For years in the SEO world, we’ve watched a curious trend unfold: Every few months or so, SEO is pronounced unequivocally dead! Toss out your keywords. Abandon your search term maps. Clearly SEO has been replaced by public relations/social media/big data – you name it. And yet even as detractors dance on SEO’s supposed grave, a chorus of SEO supporters argue that search is not dead at all and is, in fact, more relevant than ever. How can this be? Who’s right here? Should businesses pull all of their money out of SEO or push full steam ahead into increased SEO effort?
The truth is that both sides are right. As it was once known, a digital sleight of hand that could grant high performance to anyone willing to stuff enough keywords on a page, SEO is dead. Today’s SEO is more focused on strategy, data and cohesiveness of marketing channels to create an experience that reaches and influences audiences at multiple potential sales points, not just one.
Understanding how the new SEO works is critical for businesses looking to spend their digital marketing dollars wisely.
The Bad Old Days
Like the search engines they target, SEO tactics have come a long way over the last decade and more. Throughout the ‘90s, as the Internet rapidly evolved. So too did the natural desire to rise to the top of the rankings, by means both legitimate and otherwise. Over the years, search engines have tweaked the algorithm to ensure only the most relevant results are returned.
We’ve seen the value of some methodologies come and go. But there are still those whose SEO thinking is stuck in the past. For them, yes, SEO is dead! Some of the things they may focus on include:
Once upon a time, unscrupulous SEOs simply chose the words they wanted to target, and injected them into a piece of content as many times as possible. It didn’t matter if they were relevant to the content or in some cases, even made logical sense! At the time, search engines like Google hadn’t become as sophisticated as they are now. Today, not only will you not likely rank highly for keyword stuffed pages, you could find your site facing penalties. Search engines are too smart!
Keyword Meta Tags
You’d be surprised how often our Atlanta SEO company encounters businesses not only using the keyword tag, but cramming it full of dozens of target terms. For the unfamiliar, the keyword meta tag is a bit of code that once was used to help search engine bots understand a page’s target terms. Unfortunately, black hat SEOs abused the tag by stuffing it full of high-value terms that were unrelated to content. Using it now is truly wasted effort. Since at least 2009, Google has confirmed it does not take keyword tags into consideration when ranking a site.
This isn’t a technical term, but it’s definitely a well-known behavior! It occurs when a site targets several words on a page, thinking that by sheer volume of keywords on the page, something has to rank. It’s kind of a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks type of approach. It really reflects a poor understanding of semantic SEO and how search engines interpret keyword signals overall.
There are many more old-school, ineffective tactics we encounter on sites every day. If you or your Atlanta SEO agency is using these tactics, then yes, (your brand of) SEO is dead!
The New SEO
So-called “new SEO” is another popular term lately and almost always refers to some type of SEO replacement. Popular choices are social media or public relations. But SEO is far from dead, if you understand what SEO means. Modern search engine optimization is focused less singularly on keywords, and more on meaning and user intent. Today’s successful SEO teams zero in on strategy, data and cohesiveness of marketing channels.
Many businesses are actually surprised by how much strategy is involved with SEO – perhaps because old-school SEO was really more of a series of tricks than actual work! With smarter search engines, however, SEO must have a tighter strategy to get results. That includes things like identifying and prioritizing specific pages and terms that are most likely to bring high returns for a client, rather than simply spreading optimization efforts across an entire site. It should also include incorporating semantic, supportive terms alongside target keywords to reinforce the overall meaning and intent of a page to search engine bots. Each site will need a custom strategy, but strategy is most definitely needed!
Recently, search engine leader Google changed the name of its Webmaster Tools interface to the Google Search Console. One stated reason: It wanted the tool, which has long allowed SEO professionals to mine data a little different than in Google Analytics, to seem more inclusive of people like business owners and SEO novices. The change also included enabling more multi-layered query analysis. The message is clear that Google wants us all to focus more on data to build smarter sites. It makes perfect sense, as Google maintains its audience by providing the best results in queries. New SEO involves using as much of the data you can gather to learn as much about your audience as possible. If you don’t have a Google Search Console account, you’re making a big mistake.
So many agencies maintain separate SEO, social media, content and public relations departments. With today’s SEO, that’s just not practical. As search engine algorithms grow more complex, they’re looking to more sources to signal the quality of a site. Whereas off-site quality signals used to be limited mostly to backlinks, today signals from social media networks have increasing sway. Overall, you want your site to be giving a cohesive message. That means coordinating social media, press releases and new content (both on and off site) to target some of the same key terms and intents. That may involve cooperation across different departments, but it will be well worth it.
Search is competitive and search engines have more incentive than ever before to make sure that they’re returning results that answer user queries, or they risk that user going to a competitor. That means they are daily developing ways to ensure only the highest quality sites are presented. The good news is that the idea that SEO is dead is not an overall truth. There are still ways to ensure your site is high quality, but it will take plenty of elbow grease and a true commitment to building your digital marketing house on a foundation of rock, rather than sand!
If your business needs an update, contact our Atlanta SEO company for a free consultation.