SEO is dead – long live SEO

Is SEO dead? Blueclaw's Sam Raife gives his view.

First thing’s first…forgive the provocative headline but the fact of the matter is that SEO has changed to such an extent that much of what marketers traditionally understand by SEO no longer applies.

As SEO morphs closer to what we’re calling search marketing, the more the necessity and value of a well-developed search engine strategy becomes clear.

So. SEO is dead – long live SEO.

It’s a change that I have a big personal stake in.

I can quite happily admit my job wouldn’t exist (and nor would I want it) if I was in SEO 8 years ago.

Only 8 years ago, SEO really didn’t require you to be much of a specialist. It allowed almost anybody with a basic understanding of the internet and the benefit of links to deliver services that would work for a short period of time, until their competitor did exactly the same thing and ranked above them.

This wasn’t a sense of achievement, it was commoditised and frequently cynical manual labour.

My journey started 5 years ago during a rapidly changing SEO context in which Google’s fresh, determined and relentless clever anti-spam measures began to ramp up. For some SEO professionals this was a time of panic as they had to re-learn how to ‘do’ SEO in a more quality-driven way.

For me, this quality-first approach to SEO, integrated with wider marketing methodologies and tightly focused on fantastic content is pretty much all I’ve ever known. And I’m happy about it.

My knowledge was born from the fires of manual penalty’s, big brand exclusions and link building with a purpose. From that grew a passion to shift SEO into the marketing main stream and do the basics; increase traffic, improve return on investment & grow revenue.

What has changed?

Well….as a starting point, the way potential customers type in search queries has changed. As a result, so too has how search engines operate, and the strategies required to best meet customer needs.

Think back to when you first started out using Google.

Tentative high level searches like “Hotel” were one method used but we’re all much more sophisticated than that now. As a result, the “big traffic keywords” have started to decline.

The example graph below shows the decline in search volumes for the phrase “Hotels” since 2004:

SEO is Dead Blueclaw Blog Image 1

Search Term “Hotels”

Single word queries still pull in big numbers, but the traffic is unqualified and because the query is so broad, it’s very unlikely that an individual will make a purchase or even interact with your specific site.

The good news is that majority of people now have a basic understanding of what they want before they search, so over the years we have learnt to narrow down the phrase to return exactly what we want.

SEO is Dead Blueclaw Blog Image 2

Search Terms “5 Star Hotels Spain” & “5 Star Hotels in Spain

More specific (long tail) queries like the one above are on the rise – and this opens up new opportunities to provide specific content that meets the interests and captures the imaginations of potential customers.

The impact of this on the SEO industry has meant that we are no longer obsessed with getting our clients ranking for single words, or high traffic phrases.

Instead we work to make our clients experts in their relative fields and present their website, their brand and their online voice in a manner that will help them to rank for the dozens, hundreds or thousands of phrases that matter to their business.

Outreach and PR Campaigns

Inbound links are still essential for serious strategic site growth – but it’s the quality not quantity of links that matters most. Once considered a dark art, link building (or earning) has now become an accepted and essential part not just of SEO, but for online PR, social media strategy and more.

Integrated within a wider strategy, SEO campaigns are no longer about targeting a single big phrase keyword. They are about building authority to a site and getting it noticed by its target market of ideal customers.

We still optimise for key phrases; we just don’t guarantee results on individual rankings. We still build traffic, but we focus on quality traffic from qualified search results and we still build links, but we are aiming for traffic driving media publications instead of thousands of sites.

The exception that proves the rule – on-site SEO

There is one element of traditional SEO that still prevails.It also remains the one element of SEO your Web Design agency just can’t get right, Your PR agency wouldn’t nowhere to start and your Brand agency had no idea any such thing existed.

On-site SEO.

We still get massive wins for even the smallest of our clients from minor tweaks to their site.

For this service alone our clients can see massive bumps in traffic because all of a sudden Google starts noticing their website in the right way.

SEO in 2016

As so many Blueclaw clients experience, search marketing has seriously important crossover elements and impact with other aspects of digital marketing from content and social to web development, usability and design.

For a search professional like myself, it’s an interesting time to be in the industry.

So. SEO might be dead (kindof), but search marketing is alive and well.

Want to read more about SEO best practice? Download the latest Blueclaw guide for eCommerce SEO, simply click here:

SEO for eCommerce Blueclaw inside view

about the author: "Sam Raife is a Leeds based SEO, focusing on both Client Services and Technical Offsite. When he isn't helping boost rankings his geekery is extended to comic books and computer games...well that and rugby."