SEO Is Dead. Long Live SEO
“SEO is Dead” is content strategy, and you took the bait.
Your SEO job title is now obsolete.
You are now an inbound marketer.
Or maybe you are a content strategist.
Since Google's Panda update, marketers have rushed to acquire front row tickets to the SEO death march coming to an IP C-Block near you.
But they have it all wrong.
SEO will never die, SEO will always change
There is a lot of ignorance and arrogance that goes into making a statement like “SEO is Dead” – and even more ignorance that goes into perpetuating that notion to the outside world.
The purpose of this post is not to call out people for being ignorant. That would be boiling the ocean. I am here to explain how SEO is not dead, how it's not in need of medical care at all.
Information vs. Knowledge
We must first start with the difference between information and knowledge.
Information is the data that we collect. In the world of the Internet, it's the web pages, articles, PDF's, Videos, Images, Tweets, Likes and Shares that are sprout up all around us.
Information is easily created, and the amount of information available grows exponentially every year. Similar to how Moore's law proves that the number of transistors we can get on circuits doubles every two years, the amount of information that humans create is growing exponentially as well. In fact:
“Every 2 days we create as much information as we did up to 2003“
– Eric Schmidt of Google
I'm not sure if you understand the weight of this quote. In 2 days, humans create as much information as the entire human race created for well over 2 thousand years! That is incredible.
Knowledge involves taking all of this information available and turning it into something meaningful, telling a story.
Turning information into knowledge is something that requires a great deal of human editorial input to be done right. It's very difficult to create knowledge algorithmically. Likely outside of the realm of what is currently possible.
More Information + Human Editorial = More Knowledge
We are in a situation where there is more information being created all of the time, yet this information is useless unless it can be turned into knowledge.
Computer algorithms, which are programmed by humans, are not yet at the point where they can reliably turn information into knowledge.
In order to help computer algorithms understand which information is the most worthy of being turned into knowledge, we have two viable options to help get the job done:
- Understand how the computer algorithms work in order to assure that the most useful information is output (Search Engine Optimization)
- Turn information available into knowledge via human curation (Content Strategy)
The first is what SEO's have been doing all along. Whether white, grey or black hat, we have been attempting to understand how a computer algorithm processes information in order to have our content (or the content of our company, client, friend, family, loved one, pet, babysitters club, etc.) show up above the content of others.
When these algorithms were simple and it was easy to guess what was happening, optimizing your position on the results was also considered to be easy to achieve. Simply structure your website in a manner that was proven to work for others and you had a great chance of ranking.
If the algorithm adjusts to include different ranking factors (like moving from meta keywords tag and keyword density to a PageRank and link based algorithm), then the SEO adjusts their approach to account for these new algorithmic factors.
They are effectively chasing after the algorithm, making adjustments to their site and building links to try and receive better rankings.
Algorithm Chasing SEO is Dead
Everything about algorithm chasing is tactical. It is not a strategy, and therefore can not be relied upon as a long term building block of success.
Depending on who you are, algorithm chasing may have died for you with the Panda update, or you maybe the Penguin killed your SEO hopes and dreams? Or maybe you will be in denial until the Zebra update in 2013? Or the orca update of 2014? (side note: notice how these animals are all black and white? Think it is intentional?)
Algorithm chasing is dead, because Google is making algorithm chasing impossible
As the web enters its adolescence, it becomes more difficult to make drastic changes to the web presence of a company, organization or individual. There's just too much at stake, and making drastic changes to meet an algorithm is rarely feasible from a timing and fiduciary standpoint.
Content Creation and Content Curation Emerge
If chasing after an algorithm is dead, then what takes its place? The next wave of SEO involves taking the information available and turning it into newly created knowledge.
This can come in many forms, with the creation of original content being rewarded significantly for the knowledge it contributes.
In addition, those who curate knowledge will see their influence grow when it comes to influencing how information will be displayed in a search engine.
Social channels are curated by humans, so when a user finds a piece of content to be worthy of sharing, they are adding a human element to the algorithm – something that the algorithm cannot do on its own.
If you don't believe me, do a Google search while logged in and tell me how many author images you see. Even better, look at the following SERP:
I was trying to find the quote from Eric Schmidt that I used earlier in this post and was having difficulty remembering the exact wording and who made the quote. A fairly ambiguous Google search landed me the answer within the top 3 results.
Why did this show up? A combination of keyword relevance, social signals (I read Techcrunch often and follow this author) and the human element.
Techcrunch didn't chase after the algorithm to get my visit. They wrote excellent content, promoted it and then connected with me socially.
I would not have been able to find this result 3 years ago. Maybe not even a year ago.
This is what SEO has become. It's not dead, it's improved.
Algorithmic SEO Still Works in New Marketplaces
This article was written specifically for text based search on Google. There are still several places where SEO can still be performed to great success. For example, it is still very easy for app publishers to show up in search results in the iTunes App Store. It may also still work when it comes to video search, social search, local search (outside of Google), and many more places.
While the algorithm for text search has become impossibly difficult to predict, these new frontiers represent new opportunity for algorithm chasers.
The SEO Death Pool Won't Pay Out
As an industry, we should stop labeling things as dead when we don't understand how it lived in the first place.
It's like beating a dead horse.
To borrow from Wil Reynolds talk at Mozcon 2012. We need to start doing RCS: Real Company $hit.