My introduction to the world of marketing and communications was through a company that specialized in SEO. Everything they did for their clients on social media was measured through the lens of SEO, and with the goal of boosting keyword rankings in Google.
SEO is the science of getting Google (and Bing, and all the other search engines) to notice you and showcase you to the world in precisely the way you want. The trouble with SEO is that it no longer works—at least it no longer works in the manner that it did a decade ago.
Google wants to serve up what consumers are looking for, while marketers want to butt in and display what the marketers are trying to sell. SEO’s role is to convince Google that those things are one and the same. But with every iteration of their algorithm, Google gets better at knowing the difference.
The SEO industry has been doomed since its inception because it relies wholly upon the same search engine companies that have every incentive to destroy them. It is an arms race that SEO cannot win. These two industries have had an uneasy armistice because search engines benefited from reading website data that was spoon-fed to them. But Google’s endgame is to have a search engine intelligent enough to truly understand what is on every webpage; a system that can’t be gamed with keywords, and which has outgrown the need for metadata explaining what each element is. When they have achieved that goal, SEO will be useless, and companies that want to rank higher than their content warrants will have no choice but to abandon SEO and pay Google directly for the privilege.
The demise of SEO is already well underway. These days, the mega-retailers have an oligopoly on product keywords. No mom and pop store can compete with Target or Samsung for web traffic when someone types “television” into their search bar. But the bigger change was the rise of review sites and other intermediaries between consumers and retailers. Search engines are already smart enough to know that when most people search for a product, they want options and honest reviews. And search engines now serve those consumer-friendly sites up first, no matter how much SEO work a retailer has done on their product page.
SEO is still a multi-billion-dollar industry, and there are honest practitioners who have adapted to offer new services, like helping clients get noticed by Yelp or Facebook, or how to stand out in hyperlocal searches. But there is no shortage of companies that still sell SEO services that are years past any usefulness to their clients.
My advice to any small company is to throw their SEO budget behind online advertising instead. Pay-to-play is safe and reliable. The ROI is clear and easy to monitor.
If you still want to get noticed organically on the internet, you must produce interesting and valuable content. Gone are the days of the easy SEO fix.