By Miles Burke

SEO is Dead

By Miles Burke

OK, maybe not now, but there’s a clock ticking on traditional search engine optimization.

Let me explain.

Years ago, before search engine giant Google entered the scene, all you needed to do was get all the keywords you were targeting as often as possible in your content.


Then, Google came along and changed that. They made the huge call that inbound links could be considered ‘votes’ for your website. Over the last decade, they have tweaked and tested their algorithm to the point that off site optimization is as important, if not more-so, than on page improvements. It’s been a long time since you just had to repeat ‘web development’ in every sentence of your website.

Now, with the advent of their social media focus, they are changing the game again. In a recent blog post Matt Cutts, Engineer at Google, posted about their focus on ‘fresher, more recent results’. This, coupled with the rise of the Google +1 button and gradual increase of its relevance in their algorithm, points to where they are heading.

Their thoughts are that your social circle’s recommendations mean more to you than which business has better SEO. When you break it down, it’s true: I’ll believe my friends’ suggestions over strangers on the web or businesses’ own propaganda.

So what can you be doing? Don’t give up on SEO just yet, however start putting more focus on including sharing options, getting social widgets for your website, and above all, keeping the content relevant and fresh – updating more often than ever before.

Let’s see where the traditional SEO we know today is still as relevant in another year. I’ll be surprised if social isn’t even more prominent in the algorithms of Google and their competitors.

  • A huge statement to come out with. But yeah I agree, not totally dead yet, but perhaps evolving?!

  • This is good news indeed, perhaps it will stop the thousands of pointless emails offering to get me number one ranking on google. Oh but wait a mo, will it not just mean that I will now get lots of emails offering me top ranking on every social media site? Oh well never mind, I guess I’ll just need to learn to ignore them as well.

  • SEO was never born, as far as I can tell :)

    As I understand things, the first and foremost aspect you need to do is to be clear about what your site is.

    Google works by ads. That means, if it wants users to tolerate those ads it must give something in return.

    What Google has to offer? Accurate results. That way, the user is happy.

    If you lie about your site, Google gets frustrated users that came looking for one thing and find a completely different thing. A frustrated user means less business for Google. Hence, you’ll be severely punished by Google.

    That’s about it, the only SEO advice you’ll ever need: don’t lie to Google. After that, is the same old same old: backlinks, backlinks, backlinks. Unless you have money to pay Google to push you up in the ranks ;)

  • Ok, I will be the first SEO professional to fall for this.

    I would argue that SEO is not dying, rather social media is becoming more of a factor in an overall SEO strategy. It is important to not think of social media and SEO as being mutually exclusive.

    SEO is the overall practice of optimizing websites to improve performance in search engines to help reach (or surpass) business goals and objectives. Social media is now just playing more of a role in search engine algorithms than it did before.

    To your point on “Traditional SEO”: If you are referring to keyword stuffing, yes that has been long dead. The fact is, using clean, proper well-formed semantic markup (code) is always important as a good foundation for not only SEO, but performance, usability and good web design in general. The fundamentals of on-page SEO ensure a page is coded correctly to not inhibit search engines from finding the content on the page. These types of practices will never go away, but has become more of a standard of how to create good websites.

    SEO is an evolving practice that is constantly changing and adapting to algorithm changes and new technologies. To claim SEO is dead is like saying PR was dead after email and the internet were introduced. The PR industry has adapted and evolved much like SEO will.

    SEO will always play a part in an overall marketing strategy and will never die as long as people are searching for information and businesses are competing to show up first in the results.

  • Google’s new Panda update has forever changed how SEO companies get results. Gone are the days of ranking with proper title tags, meta description and content. SEO now involves social media engagement and branding. The tide is truly changing.

  • Excellent point Miles, an SEO strategy that doesn’t revolve around social engagement is dead on arrival.

    Essentially social media is just another aspect of validating a web page as being relevant and useful for users, just like link backs.

    Really what we need is a new term. The name SEO is a bit outdated itself. The market is actually about generating traffic. Like how a Walkman was about listening to music. We don’t call an MP3 player a Walkman.

  • SEO as you and I may die. Yes you don’t have to worry about meta tags and title tags but there is a whole lot of new things you need to worry about. Did you ever hear of Micro-formats? If not then look up schema.org.

    This is just one little example; As long as Google relies machines and algorithm, there will be room for optimization its just that the more advanced they get, the more advanced and smart SEOs must get.

    In fact as Google gets more advanced, the SEOs that can show proof of work, are the ones making big bucks. So no SEO isn’t dead it is just evolving and SEOs should evolve too.

