SEO is Dead, Long Live SEO

Posted by: Jahnelle Pittman-Seaman

Every time Google gets a wild hair and decides to change something about their search engine, it’s like a green flag for negative posts about SEO. The laughs just roll in:

• SEO is dead
• SEO is cheating
• How I got screwed by SEO

As an SEO, I can honestly say it irks me, to put it mildly. Not because these posts down an industry I’m proud to be a part of – I have a thicker skin than that –, but because of all the hours we have to put in… again. The countless hours where we assure clients that their money and our efforts aren’t being wasted… again. Hours of talking on the phone, explaining that, no, SEO isn’t dead, when we could be doing what we are paid for… again.

Rather than spend countless more hours doing the same after the Google Instant update, I figured I’d just write it all out, right here, where everybody can see it. I’ll even address one issue at a time. If it hits a chord with you, bookmark it; after the next update, you can refer back to it.

SEO is dead

For the last time, SEO isn’t dead. Just like the Internet, SEO is a constantly changing, fluid industry. When search engines change things up, so do optimizers. You change your content output rate or how you do link building; you test your pages and tweak your campaign. What you do NOT do, however, is cry “foul” when the SEs do something you weren’t expecting.

You’re not going to know how to address all changes as soon as they happen – but that’s why we’re SEOs. We stand on the front line, dig into the possibilities and then test, test, test.

Now, I understand knee-jerk reactions. When I saw the first instance of Google Instant, I admit I was nervous. Gabriella and I watched the conference, discussing what it meant for us and for our clients. However, we didn’t just blurt out how we initially felt. We figured out the possibilities and then took a tentative stand – tentative, because it’s going to take a little testing to see what it really does. We didn’t go yelling out our worries, though. Why not?

Maybe some optimizers have missed it, but we have an obligation. Site owners look to us (as in SEO companies) to ease their fears, explain what changes mean and assure them we’re on top of it. Period. We do NOT go around yelling, “SEO is dead” every time a search engine company blows their nose or scratches a proverbial ear.

For those of you who are site owners, the past year’s updates will mean changes to the traffic on your website. Whether those changes are good or bad depends on how your site and SEO campaign has been managed up to this point. The important thing to do is not panic. Watch what your analytics data says, test your pages and find out what works to keep you above the fray. As long as you’re willing to adapt, your site traffic will even out again.

SEO is cheating

This sentiment normally comes from those who believe SEO is simply manipulating the search engines. Somehow, optimizers managed to dig through the countless numbers of Google/Bing patents and algorithms. Somehow, we’ve figured out how to actually change (i.e. manipulate) how those unbelievably massive, complex search engines read our clients’ sites – like somehow we have the magic key to giving clients an unfair advantage in ranking.

Bull, and may I politely add “crap”. If SEO is manipulating search engines, then copywriting is manipulating marketing. Nobody says copywriting gives marketing an unfair advantage, yet SEO is constantly ridiculed.

Let me make this perfectly clear. SEO is not search engine manipulation. In fact, if you have the time and dedication, you can do some of your own SEO simply by following Google’s Best Practice guidelines. What about things like cloaking? In many cases of what’s loosely called black hat, the search engines aren’t being manipulated, the visitor is. Do I agree with it? Do I like it? No, but then, that’s why we at Level343 don’t do those things. Hint: MOST optimizers opt not to use black hat techniques.

Lastly on this point, when a copywriter does a good job and brings in conversions for a business, do you yell at them when you find out? Do you say it’s “unfair manipulation”? No, you find out who they are and go hire them yourself. The same should be said of optimizers.

How I got screwed by SEO

If you’re writing a post about how you “tried SEO” and found out it was all a scam, I want to see the name of the company who scammed you and the price you paid. Why? Because a large number of people writing posts like this did one of two things: a) did it themselves and took the wrong advice or b) went for cheap instead of good. Not all, but many fell for the “$29.99 SEO a month” line.

Less money doesn’t mean the best deal. Time is money, money is time and SEO is time intensive. There are very few instances I can think of where a legitimate optimizer would provide services at this rate, and those instances are very rare.

Instead of kicking my industry in general, share the details of the company. Not all used car salespeople sell lemons; most have tons of happy customers who know they got a good deal. Some snake oil salespeople really do sell… well, snake oil. Not all big corporations are out to screw the little guy. My point? Not every optimizer is a scam artist. In fact, most of us are just like you: hard-working business people just trying to make a living in any ethical, legitimate way we can.

