You've heard it over and over again: "SEO is dying!" From bloggers and journalists to marketers and web designers, people have been saying for years:
"SEO will never last."
"It's all spam."
"It's just a phase."
If you're in the business, you've heard it all before. Yet after years of predictions, SEO is still standing strong. Is it possible that it's not dying, but just evolving? It's a valid consideration, to be sure - but an even more important question might be: Are SEOs the ones actually destroying SEO?
The Changing Definition
Rand Fishkin is spot on with his Whiteboard Friday video found here. He claims "SEO is bigger than SEO"-meaning the definition seems to limit people to a strictly old school understanding of the topic. When the average blogger, journalist, marketer, or web designer hears SEO, he thinks backlinks, keywords, and site structure, period. That is essentially what SEO was from the 1990s to mid-2000s, but that is no longer the case. No longer do SEOs only pay attention to keyword data, domain data, topic analysis data, and other similar factors. The definition is changing to include a whole lot more.
Those old school tactics are still very much a part of SEO, but they provide a false picture of the present day reality. SEO has become bigger than keyword density and proper site structure. People in the industry are now looking at usage data, brand signals, offline data, social signals, and more. SEO is not just a technical, structural field anymore; it's essentially become everything marketing is. It's about brand positioning, social media, community building, understanding perceptions, and everything else internet marketing is.
Nowadays, in order to move up search engine rankings, SEOs must do a lot more. And if you, as an SEO, are being tasked to improve rankings with only old school tactics, you might as well be bringing a knife to a gun fight.
The Unchanging Perception
The changing definition is good news - and signals a rebirth of the term, as opposed to death - but the problem lies in the perception. If we are honest with ourselves, SEO started out with primarily black hat techniques. If you've been in the game long enough, you've probably used some yourself. That's just the way it used to be. But with Google pushing SEOs toward white hat techniques over the years, things have changed.
SEO, done properly, is no longer spammy, manipulative, or unethical. In truth, white hat SEO is fairly difficult to differentiate from standard marketing, but the reality is that, while the definition is changing, the perception is staying the same. This is not a unique issue to SEO, but a universal problem. Perceptions are difficult to change anywhere - especially when trying to move from negative to positive.
The Term May Die, But the Industry Will Not
Fishkin brings up a good point when he says, "I think when you change the title, you change the perception." It's possible that the term SEO needs to die. But that doesn't mean the industry needs to die. "You change the frame of reference, and you say, 'I do web marketing. I help people grow their companies. I help attract visitors, and that leads to more conversions on their site,'" Fishkin goes on to say.
A really interesting infographic can be found here. It discusses all the different types of people claiming SEO is dead, what they claim, why they claim it - and why they are wrong. And they are wrong, but their number is significantly larger than that of SEOs. That's why changing the perception is near impossible.
In order for SEO to move beyond its shady past, SEOs need to kill the name. You should be a marketer first and an SEO second. Instead of trying to change the perception behind the title, you need to focus on changing the title and shifting the frame of reference. That gets us back to the original point that SEOs could be the ones actually destroying SEO.
Don't Sell Yourself Short
Do yourself a favor and stop selling yourself short. You do a lot more than stuff keywords and build backlinks. You are involved in branding, PR, sales, advertising, web development, community building, social media, and more. When SEOs begin to see themselves as more than SEOs, bloggers, journalists, marketers, and web designers will start to do the same. Embrace the rebirth, not the claims of death.
You can do this in a number of practical ways. First and foremost, start giving yourself credit. Change your title and explain to clients and employers why you are doing so. Second, convince people that you need to be involved in all areas of marketing. Convince clients that you cannot do your job effectively and successfully if you don't have your hands in PR, advertising, branding, and other areas of marketing. Third, follow the rules of white hat SEO. With the evolution of Google's algorithms, Ken Krogue tells you to "invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants." As all SEOs know, the new goal is to develop content for readers and not search engines. "Take the time to make it so compelling that people talk about it and share it."
When Will SEO Die?
SEO has to die at some point, right? I suppose so, but it doesn't appear to be going anywhere soon. As long as internet marketing exists, you will be in good shape - because you are an internet marketer. If you took a look at the infographic linked above, you noticed a section at the bottom titled "Why SEO Will Never Die." I believe the first and third points are the most important points. Search engines want to encourage websites and blogs to post original, valuable content, so they are not going to do away with SEO. They feast off of content and would starve from the lack of it. Secondly, people want to find original content, not just advertisements. As the infographic says, "If people realized that they were looking at nothing but ads on a search engine, they would take their queries elsewhere."
The truth of the matter is that SEOs are destroying SEO. By not standing up for the industry and continuing to conform to an increasingly negative stereotype, SEOs are selling themselves short. As Fishkin notes, change and maturation are okay. Every field matures over time. Accept the fact that SEO is evolving, not dying.