Rumors of SEO’s death are greatly exaggerated. Assessing the relevance (or very existence) of search engine optimization is a question that comes up more frequently than you’d think. Want to know why? Google “SEO is dead” and see just how many different techies have wrongly predicted the passing of the world’s greatest conversation killer.
What these harbingers of the SEO apocalypse really mean is that the foundations underpinning how users search for, and retrieve, relevant information online are changing dramatically. This isn’t just a challenge for SEO engineers. Anyone trying to get their online content seen must also be au fait with the new realities for effective online info retrieval.
With Google single-handedly providing more than two million searches per second, SEO may not be dead. But competition in this space is on life support.
Figures vary but about 90 per cent of the world’s internet users are opting for Google as their primary search engine. According to Randall Glick, digital marketing curriculum lead at Digital Skills Academy in the Digital Hub in Dublin, 95 per cent of Irish internet users search through Google.
The American multinational founded in 1998 by Sergey Brin and Larry Pageenjoys the same kind of universal brand awareness as companies such as Hoover did in previous times. So much so that “to google” has become a verb recognised by dictionaries.
This is great for Google. For the consumer of digital information, however, the absence of healthy competition is never a good thing. We may think we’re searching the internet. In reality, we’re searching Google’s interpretation of the internet.
It is cause for concern that one private entity has a virtual monopoly on the flow of all information available to mankind, but most people are more preoccupied with their place in that information flow. Technology has a habit of moving faster than society can keep up. Recent advances are keeping Google’s digital librarians and archivists very busy indeed. “Emerging technologies like AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality], in the context of SEO, are creating new challenges for engineers at Google,” explains Glick.
The fundamentals still need to be solid, though. “Concentrate on the stuff that’s still important: title and description tags, making sure you have good, relevant content that relates to your business model, plenty of media, videos, soundbites and text. All of this content is indexable.”
The written word has been under attack from almost all corners for the past decade. From Twitter to Instagram, the general trend is towards reducing text from newspapers or websites and replacing it with more imagery. But words still command great authority in the digital world. “The easiest way for a computer to understand content is still for it to be written,” says Glick.
VR, AR and various other developments can add tremendous value to a website, allowing for more interesting content and navigability. But SEO architects are still trying to figure out how to index this kind of data. Until they do, it may be more of a hindrance than anything else. “Regardless of how advanced your site may be, if no one can find it, it won’t be seen,” says Glick. “The expansion of technologies like VR and AR have the ability to totally mess up your indexing if overused. But, Google is constantly working on tools and better ways to approach new types of data.”
Breaking the mould
We all see the internet through Google-tinted glasses. The company has been around for 18 years, meaning an entire generation of people have learned how to use the internet via Google. “The ability to step out of this mould is difficult to do,” says Glick.
Glick does not foresee any radical changes within this generation. “We definitely won’t be changing any of our patterns any time soon,” he says. That’s not to say Google has reached critical mass and is unstoppable. Even digital natives like millennials – and the generations that will succeed them – will be in stronger positions, digitally speaking, to question the SEO status quo. We’ve seen big tech companies fall in the past, usually by their own egos. While heavily investing in maintaining the top spot, Google might still fall upon its own sword.
According to Rand Fishkin, chief executive and cofounder of SEOmoz – considered by many in the know to be a thought leader in the field of search engine optimization tools, resources and community, Google’s success thus far has been its commitment to searcher satisfaction rather than advertiser satisfaction as its priority.
Economies of scale
Fishkin believes economies of scale are particularly relevant when it comes to the data game. “They benefit hugely from their size, because their search engine uses the greatest ranking algorithm. In other words, they have access to vast amounts of data relating to searcher behaviour that their competitors simply don’t get to see.”
This data, says Fishkin, is being used to further tailor each individuals’ searching experience. “Every day Google gets better and better at providing users with the most relevant info to help solve a searcher’s query.” Not only has the search engine improved its ability to explicitly succeed in what Fishkin refers to as “searcher task accomplishment”, it is also focusing more on the implicit user tasks. In other words, Google’s internal mechanics are becoming more intuitive in terms of predicting what the most obvious next page a user may want to search for based on previous searches.
Google engineer’s are even trying to eliminate what is known as “pogo-sticking”. This refers to when a user clicks back because they’re unsatisfied with a search response. Google records and collates all “pogo-sticking” activity in order to figure out how to respond accordingly in a higher percentage of searchers’ tasks the first time round.
“Google is playing the long game in the hope it can guarantee searchers are extremely happy with their results every time,” says Fishkin. “They haven’t fully perfected it yet, but they’re putting huge amounts of resources into R&D.”
Small businesses can compete with large companies if they keep in mind that search engine optimization is a marathon, not a sprint.
Entrepreneurs who are new to online marketing strategies may have read somewhere that search engine optimization is dead. While most people may believe that the era of the SEO is long gone, Trond Lyngbo of Search Engine Land wrote a list of reasons a few years ago about why entrepreneurs should be optimistic with their investment in SEO.
Contrary to popular belief, the so-called “death” of SEO is just a rumor. According to Lyngbo, “The digital marketing strategy is not a cost but an investment.” Rumors become irrelevant if entrepreneurs look at what top Google placement can do for business growth over the coming years.
With over a decade of experience and knowledge in the online marketing field, I agree with his reasoning on the importance of investing in SEO as an entrepreneur and how impactful the results can be. Therefore, I have five reasons for entrepreneurs to consider search engine optimization as a long-term investment instead of a cost:
The No. 1 reason why I find SEO to be a smart investment for entrepreneurs is the cost effectiveness. Almost any business can hire a specialist to help grow their business by shifting around unnecessary expenses or cutting advertising mediums that aren’t producing. With proper optimization, businesses can expect long-term results and benefits. Unfortunately, we should also consider how much we spend for the service. Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers recently wrote about the dangers of “cheap” SEO services. You can expect low-quality content, black hat techniques, and inexperienced optimizers usinga cheap SEO. Look for a reliable professional with a track record and a knowledge that surpasses textbook answers. Overall, your investment in a sound digital marketing strategy is crucial to your business growth and success.
