Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Death of SEO?

It is certainly not hard to find online publications predicting, or downright announcing, the death of SEO, or search engine optimization. Even Forbes.com has "marginalized" SEO "to just one aspect of the all-inclusive Search Engine Marketing (SEM)." In his article, "The aftermath of SEO's Death This Summer," Eris Poringer writes:

"That means if you want to see your company’s website on PAGE 1, you’re going to have to consider a comprehensive online marketing campaign, rather then rely on an SEO company to stuff meta tags with keywords."

Stuff meta tags with keywords? Poringer seems to have a limited view of SEO companies. Unfortunately, his view is not uncommon. In his article, "The End of SEO As We Know It," on Success.com, Allen Dibb describes SEO as a process of "trying to game search engine results."

To be fair, both Poringer does not necessarily speak about the definitive death of SEO; instead, he speaks articulately about the need for SEO to evolve to meet the demands of the changing online marketplace and Google's new algorithm.

Our problem with both articles is the assumption that good SEO was ever only about keyword stuffing and gaming the system. To truly understand SEO, you need to understand its history. Since the beginning of search, many companies have, indeed, tried to game the system, and even today, much of the negative sentiment surrounding SEO stems from these nefarious tactics of Black Hat SEO specialists.

Thankfully, this practice is increasingly irrelevant, but Black Hat SEO has proved effective in the past. Techniques such as keyword stuffing, link schemes, and the creation of duplicate content continue to haunt the Internet, compromising businesses and personal users alike.

Unfortunately, too many writers have condemned the definition of all SEO to these very practices. Now, if you define SEO as a tricky tactic for manipulating search engines to rank content that is not relevant or engaging--well, then, of course SEO is dead.

And we say, "Good riddance."

In reality, true SEO--organic SEO--has never been about these tactics.

Of course, the best SEO specialists employ the use of keywords and links to inspire traffic, but never in a way that "games" the system. Just take a look at Twitter to see the way keywords (hashtags) are alive and well--and inspiring relevant results. In any case, Google has become too advanced for tricky tactics to enjoy any real success. The days of Black Hat SEO are dead--and the penalties for even trying are much, much higher.

Really, there is nothing to game. If you're an SEO specialist, you must provide your client with relevant and engaging content. If not, you and your client are totally hosed.

Speaking of, we think a quote from one of our favorite writers, David Foster Wallace, is relevant to this matter. In his famous commencement speech at Kenyon College, Foster Wallace spoke articulately about "learning how to think" in a way that opens possibilities:

"Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed."

We realize that it's a bit of a stretch to use David Foster Wallace to make a case for SEO, but the sentiment seems spot-on: you have a choice to seek the truth ("with a capital 'T'," as Foster Wallace would say) by speaking to experts (like Alex Stepman of Stepmans PC), by reading widely, and by reading past the sensationalist headlines and trendy memes.

In terms of SEO, what you might discover is that the practice will never die. True SEO is always changing to match the demands of browsers and search engines. And that's the key: evolution. The very definition of SEO is in flux because the practice evolves.

And here's the most important determinant of success: the quality of your product. Frankly, if you sell a junk product, and you try SEO, than you deserve to be penalized by Google. If you have a wonderful product, though,  than you deserve the business that can be inspired by true organic SEO. In his article, Allan Dib ends his death knell for SEO by saying, "My advice is that you build an extraordinary business." And we couldn't agree more.

True SEO is, and always has been, about quality.

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