So – before the next search engine update, whether it’s Google, Bing or XYZ, I kindly ask those writing posts like the above to stop knocking my industry. I’m proud of my industry. I love what I do, its intricate challenges and, yes, even all the number crunching. SEO has been around for over 20 years, and it’s still hanging in there. Let’s not call the funeral parlor and bury it just yet, m’kay?

Comments (23)

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    Gabriella Reply

    Hey Boris, I will actually have to ask Jahnelle since she wrote the article. But she happens to be on vacation for the next two weeks… So I felt it necessary to at least make an attempt at responding. From what I have seen it’s been around since the mid 90’s at least that’s what Wiki states So lets’ see it’s 2010 – 1990’s = a few years shy of 20 years. I’m sure she was being a bit over the top but, that’s not a big deal considering the topic and point of this article. 🙂

    September 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm
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    Tad Chef Reply

    Very good explanation. I said it a bit differently: ‘SEO is Dead’ is Dead!

    http://seo2.0.onreact.com/seo-is-dead-is-dead

    September 21, 2010 at 10:57 am
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    Steve G Reply

    @Boris, technically that isn’t true.. The first widely used public ‘search’ engine was most likely Gopher in 1991.. At least its the first one that I know about.. And yes, even back then a few people were already trying to sort out how to get their results returned at the top of the list when a search was made.. People seem to forget that some of us were “on the internet” before there was a www 😉

    September 22, 2010 at 7:27 am
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      Gabriella Reply

      Well I’m glad an old timer came in here and gave us a walk down memory lane 😉 Thanks Steve, I bet you remember The Well

      September 22, 2010 at 8:34 am
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    Mike Reply

    (the point is not WHEN seo started.) I liked this post and absolutely loved the point “If SEO is manipulating search engines, then copywriting is manipulating marketing.” I’ve never compared it quite so directly before but it works really well as a analogy.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:28 am
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      Gabriella Reply

      Mike, exactamundo. I’m glad you liked the analogy. It’s one of our favorite topics around the office. How we mix marketing, copywriting, into any SEO strategy. It has to be part of the optimizers understanding. I would go further and add a strong knowledge of social media (human behavior/intent) wouldn’t hurt either.

      September 22, 2010 at 8:39 am
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    SEO Seattle Reply

    Great article, and like any other industry a few bad apples can ruin it for everyone. Keeping the internet clean and following white hat SEO is my preferred way of doing business. In some ways it’s like the wild wild west but nevertheless there is a lot of good SEO companies out there. Thanks for sharing your info.

    September 26, 2010 at 8:46 pm
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    search engine optimizing Reply

    For me the big problem of search engine optilisation is that search engines and site visitors speak different languages. So we must rather optimise our website for visitors? But in doing this, we taking the risk that nobody will find our site to read our beautiful verbiage anyway.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:47 pm
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      Gabriella Reply

      You bring about an arguable discussion we have all the time around the office. When clients hire us to promote their website, be it in a campaign or an event, we have to differentiate who & how are people going to read this information. Ultimately, it’s the people who will continue to read and come to your “landing” page. If you do everything right in the back end (meaning things like Link building, guest posting, correct use of tags), it compliments your SEO efforts and gives you the ability to feed the Big Bad Google the information it needs to see that you are relevant to that “topic”.

      However, just because you’re SEO is relevant to a topic doesn’t mean the readers will be looking for the topic you’ve chosen. So what do you do? Try to optimize for both visitor and search. Use the technical & laymen terms so
      a) visitors read the site and
      b) understand the beautiful verbiage.

      I hope that makes sense. I appreciate your comment; this has given me an idea for a new post. Thanks

      October 8, 2010 at 6:52 am
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    Barry Adams Reply

    @Greg Jameson: I struggled to read through your entire comment, as it is filled with such enormous amounts of disinformation, lies, and sheer ignorance that it’s hard to take it seriously in any way at all.

    But let’s give it a try, shall we?

    “only about 20 percent of traffic ends up coming from search engines.”

    Totally and utterly false. The average is closer to 50%. The lesson here is: don’t believe what Alexa tells you.