  • Attention grabbing headline – got me interested! I would be glad if it did die, my web life would be so much easier and I could blame everyone else!! Interesting article none the less. thanks

  • Any new technique will develop if SEO dead

  • When was the last time anyone followed a plumber, accountant or dentist on social media? There are hundreds of industries, particular with small local websites, that will never adapt to social media, Google +1 and the new fad of the day. If a pipe bursts in my home the last thing I’m going to do is start following a plumber on Twitter and +1ing his website. This social media focus will have a much smaller impact on the average small local business. There are far more small sites than big sites, more plumbers than Amazon or Zappos sites. As marketplaces size down, the importance on social media does also. These small business cannot afford to have a dedicated SEO/Social Media employee or a $2k/mo SEO firm. If their competitors are not adding fresh content, engaging in social media, have wc3 compliant code and the other 200 important Google factors, then they don’t either. It is all about matching the level of your competition, and the little guys will be operating at a much lower level. For the little guy, it will continue to be SEO as usual… and this represents the overwhelming majority of the ‘business’ websites out there.

  • In the old days of SEO, it used to be that the David could take on the Galieth and while this does exist to some extent, generally big brands tend to dominate the key positions for competitive phrases. As link building is so paramount to a successful campaign, those big organisations who employ more staff can buy links with their bigger budgets and BUILD content and in my opinion SEO for the small guy is starting to get boring. Unless you optimise for KEY WORD PHRASE AND THEN SOME LONGER TERM THAT GETS 2.2% OF THE OVERALL TRAFFIC :-)

    Social Media and its affect on SEO will go the same way, already blackhat techniques can be done like buying fake Facebook friends and so on and no doubt Matt Cutts and Google are working on stopping this.

  • Laynie

    Thank you for writing this much-needed post. Where I live, which is sadly several years behind the times in technology, several SEOs still thrive, hoodwinking customers into purchasing “SEO packages.” While I got my start in Web doing SEO, I’ve since moved away from it and will never do it again.

    What these companies will do is analyze a client site and then claim it’s making many grievous SEO mistakes. These mistakes are outlined in a pre-formatted report, eerily similar to the “what’s wrong with your resume” critique those mass-created resume-chimp firms use. Their SEO “solutions?” Long, inelegant pages of keyword-stuffed content, and entirely too much attention focused on meta keywords and canonical URLs.

    As for me, I’ve moved on to the Web of the present and future: clean, semantic markup with HTML5 and CSS3 (no tables), brief content pertinent to my subject matter that human beings want to read, social media strategy that engages users on their terms, and above all, user experience design. Without a solid interface designed with human factors in mind, your site or app is nothing.

  • I’m really skeptical about this new trend of search engines altering your results based on your social circles. I’m not skeptical about the idea of including social in search results, but using my circle of friends prominently just seems like a bad idea. With Google+, Google will have the ability to harvest data about web searches from potentially hundreds of millions of people, and they’re going to look at my circle of friends? I don’t use search engines to find out what my friends like, I ask my friends. What I would really love to see would be Google doing something Facebook style like finding out how each user feels generally about each link that in any way touches their website, cross-referencing that data with their existing search database, and then using my circle of friends as a smaller influence on the final results.

    It’s like when I try to figure anything out in the rest of my life: first I search around to figure out what everyone likes, then I filter down that data by trying to figure out which of those opinions out of everyone are the most valid, then I check with my friends to see who agrees with what I’ve come up with, and who has other opinions. My ideal search algorithm would combine global search data, global site data, and global social data, and then check it against my friends to make it more relevant.

  • NEVER POSSIBLE…. ask Mattscuts!

  • Ed

    SEO is moving more and more white hat every day. As time goes on the stupid google computer will get smarter. Sites have to give google what its users want.

  • It’s amazing how many companies in my local market are still getting taken for a ride by local ‘Search Engine Optimization experts’. They are being told that with content alterations and the correct number of keywords included in the content on their webpages they can rank higher than their competition. I even know about one local company that is charging over $100.00 / month to administer Google places pages – stating that it’s the best SEO option for small businesses.

    SEO in the traditional sense is dead.

  • I agree SEO will be changing substantially over the next few years, but I think good quality, unique, on-site content will still play a big role in ranking for a long time to come. I do think that the age of incoming links should be weighted — a 5 year old link from a big site shouldn’t be as valuable now as it was then. Social media will definitely change the way people try to optimize, and it will force people to play the game if they want higher rankings. Companies that “just don’t have time” or the budget to engage in conversations on social media will likely find their rankings drop below competitors who do make the investment. Great article, Miles!

  • I still believe that the quality and value of the content should be the guiding factor in how a site ranks. Being able to spend money on links, or social networking to improve a site’s ranking doesn’t always lead you to a site worth visiting and the value given to your social network or who links to your site imho is way overrated.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.