous websites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, etc.), media mentions, links from trusted sites, an advertising presence, etc.
From Google’s perspective, if you walk like a brand, and quack like a brand, you’re a brand…and that’s what you need to become if you want a slice of the organic traffic in your space going forward. Traditional SEO, just trying to “rank better” without integrating your SEO efforts into numerous other online marketing channels and tactics, actually is dead.
I’ll say it one more time: If you want to do SEO, but you can’t or aren’t willing to integrate that SEO effort into your social media, PR, brand marketing and other on and offline advertising channels (not to mention your web design and development) then you’re probably not going to see a positive ROI from SEO. You might get lucky, but it isn’t likely.
The good news is this: if you’re willing to engage in the right types of brand activities, and to integrate SEO into those efforts, then SEO can still be marvelously effective; and we can help you to make this happen. Over 80% of all searchers click on organic results, so if you aren’t visible in that space, you’re missing out on an enormous pool of customers.
Our clients have seen great results from engaging in content marketing and online branding activities designed to increase their organic traffic, and we would love the opportunity to help your company do the same!