Is SEO Dead? NOOOOOOO!

2014-08-14-02-16-06

… Again?

Wait! Before you send me 1,000 Fiver links filled with exact match anchor text on a link wheel, no, this will not be yet another "is SEO dead" article, and it won't rehash the many other articles that tell you why it isn't dead.

It's simple: If you work in SEO you know SEO isn't dead. If you don't do real SEO for a living, well, you're just going to have to trust us.

This article will address a very particular kind of "SEO is dead" article – articles in which the author talks negatively about the industry itself with only a surface knowledge and lacking any meaningful understanding of what it means to do SEO in 2014.

Articles claiming that SEO is voodoo, that it doesn't work, and that we sell nothing but rainbows and fairy dust are what I like to refer to as "bovine feces".

Defining SEO

Before we begin, let's define SEO for purposes of this article. Being in SEO means you are a person who works with Search Engine Optimization as either their job or part of their job.

Now just what is this thing called search engine optimization? I think it was summed up best by Grant Simmons in a comment posted in response to an article with the headline "Is SEO Dead?", which was published on ClickZ:

SEO is about ensuring the visibility of content people are looking for that answers the key question they searched for... For some SEOs that includes being an integral part of content ideation, production & promotion, some SEOs act as the 'glue' and facilitate / coordinate the process, and some SEOs are the technical folk that ensure content is available, discoverable, crawlable & indexable for the correct topic themes (how, why and what people are searching for.) - some SEO folks are all of the above & more." (paraphrasing Bill Slawaski)

So whether you call yourself an SEO, an inbound marketer, a digital strategist, or something else, your job in some way involves positioning pages and getting traffic from the search engine results, typically Google.

Back to the 'Chicanery'

For anyone who ever runs across another "SEO is dead" article, there are two simple questions you can ask yourself to determine whether SEO is actually dead (Spoiler: it probably isn't!) and save yourself the time and frustration of reading it:

  • Is there still a search engine that seeks out and returns content to a user based on words they enter through text or voice input?
  • Are these results based on programming, algorithms, and math?

That's it. You don't need to know anything else.

If search still exists and math is still the basis for returning your results then there will always be ways to help make sites appear higher in the results. If search engines ever become a totally subjective individual reviewer system, then I might give its death some consideration, but until then SEO will exist in one form or another.

"Is SEO Dead?" – A Micro Look at Clickbait Chicanery.

There's a reason "SEO is dead" clickbait articles are published so often. They get pageviews. Lots and lots of pageviews.

Let's get back to the previously mentioned ClickZ post. With almost 50 comments, this article definitely did its clickbait job, but did it do the intended job of providing readers with informative content?

No. The author, Andrew Edwards, takes many liberties with his thoughts on SEO; making many mythical and erroneous statements such as the following:

...but with those deploying the most effective examples of chicanery we know as "SEO."

SEO isn't chicanery. Not sure we need to go any further than this.

SEO is also an industry full of promises. Despite evidence to the contrary, many SEO mavens continue to insist they can fool the Google algorithm into getting your site - no matter what it is - higher in the rankings.

Actually spam is still living well and high on the hog, so apparently it is working. But us "mavens" aren't trying to fool Google. We just give Google what they want – sites that are good for users, guided by Google's guidelines.

If it isn't functionally dead, it's certainly in the sick-house.

While inflammatory, SEO is stronger than ever. All the new algorithms did was pull the cream away from the milk. The curds dropped to the bottom.

It sounds like a great proposition to a site owner: drink a bottle of SEO and your site will zoom vigorously to the top of the heap. But too often, and partly because Google does not seem to want it to, it doesn't work as advertised.

If you hire a seasoned SEO who has been keeping up with the algorithm changes, you will most certainly see positive improvements. If you don't get results, it is likely you need a better SEO, bad individual work isn't proof that SEO doesn't work.

And with no keyword reporting, a major support system for SEO has been, quite simply, taken away.

While most weren't happy initially, many SEOs became relieved by the loss of keyword data. Not having it means they could now report on true metrics and not live and die by a keyword position.

And finally the latest in SEO myths – if you build it they will come.

If you want to rank high on Google, build a good site and market it the best you know how.

Umm, no.

The 'You Don't Actually Need SEO' Myth

One big brand site did just this. The brand, which is very well-known, built a good site and marketed it "the best they knew how."

This brand's site was big, boasting tens of thousands of pages. They were generating good, original content. Why did they need to worry much about SEO?

Four Google PenaltiesFour good reasons, actually. Their site was hobbled by four Google penalties. It was one of the ugliest SEO audits I've ever seen.

This site wound up in such a bad state because they did not hire someone with the proper and current SEO knowledge to help them avoid these penalties.

In its endless quest to eliminate search spam, Google's algorithm shifts and penalties have changed from just targeting bad actors to targeting bad actors and poor experiences. This is most likely why Google's Matt Cutts stated in one Webmaster Video that SEO should mean search experience optimization.

When the algorithm changes, you must change what you optimize, what you fix, and what you attack on a site to make it better optimized for search.

This isn't death. It's evolution.

SEO isn't dead, on life support, or even suffering from a really bad case of the sniffles. SEO is alive and well in all its forms, and has become more complex.

