Anyone close to the business knows by now that Search Engine Optimization — as we’ve known it — is dead, deceased, passed on. Or, for my younger readers, gone off to some far away farm to frolic in the meadow with other obsolete marketing disciplines.
SEO hasn’t been the same for a while as many marketers know from following the business and as many clients know from following their own site traffic analytics.
But if SEO is dead, who or what killed it? I’ve rounded up the suspects and I’m going to outline the evidence against each of them for you.
Suspect 1: SEO Agencies Did It (The Accidental Suicide Scenario)
Wait a minute, you’re asking, why would SEO vendors kill their cash cow? To be truthful, this may not be a case of first degree murder, but maybe accidental manslaughter or whatever category you’d use to classify a drug overdose. Not only did SEO guys ride, bend and break every rule Google made for them, but they did it brashly, publicly and without remorse. Hindsight may be 20/20 but it’s obvious that they couldn’t abuse the system indefinitely without breaking it.
Suspect 2: Some Penguin Did It (The Self Defense Scenario)
Google’s Penguin update was the most drastic anti-search-spam change they have made in a very long time and it closed some of the biggest loopholes that allowed SEO guys to manipulate the system. Google has been clear in their intention to stop less-than-ethical search marketers from deliberately trying to manipulate search results. Some have suggested that Penguin went too far and may have destroyed the entire web as we know it. I disagree with that statement. Unleashing Penguin on the SEO marketplace is the same as protecting your property with an armed security staff, razorwire fence and guard dog. They were simply protecting their property from trespassers who wanted to abuse it.
Suspect 3: Personalized Results Did It (The Slow Poisoning Scenario)
It used to be that if you hired an SEO agency, you did it because you had aspirations to be ranked first on Google for some keyword phrase. And, over time, your SEO guy/gal would show you how their tactics were impacting that goal. “Look, we went from #45 to #4,” they’d say and you’d just smile and nod as they then delved into a myriad of strangely named metrics you didn’t understand. But now personalized search results — which have been around since 2005 in some form — have gotten extremely personalized, to the point that my buddy and I could be sitting next to each other in coffee house, pull out our laptops at the same moment and search for the exact same thing… But get different results. So the quest for first on Google has become a lot more complex. How do you have meaningful SEO analytics in a world where your site ranks differently on everyone’s machine? I have an important SEO metric that we use with our clients… But it’s still not as sexy as rankings.
Suspect 4: Social Media Did It (The Second Gunman Scenario)
The astronomical growth of social media over the last few years has created complexities for the search engines which had never really existed before. First, it meant that Google’s algorithm needed to be adjusted to consider additional (and strange) factors including “likes” and “retweets.” These are ideas that don’t fit into the traditional view of SEO which was that, ultimately, PageRank ruled all. This not only put SEO on precarious ground, but also forced Google’s hand in an interesting way — they dove headfirst into the social arena with Google+. Then Google bolstered that offering by integrating other services like Picassa and Places. The end product has not only impacted search results but also helped take personalization (see Suspect 3) to a whole new level.
Does it matter who killed SEO? No, the result to business is the same — a “back to basics” search environment where organic traffic from Google must, once again, be earned and can’t be bought through SEO manipulation. My next article will be about survival in a post-SEO world, so stay tuned!