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SEO is Dead... for those who can't keep up

Every few months, marketers around the blogosphere start the next batch of chants that search engine optimization is dying or dead. It's like clockwork; Google makes a change, their pages rank poorly, they declare that the party's over. I think I've written about the topic at least once a year since 2008.

The chants are starting again and I'm here to tell you that, as usual, they are premature. I'm not so naive as to make a statement like "SEO will never die," but the thought that the death is here is silly. It's not dead. It has changed. It changes frequently - perhaps more frequently in recent months - but it's not dead yet. In fact, those who are doing the right things are finding that their rankings are actually improving.

 

Why They Always Pronounce it Dead

Since the dawn of SEO, there have been tricks that work for a short period of time. We've always taken the stance that anything that smells like a "trick" will not last and should be dismissed. This concept has helped us to stay on top of our searches and the keywords of our clients.

For example, 2007 saw a major increase in the effectiveness of social news and social bookmarking links. It was almost too easy - if you submitted a piece of content to Digg, it would rank for easy keywords within a few hours and for tougher keywords in a few days. Smart marketers refused to play this game knowing that Google would catch on and instead learned to use sites like Digg and Reddit to drive real SEO juice by posting powerful content and exposing it to the social news world. This still applies today for many sites, though they are fading quickly from relevance (except Reddit, which is growing).

Any time one of these tricks stops working, the SEOpocalypse is declared.

The most recent change that has everyone up in arms is the devaluing of automated links. Footer links, sidebar links, link farms - Google and Bing both have found ways to not only discredit these links but to make them harmful when done too much. SEO is dead... for those who couldn't keep up with these changes.

 

Why SEO isn't Dead

Thankfully, smart marketers did not participate in the automated link-building programs. Personally, I'm shocked it took as long as it did for Google and Bing to figure it out. There was a time in late 2011 that I was starting to doubt my choice of not having our SEO team get in on the link-automation trend. I was getting questioned by some within the company because the path we chose, one of unique content and contextual link generation, was much more expensive to operate than the automated ways.

The corner was finally turned with the Penguin update and subsequent tweaks and my choices were vindicated.

Today, content is no longer a tool for SEO. It is an overarching concept that includes SEO as part of its mandate. In other words, the tool is now the goal and the goals of SEO, reputation, branding, and social media marketing all revolve around quality content.

When you're out there reading about the marketing trends of 2013, take note of those who are pulling away from social media or SEO and those who are pushing forward. This is easy for me to say since it's the direction that my company is heading, but it happens to be the truth. Quality content that people can enjoy, proper link-building and social signal practices that revolve around this content, and social media marketing that doesn't rely on funny cat pictures - these are the real trends that will drive proper marketing in 2013.

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Tags: Content Marketing, Google, Optimization, Penguin, SEO, Search, Search Engine, Social Media, Social Signals

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Comment by Alexander Lau on December 4, 2012 at 7:00am

Google has gone back to the future, slightly...

Everyone knows the keyword metatag has been long dead, but for News Sources, much like Automotive Digital Marketing, this might be worth applying: http://searchengineland.com/google-announces-news-keywords-metatag-...

 

Instead of <meta name="keywords" content="Content Marketing, Google, Optimization, Penguin, SEO, Search, Search Engine, Social Media, Social Signals" />

on this exact page use:

<meta name=”news_keywords" content="Content Marketing, Google, Optimization, Penguin, SEO, Search, Search Engine, Social Media, Social Signals" />

 

Makes a difference to a bot.

Comment by David Ortiz on December 3, 2012 at 1:46pm

SEO will definitely be around for a very long time... the definition of an SEO may change as Google and other search engines look to ways to remove the "need to be an SEO expert" (as they have said many times) and proved it with Penguin. There will always be the need of good SEO that values quality instead of quantity with a "real" focus on conversion, not just traffic.

Comment by Nicholas Casci on December 3, 2012 at 10:00am

With nearly a century of SEO expertise commenting on the meat of this article, I'd like to address a small, overlooked caveat of your article: social news sites. At PCG, we have experienced some great short term boosts in site traffic by posting on Reddit by following the simple formula of providing very high quality content to very highly targeted subreddits. While I won't join the hysteria that "Digg is dead," it's definitely taken a massive hit over the last two years and Reddit reigns supreme.

The main reason most companies don't consider using Reddit is simply because they've either never visited the site or haven't set up a free account to explore all the various "subreddits" (interest-based communities) that aren't the site defaults. If everyone reading this goes to www.reddit.com right now they will see content from massive, generic communities like /r/aww (includes funny cat pictures), /r/gaming, /r/videos, etc. BUT, what happens if you want to find an animated .gif highlight from your team's football game yesterday? You have to know to go to http://www.reddit.com/r/NFL UNLESS you make an account. Then you can "subscribe" to that subreddit and all other subreddits that provide user-submitted content related specifically to that interest. 

