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SEO is More Alive Than Ever

Mark Jackson
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SEO may be a bitch, but it’s not dead.

I wrote last month about my love/hate relationship with search engine optimization. It’s absolutely true. Most of what I don’t love about this space is running an agency (the business side of it). Shortly after I published my post, I came across a brilliant piece by Ian Lurie of Portent Interactive, “11 reasons no sane person starts an interactive marketing agency.” 

The business side of things can absolutely make you prematurely gray and maybe even drive you a bit insane. SEO as an art/science/practice can also age you a bit, if you don’t have a healthy attitude about it. 

SEO is Challenging

SEO has certainly not gotten easier over the past few years. No, indeed. Take a look at this screenshot from Google’s SERPS in 2005:

Google San Francisco Boutique Hotel 2005 SERP

We used to optimize for 10 blue links. Remember those days? No one talked about ROI back then. It was purely the ranking report. 

You looked at the blue links, and your website was either there, or it wasn't. Local was just being introduced (see the one local/map result?). No such thing as personalization, yet. 

Back then, it was actually thought to have been a good thing to create a relatively static website, and get links to those static pages with spot-on anchor text in those backlinks for each page. Heck, you might even still have success with a backlink profile of crappy directory listings, sitewide paid links, and link exchanges/reciprocal links. 

Flash Forward to SEO Today

Nowadays, many in our industry are talking about the fact that they will refuse to run ranking reports for clients. My company still runs ranking reports. As I see it, it can at least be an indicator of opportunities (i.e., if you have a page showing as ranking on the second or third page of the SERPs, you might not be getting traffic for that keyword/phrase, but it may just need a little extra love/attention to start driving some traffic. 

Check out what Google’s SERPS look like for the same search from above, today:

Google San Francisco Boutique Hotel 2011 SERP

Looks a little different, right? Welcome to the world of universal search!

google-search-verticals-2011

Nowadays, SEO is the process of optimizing “digital assets.” These digital assets certainly include web pages, but it’s so much more. 

Images? Videos? News? Shopping? Places? Each of these requires a certain skill set to optimize well. 

And, let’s not forget that social is a pretty big piece in today’s SEO. By “social”, I don’t mean merely blogging. We’re talking a full-on channel effort utilizing tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and – yeah, it’s coming – Google+. If Google+ has high adoption rates, it’ll be very interesting to see how much this plays into Google’s algorithm going forward. 

Measuring SEO Success

This is the part that probably most excites me about today’s SEO. While I still run ranking reports, that’s certainly not the measure of “success.” 

Success is about making money and getting ROI. It’s still a little tricky to precisely measure “success” (and total value) of SEO efforts, but some upcoming mods to Google Analytics have me pretty pumped:

Top Conversion Paths Google Analytics

When you can show dollar value for SEO efforts, as well as how SEO is part of the sales funnel (SEO can actually lead to direct visitors which can then lead to sales…these are sales that SEO might not have gotten any credit for, in the past), you can see how far SEO has come from the days of merely running ranking reports. 

SEO is Dead. Long Live SEO!

So, for those who ask “is SEO dead?” I say “no,” SEO is more alive than ever. It’s just evolving, as it has been for years. In fact, I would say that over the past 15 months or so, we have had more changes in Google’s algorithm than perhaps at any time in the history of SEO. It’s extremely dynamic. To me, that feels like something that is “alive,” and perhaps more so than it has ever been. 

Note: Next month, I will have the distinct privilege of participating in the “SEO is Dead. Long live SEO!” panel discussion at Search Engine Strategies San Francisco. I’ll be joined by Fionn Downhill, VP of Strategy for SyCara, Todd Friesen, Director of SEO at Performics, and David Naylor, SEO at Bronco. If you can make it, I highly recommend it as these are some folks that I have a lot of respect for, and I’m sure that there will be some interesting banter.


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