It levels the competition.
I often encourage my clients to dream big because I know we can dominate their competition online. With the help of proper optimization, you can reach your target audience with efficiency. Rebecca Stickler, a content marketing specialist, wrote, “With a strong SEO strategy, your small business can compete with even the biggest business organizations.
The biggest advantage of online marketing is that it levels the playing field for small businesses. The highest rank doesn’t go to the company with the most money, but instead goes to the business that understands and deploys effective SEO techniques.
It can yield attractive long-term results.
Rhea Drysdale, CEO of Outspoken Media, told a Search Engine Land writer that “website owners should invest in long-term goals rather than the short-term goals.” She also pointed out that short-term goals will do more harm than good to the business. Although instant reward from a pay-per-click campaign might be enticing, it is better to invest in slow yet effective long-term SEO results that can yield a much higher ROI over time. Google pays attention to how fast links are built to a site. Because of this, entrepreneurs should focus on building their business toward the top with a slow-yet-consistent pace.
In an interview, Lane Ginsberg of Freedom Retirement Advisors told me that, “Investing in your business is a lot like investing in stocks: The short-term stuff can be exciting and can bring some results, however, the long-term investment is where you really see the payoff, but it requires patience and confidence.”
It helps people find your business.
In our modern, digital world, information is just a few clicks away for anyone at any moment. “Times have changed,” Jason Hennessey wrote a few years ago in a Business Insider article: “SEO marketing campaigns ensure businesses make a unique impression to connect with customers.”
With the accessibility of the internet, most people turn to search engines for anything and everything. A well-optimized website can reach new audiences across the globe. With quality content, proper keyword research, the right use of social media platforms and other marketing techniques, your business will be visible to potential consumers across the internet.
With my recaps of the Local SEO sessions at SMX West last month, we had a bit of a break from Greg’s Soapbox. Never fear, it’s back in full force this month!
I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend several large conferences over the last few months, and I have been a part of many discussions about what really works for local SEO. It seems that most people fall into one of two camps, and there’s a growing debate between the two.
On one side, we have people who hold the annual Local Search Ranking Factors (LSRF) survey, now run by Darren Shaw at Whitespark, as gospel. On the other, you have the anti-LSRF group, who think that the LSRF study is opinion-based poppycock (yes, someone actually called it “poppycock”). This side favors the insights gleaned from Andrew Shotland and Dan Leibson’s massive study of local ranking factors, in which they attempted to reverse-engineer Google’s local algorithm.
In many cases, but not all, the results of the study align with those of the survey — but in some cases, there’s a huge difference.
As I sat through these many conversations and debates over the last few months, I noticed something unsettling. Nearly every person I talked to on either “side” of the question seemed to fall into that camp by blind faith. They believed one way or the other because that’s the side of the fence they were “raised on,” so to speak.
Forget what anyone says — test it for yourself!
Maybe I’m just wearing my (officially licensed and available for sale) Greg’s Soapbox Tinfoil Hat, but in my entire career as an SEO, I’ve never simply accepted anything as the truth. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a mad scientist, conducting crazy experiments to see what really worked… and I’m incredibly surprised that so many people don’t look at things the same way!
It’s insane to read a blog post or two, or see a dynamic speaker at a conference, or even listen to your boss and trust that you’re hearing the absolute best truth. We all know there are hundreds of factors that influence the relevancy of a site, and being local SEOs, we know that Google treats different business types and even different search queries in vastly different ways.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking the Local Search Ranking Factors study. I’ve been a participant for years, and I firmly believe it’s an amazing tool for anyone in the industry. But I also think that Shotland and Leibson have the right idea: you simply must test things for yourself to be sure that things really work the way you expect them to.
To geo-optimize or not to geo-optimize?
The perfect example is geo-optimization. Most old-school local SEOs will tell you exactly how to optimize a page for a geo term, inserting it in the title tag, H1, content, alt text, URL and so on. On the flip side, the correlations in Shotland and Leibson’s study show that geo-optimization doesn’t really do anything. So who’s right?
I’m on Greg’s Soapbox, so I’m right. Here’s the answer: none of us is right.
In some cases, geo-optimization might not do squat for a website. If it’s a competitive vertical, and every site has geo-optimized out the wazoo, then of course it won’t work. It’s exactly the same issue I discussed in my post last fall about unique content no longer being important because everyone is unique.
In other verticals that might be a bit behind or a bit less competitive, geo-optimization can be a huge game-changer. If you’re working on a site, and it’s the only one in the local market that’s well-optimized for that city, then boom — you win!
The issue is this: neither the LSRF results or Shotland and Leibson’s test will tell you what’s right for your own site or your clients’ sites. You’re going to have to test things for yourself to find out what really matters.
The Local Search Ranking Factors study is incredibly valuable because it points you in what’s probably a good direction. The 40 or so participants in the study are at the absolute top of the local SEO game, and I know for a fact that every single one of them is always testing. It’s a good bet that if the LSRF study points you in a direction, it’s a smart choice to follow and test that factor for yourself.
Same thing with Shotland and Leibson’s test — there’s a good chance their data is pure gold as well, and it should give you a starting point for your own tests.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, don’t trust anything on blind faith. Become a mad scientist and test things for yourself — you’ll be a better SEO, and you’ll get much better results for your clients.