For example, did one of your developers just learn a very hard lesson about using breakpoints while coding in Javascript? Then have him or her write an expert article and post it to: http://www.reddit.com/r/javascript I guarantee you'll get at least a dozen page views from Reddit referral traffic. 

I'll be writing a more in depth article about this topic soon.

Comment by Alexander Lau on December 3, 2012 at 7:11am

Playing devil's advocate, I've found something interesting.

 

Does Google Really Reward Quality, Original Content?

Investigation by Foundem (a price-comparison site competing against Google Products), suggesting that Panda was a Trojan Horse and the key to understanding Google’s ulterior motive.

 

Comment by Alexander Lau on December 3, 2012 at 6:24am

It goes without saying, SEO will never die, besides it's used by Google for an ulterior motive (pay us, because you can't figure it out and fail to have the time). Anyone thinking it will is really missing the boat, entirely. Those companies / dealers doing their SEO correctly will more than likely rank well and see more organically-generated leads and conversions based upon their hard work. That's easier said than done.

I'm generalizing and obviously there are a ton of variables that have to be taken into consideration for a solid SEO campaign. Google knows that, they know most people just don't have the time for it. They want you to buy into their advertisements by convoluting the organic rank process (aka switching up their algorithm every 6 months [ex: Panda / Penguin], regardless of their reasoning behind the change = Web SPAM). It's not just your keywords, original content (I've found both SkyWord and TextBroker to be good sources for original and informative automotive retail content production) and relevant (High PR) back / inbound links that make a difference, a large part of it is your social interaction / signals as well (there is a growing trend towards social holding more weight and magnitude than back / inbound links). There's a reason SEO CRMs measure your social signals. Otherwise, what's the point of having a mechanism in place to measure them? They wouldn’t waste their resources on it. A good SEO CRM like SEOMoz and gShift will guide you (I've found SEOMoz slacking lately with gShift providing much better results and updated data). Additionally, there are tools from the likes of WordStream and Übersuggest that I've found much more useful than Google's Keyword Suggestion tool. gShift incorporates WordStream's API into their keyword research offering (*see image below). It's not just your SEO work, it's your work versus your competitor's work (another metric that a good SEO CRM takes into account = competitive analysis). If your competitors (going after the same SERP keyword results) are terrible in their processes, you'll have a leg-up. You'll be able to understand what actionable recommendations need to be applied to get your site or specific pages where they need to be in the optimization process for specific keyword combinations. This page ranks poorly because of _______, _______ and _______. Here is why your competition is beating you: _______, _______ and _______. 

Although, an argument can be made on the effectiveness of Google's last algorithmic changes. Examples: http://searchengineland.com/did-googles-search-results-get-better-o..., I suppose the verdict is still out, albeit implemented almost a year ago.

A good SEO strategy always helps as well. :-)

Comment by Joe Schwartz on December 3, 2012 at 6:17am

The best results we've had by far is what matters most to buyers - long-tail (make/model/year) local organic search.   Captures clicks further down the funnel than short-tail SEO.  Any thoughts or experiences?

Comment by Timothy Martell on December 3, 2012 at 3:42am

Great post JD. We've never experienced stronger rankings than we do now as a result of Google finally practicing what they preach. Thankfully, now, content truly is king.

Comment by Larry Bruce on December 2, 2012 at 12:39pm
Great post JD!

For those of you that have heard me say this before, sorry for the redundancy but it worth saying again...

SEO is really simple it comes down to "Keywords, Content & Backlinks" that's it. You can only trick google for so long on their platform then you have to start over and that starts the SEO Appocllypse, you hit it right JD.

The question - what keywords?
The answer - use PPC to determine the highest converting keywords and phrases, it's faster than trial & error and much more accurate than a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess)

The question - what content?
The answer this deserves a post all to itself, suffice to say much like social media "ITS NOT ABOUT YOU" or at least 80% anyway.

The question - What is it about your website that would make someone want to Backlink To it?
The answer - NOTHING

Backlinks come when have the right content, that content is in your blog NOT your site. The right content comes from understanding your audience and as I said that is its own blog post.

We have a form for defining your audience if anyone would like it please email me lbruce@theonlinedrive.com.

Thx again for the post JD.
Comment by Joe Schwartz on December 2, 2012 at 10:43am

Local SEO for car/make/model in a dealer's inventory (especially pre-owned) has the greatest value. That is because buyers emloy longer tail make/model/year searches when comparing prices before a final purchase decision.  Here is a case study showing how to most effectively execute local SEO: http://automotiveinternetsales.com/profiles/blogs/carclips-case-stu...

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 2, 2012 at 9:41am

Love the commentary... I wonder how many people know that the only thing more despised by senior executives at Google than Facebook are SEO service providers!

Although Google is eager to assist those who would like to learn how to enhance their own websites, the death of the practices around scammy con artists selling SEO services to business customers would not break any hearts in Mountain View, CA.

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