Seldom have three little letters caused so much confusion and consternation — or provided so much income to the legions of marketers who promote their prowess in dissecting its algorithmic innards and “ability” to manipulate the results.
Whether such efforts are effective or not is an ongoing debate. On the one hand, optimizing website content provides the exact signals that search engines look for when responding to users’ search queries. On the other, the algorithms used to evaluate those signals are constantly being tested, tweaked and updated to the point that staying on top of the changes is an increasingly difficult job.
The result is a cat and mouse game in which SEOs implement strategies to improve search rankings — some legitimate, some not — Google engineers roll out updates to prevent them from manipulating the system — think Panda, Penguin and thousands of smaller tweaks — and the cycle starts all over again.
It’s that back and forth that gives rise to the idea that SEO is dead. After all, with thousands of engineers on their payrolls, search providers have successfully countered a steady parade of the black-hat techniques they disapprove of.
But the reality is that SEO is not dead; as always, it’s just evolving. Bottom line: You probably don’t need to know the intricacies of how it works but understanding how recent changes impact it can make you a better judge of whether you’re getting your money’s worth from your SEO efforts:
Guest-blogging: Not long ago, guest blogging on other sites was considered a great way to raise awareness and get backlinks to your own site. Not anymore, says Google Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts, who recently wrote on his personal blog that “if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.” The reason? It’s become the source of too much content that’s designed to game the system rather than help users. “Stick a fork in it,” writes Cutts. “Guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”
Social signals: Just a few years ago, the big buzz in SEO was about social signals, i.e., the online indicators on Facebook, Twitter, etc., that were generated when peopled liked, shared or otherwise engaged with social content. Now, however, those signals are no longer being factored into Google’s search algorithm. (You can see a good explanation here.) The takeaway: If you feel you get good value from Facebook and Twitter, use them but consider them platforms to build awareness — not as a means to improve your search ranking.
Encrypted search: At the risk of oversimplifying a complex issue, Google has hidden the data that allows marketers and webmasters to determine what keywords drive traffic to websites, underscoring the idea that a keyword-based approach is becoming passé. “The concept of ‘owning page one of Google’ for a particular keyword is fairly old-school SEO thinking,” says Shelly Kramer of V3 Internet Marketing, “and the practice of only the laziest practitioners in the SEO industry.”
So, what’s a non-SEO-savvy doctor to do to remain relevant in search results? Talk with your SEO person; ask them what they’re doing to adjust to the ever-shifting landscape and, more than anything else, recognize that, going forward, writing for robots (i.e., optimizing for algorithms) will become increasingly ineffective. Solve for humans, as they say, by creating genuine, helpful content about things that people want to know and are honestly interested in and users (and the search engines they rely on) will find you.
Long story short, no, SEO is not dead although marketers (and their clients) who fail to keep up with the changes run the risk of suffering a comparable fate.
Bottom line, change is inevitable, especially in the world of search engines, says Kramer. We’ll no doubt see the talented SEO folks rise to the challenge and develop tactics and strategies that help businesses leverage the web in order to thrive and grow. And the crummy, bottom-dwelling SEO people — hopefully they’ll find a new career.