    “There are more effective methods for driving traffic – like social networking, videos, inbound links through blogs, coupon sites, etc. and joint venture campaigns.”

    Each of those can be a fairly effective traffic generator, but none of them trump SEO – and many of them are actually part of a solid SEO strategy. Did you realise that?

    “Getting visitors is the goal, not a number one listing on Google.”

    True, but guess what? Being #1 on Google tends to be a pretty solid way of getting visitors.

    “And only after you are already popular, do the search engines care about you.”

    That to me says a lot about your ignorance on the issue of SEO. Do you even know what modern-day SEO entails? or are you one of those guys that has an antiquated 1995 perception of the SEO industry?

    “Thanks for controversy.”

    Thanks for the shameless self-promoting plug at the end, and thanks for the mind-boggling ignorance. I haven’t chuckled out loud like this for at least a few hours.

    131 billion monthly searches in Google as of December 2009 with a 46% growth figure, and you think that’s totally irrelevant? You want to discard all that and still run a successful website? Good luck with that. Actually, I hope that you keep on spewing your ‘SEO is dead’ nonsense – that’ll make it all the easier for sites that employ the likes of me to outscore and outperform your clients.

    P.S. Has anyone ever told you that your webstoreltd site is, well, pretty shit?

    October 19, 2010 at 7:35 am
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      JRPittman Reply

      @Doc Sheldon – Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you like the copywriting analogy… I worked hard to find one that would fit the sentence “SEO is like….” 😀 Thanks for the comment.

      @Boris – Gabriella’s right. The glory of writing is that, when the details don’t have to be exact, you can give a round figure. The point is that it’s not a new industry. Just because some business owners still haven’t heard about it, doesn’t mean it’s an infant industry.

      @Tad Chef – Great link. I especially love how you have the tags up at the top, so “bullshit” goes along with “SEO is Dead, Is Dead”.

      @Roch – That’s exactly what I meant. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      @Steve G – Ha! lol for some reason, your comment reminds me of back in the day, sitting in front of a Commador 64. Better yet, back before – dare I say it – Google came on the market. Back when Basic was a hot coding language to know.

      @Mike – Thank you! I’ve noticed over the years of blogging here that people like to skimp over the meat of an article and nitpick the non-details. Ah, well – c’est la vie

      @Greg – Really? I mean… really? This article brings controversy? Color me pleasantly surprised. I thought it was just truth. I’m surprised that you name “inbound links through blogs, coupon sites, etc” as a “more effective method”. Um. My dear, as Barry puts so succinctly above, that’s PART of SEO. I’m not sure I can say much more that he hasn’t already said. It’d simply be repetitious, and I do so like to be original. Thanks for taking the time to comment, however. Maybe we can find something else to argue on. 😉

      @Barry Adams – Thanks for coming by and dropping a comment, Barry! I know you’re busy, so it’s even more of a pleasant surprise. I love the response and ditto it all. *sniffle* You’re officially my hero for at least the next ten minutes. 😀

      October 19, 2010 at 8:40 am
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    Greg Jameson Reply

    Wow, it is now the middle of February 2011 and it took 4 months before I found this posting again via search engines. Maybe this site just isn’t optimized for SEO…

    So we resort to name calling, belittlement, and criticism instead of facts to support our points? Perhaps you are stuck in a 2000’s mind set about SEO instead of what is happening in the 2010’s?

    I am fully aware that modern SEO focuses on 2 areas: on-site optimization (title tags, content, etc) and off-site optimization (in-bound links). My point is simply that in-bound links are a far more effective way of generating traffic than all of the on-site SEO methods. Given the significance of social networking sites, Google in fact changed their algorithm to account for Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube because these results are more relevant to today’s web surfer. Don’t believe me? Do a search for “Greg Jameson” and I can assure you that my websites are doing their job.

    I still maintain that you don’t get to be popular because you are number one on Google; rather you get to be number one on Google because you are already popular (that’s how Page Rank works). Companies need to work on becoming popular for a particular set of keywords and the search engines will take care of themselves.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:01 am
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      JRPittman Reply

      Welcome back, Greg. I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised you remembered our article well enough to come looking. Although, I must say, the title must not have made much of an impression on you if you couldn’t find us for four months (Page 1 for the full title, no quotes; Page 3 for “SEO is dead”, no quotes). Ah, well – we move on from our little disappointments.

