I try to present technical issues in a way that people can easily understand them.
If you try typing the phrase “is SEO dead,” in your browser line, you’ll likely be assaulted with articles dating back for at least five years, if not more, telling you that SEO is officially dead. Some articles will tell the reader that it’s been dead for years, but no one noticed. Others will tell you it’s not officially dead, but on life support; if you check the posting dates on the articles falling in this arena, you’ll wonder how long it takes for something to actually die. Still, others will claim a major announcement from search-engine giant Google, is just around the corner; confirming the aforementioned death. A quick scan of the metadata will only add to the confusion.
Many of the top search results are presentations or advice from companies that want to sell a service; by supporting or denying the claim of SEO being dead, they hope to attract clients to their business. Others will front-load their postings with mobile and social media statistics which they will later use to “show” their audience that the emerging platforms are where people are doing their searches, virtually negating the broad reach of traditional search engines. In this scenario, these marketers are saying that phone Apps such as Yelp or Foursquare and social media sites such as Pinterest and Twitter have become the de-facto “search engines” for internet users. Still, others will refute the fact that SEO is dead, and will go on to make arguments for its viability long into the future. In essence, the average person usually is left with more uncertainty than they had in the beginning.
Looking Back Before Looking Ahead
In order to better understand Search Engine Optimization, we can look back at history, to at least demonstrate the basic tenants of SEO and how they’ve evolved over time. There are some difficulties in this approach for several reasons including the fact that the internet is relatively new in the grand scheme of things, and technology moves at such a rapid pace that changes can occur and be negated in a short time depending on the subject matter.
As things changed, so did the methodologies for sorting, categorizing, and ultimately delivering search results also changed. Early search engines such as Yahoo, AltaVista, and Excite were all in competition with one another, and often times would use different algorithms to sort data, in the hopes that users would spend more time on their sites. Since most of these early search engines are no longer viable, it would seem that they didn’t get it right or weren’t able to convince users that they had it right. The concept of sorting data based on usefulness and popularity was correct, but the real-world application, even in the early days, was shown to be challenging and always changing.
SEO in 2017
If we fast forward to 2017, the difficulties still exist, however, the few companies which survived to remain in the search-engine business, now have armies of staff that are dedicated to the continuous improvement of SEO. With an investment of that proportion already in place at Bing, Google, and Yahoo, it seems unlikely that SEO is either dead or dying. Yet, even when confronted with these facts, many naysayers will quickly pivot their conversations to say things like, “traditional SEO is dead,” or “The internet is more about organic content instead of SEO.” Both statements do have a degree of truth in them but aren’t fact-laden enough to start hammering nails in the SEO casket just yet. What might be a safer way to evaluate the current environment would be to say that SEO is like an electronic chameleon; one that adapts to the environment and changes, even for the short term, as needed. Electronic marketers have already adapted to the changing world and despite the rhetoric from some, it seems as if electronic commerce is still growing and internet use is becoming more important in people’s lives. As long as both of those remain robust, then so will SEO.
Learning From Mistakes of the Past
Of course, we can look back at some of the specific parts of SEO and shoot them so full of holes that they might be better off dead, but as it always seems to occur, savvy people find ways to quickly plug those holes and learn in the process. Spammers, keyword loading, fake news, fake site reviews, and many other tricks are often employed by unethical marketers who claim they can drive up search results. Other methods, such as content farming, or questionable back-linking sites can also artificially inflate SEO rankings. Collectively the black-bag tactics appear to be effective, but only in the short run.
Google regularly updates how search engine dynamics work, and they are always including ways to keep the bottom-feeders from rising to the top of search results at the expense of legitimate endeavors. And if you need to ask why they do this, the answer comes in dollars and cents; rising advertising revenues are the heart and soul of why they constantly update the algorithms. Businesses aren’t going to spend money unless they see tangible results from their investments. If spam sites and fake news sites are trending higher than legitimate sites, the level of dissatisfaction will rise exponentially. In true chameleon fashion, Google is now punishing the fake sites instead of them being able to get unwarranted rewards, in their efforts to give users relevant and useful results to their searches.
From Desktops to Mobile
For those holdouts still under the belief that somehow mobile users or social media loyalists are going to somehow break the grip of the search-engines, I’m sorry to say that under current conditions, it won’t happen. Mobile results may be more prevalent today as compared to traditional PC or laptop searches, but that doesn’t mean they fall into their own category. In fact, Google takes into account whether a site is mobile friendly or not in their page rankings, and makes no secret about it. Marketers are rapidly adopting mobile strategies to ensure they are up to the expectations of their consumers, whether those consumers are buying products, services, or simply gathering information. And since those searches are still searches, they can be optimized in accordance with existing conditions. Social media sites are important for many businesses and they drive tremendous traffic. Google and Yahoo realized this a long time ago and did what any good technology giants would do; they incorporated it into their strategies. And even though many social media platforms keep their users from leaving their platforms by embedding the linked stories, search engines can still determine where the content originated from and how to rank the value of that site accordingly.
Facebook doesn’t want you to leave Facebook as their advertising revenues depend on keeping you on the site for as long as possible. Google isn’t indexing the ever-growing number of social media pages or tweets or pins each day; mostly because even with their resources, it would be impossible. Based on these two statements, it’s easy to see how marketing firms could and do make the statement that social media is taking search results away from the search engines. Yet, before you go back to digging the SEO grave, here are a few things to take into consideration. Google algorithms are searching all the social media giants to identify new content, social signals, and yes the number of re-posts, retweets, and re-pins are also weighted in the grand scheme of things. The social signals analysis has taken the place of older linkbacks, which as we demonstrated earlier are easily manipulated. Sharing has become the new normal for connecting SEO, original content, and social media.
What the Future Holds
So, in summary, the fact remains that SEO is an ever-changing concept. It is most certainly not dead, dying, or on life-support. There is one takeaway that you should give some thought to. It’s not a secret that success comes in the form of high quality and original content; it’s why the statement that “content is king” still holds weight and will still give you strong search results. Yet if you pay closer attention to those search results, you’ll hopefully be able to see that search engine results are becoming more “friendly” indicating that Bing and Google are analyzing what kind of content people are sharing on social media, and not just which keywords are included. Actionable words and phrases such as “how do I,” or “What kind of,” are also impacting searches and search results as these are ways real people are using the internet today. Some see this as an extension to the old keyword strategy, but that’s not always the case. A final thought would be to consider that with Artificial Intelligence (AI) seemingly on our doorsteps, the internet of today may come from the simulated mouths of robots tomorrow; robots that will be expected to answer questions in ways we are comfortable with. So, a friendlier more human-sounding search result might be the bridge to a closer man-machine relationship in the future. Hopefully, now you’ll see that SEO is here to stay. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Mikal Christine from Nairobi, Kenya. on June 09, 2017:
Tamara Moore on June 09, 2017:
Excellent and informative article! Thank you!
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on April 04, 2017:
AI has a long way to go to match human intelligence. I can do a google search and spot the spam in seconds. How come they haven't been able to separate the spam from true content?
Google in my humble opinion is a poorly implememted search engine. In 5 or 10 years, I believe a new technology will come along and replace it. That is the nature of technologies. It never stand still.