Micah November 9th

SEO is Dead

Yesterday I moderated a panel on SEO and Social Media Marketing at the Thin Air Summit in Denver. Panel went great, the folks on the panel were fantastic. Jeremiah Oywang has a great run down of the panel and the advice given, so I wont rehash it here.

A hour or so after the panel was over, and we were all at a post-conference mixer, I sent out this tweet:

“If you do SEO for a living, you will be out of business or irrelevant in 3 years.” – @micah

Which got a lot more response that I figured, and I was asked to expand on that thought.

Almost as soon as the graphical browser was introduced, people have been trying to make money online. Over the years, online marketing has evolved, with some tactics continuing to have value, and many others falling by the wayside.

Banners – Still work, but the average click through rate on a banner is 0.4%, and there is research to indicate that its possible that 6% of internet users account for 50% of banner clicks. Banners have morphed a bit into rich media advertising, but really are only effective for brand plays (to get marketing touches).

Email – Noise/Signal ratio has destroyed what was once a great communication medium. Does email still work? Sure. Do people spend large parts of their marketing budgets on email? nope. Like banners, email has become relatively ineffective for lead generation or customer acquisition without an extremely targeted (read expensive) list, or a massive (read spam) list.

Which brings us to SEO. To be clear, I am not speaking about Pay-Per-Click marketing, which will probably be an effective medium for marketing for a long time. Its easy, specific, and makes sense. The market sets the price, so as people are priced out of the market, it should self-correct, and settle on pricing that works.

But the act of SEO – adjusting the code and content of a website with the primary purpose to be ranked highly in search results, is on its way out.

There was a time when SEO was seen as magic that only a few knew, but everyone wanted. SEO consultants could charge wild high rates and provide quick and obvious value. As all online marketers became wise to the tactic, more and more designers and developers were being charged with ensuring the SEO efficacy of the sites they were developing. Writers were expected to write for search engines.

Suddenly, everyone was an SEO expert.

Then social media blasted on the scene a couple of years back. People took their SEO tactics, and laid them on top of social media, completely missing the point of social media.

The content generated by users of social media began to rank highly in search engines, because it was RELEVANT. Because it had VALUE. Because it was TIMELY. Because it was REAL.

Suddenly, all the SEO experts also became Social Media Experts, as social media marketing became the hot new thing.

And, being resistent to change, as most industries are, SEOs just removed the word “search engine” from their tactics, and replaced it with “social media.”

With the net result being social networks and user generated content that is full of useless, noisy, crap.

Twitter, Facebook, even the biggest social network, MySpace, which was built as a place to market to young people, has been destroyed by the attempts to commandeer them by marketers.

Not only is SEO on its way out, (as platforms such as WordPress and other CMS’ integrate SEO principles into their frameworks), we see the glut of SEO consultants now gloaming onto Social Media Marketing in an attempt to not drown.

Here are the truths of todays marketing marketplace:

If you are a company who employs an agency to provide Social Media expertise, fire them. Hire an internal evangelist. Several companies are doing this. Zappos and Ford are two examples that come immediately to mind.

If you are a company who employs an agency to provide Search Engine Marketing expertise, fire them. First, take the principles of search engine optimization (write focused content and use clean code) and have them distributed among the important personnel (development, marketing, sales, etc.). Make SEO organic, integral and integrated into your organization. Dont “do” SEO. Dont make it a separate function. Make tracking it part of your marketing effort.

Second, select a CMS framework (I recommend WordPress–it works great for even non-blogs!), that supports solid SEO principles. With WordPress, install two plugins: All-In-One SEO and XML sitemaps. Thats it for SEO.

If you are a company that thinks that SEO and SMM will be the holy grail to success, please send whatever you are smoking to me. There is only one thing that breeds success, and that is passion. Hire people that are passionate about your product; that can talk about your product with passion. Remember, its not your call as to whether you are passionate or not. Its the people listening.

If you are an SEO or SMM consultant, you have three years. Three years to adapt or be out of work. Learn how to be passionate and breed passion or find another line of work (I hear that Personal Branding is the hot thing).

After all, like Rob Blatt at the Thin Air Summit tweeted “The issue I always have with SEO is that I ALWAYS feel like I’m being told how to lie, cheat and steal my way to optimization.” – @robblatt

  • There is only one thing that breeds success, and that is passion. Hire people that are passionate about your product; that can talk about your product with passion. Remember, its not your call as to whether you are passionate or not. Its the people listening.

