SEO is Dead? Long Live The “New” Age of SEO!

If you are wondering what this somewhat cryptic headline is about, fear not, it will all be revealed.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is the process by which you help web crawlers notice your website and improve rankings so that, hopefully, you appear in the organic results (natural results, below the paid ads) when your products or services are searched for on the internet, which in turn results in more traffic to your website.

SEO is dead – really dead? Seriously?

Originally, like in the really early days, SEO pretty much involved programming websites with relevant keywords throughout the code, meta data and content of the site. You’d make sure the meta data had your keyword in it, the headline, and the content, create some exact-match anchor text links to the site from some meaningless directories and whammo within a week or two you’d be right up the top of the results, with some good traffic rolling in. Too easy!

The search engines have come a long way

Google SEO Evolution

Looking back now you realise just how far search engine marketing has come, and for the better. When you think about it, why should someone who knows a bit more about code get to have their website rank top? Their site may be complete rubbish (it often was), their service poor, and their products terrible, but because the web developer knew a thing or two about code they could get some top page results.

So these sites did not work hard to earn their top page results at all, they were just generally savvy programmers who knew how to ‘game’ the search engines. So back in the early days it was really a bunch of computer programmers who got off on gaming the algorithm. This was bloody frustrating for a lot of us who were marketing sites really well, with great content, yet the sites with one or two pages of keyword-crammed content were outranking everyone, it was ridiculous! … and it made Google look bad. People don’t want crap served up, they want relevant sites with the best content that serves their search requirements. Google agreed, it was simply that their algorithm was not yet advanced enough to stop the manipulation from the ‘gamers’.

So for quite a few years the gamers were king pins

Of course, everybody wants to be at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages), which resulted in the use of so-called ‘black hat’ SEO techniques, i.e. illegitimate or frowned-upon optimisation, such as keyword stuffing, or the excessive repetition of a keyword in the copy to the point where the content simply made no sense to a human being. Inbound links were also highly valued by the search engines, and gave birth to link-building farms and other disreputable practices to acquire irrelevant, low value links. It was all such a nightmare! I distinctly remember SEO companies in Auckland and other parts of New Zealand that were literally selling link packages! I remember one company that used to rank top who shall remain nameless, and on their website you could honestly purchase 100, 200 or 300 ‘link packages’. I mean god help me – you literally just went link shopping! … do you want fries with that?

Luckily, Google’s algorithm has now had some MAJOR improvements

Google (and other search engines – but mainly G-dog) quickly caught up and introduced various measures to ensure that not only were those techniques unsuccessful, but sites using them were penalised. High five! Panda updates, Penguin updates, Hummingbird … to name the main ones. Over the last few years, Google’s algorithms updates have also shown a clear emphasis on relevant and rich content – which is a breath of fresh air for the digital marketing agencies that are interested in providing a quality service to their clients, and to businesses that are serious about developing their digital presence in their respective industry.

Be that as it may, SEO gained a bad reputation in the process, and now most of the ones that were really computer programmers, not marketers, have disappeared into the ether (or ended up working at Yellow Pages!). So over the past few years, SEO companies and consultants have been reinventing themselves as digital marketing experts, inbound marketers, etc… – everything as long as it didn’t have the dirty word of SEO in it. Even ‘SEOMoz’, probably the most well known SEO software company in the world rebranded to ‘Moz’ – now what does that say?!

And perhaps they are right to shed this tight skin, as the face of SEO has changed beyond recognition in any case, and basic website optimisation will not get you very far on its own. SEO is now simply part of something far bigger, and whilst it is critical, cannot be expected to deliver results in isolation. SEO should be looked at as an important part of the overall digital marketing mix.

Digital marketing is an organic organism that requires a complex ecosystem to flourish

To boost your search engines rankings and traffic, and stay on top, you need to put in place an array of tools, platforms and strategies, all working together, and you need a sustained effort.

You may have heard of this little website called Facebook, or of Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn if you operate within the B2B market. You may think of them as social media websites but they can still be regarded as “an SEO tool” as they can have affect rankings and traffic. So when you are devising a social media marketing, you are also contributing to your site’s ‘optimisation’.

Perhaps your digital marketing agency or consultant has been encouraging you to have your copy rewritten, or to add videos, rich-media content, start a blog, or have product reviews on your website. But unbeknownst to you, you have become an accomplice to perfectly legitimate ‘SEO’ techniques!

In summary

Perhaps the distinction is not so important as the fact that the emphasis on high quality content has driven SEO practices upwards, and that the algorithm has finally caught up with out-of-date ‘commoditised’ manipulative SEO techniques.

With Google having turned the SEO industry on its head, website owners now need to focus on more engaging website content, media rich websites and a broader, more integrated approach to digital marketing. A number of SEO practises of the past may be dead, but the updates to the search engine algorithms has been a breath of fresh air, weeding out the black-hat SEOs of this world, bringing a new age of search engine marketing and ‘SEO’ that is now vibrant vibrant and constantly evolving.

SEO as we used to know it is most certainly dead, but the new SEO – an important cog of an overall digital marketing programme – is still as important as ever!