Cost vs. Investment

SEO isn't for the faint of heart or the lazy due to its complexity. This is also why SEO isn't cheap.

To work in SEO and succeed, you must keep your skills and knowledge up to date, and constantly add new skills to your professional toolbox.

Google changed the algorithm between 50-80 times a month last year (on average). In addition, there were at least 10 major updates including the complete overhaul of how Google does search with the launch of Hummingbird. We're required to understand what is happening in search, but we also must have a holistic understanding of the website itself.

The new algorithms look at:

  • The traditional three of SEO (content, links, meta tags).
  • How your pages are laid out.
  • How you use advertising on site.
  • How fast the site loads.
  • If your code is implemented correctly (mostly for mobile)
  • Whether you moderate your comments.
  • If your content is thin or thick.
  • How the site is hosted.
  • How the site is served.
  • How quick it is to the first pixel.
  • And the list goes on and on.

Then just as we learn all of those they change, they shift, or go away altogether.

Now, let's add to that knowledge base SEOs also must keep up with and understanding the changes in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogging, press releases, what Google will view as a natural link, and more.

A good SEO costs money because they know the holistic nature of the website and search, onsite and off, along with all these changes in search itself.

This means your SEO is an investment in a stronger, better, site that will give you back far more than you put into it. When articles call SEO voodoo magic, it gives the impression that any real expense is too much and the client winds up with the spam providers that provide "cheap" services that in the end cause more damage than they get in results.

When is Clickbait Irresponsible?

These types of opinion-based, clickbait articles, where the author clearly lacks more than a surface level understanding of the subject matter, are the very definition of irresponsible authorship.

That penalized big brand discussed earlier read articles like these and decided to not actively pursue an SEO effort. After all, it was all tricks and clicks right?

Believing SEO has no value cost them millions of site visits. Millions! No way to be certain what that meant in actual dollars as we did not work with their financials, but I'm sure it wasn't pretty.

But Why Irresponsible?

SEO is serious stuff. People's livelihoods depend on us knowing our jobs. This type of article can actually be the very thing a site owner believes and in the end cuts off their nose, to spite their face.

A less knowledgeable CEO or site owner who reads articles like these and believes them will see their traffic go down and be forced to send pink slips after a savvier competitor applies sound SEO principles and starts to outperform them in search.

And it is not just competitors that can cause a site issues. The owners themselves can if they don't understand how items they change or implement affects the site.

Bad SEOs

Yes, there are some bad SEOs that are no better than a used car salesman out of an '80s movie. Yet, isn't it like that in any profession where money is good, hours are flexible, and most clients are unaware?

SEO buyers must beware. Buyers need to educate themselves, check things like speaking histories and book signings. But don't let "SEO is dead" articles scam you into thinking you just need to build it and they will come. You will close your doors before the first year is over.

Google Doesn't Hate SEOs

But wait, there's more from Edwards' post:

They don't make a nickel on your optimized site and they are worried that users may become underwhelmed with their search results. ... It signaled that Google wanted to put a damper on SEO because they had determined it was skewing the results in a way unhelpful to its users.

Google doesn't hate SEOs, despite the appearance at times to the contrary. Well not good SEOs anyhow.

Good SEOs make better websites. Better websites make a better experience when the users search Google and therefore a better product for Google. Good SEOs make Google look good.

In addition, Cutts and his team spend a lot of time at conferences, on Twitter, and in forums answering questions from SEOs about SEO.

SEO isn't transparent, but that doesn't mean Google hates SEOs. It is just one more reason a good SEO is worth their weight in all those rainbows and fairy dust we talked about earlier.

Buying AdWords Doesn't Help Organic Search

And then there was this complete fallacy from Edwards:

Because Google AdWords is a form of SEO, which really is SEM (search engine marketing); in other words, you optimize your site's Google performance by bidding on Google keywords whereby Google makes pretty much all of its money

No ummm - just no. Read 4 SEO Myths & Conspiracy Theories Google's Matt Cutts Wants to Die, or just watch this video:

While you can have a PPC (paid ads) campaign in Google it is in NO WAY SEO (organic non-paid search). Buying ads has no affect on your organic, i.e. it has NO effect on your placement in search results. They are completely separate.

If you're ever not sure if what you're reading is good information or clickbait chicanery, go to YouTube and look for Cutts' Webmaster Videos. These are designed to answer everyday SEO questions.

SEO is like 7-11. We Never Close

SEO is a 24-7 job. When you hire a good SEO you aren't just hiring a service, you're hiring an entire knowledge base.

Edwards' article should serve as a reminder that not everyone who says they are knowledgeable about SEO actually is. Many of the people who write about SEO are really just looking for clickbait with little true understanding of what it is they are writing about.

Not only are these types of articles dangerous to site owners their very existence often incites SEOs to action (posts, comments etc), but go easy on an SEO you see angrily commenting an article like "Is SEO Dead?" is indeed bovine feces.

It's easy to understand why an article like this is so poorly received by the industry. Aside from being filled with statements that are erroneous, inaccurate, and personally agendized, it is insulting to the many people who do this work well to be told their very efforts are just "chicanery".