  • There is only one thing that breeds success, and that is passion. Hire people that are passionate about your product; that can talk about your product with passion. Remember, its not your call as to whether you are passionate or not. Its the people listening.

  • I also don't agree with this 100%. I admit that social media have truly dominated online promotion these days, but I see this as part of the dynamism of SEO. It changes all the time and this is how it have changed so far. But maybe, after a few more years, even months, trends will change and SEO will once again prosper.

  • SEO consultants could charge wild high rates and provide quick and obvious value. As all online marketers became wise to the tactic

  • Megaman12

    Obviously never worked with a good SEO firm. SEO won't be dead, it's growing. Twitter, Facebook destroyed…foolishness, they are growing because of the marketing. And last, telling people to fire their SEO team and go it alone is pure, bad advice for the majority of businesses; they don't know what to do, don't want to do it and don't have the time to promote their web presence. I can go to the hardware store and buy a back of fertilizer for $10 and do it myself…instead, I pay TruGreen $35 per month. Why, I don't want to do it myself!

  • seobandwagon.com

    I've never seen a company that focuses solely on SEO drive real conversions — and I've worked as an optimizer for several different agencies. Google with their continued focus, and tweaking of relevancy and personalization are eliminating the need for these companies — and that's not even taking into account the changes that HTML 5 will bring.

    Just look at Google's recent facelift — you're seeing the start of a focus on personalization. What this eventually will lead to is Google studying your search habits. For instance: Imagine I'm searching for contractors and hardware in order to build a deck. Lets say in the past my preference was only companies that offered a full service (hardware and labor) my page 1 will be full of only services that offer the full spectrum (hardware and labor). Now lets say my friend is searching the same thing — they may prefer to shop around a bit more. Their results might be categorized by customer reviews (an important new trend to follow), price, etc…

    Also, keep in mind that all of these results will be put through a filter which will eliminate all results outside of a 50 mile radius. If you're saying to yourself that their is still SEO in this future — you're right, but a simple website with useful content will beat out a fancy site that is outside a persons 50 mile radius and search preferences.

    That's a brief view into the personalization aspect of search engines futures, so what about relevancy? I'm sure most of you have noticed that Google has changed a bit over the last few months. Google has reserved real-estate on their page-1 to display real-time relevancy. What that means is that they're able to determine (and differentiate) what's relevant to you, and what's relevant in overall society. So — I'm done making my deck, now I'm hungry for a hamburger. I type in hamburgers… I don't get results from a major city across the country — I will get a page 1 full of local burger joints that are being talked about, and reviewed “locally”(via, WHERE, FACEBOOK, TWITTER, YELP, etc.). Lets say a local burger joint has a huge following on facebook (meaning they have a lot of fans and posts on their wall from different users, and more importantly — different IPs) that site, with their site, has a much higher chance of being displayed as number one than an “optimized site” that has terrible reviews and is located in the next town. SEO can't fix these problems.

    Combined with focused indexing of service sites like angies list, YELP and WHERE — the days of SEO companies acting as marketing 2.0 witch-doctors is over.

    I do disagree with one aspect of this blog — SEO will never completely die; however, if your company only does SEO — you will either be fired or tank within the next 3-5 years. SEO is a tiny little piece in a companies marketing puzzle. One piece — that's it. If your company is unable to function as a full service marketing agency (design, analytics, consulting, etc.) you will fail sooner than later.

    If you're taking offense to this — it's time to do some research. Sign up for the official google blog, learn the tech-speak and read programmer blogs — do what it takes to educate, and prepare yourself for the future. The days of SEO-magic are over. If you want to stay in business — I suggest you follow the path of the magician. They all had their hay-day with their same tricks and illusions — eventually they had to evolve and come up with new tricks…

  • Jamesclinton

    Black hat methods are notorious for taking advantage of loopholes, bugs, holes and weaknesses in the search engines. Black hat methods actually work really fast and really well. However, as soon as an engine discovers a site using black hat methods or even associating with a site or company that does,they penalize or permanently ban that website.

    social bookmarking

  • acceleratenaturalenergy.com

    I’ll agree that SEO as a profession is dead and I agree that it is something that should be integrated into the general marketing of an organization. Sorry to all of the commenters–but it’s the truth. Everyone and their mom has learned how to do SEO; it isn’t difficult.

