SEO is not dead nor is it black magic

What is SEO?

When search engines were first unleashed on to the world, early technology adopters quickly realized the tremendous economic windfall that could be realized from search engines sending traffic to their websites. Initial versions of search engines were essentially  online yellow pages, but at the same time early web users were infinitely more curious than yellow page book readers and were apt to click on lots of result.

The convergence of a growing swath of users and the profit potential gave birth to search engine optimization. At its core, the efforts behind search engine optimization were as benign as a Wall Street trader hunting for a trend that will lead to profits. However, unlike stock trading search engine optimization earned itself a negative reputation as many times the people on the receiving end of these optimization strategies were regular people just trying to use the Internet.

Someone looking for a vendor on a search engine could potentially land on an unscrupulous website simply because that website employed optimization tactics that allowed them to compete against the legitimate vendors. In this case, the characterization of SEO (search engine optimization) is entirely fair; however, it has been more than a decade since these kinds of operators dominated the web.

Today’s search landscape is dominated nearly in entirety by Google and they spend their vast artificial intelligence resources in neutering illegitimate tactics to win search visibility. SEO in this paradigm is both incredibly different than it was in the early days and vastly more valuable for nearly every website.

SEO of today

The SEO individual or team is the person responsible for understanding what search engines seek in websites and for translating that knowledge into recommendations and actions for product managers and engineers creating web interfaces that will be consumed by search engines. In smaller companies, the person that understands SEO might also be the product manager or engineer, but in larger organizations this will be a role on its own.

Paralleled with the misconception that SEO is a dark art is the idea that Google and SEO practitioners are at odds with each other. This may have somewhat true many years ago, but not now. Today Google relies on SEO practioners to incorporate the best practices Google needs in order to have the best search engine. Without the conduit of SEO, Google would have to work much harder to index a web that is not in line with the way they crawl.

As an example, Google has repeatedly said for years that they crawl Javascript. However, they also wink-nod at the SEO community while sharing that they may not yet crawl Javascript as efficiently as they would like to. As a result, SEO practitioners have done Google the favor of steering web designer and product managers away from pure Javascript websites. This allows for much of the web to be still produced in a way that Google can efficiently index the web.

The value of SEO

The collective value of all organic traffic in the world is a $Trillion+ opportunity that cannot and should not be neglected. For many websites and products, organic is one of the only ways to generate web traffic – short of building a massive brand that drives direct traffic. Even building a brand is prohibitively expensive and may never be profitable. Organic search efforts on the other hand is significantly less costly than any other acquisition channel.  

Google is not just going to automatically start sending boatloads free traffic to a website just because it exists. One day that may be the case, but we are a long ways from that. The solution is SEO.

Using SEO methodology, websites will construct a website in the ways that will most effectively maximize their visibility in organic search.

Relying on someone or multiple that will help guide the building of a website that will best positioned for search traffic will ensure that users are not being left on the table. Without SEO, a site would just be relying on dumb luck and Google’s good graces.

SEO in the future

For as long as people use search engines to find information, there will be a need for SEO efforts. Search is very much zero sum, so if one site is getting the click inevitably another site can’t. One day there may be even more artificial intelligence involved in the search ranking process which will make optimization even harder, but why would a website give into the AI? Even in that world, they will want to best understand how that algorithm works and try to put their best efforts into getting the traffic.

People complaining that SEO is only getting harder is a byproduct of all the AI that is already included in the algorithm. Whereas early in the history of search and SEO it was somewhat easy to “game” search with creative strategies or budget, AI and better search algorithms have negated these tactics.

Google’s algorithms continue to improve to an ultimate goal of ranking the web as a human might. SEO becoming more difficult means that the loopholes and hacks that are a feature of a software driven ranking will continue to close as Google becomes smarter. Yet, SEO is still necessary because someone does need to translate the search engine’s desired state into a coherent SEO effort.

SEO will never cease to exist; rather the efforts that make up SEO will change.