People Haven’t Thought a Living Thing Was Dead This Much Since Kurt Russell Escaped From New York to a Post-Disco John Carpenter Sound Track
(If you aren’t familiar with the film Escape from New York, first, shame on you, and second, these jokes won’t make sense. Go watch it, or just accept that everyone in the movie that meets Kurt Russel’s character thought he was dead.)
I’ve been reading versions of ‘SEO is Dead’ posts since 2008.
The main part is a shell game: the point of SEO is to show up well in Google for stuff that will land you customers. This involves figuring out who customers are, creating the right content for them , and sending the right technical signals about that content to Google. The latter is arguably a shrinking part of the equation, so if you call the first part analytics or market research, the second content marketing, and the third SEO, you can make the claim that SEO is dying. And if you are not good at the SEO part, you make the claim as loudly as possible.
Snake Plissken Optimization? I Heard You Were Dead!
The problem with even that clearly, and ironically, semantic argument, is that while Google is constantly getting better at figuring out what results to show based on content alone, sites are always getting more complicated. If even a mom and pop business can have a slick e-commerce site and large, categorized blog via WordPress or Shopify, that many more people have sites that could benefit from optimized titles and product images, canonicalization of duplicate content, and so on. Even if Google isn’t going to overlook them as much for not doing it as they used to, the one that does it gets an edge.
And if one of the mom and pops gets fancy starts doing more and more of their site in JS without understanding the technical SEO implications, that could be a rough few months while Google figures out where the content went. Yes Google gets better, but there’s always something new it has to get better at. Mobile device and location dependent search, images, video, continuous scroll pages, the knowledge graph, and incorporating browsing history or social signals into results, are all areas that Google is addressing.
By the time those advanced areas are at a point where technical SEO doesn’t matter (if such a thing is possible, which is actually a really interesting question in Machine Learning), there will be new ones to deal with. Or people will realize they suck and stop using them and Google can sort of give up on indexing them. Like Flash. We hope.
What’s In a Name: Call Me SEO vs The Name’s Plissken
So why aren’t SEO experts defending SEO? Well, SEO always had a lousy reputation, because a lot of the people who claim to do it are incompetent, crooked jerks, or both. Though every reputable SEO professional I’ve met online and off has gone well beyond the requirements of professional courtesy towards me, we all know how much spam you get from our less legitimate “competition.” Now couple that with the fact that SEO practitioners have, or at least should have, a decent understanding of critical marketing concepts like branding and messaging.
Most offices probably view re-branding as a pain and an expense: for a marketer it’s a chance to put into practice every insight and inspiration we’ve had since putting the brand together in the first place. SeoMoz is called Moz now. You’re reading this at Informed Iteration, not Small Search Strategies, a decision I made early in creating the business to take the emphasis off search and place it on broader data-driven content strategy services.
Maybe SEO is dead… as a branding strategy. The art and science of figuring out what to put on your website, and how to set up said website, so that the people you want to connect with online will find you through a search engine as effectively as possible, however, continues to thrive.
I, and others like me, continue to generate value for businesses by doing this.
We just haven’t agreed on what to call it at the moment. Increasingly, I’m going with “Online Marketing.”
Also published on Medium.