SEO isn’t Dead

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) isn’t Dead. It just needs a re-brand and new approach.

Apparently everyone has heard it. SEO (search engine optimization) is now dead.

The word on the street is that you can no longer manipulate Google into ranking your website above another of your competitors (Which could also possibly be a more worthy site), in the results for a given keyword search.

Let’s stop for a second however and look at whether this is really true?

The short answer to the question of whether SEO is dead is more honestly “it depends”. As with many things in life, it comes down to what you actually mean when you use the words Search Engine Optimisation.

If you use the acronym SEO, or the words Search Engine Optimisation to describe the blunt task of trying to trick or manipulate search rankings for the keywords you’re trying to get traffic for, then yes, SEO is effectively dead for you. Despite some old school tactics that still work, Google’s ranking algorithm continues to become more and more sophisticated and aims to remove the impact of these tactics, ensuring sites are ranked on Google's terms and no one else’s. If we look at just a snapshot of major updates from 2013 & 2014 to date we have:

  • Authorship Removed — August 28, 2014
  • Following up on the June 28th drop of authorship photos, Google announced that they would be completely removing authorship markup (and would no longer process it). By the next morning, authorship bylines had disappeared from all SERPs.
  • HTTPS/SSL Update — August 6, 2014
  • After months of speculation, Google announced that they would be giving preference to secure sites, and that adding encryption would provide a "lightweight" rankings boost. They stressed that this boost would start out small, but implied it might increase if the changed proved to be positive.
  • Pigeon — July 24, 2014
  • Google shook the local SEO world with an update that dramatically altered some local results and modified how they handle and interpret location cues. Google claimed that Pigeon created closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithm(s).
  • Authorship Photo Drop — June 28, 2014
  • John Mueller made a surprise announcement (on June 25th) that Google would be dropping all authorship photos from SERPs (after heavily promoting authorship as a connection to Google+). The drop was complete around June 28th.
  • Payday Loan 3.0 — June 12, 2014
  • Less than a month after the Payday Loan 2.0 anti-spam update, Google launched another major iteration. Official statements suggested that 2.0 targeted specific sites, while 3.0 targeted spammy queries.
  • Panda 4.0 — May 19, 2014
  • Google confirmed a major Panda update that likely included both an algorithm update and a data refresh. Officially, about 7.5% of English-language queries were affected.
  • Payday Loan 2.0 — May 16, 2014
  • Just prior to Panda 4.0, Google updated it's "payday loan" algorithm, which targets especially spammy queries.
  • Page Layout #3 — February 6, 2014
  • Google "refreshed" their page layout algorithm, also known as "top heavy". Originally launched in January 2012, the page layout algorithm penalizes sites with too many ads above the fold.
  • Authorship Shake-up — December 19, 2013
  • As predicted by Matt Cutts at Pubcon Las Vegas, authorship mark-up disappeared from roughly 15% of queries over a period of about a month.
  • Penguin 2.1 (#5) — October 4, 2013
  • After a 4-1/2 month gap, Google launched another Penguin update. Given the 2.1 designation, this was probably a data update (primarily) and not a major change to the Penguin algorithm. The overall impact seemed to be moderate, although some webmasters reported being hit hard.
  • Hummingbird — August 20, 2013
  • Announced on September 26th, Google suggested that the "Hummingbird" update rolled out about a month earlier.
  • In-depth Articles — August 6, 2013
  • Google added a new type of news result called "in-depth articles", dedicated to more evergreen, long-form content.
  • Knowledge Graph Expansion — July 19, 2013
  • Seemingly overnight, queries with Knowledge Graph (KG) entries expanded by more than half (+50.4%) across the MozCast data set, with more than a quarter of all searches showing some kind of KG entry.
  • Panda Recovery — July 18, 2013
  • Google confirmed a Panda update, but it was unclear whether this was one of the 10-day rolling updates or something new. The implication was that this was algorithmic and may have "softened" some previous Panda penalties.
  • Multi-Week Update — June 27, 2013
  • Google's Matt Cutts tweeted a reply suggesting a "multi-week" algorithm update between roughly June 12th and "the week after July 4th". The nature of the update was unclear, but there was massive rankings volatility during that time period, peaking on June 27th. It appears that Google may have been testing some changes that were later rolled back.
  • Panda Dance — June 11, 2013
  • While not an actual Panda update, Matt Cutts made an important clarification at SMX Advanced, suggesting that Panda was still updating monthly, but each update rolled out over about 10 days. This was not the "everflux" many people had expected after Panda #25.
  • "Payday Loan" Update — June 11, 2013
  • Google announced a targeted algorithm update to take on niches with notoriously spammy results, specifically mentioning payday loans and porn. The update was announced on June 11th, but Matt Cutts suggested it would roll out over a 1-2 month period.
  • Penguin 2.0 (#4) — May 22, 2013
  • After months of speculation bordering on hype, the 4th Penguin update (dubbed "2.0" by Google) arrived with only moderate impact. The exact nature of the changes were unclear, but some evidence suggested that Penguin 2.0 was more finely targeted to the page level.
  • Domain Crowding — May 21, 2013
  • Google released an update to control domain crowding/diversity deep in the SERPs (pages 2+). The timing was unclear, but it seemed to roll out just prior to Penguin 2.0 in the US and possibly the same day internationally.
  • "Phantom" — May 9, 2013
  • In the period around May 9th, there were many reports of an algorithm update (also verified by high MozCast activity). The exact nature of this update was unknown, but many sites reported significant traffic loss.
  • Panda #25 — March 14, 2013
  • Matt Cutts pre-announced a Panda update at SMX West, and suggested it would be the last update before Panda was integrated into the core algorithm.
  • Panda #24 — January 22, 2013
  • Google announced its first official update of 2013, claiming 1.2% of queries affected.

As we can see, Google aren’t slouches when it comes to making changes to their algorithm. They are constantly evolving and reshaping the ranking algorithm to ensure relevance and best results for the keyword being searched for.

What is quite alarming is the sheer number of SEO companies still trying to use old school tactics, and black hat SEO tactics (those that are frowned upon by the industry and Google, and will end up with the website in question being penalized) to get results, instead of having moved with the times, and evolving as the algorithm has.

The true concept of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is and always has been about simply making your site the best it can be. About being an authority in your given industry, and making that evident by what’s shared on your website. SEO doesn’t need to be manipulative or based on trickery. It’s about showing yourself and your website as a leader in the space you exist within.

In other words, if you’re trying to make your site (or parts of your site) the best resource available for a given topic, then there’s nothing wrong with that. This is what true & professional search engine optimisation is.