Periodically some person will publicly speculate that SEO is dead, dying, or useless. The reasons for this are many and varied. It's easy to find articles on this topic, simply by searching for "is seo dead."
Here are a couple reasons that people may think that SEO is dying:
- Many people don't understand what SEO really is. This is true even among prominent marketers. A common belief among this segment is that SEO is the process of tricking search engines to rank a site for search queries for which it isn't one of the better matches. With this viewpoint, it's easy to see why people would want to conclude that SEO is a dying medium. Google and Microsoft make billions of dollars in revenue from their search engines, and protecting that revenue stream is a critical activity for them.
Poor quality search results lower customer satisfaction, and become an enticement for the user to try a different search engine that gives them better results. Definitely not desirable. That's why Google has invested so much time and money in Matt Cutts' WebSpam team.
- Others believe social media will replace SEO. These people argue that inbound links are an elitist system of voting for Web sites (you have to own a Web site to vote), and that social media will provide a much broader array of signals, because anyone with an Internet connection can sign up for a social media service and start making their opinions known. Further, they argue, more people will rely on social media for opinions on things because people love to learn from the experience of others.
This could be a compelling argument, but there are a few problems with it. One is that the adoption of social media sites isn't broadly distributed across the population, making these signals "lumpy" and inconsistent. Another is that it is easily spammed. No real investment is required to create a social media account and start doing some posts, and then cramming comments in about your favorite commercial enterprises.
Another is the issue of authority. Certainly someone with tens of thousands of followers on Twitter is more likely to be an authority on a topic, but all that they can offer really, is their own opinion. Someone with a Web site has made a significant investment in building that site, and here the stamp of authority is likewise relatively easy to measure. However, it's much more meaningful to receive an authoritative link than an authoritative Tweet.
Everything is Dying
I worked for Phoenix Technologies from late 1986 to early 1997. The company was responsible for developing the BIOS, a hunk of code that runs on your computer prior to the operating system. It's responsible for initiating the hardware of the computer to put it in a known state for the OS, and for proving a variety of valued added ROM resident services.
- Adapt to the changing environment.
- Help the sites you work on make the most of all available opportunities.
- Don't define the role of SEO too narrowly.
I ran the company's engineering for quite a few years, and at one point a journalist interviewing me asked how long a life span the BIOS had as a business. The way he figured it, the BIOS biz was just about dead. The answer I gave him was that the BIOS would only die after Fortan did.
Well I may have been wrong, but a search for "Fortran jobs" returns more than 1,000 results. Not dead yet, I guess. It also looks like you can make some good money writing Fortran code. And the BIOS? More than 600 jobs found when you search for "BIOS," who make around $61,000.
There was also a time when people thought the railroad industry was dying. But it looks like that's going to make a serious comeback in the current green-oriented environment. Warren Buffet certainly thinks so, which is why he invested $34 billion in Burlington Northern.
So Really, is SEO Dying?
Not a chance. Defined properly, but still somewhat narrowly, SEO is the practice of helping publishers bring new traffic and customers to their Web site, by building and promoting high quality Web sites using technology that the search engines can parse. That need isn't going away anytime soon.
Microsoft certainly agrees, as you can see from their big bet on Bing. Yes, SEO can, and will, evolve as the search engines evolve. The advent of universal search resulted in some changes, and created new opportunities for SEOs. The rising prominence of local search did as well. Increasing personalization will create yet more opportunities.
The key is to adapt to the changing environment, and to help the sites you work on make the most of the available opportunities. Another key is to not define the role too narrowly. The railroad industry was the poster child for failed strategic business vision for decades. The assertion was, and correctly so, that defining themselves as being in the railroad business caused them to decline in importance with the advent of the automotive and aviation industries.
The standard advice people then offered: don't limit your vision of where you are and what you do. The railroads would have had a different history if they defined themselves as being in the transportation business, because they would have embraced and invested in new forms of transportation.
For the SEO professional, staying abreast of the changing market environment is part of the price of being in this business. While change is constant, publishers use SEO as a means for obtaining new customers from search engines. As long as search is around, there will be a need for people who know how to make that happen.