Marketers have been hearing about “the death of SEO” for years. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where virtually every change in Google’s algorithms prompts some bloggers to either proclaim or predict the death of SEO.
Looking back through the past, it’s easy to find articles from many years ago with this type of linkbait headline. Clearly, these articles were wrong – not only is SEO still alive, but the industry continues to grow and reach mainstream adoption within marketing departments.
However, there’s a kernel of truth to some of the SEO death predictions. Really, when bloggers from 2007 were calling for the death of SEO, they meant that one particular SEO tactic was dead. Keyword stuffing, or reciprocal linking, or something like that. And of course, this is true – countless SEO strategies have died over the years.
The actual value of search marketing, however, has increased every year. Ultimately, SEO will continue to be relevant for as long as search engines are relevant. Specific SEO strategies, however, have undergone huge changes, and as the web evolves, the definition of “SEO” will continue to change dramatically.
The Evolution of Link Building
Of all SEO elements, link building is probably the most dramatic. While the days of keyword stuffing are long gone, link spam still persists, and even major brands occasionally suffer from link-based penalties. Building links, especially for content that isn’t naturally exciting, continues to feel at least a little like “black magic.”
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen increasing chatter around social signals, and the concept that social will soon replace links as the primary off-site ranking factor. And of course, this shift has often been called an SEO-is-dead event.
Is this true? There’s two angles to the issue – firstly, for now, links are not dead, and still play a very important element in an overall SEO and marketing campaign. As Matt Cutts said recently, the web is huge, and the anti-link concept is a “bubble” that only exists within the SEO and marketing communities. The rest of the web, including Google, still relies heavily on links.
The flip side is that Google’s reliance on links, while currently unavoidable, is starting to look problematic. Just recently, Google has sent out of wave of confusing statements about links and link spam. First, Google started warning about unnatural links, stating that removing bad links could help your site recover from the Penguin update.
Google continued to send out these warnings for months, only later clarifying that the warnings could actually be ignored. This confusion makes it clear that even Google isn’t totally sure how to handle spammy link building, or what webmasters can actually do about it. The problem is this – if Google’s policy is to punish websites with spammy links, then anyone who wants to outrank a competitor can simply pay to build spam links for that competitor’s domain!
This so-called “negative SEO” further demonstrates how broken the system is becoming. In fact, we’ve recently seen the whole link building industry doubling back on itself, with a sub-industry emerging focused on removing links, rather than building them.
Take this example – a directory charging webmasters to remove links, rather than add them! This is a total reversal of the usual directory model, where a user would usually pay to add a link. Likewise, we’ve now seen SEO companies and services emerge that actually focus on removing links, rather than building them. Clearly, we can see cracks in the overall link building system.
The Practical Takeaway
For marketers, webmasters, and SEOs, all this complexity can seem daunting. But while the very granular aspects of link valuation continue to be confusing, the bigger picture of SEO and digital marketing doesn’t have to get lost in SEO minutea.
The truth is – SEO isn’t dead, and whatever changes might occur within Google’s algorithms, as long as people rely on search engines, having web content be visible in search will always be valuable. Likewise, even links aren’t dead, and while the marketing blogs might be filled with dramatic headlines, fundamental marketing tactics rarely die overnight.