    The fact of the matter is, although there may be promise on the web, far too many businesses are relying on the internet. Nothing sells like good publicity. And, further on that point, nothing increases web traffic–and pagerank, for that matter–like good PR.

    Sure, i do SEO. But it isn’t my specialty.

  • Arjftw

    I work at SEO firm and I think this is one of the best articles I've ever read!
    Thanks!

  • don't think that would be soon, it's rather like a hundred years later or maybe never
    well, unless people will stop searching for something, which is not possible
    and even so search engine would stop referring to link builds of a site, still those back links could bring you traffic as long as it is done correctly so SEO is definitely NOT dead

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  • MojoWeb Productions

    AMEN! So sayeth all of us who knew that SEO was a pig-in-a-poke in the first place. Simple logic always transcended the winds of passion around the issue. Now, can we get back to the business of marketing (read: building relationships) with our customers and clients?

  • Biosilk hair

    This is depressing news. I will keep in mind that this blog is over a year old and cross my fingers that “it ain’t true!”

  • This is depressing news. I will keep in mind that this blog is over a year old and cross my fingers that “it ain’t true!”

  • I strongly disagree with your title. And do not recommend everyone go out and fire their marketing consultants.

    I do agree with your email marketing and banner comments, as well as the use of WordPress and WordPress plug-ins.

    I disagree that SEO will be dead in 3 years. That is a ridiculous statement and is not true.

    Yes, more people will be exposed to different networks or platforms to find things, but people will still use search engines for many years to come.

    Regarding, firing your SEO consultants. This is not good advice considering every business is unique and has its own set of circumstances. What does a construction company or plastic surgeon know about SEO, web development, Alt Tags, analytics software, HTML, data feeds, etc. Personally, I hope they are spending their time running their businesses and learning about advancements in their own respective Industries, not spending countless hours implementing internet marketing strategies.

    A good SEO firm will advise you on all of the different marketing options and technology solutions available to you based on your type of business, industry, and budget. Just like the stock market, the online marketing environment changes all the time, an expert will be able to keep you abreast of what is going on, and provide you the insight and data to make smart business decisions.

    I would advise everyone who is serious about their business to seek professional assistance. This is true for web development, SEO, legal matters, investments, health concerns, accounting issues, etc.. All of which have self service options, but, I would NOT recommend doing any of them yourself unless you were knowledgeable about the subject.

    Why are you surprised that SEO firms and SEO experts are now implementing social media marketing? It is normal evolution. I have been providing web development and internet marketing services since the 90’s, our business has evolved several times with the change of technology and new platforms. We started as a software company before businesses were comfortable using web applications.

    To sum it up, SEO will not be dead in 3 years. I do recommend that you seek professional assistance in all areas of your business that you are not familiar with. It pays to consult with experts. You can learn from their experiences, mistakes and successes.

  • Jack

    this article was written in 2008, correct? So, in 2011 SEO is over

  • This will only make things a lot like the beginning of seo: only the good ones will survive.

  • This will only make things a lot like the beginning of seo: only the good ones will survive.

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  • This is so spot on. Relevance is such a huge and often overlooked thing. I get the SEO question all the time, and my answer is usually along the lines of “Well, what do you do with the reader once they see your stuff?”

    Silence often follows.

    Keep up the good work.

  • killing SEO would mean killing search engines..
    quite impossible to happen as long as people searches for anything seo will happen

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  • SEO won’t be dead, it’s growing.

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  • Bryan P. Hollis

    Hi, My name is Bryan Hollis. I own 7 wordpress sites. They all are high quality CMS with landing pages – a bit more business-like than a standard blog. I found this post most interesting, as I (on one site) do SEO. audits, analysis, link building, etc.. I actually started because of my other two sites (also WordPress) which are article marketing sites, helping folks create a few “do follow” backlinks with original content. Long story short, all of my web/blog endeavors began because I was (and still am) a freelance writer, and found that this was the best, most organic means of creating quality SEO. (Still believe it too!) Will I jump on the bandwagon w/ social media? Of course I use it, I don’t believe I abuse it. I direct ALL of my clients to do these three simple things: let us write quality content for you that is properly tagged, categorized, and even placed in the right directories (no more ezine articles…no longer “do follow”), make sure your site doesn’t read like a broken map with broken links, 404 errors etc., and help you to create (slowly) relevant, quality backlinks. Found this post on Serpd, had to read it. I believe there is some truth to it. But I also believe that if you REALLY know what’s going on, common sense SEO will never die. Bryan Hollis

  • Agreed Adam…Agreed!

