I get asked this a lot. Google has released 3 substantial algorithm updates in the past 2 years: Panda, Penguin & Hummingbird, with the latter being more of a complete fundamental change to the entire algorithm landscape. It’s without a doubt the most loaded question I’ve ever been asked in regards to SEO, but a fair question. Website owners have been dropping like flies in past few months, losing ranking and losing all of their organic traffic. And some SEOs have thrown up their arms and concluded that SEO must be dead.
Honestly, the answer really depends on how you define SEO. If, when you say SEO, what you really mean is manipulating search engines to place sites that don’t really deserve to rank well at the top of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPS)…then yes, I’d say that’s dead (or dying at least, as some manipulative tactics still work quite well).
However, even though some SEOs work to game the system, I’ve never really felt like that was the correct definition of SEO.
Because we so often use the SEO acronym, we forget sometimes that it stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO, at its heart, is the process of making websites more accessible and understandable to search engines. It shouldn’t be, and really doesn’t need to be, manipulative.
Why is Google making all of these changes? Do they want to kill SEO?
I don’t think they want to kill SEO. They just want to put a stop to SEO’s who have learned to manipulate their ranking system. You see, while plenty of SEOs (like me) were helping legitimate sites to improve their presence, to the benefit of searchers, far too many were making Google’s search results poorer in quality.
Google relies on having excellent search results so that people will continue to use them when they perform searches. Many SEOs were muddying up the search results with crappy sites, causing a degradation of overall search result quality.
Lower quality SERPs means a poor experience for searchers, so Google needed to make drastic changes to clean things up and restore/improve the quality of search results.
So Just Answer the Question: is SEO dead or not?
Absolutely not. But the game has been changed. Engaging in SEO tactics that worked 5 years ago (even 2 years ago) now poses a big risk, not to mention rapidly diminishing returns.
SEOs will need to adapt or die. Luckily, SEOs like me are really good at adapting to change. SEO, the art of making content more accessible and understandable to search engines, will exist and thrive for as long as search engines exist.
That said, SEO is no longer a silo. It has massive dependencies in other departments, from social and content to PR and advertising.
If anything, I’d say that the role of SEO has changed from specialist/technician to more of a project manager/strategist role. SEOs must be exceptional at understanding how all the pieces of the online marketing puzzle fit together.
Current SEOs, the smart ones, are already shifting into roles like creative director, marketing manager, digital marketing strategist, etc. They’re escaping the SEO silo because they know full well that SEO is no longer an independent discipline.
For people looking to get into SEO, I’d probably recommend against it. I mean, learn SEO, by all means, but you’d better also learn PPC, CRO, design, social, copywriting, basic coding skills, and numerous other disciplines on top of that. The days of being a plain old SEO are pretty much done.
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I’d really encourage people to think of SEO differently. SEO is far from dead, but it’s changed so drastically that people really need to learn to think of it as less of a marketing tactic, and more of a branding play. SEO is definitely more complex and less-understood now than ever before. But is it dead? Not by a long shot.