So what is SEO and is it really dead?
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the aim of being looked on favourably by search engines to appear in a good spot when people are searching.
The main reason SEO is proclaimed as being dead is that it’s changed drastically from what it used to be, search engines algorithms used to be relatively simple, the more links to a page, and the higher quality those links (from bigger sites) the better a page would rank. This means that SEO’s would be focused on back-link building, trying to get those crucial links from other websites back to the pages on their own site.
SEO professionals used to be locked in a near constant battle with search engineers, trying to use tactics that would move their site up the rankings with the minimum of effort. As search engineers realised what tactics SEO’s were using they adapted the search algorithms accordingly, to try and cut out websites gaming the system (or webspam as Google calls it).
These kind of tactics resulted in the kind of thing like those posts you see in comments, touting a completely unrelated website, you know the type, “click for super cheap shoes”. Why did they do this? Because it’s another link. Most websites now ensure that any links in comments are marked up for search engines not to follow them, to try and keep a handle on this and keep their comment streams clean.
Why did all of this happen? Greed mostly, SEO was a very lucrative business, effective SEO was a near guaranteed traffic driver and people were willing to pay a lot of money for that traffic. To some extent they didn’t care where that traffic came from and some agencies were just there to make money. This means corners were cut and boundaries were pushed to get the same results with less effort, meaning more and more hooky techniques came into play.
As the smart search engineers in Google, Bing, Yahoo etc pick up on the overabundance of dubious tactics, they build on the original algorithm, tweaking and changing it to a point where it is nearly unrecognisable from the source. They can even go so far as to manually penalise websites if they are in flagrant breach of their guidelines. Step by step this essentially outlaws a lot of those tricks that worked in the past.
What are my choices?
There are realistically two choices for someone working in search optimisation:
- You can either continue with shady practices that will, in time be picked up on by the search engineers (commonly known as black hat SEO) resulting in increasingly desperate measures, continuing that arms race.
- You can start with building a solid technical base and focus on giving people on what they want from a search result, by giving them good content that in essence gives them what they were looking for, be it the answer to a question or the news story they were trying to find. Rather than using linkspam to get the content out there to be found use legitimate sources, post it up on social media and relevant blogs so that those people who are likely to be most interested are the people who will find it. If the right people are finding your content then there should be no need to force link-building.
In my opinion if you head down the first route you are doomed to failure, it’s only a matter of time. If you work with the teams producing your content, helping them to understand the audience, what people are looking for and why; you are in a much better position. You can then not only weather the storms created by the wrath of some of the smartest engineers in the business but are actually giving people what they want, which has to be a solid plan for the future of your site!
So, answer the question, is SEO dead?!
No, that would be like saying search engines are dead!
But in the same way that search engines are almost unrecognisable from Altavista, SEO is almost unrecognisable as such, and will continue to change as the way we access the web changes, as search engines change and as people adapt accordingly.