5 Reasons SEO is Dead But Not Quiet

This isn’t another masturbatory article about the death of search engine optimization (SEO) which is mostly an inside topic among successive generations of professional marketers about who is going to keep getting paid and for what. We do need to clarify what we mean, though – both because it affects clients, and because the industry needs a kick in the crotch for it’s level of BS on this subject and others

The Death of SEO is Neither True Nor False – It’s a Meme

Debating whether or not SEO is dead is a fruitless and tedious exercise, because we (insiders) all know what we *mean* by the phrase. If you’re an SEO company, you are NOT doing mainly what you were doing 5 years ago. If you are, you’re sending out crap e-mails from Pakistan offering “best web optimization services”. You’ve had to STOP doing a great deal of what you used to do, in fact – like keyword stuffing for density, forum spamming, etc. As much as you don’t say it to clients, you were spamming to some degree back then to build backlinks, and you’ve either stopped or you’re running wild with clueless money, looking for a way to spend. Finally, you’ve had to START doing things that weren’t traditionally in the ken of technogeeks – like producing reader-worthy content, as much as you might not own up that it’s not your chief skill set and there’s already a cadre of more talented content specialists that get paid for it without the out-of-control markup. Those ‘search-driven articles’ you started kicking out a few years ago don’t cut it anymore, either – search engines recognize that crap, and readers never paid it any attention. SEO, if defined as what you called SEO a few years ago, is more than dead, it’s harmful, and we all darned well know it. So much so that, if you’re still labeling your business SEO now, it’s because that’s your theoretical ‘approach’ and not because that’s specifically what it is. We could just as easily call it PR and writing, both of which have been around longer than SEO as an idea.

The SEO is Dead Debate is About The Money – You Know It Is

Cui bono? There’s a big enough pie to go around, but we see everybody and their brother becoming a consultant, then a coach, and then a strategist. It’s cliche’, and it’s about one thing – who gets more of the client dollar – more importantly, who gets to say how it’s spent. If you’re a social media manager and call yourself a strategist, you can spend less time jockeying Twitter and more time designing campaigns. That’s good, but we’re hitting a strategy bubble just like with SEO. A client doesn’t need 21 strategies. If you’re web design firm, you offer strategy, because you have to, precisely because SEO is actually dead – meaning you can’t just build some meta-tags or even rich data into your site and magnetically draw search engines (let alone hand it off to your guy in India to create a hundred blog comment backlinks). Google is smarter and doesn’t put up with that crap anymore, so you’re in the ‘I’ve just built a beautiful site, now how do I get any business’ game, so you can justify the heavy dollars the client spent on development. Nothing wrong with this stuff. But whether you call it SEO or strategy, the fact is we all acknowledge a significant “shift” and it’s counterproductive to fight over who does what part, let alone couch it in an “SEO” debate.

SEO is Dead – But It Can Still Hurt You

I saw an infographic the other day (are those still around?) about SEO being not actually dead, and everyone having ulterior motives for saying so (i.e. we all want to make and take money out of the mouths of SEO companies). The irony should not be lost on us, as a last ditch effort to retain a buck by an SEO company. It didn’t address the major shifts of search engines toward punishing and AWAY from rewarding traditional SEO work, nor the incredible markup on the few remaining SEO techniques like “marking up” content, which ANYONE can learn to do, which ISN’T an ongoing activity, and which should be a fairly MINOR if needed part of a web site build at the start. Most importantly, it didn’t acknowledge that SEO companies are on the same playing field as everyone else – just businesses wanting a bigger share of your marketing dollar and therefore neither superior nor inferior to anyone in principle. This kind of thing is just another gimmick trying to call out every gimmick but itself. The unacknowledged seismic shift that our clients SHOULD be aware of, is AWAY from the former emphasis on dirty tricks and the tantalizing allure of trying to get clients without engaging them in any authentic way. If they still want to focus on those two approaches, they’re not just confused about SEO, they’re confused about human motivation and lucky to have any clients in the first place. There’s no technique or technical cure for that – we get out of our market what our character is capable of sustaining. That’s the biggest turn – that digital marketing is now more human and less technical than ever. Keeping their company focus on technical tricks means that even if SEO is dead, it can still hurt them.

Saying SEO is Dead is Another Way of Saying 3 Things:

1. SOMETHING BIG CHANGED: A major shift HAS occurred, and whether you call what you need to do differently ‘marketing’, SEO, social, or emphasize one direction or another, you’re not going to get a lick of business by just marking up some code on your web site. Put that in stone. The market has more of a DIRECT relationship to businesses now – the layers of fluff and formality between customers and company have collapsed. The mall isn’t the model anymore. That has put a serious dent in the traditionally human-detached and almost entirely software-focused SEO community.
2. THERE’S A CONSUMER SPRING: Digital marketing has swung completely away from where it was to 80% human, 20% technical (if that). The era of the technical wizard is what’s actually over. Anyone can build a web site now, and social media manager programs are closing down in schools, as companies make the ability to engage in social an ‘everyone’ qualification. We like to keep talking about how cutting edge technology will change everything, just like we said in the 50s-70s we’d be living on Mars and flying around in hover cars by now. There’s a force more powerful than technology that continues to prevail, and that’s human consciousness. That’s less of a shift, really, than an emergence that continues to move marketing away from geekness to genuineness. Bank on that.
3. THERE’S COMPETITION FOR PIE: There are a lot of options now, because digital marketing has fragmented, and everyone wants the client’s money. It’s not much different than watching the astrologer, mental massage artist, and psychic life coach battling it out for someone’s self-improvement budget in the ‘things that go bump’ field. Or in the fitness & health arena, who gets retained when things get tough – the personal trainer, Pilates instructor, dietary coach, yoga studio, chiropractor, or acupuncturist? There’s more complexity in marketing as a whole, and a lot more micro-specialized professionals vying for your business. Even if you try to solve this by hiring an agency that does everything, they’re just bringing in the same specialists and adding 80-180% markup. Enjoy the one bill on that bundle! Personally, I prefer to take LESS of the client’s dollar, and offer an overall DIGITAL STRATEGY as the basis of their marketing decisions. If they need 3rd party help, I don’t do any of that, so I can refer them based on a rational plan instead of something random.

“They’re all dead. They just don’t know it yet.” – The Crow (1994)

In the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, chess prodigy Josh offers his opponent a draw: “You’ve already lost, you just don’t know it yet.” Josh can see the board as a whole, and is saying there’s room on it for both of them, but his opponent insists on a zero sum game. It’s OK to keep hearing “yes, it is!” and “no, it’s not!” over the phrase “SEO is dead” – it means that there’s still a conversation over how to best achieve client goals, and that can only benefit the market which drove the death of SEO in the first place. It’s an empowered market of both companies and consumers shucking away the membranes of bamboozlement and jargon-laden techno-fog in between them. The winners will be those who run toward each other, instead of using proxies and pathological gimmicks to maintain boundaries and keep people at arms length. If you want to be a winner contact MadPipe today to help you create a winning marketing strategy.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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