Look anywhere online and you’ll likely find a lot of articles with a myriad of titles, proclaiming that, “SEO is dead.” What does that mean? Is it true? If so, what now?
Of course, almost anyone with a website is concerned with – and focused on – getting more traffic. After all, more traffic generally correlates to more leads, more clients and more revenue. In this quest, it’s no doubt that at least at some point, those same people will explore search engine optimization or SEO, as its commonly known. The key benefit of SEO in traffic generation is that it’s essentially “free.”
Sure, you will initially likely need to pay an SEO expert to set up – or optimize – your site for the search engines. And to leapfrog ahead of the competition that is already optimizing their site(s) for the same keywords, ongoing optimization will be necessary too.
However, aside from those fees (which indeed, should really be considered an investment), SEO is an “organic” traffic generation method. Meaning, the results will happen “naturally” as a result of proper and skilled optimization, without additional costs.
On the other hand, there is paid search marketing, also called SEM. Examples of SEM are paid online ads such as those done via Google AdWords, Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, Twitter ads, etc. All of these will also generally have set-up and maintenance fees paid to a professional (to be done right, without wasting more money than you make) AND there will be the additional cost of the ads themselves. Furthermore, SEM results stop dead in their tracks if the work, money, and effort stop. That’s usually not the case with SEO.
Those are just a couple of the reasons SEO is so attractive to many site owners and operators, as well as to web and marketing professionals. However, it often seems like there is still a good number of these same groups who shy away from – or are leery of – SEO.
Why? For one, it can be slightly “mysterious.” While some SEO “rules” are standard and don’t change, other elements – the “secret sauce” that generally produces the best results – is often dynamic or even kept closely guarded or even secret by those who dominate the field.
Furthermore, there is no shortage of sometimes-unscrupulous and sometimes inexperienced-yet-overconfident SEO “professionals” who will promise the world and deliver nearly nothing. The result being that even business owners who believe in the power of SEO might decide to ignore or forego this powerful weapon of traffic generation. To their detriment.
Now, let’s throw another wrench in the mix by going back to the opening question… There is also the added fear that now, SEO is “dead.” But what does that even mean?
The answer is a lot simpler than the question itself might make it sound.
It used to be that if you did some basic things on the visible portion of your website, added some sort-of-basic things to the back end of your site, and then did some other less-well-known-but-still-not-mysterious things both on the front and the back, you could pretty much guarantee a high ranking.
Honestly, back then, this “guarantee” primarily existed because any effort was more effort than most other sites you might be competing with on the web were doing. Plus, the formula that Google used to rank sites, while never public, was still a formula. In other words, experienced and skilled SEO’s could pretty much figure it out. Once they did, they just applied the rules and “presto”—top ranking.
However, today, that has changed quite a bit. In the past years, Google has gradually moved away from this formulaic ranking process – or “algorithm-based” keyword and site evaluation and positioning. Instead, search engine ranking is now semantic and even artificial-intelligence driven.
Semantic search ranking is basically just as it sounds. Summarily, it’s context, rather than keyword-based, search. Thus, Google (and the other search engines too) are evaluating what your page means, more than using exactly what you say on the page (with keywords, keyword phrases, and so on…). This makes SEO both easier and harder at the same time. No longer can you just sprinkle your keyword throughout the page and add it to the page meta title and description and hope to rank higher than all the other sites out there competing for the same terms and same traffic. Instead, you have to write real, valuable, content around that keyword or keyword phrase – including related keywords and keyword phrases – so that your page shows “weight” for a particular search.
Then, there is AI-driven search ranking, which takes all this to a whole other level when it comes to context and how the search engines rank a page (and your site). Google calls their AI ranking tool “Rank Brain” and it almost literally like they gave their indexing and ranking tool a real brain. It can not only scan your page like the search ranking robots of old but can also “decide” what the page means and what you are trying to say.
In other words, summarily, Google – and Bing and Yahoo, etc. – are getting “smarter.” As a result, you – or your SEO professional(s) – have to be smarter about optimization as well. SEO is not dead. But being lazy with – or cheating – your SEO efforts is pretty much out the door.
However, it’s still possible to optimize your site for the search engines—and optimize it well. It just requires a new way of looking at content creation and optimization itself. It also does require more effort and more quality too, but the conversion results from the better ranked sites that are optimized in this way, show dramatic increases over sites optimized and ranked “the old way.”
The end result being… it’s not wise at all to consider SEO “dead.” On the other hand, you can’t keep doing what you’ve always been doing with SEO and expect better – or even the same – results. You have to step it up and provide more, more in-depth, and higher quality content that covers these semantic and AI search-ranking tools and what they are specifically looking for when they evaluate your site.
Do this, and the benefits of SEO will still be apparent. Plus – your site will look better, read better, and most likely, convert better. Which in the end, is the goal all site owners really want – and need – to achieve for the greatest success.