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SEO isn’t dead. It just grew up.

Gareth Cartman

It seems we’re going through another spate of “SEO is dead” articles. From the uninformed to the absolutely spot on, it’s an old conversation that deserves to be revived, if only to reassert the fact that SEO is not dead.

seo isn't dead, it just grew up

It just grew up.
Indulge me an analogy.

SEO as a footballer

Think of it like a footballer. Starting a career at the age of 17, it is impetuous, self-centred, always the star… obsessed by money, maybe. The SEO footballer likes to hog the ball, score all the goals, and… because nobody has worked out how to play him (or her), the goals start flowing.

But then time catches up with the SEO footballer. Managers start to work out how to mark him, some players even deliberately try to injure him. He loses a yard of pace.

The SEO footballer could just walk away from the game, but decides to adapt. He seeks a more withdrawn role within the team, moving from striker to midfielder, playing support role. Less obvious, but still having an impact.
With age, the SEO footballer withdraws to a defensive role, and who knows, a more strategic management role at the club.

I’m stretching my metaphor, but in a nutshell, this is how SEO has developed over the years.

From the wild west to where we are now

We all know about the wild west days, and how much fun it was. We all know how Google tried to put a stop to that. We all know that in order to rank today, you need to be the best company with the best website.

Those who know SEO have learned to adapt.

SEO has withdrawn to a less ‘showy’ role within the full digital set, which doesn’t imply that it’s “dead”. This implies that SEO is a foundation upon which success in other areas relies.

This is where the “SEO is dead” mob are crowing a little too loudly. Those who believe that content is all you need have clearly never seen a robots.txt file go wrong, and have clearly never seen a H1 tag wrongly attributed to the logo while all of their titles are held in <p> tags.
It’s like believing that you can win a football match with 10 Romelu Lukakus, but where’s the boring, defensive Gareth Barry? (Forgive the Everton reference, I don’t care for any other team).

The new Google model

The moz article linked to above crystallises where we’ve gone, and it’s a well-written piece despite the linkbaity headline.

We want to make our clients successful online, but it can’t happen unless all of the right buttons are being pushed. SEO is the first button to push, but on its own it won’t achieve success for most people.
The new Google model ensures three things: 

  • fewer sites can rank for high-value keywords
  • you have to pay
  • you have to adapt your marketing, no matter how small you are

Now, you can rant and rave about this as much as you like. But it’s Google’s party and you can drink from their bar or you can leave.

Fewer sites can rank for high-value keywords

It’s all about being the best, and proving it. If people say you’re the best, you have a chance of ranking. If people stay on your site for a long time, you have a chance of ranking.
So you’ve got to be the best. That eliminates the rubbish made-for-SEO websites and the affiliate sites. That brings up the brands. Therefore, you see more brands for high-value keywords.
For products, you will see more “10 best…” articles, as opposed to products themselves. That’s because people want that type of article. They want guidance on which product to buy…

You have to pay

Yes, you have to pay. If you’re selling products and page 1 is flooded with “the ten best…” and you’re not one of the ten best, then you have to pay for entry to page 1. Google Shopping, for one. Adwords. Then remarketing.
This is Google’s world. It has changed.

Drink at their bar, or leave.

Here’s the above-the-fold search result for “Hotels in London”. You have to pay.

Hotels in London

You have to adapt your marketing, no matter how small you are

If you can’t get onto page 1, then try getting onto the pages that are on page 1. Again, I’ll refer back to the Moz article as the writer nails the point precisely. Local search is dominated by Yelp.
So get on Yelp.
Optimise your Google maps listings, and work on getting reviews.
And there are verticals where certain sites dominate. They’re like the directories of old, but they’re the ones getting the traffic. Be on there.

Here’s the top organic rankings for “Hotels in London” (all below the fold btw). No hotels.

Hotels in London organic

The real value of SEO

Your market hasn’t necessarily changed, but the filter between them and you has changed. It’s changed so radically that you can understand why people are saying “SEO is dead” – they’re the ones trying the old tactics without necessarily understanding how the new tactics are so much better when backed up with SEO.

I’ve seen quality sites ripped apart by a lack of 301 redirects. I’ve seen quality blog posts hidden from view by shoddy H1 attribution. I’ve seen great design obliterated by awful code.

The real value of SEO lies in the background.

Like a solid defensive midfielder, tidying up, preventing the opposition from scoring, playing neat passes to the wings, not getting the credit.
Like a solid defensive midfielder who, when he’s not in the team, is sorely missed by those who know their football.

A football team can’t win on strikers alone, but nor can it win on defensive midfielders alone. It’s the blend of players that makes the difference.

Pull all the levers

The lesson is this: you need to be pulling all the levers you can to get at your market. Google is making sure you do this.

Google is making sure you go out there and find your market yourself. It’s making you improve yourself. It’s making you work hard.
And yes, it’s making you pay.

So SEO didn’t die. And it never will. It’s now the grizzled, tough-as-nails professional footballer who doesn’t need to get the credit any more. Let those youngsters take the limelight and get the credit – SEO knows it’s the one propping everyone else up.