  • For people with more than 1K followers it has.

    I find that anytime I search for something all I get are dummy articles either copying other sites. Go ahead and search for glass photoshop tutorial, you’ll never find an answer. Sure you’ll find tons of tutorials – but the ones at the top would be mediocre tuts at best.

  • Still not dead

  • Still not dead

  • was it ever really alive?

  • Jeg er enig med din e-mail marketing og banner kommentarer, samt brugen af WordPress og WordPress plug-ins.

  • This was a brilliant article, designed to generate discussion and links and is a work of SEO art.

  • Very informative post. Very clear commentary and suggested phrasing are most impressive. It feels good to see that people share their knowledge on posts!

  • I strongly agree with u about “many people are missing the point of social media”. But it just about “time” and waitting for new technique or trend to make good business in marketing. I think…

  • Anonymous

    I realized that it is not necessary to give priority to the efforts of SEO at all – in the obsessive way many companies still do – as long as your content is good. And it’s always my philosophy today.

     search engine optimization services

  • Fivestardry

    seo will be dead in 3 years when phone books come back haha  Not many managers and owners have the patience to learn seo and most businesses have trouble establishing integral systems let alone venturing into all the know hows of internet marketing.  Yes they do need to get a better grasp on the way web search works but every manager isn’t running off to seo school or even looking at it to learn.

  • We have heard this “song” in the last 10 years at least. Have you considered getting a life instead? ;-)

    And we are not dead. We are prospering and why? Because we make our clients prosper even more!

  • still going it seems

  •  I think If you do SEO in better way then you could get more profit to your business.

  • Karla Arostegui

    3 years have passed and SEO is still going strong… any comments?

  • Its not. Most companies I know are now prefering PPC over Organic SEO, as it ends up a better ROI. Seo may not be quite dead yet, but its certainly not the strong industry it once was.

  • WorkWithMorgan

    This article is seo optimized for “seo is dead”, that’s how I found it. Just sayin’

  • X

    I know it has been 4 years but this comment is way too hilarious for me to just keep quiet. First of all, it has been 4 years and SEO is still alive and kicking. In fact, real SEOs are a lot more needed now ever since things become stricter on Google’s side. Secondly, the so called SEOs you came across in your uni are not real SEOs. “I write thousands of lines of complicated code for a living you SEO Experts bash on with your keywords…” I find it funny how you are boasting about working hard and getting paid probably a lot lesser than those whose job you think is easy. Unfortunately the economy depends on exploiting those who think the same way you do. You really need to educate yourself before passing on any judgement kid. I hope you have graduated from uni and have learned more about the society.

  • X

    My friend, time has proven your point. We SEOs hardly have time to catch up with the updates and changes of Google, let alone spending our time trying to educate people what SEO really means. Let’s get to work.

  • Mac Weeler

    Here is somebody who can read the writing on the wall. Anyone who disagrees with this a) sells SEO services and b) is in denial.

  • It’s wrong to say that SEO is dead, this post’s SEO just proves it. As long as there are search engines there will be potential for optimizing your content in order to gain visibility.
    None the less, most people calling themselves SEO experts are full of crap. Unless you’re responsible for Google crawler’s algorithm, you’re just another marketing fancy pants being paid to burp buzz words through your overly whitened teeth.
    Search engine crawlers are evolving constantly and are tweaked to find the most relevant contents for human beings. The key is well structured and relevant content and URLs that reflect your content’s structure. Of course it gets more complex as you build dynamic (Ajaxified) Websites or Web apps.
    The bottom line is don’t hire a #Insert-phony-buzz-word-here# specialist. Hire a good Web team or expert.

  • Mary Ahn

    The greedy sociopaths ruin EVVERRYYTHING!

  • Andy Web

    you see the point but fail to make it. Everything is governed by the search engines, they do not tell you how they work so how can you do SEO!!! It’s not difficult to understand is it? At best yu ca only guess how to optimise for the search engine so how can you call yourself a SEO person!? The rules are basic so again at best you can create content and hope that the search engines like it. Follow a few more rules and you stand a better chance of being on top. There really is nothing too complicated about this process at least nothing the average high school kid can understand.

  • Andy Web

    Thomas, the SEO industry is no different to the mis selling of insurance protection, how long will it be before the mis selling of services be upon you!