A shadow looms over the internet. A presence as old as the very first search engine. A tyrant that commands instant respect from every subject, that bends each website at the knee. Nothing is built without considering its wrath. Its whims can create princes out of paupers, or ruin a dynasty overnight.
That monster is SEO, and it haunts us even now.
Oh, I’m sorry, did you hear differently? Did you hear that it was dead? That the long night was over, that websites were no longer held in its clawed fist? Well, I’m afraid that’s just not the case.
Every year seems to be the year that “SEO is dead.” Some new trend will take off, some standard will be adjusted here or there, and a witty tech blogger will write an article about the decline of the old ways. They whittle the perfect stake with their words, shove it deep into the monster’s chest, and turn smugly to the terrified townspeople, confident that THIS time it has been well and truly slain.
But then the beast’s eyes snap open. The wooded stake is flung into the terrified crowd with utter contempt. SEO rises from its supposed grave, more powerful than ever.
Living with the beast
Try as we might to escape its clutches, SEO is still a tremendously important part of web-marketing. The harsh reality is there are thousands of websites being made every day, but nobody cares about any of them other than the lucky few who make it to the first page of Google’s search results.
So why are so many bloggers obsessed with convincing you that SEO is dead? Because it makes good copy. Because it’s exciting and dynamic to think that there has been some kind of sea change in the web marketing world and we all have to adjust. Because they’re trying to sell you on some other idea, some plan, package, or course that offers an alternative path to success that conveniently sidesteps SEO.
There is a smidgen of truth to these claims of course. There is far more to making a successful website than just a high page ranking. Tunnel visioning on just that one particular quality is shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating. There are other marketing avenues to consider and qualities that a site needs to be truly successful.
But sadly, all of that is secondary to the unfortunate truth that 75% of all users NEVER scroll past the first page of search results. It’s not fair, and we don’t have to like it. But, we do have to recognize it for what it is. Anyone telling you SEO is dead is feeding you a bill a bad goods. What’s important for a business website now is understanding the importance of SEO, working towards a higher page ranking, and keeping an eye on changing trends and building for the future.
At least its not as blood thirsty as it used to be
The bright side to living under SEO’s boot heel these days is that it isn’t as dirty as it used to be. A few years ago, the land of SEO was a cut throat place that encouraged underhanded tactics, rewarding scumbag tricks and those who would race to the bottom of the barrel faster than the next guy. There was old fashion keyword stuffing, grimy cloaking techniques that would present different content to the web spiders than the users, spamming, and of course, giant useless directories that served as link graveyards. The old days were brutal. A few years ago, you could say SEO was legitimately making the web a worse place. In the race to the top of the search engines of the day, a lot of people resorted to shady practices and produced low quality sites in the process. The results of which would annoy users, waste time, and squeeze out the legitimately informative and helpful sites out there.
Thankfully, Google’s page ranking algorithms have developed a more discerning palette as of late. The great SEO beast is no longer sated by such mindless cheap tricks and tawdry techniques. Instead, search rankings are now based more heavily on relevancy and positive public opinion, with other metrics taking a backseat to what can be generally measured as truly helpful and informative content.
In our more civilized age, backlinks from other sites, social network shares and followers, site performance, and mobile compatibility are some of the key factors in determining a page rank. These are much more organic and useful search criteria. Instead of inspiring a race to the bottom, they encourage sites to bring their A-game instead. Now if you want to crack the first page of search results, you need to have a site that works well, delivers useful content, and is respected in its niche.
No longer infecting the web with its sinister presence, SEO is now promoting a more positive user experience. Rewarding sites for the quality of their work instead of their ability to cram unrelated search text behind an image is a net gain for everyone on the web and gives honest sites that actually want to help their audience or customers a chance to compete fairly in the SEO environment. Of course, it isn’t all flowers and sunshine. SEO is still the undead lord of the net that governs us mercilessly. Page rankings are not a complete meritocracy yet, and there are legitimate criticisms to be made that putting such high emphasis on social followings and backlinks creates a snowball effect where big sites stay big while smaller sites struggle for the visibility to get a foothold. On the whole though, the world of SEO is a lot less arbitrary and savage than it once was.
The first light of dawn
SEO isn’t dead and it won’t be for a long, long time. It may never die completely. As long as we still depend on large automated systems to search and organize the web (which is to say always), SEO is going to be a major factor in any web marketing strategy. However, its influence is growing more benign in its advanced age. Our vampiric overlord no longer requires sacrifices and dark deeds to earn it’s favor, only lip service and a tasteful level of fearful respect.
The current state of things encourages a more varied and active approach to building your page ranking and ensuring your website is a success. This is where those clever tech bloggers who claimed SEO was dead were at least partially right.
Content has long been praised as the regal usurper of the web. We’ve all heard it for years, we’re all probably a little sick of hearing about it. While those claims might have been a tad exaggerated or overwrought, they’re is still some wisdom in them. Hosting high quality content that is useful, relevant, entertaining, and likely to be shared by users is one of the best ways to climb the page ranking ladder now, and by all projections will only be more important in the future.
Same with having a site that is fast and organized. The quality of your users experience matters more than ever before. Features designed to not only help web spiders crawl and catalog your site, but offer accessibility options to handicapped users such as excellent image alt tagging is a fantastic advantage. These are trends all about helping the actual people using your site, about making sure the better sites will find their way to the top naturally, and that is what we should all focus on when strategizing for SEO in the future.
Looking at this trend, we can take educated guesses about how we should plan for the future of SEO. As these algorithms are refined, they’re continuously trending away from the mechanical, from making a site easy for web spiders to view and organize them, and towards the human and organic. So what smart SEOs will do now is look at how people are using the internet today and build towards a future where your site services those needs, being ahead of the next algorithm change instead of responding to it.
For example, we all know mobile browsing has been steadily increasing for years and will continue to do so. That means that not only does your site need to be mobile responsive, you should also be already projecting ahead. Think about how people use their phones, account for things like realistic speech patterns. Keywords and ideas that match how people actually talk when searching with a service like Siri as opposed to how they might type it in.
With the increased emphasis on social shares and back links, we should be projecting towards a future where social, shares, and positive reviews matter more and more. Reputation will be our currency in a few years. There may come a time when your customer service is charted and rated as a part of your search ranking. Smart businesses should start sowing the seeds of positive user interaction now to be ahead of the curve.
We can’t know what the future holds exactly, but we can look at what has come before and what is going on now to make predictions. And one thing is clear, every time somebody says SEO is dead, it comes right back again, larger and more important than ever. This is one monster that is too powerful to be laid to rest. It’s time to learn how to work with it than to try and find newer, shinier silver bullets to put it down.
Bio: Nic Rowen is the content manager for Lifeline Design. Hailing from a background in writing, Nic believes great stories make great websites.