Is SEO dead? Despite what you may have heard, the answer is no. As long as Google dominates search, businesses will benefit from enacting an organic ranking strategy. However, the landscape has transformed in significant ways:

  • Information is consumed differently
  • Updates and algorithms constantly change
  • There’s increased market saturation

Given these changes, a business should change their approach to SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Google Algorithm Changes and SEO Practices

Google changes their search algorithms up to an astonishing 600 times a year! Keeping up with those trends can be dizzying. One recent update, dubbed “Fred”, was launched in March 2017 as part of Google’s ongoing quest to reduce link spam. Sites with low value content and/or a bevy of ads were hit the hardest, some experiencing as much as a 50% drop in organic traffic overnight. Back in the day, creating as many backlinks as possible was a strong strategy  and not so much on the content. The lesson is that old school “black hat” SEO tactics won’t work anymore.

Websites getting the best organic results focus on providing valuable sticky content and sharing it via their social media presence. Posting relevant and interesting content will organically grow into link sharing. The more people see it, the more it’s backlinked, driving clicks to the website. Providing relevant, trustworthy and authoritative content that informs consumers (rather than sells) is now a highly effective SEO best practice – and can help businesses achieve strong organic search results.

Content Consumption

Along with algorithm changes, how users interact with content has also experienced an evolution. While Google remains the dominant search channel, there are many other ways people acquire information, and infinite paths to follow. For example, social media outlets like Facebook and Pinterest can spark interest in a product that transitions to curiosity for reviews from peers, which leads to searching on aggregate review sites like CNET or Consumer Search, or even watching reviews on Youtube. All of these touch points help users make intelligent purchases by informing them about product/service features and benefits. Once the consumer is ready to buy, they know exactly what and from whom they’ll purchase.

The infinite amount of information has also contributed to how search queries return. Google has become intuitive enough to provide info the user is seeking, which may not be based entirely on keywords and phrases entered by the user. Previous purchases, areas of interest shown on social media, and browser searches may also play a role. All of this means that the user gets better results and sites that demonstrate that they offer what users are seeking get more traffic and conversions.

Getting Strong Search Results

Since Q1 2008, Google’s revenue has grown and will undoubtedly continue to do so. The lion’s share of the profit can be attributed to AdWords, their advertising platform. No profits come from organic search results. Google aims to make money and SEO does not factor into that equation, which explains why conducting searches can be frustrating. Most search queries will return with paid ad spots first, followed by business listings, and then finally the organic results. Therefore, the deck is heavily stacked against an SEO-only effort and stiff competition doesn’t make it any easier. Mega-brands invest a great deal of money in paid and organic efforts so outranking them for specific keywords or phrases is nearly impossible. The next hurdles are aggregate review sites, articles, and listicles – organic powerhouses that take the top-ranking spots and leave below the fold or second-page scraps for the rest.

Yet, there are actions companies can take to win the online battle. SEO is not impossible or dead even though older spamming and link building techniques are. Ranking first organically is not only less impactful with all the paid placements, it is nearly impossible in most fields.

If the goal is to be top-of-mind for a consumer, then tactics need to focus on that. It’s not an easy task and will almost certainly take ongoing strategic work. It all starts with building the brand. Social media outlets, blogs, and reviews are great for spreading the word, plus interactions get indexed by search engines, which helps increase organic ranking over time.

Regularly producing relevant, authoritative and trustworthy content on the products or services offered will help establish the brand as positive and noteworthy. This is the clear direction of SEO and there is little to no reason to believe that it will change.

Additional Resources

How Online Advertising Works: PPC, Search and Display Ads
Digital Marketing: Laying the Groundwork to Succeed
How To Bounce Back From The Google Fred Algorithm — And Prepare For Future Updates