In the past few weeks, the Internet has exploded yet again with the latest round of obituaries dedicated to search engine optimization. The same old questions pop up under a slightly different context. What is left for SEO when Google shoots down each new exploit and tactic? If every useful technique eventually becomes obsolete, what is the point of developing it to begin with?
These laments are heard every time the search engine wipes out another fraction of its search results. The most recent source of woe is Penguin 2.0, which cracked down on the spam backlinks that many still used despite repeated warnings from Google. Besides shuffling a small percentage of pages, Penguin sent a message: The Wild West days of the Internet are over. The law is coming with guns blazing.
It is true that SEO has changed dramatically from its earliest days. In that sense, the SEO of keyword stuffing and link farming is well and truly dead. Arguing that optimization no longer has a place in online marketing, however, is short-sighted and dangerous. There have been many setbacks, but SEO is here to stay.
The Many “Deaths” of SEO
In 2010, Google introduced its newest search feature: Google Instant. Rather than waiting for users to finish inputting a query, the search engine instead began throwing out suggestions while they typed, based in part on their browsing history. The decreased standardization of Web searches had some experts predicting the imminent demise of SEO.
Three years later, having survived both Panda, Penguin and social media, experts are still forecasting its doom. And that only covers the last few years; the gradual progression of SEO since Archie debuted in 1990 has seen many such panics, each as unfounded as the last.
Who Says SEO is Dead?
Although SEO is still a vital factor in Internet marketing, it no longer commands such prominence as in the past. Many still use it as a blanket term to cover more than on-site optimization and link-building, but succeeding online now requires a strong social media presence as well. The old methods no longer work, and in that sense SEO is caught up in a constant cycle of innovation and limitation.
Others making this argument are less nuanced. Some use it for a sensationalist headline, while others claim to have discovered the technique that will fill the gap left by SEO. As with all things in the marketing community, take everything you read with a grain of salt.
Why SEO is Still Going Strong
As long as there are search engines, search engine optimization will be necessary to help worthy websites reach interested viewers. Given the incredible proliferation of websites and pages online, it is reasonable to assume that systems will always need a way to find information that users cannot. The methods, on the other hand, are sure to change, as well as the organizations setting the rules that govern them.
No matter what name it goes by, search engine optimization is simply a means of bringing publishers and companies to readers for mutual benefit. This practice predates the Internet and will outlast it, but until the last search engine shuts down, SEO will remain a vital piece of any website’s business strategy.
The question, then, is what currently works in SEO? When a so-called expert cannot find an answer that he likes, he declares optimization dead. Those who wish to continue profiting from the remarkable opportunities of the Internet, however, must stop and take stock of what has been left behind.
Link building has not been eliminated. In fact, the need for high-quality inbound links has never been greater. Rather than paying for or spamming links, webmasters must now court recommendations from reputable websites and social media users. It demands effort, helpfulness and cooperation. The quick tricks are being picked off one by one, and real finesse is now needed to bring a page to the top of the rankings.
Adapting to the Future
In a few months, the outrage and despair of Penguin 2.0 will have faded into the background, only to be replaced by a new harbinger of doom. Through it all, Google will keep moving toward its vision for a strong search environment: one free of spam, exploitation and excessive commercialization. Anyone who pays attention to the rumblings of the giant’s press releases and mouthpieces like Matt Cutts should never be taken by surprise.
So, when everything is considered, it is not SEO that is dying, but rather the obvious black-hat methods that have flourished unregulated for so long. Google and its fellow search engines are ushering in a more civilized era in online marketing. Who will pull ahead and who will lag behind remains to be seen.