      Now, I reread through the comments and, I have to point out, we (Level 343) never resorted to name calling. -And, while I’d like to respond to your comment about whether our site is “optimized for SEO” or not, well… I do so hate to criticize, but you don’t “optimize for SEO”. Optimization IS SEO – so, please choose one or the other. i.e. “The site isn’t optimized” or “I don’t think your site’s been SEO’d.”

      The problem with your statement “I’m fully aware that modern SEO focuses on 2 areas…” is that it’s, well, incorrect. If you believe off-site optimization is only inbound links, you’re sadly mistaken. I have no idea what you think on-site SEO consists of, but from your comments, I’m sure it’s a shorter list than we actually perform.

      Before you comment again, I suggest you read about the different titles included with “optimization”. A few examples: search engine optimization (SEO), digital asset optimization (DAO), social media optimization (SMO). It might interest you how many areas SEO really covers. Understand that you can’t see a company advertising SEO services and pigeon-hole them into a specific “technique” set.

      And finally, I did do a search for Greg Jameson – and I did a search for Gabriella Sannino. You see, Gabriella does all that stuff: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – she’s on more social networks than you can shake a stick at. So, I figured it’d be a comparable search, non? The interesting thing here is this: although Gabriella has at least active network profiles, our site isn’t buried by them. We’re still on the front page, which – low and behold – brings traffic to our site (yes, we get traffic for her name).

      However, when I searched your name, your site is buried on the second page for me, and the third for Gabriella (different data centers, don’tcha know). All your beautiful inbound social links are drowning your site. Um… you might want to do something about that…

      February 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm
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    Barry Adams Reply

    Welcome back Greg. To be honest I’m not surprised it took you 4 months to come back – using a keyboard & mouse must be very hard for you.

    When I search for “Greg Jameson” your site doesn’t show up until page 5 – which is a spectacular SEO fail. If you think it’s perfectly valid for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to rank page 1 while your own site ranks pn page 5, you have a warped perspective of what drives converting traffic. Here’s a hint: it isn’t social media.

    In essence, you really do need some SEO expertise, dude. I’m available for the friendly price of £60 an hour.

    I can assure you, my SEO practices are very much based in 2011 (not 2010 and definitely not 2000).

    And one last thing: it’s spelled PageRank (one word), and if you’re still looking at that metric you really are back in 2001 yourself.

    February 18, 2011 at 4:24 am
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    JRPittman Reply

    “to cover terms that most people do not consider SEO” ~ Thank you, Greg… that may be the problem between us – what you call SEO and what I call SEO. For instance, if it can be optimized, linked to, linked from, tweaked, changed, etc for better traffic, ranking and conversions, “I” consider it SEO.

    – And I do understand your point, that SEO isn’t the end all be all of website marketing. There are many viable methods to market your website that don’t include SEO. However, for the love of arguing, 😉 it sounds like you’re making a blanket statement. “Social networking and video are both out-performing traditional SEO techniques.” Someone reads that and thinks it’s true for all sites, all niches, etc. It’s not.

    Whether you should put more focus on “traditional SEO” or social networking or video or blogging and so on all depends on your target market, in my experience. Not ALL business owners can benefit from social media (trust me, I’ve researched this lol). Not ALL business owners can benefit from using video media as a marketing tool. Why? Because their target markets simply aren’t using these channels.

    To put it simply: where you put your money and time should all depend on where you get your money back. In my experience, SEO has always brought back strong ROI. Done right, it brings in targeted traffic – i.e traffic that’s ready to convert.

    Finally, I don’t know which sites are yours, only that webstoresltd is yours. I don’t know what you’re going for by having social media profiles stacked in the SERPs before your site – it seems backwards to me, but then, I’m an SEO. Tons of studies prove out the fact (not theory) that ranking high in the SERPs brings more traffic to your site. In fact, the difference even between 1st place and 2nd place in terms of incoming traffic is phenomenal.

    Here’s a challenge – instead of throwing SEO out the window and dismissing it, give it a real try. Clean up your code and tighten it (tons of empty space), add some analytics, fix your misspellings, change your meta tags to be more user-friendly and relevant, etc. etc. Prove to me that SEO won’t help your site bring in better traffic. I’ll shut up.. at least with this argument. 😀

    February 18, 2011 at 8:31 am
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    Silver Reply

    I am a newbie at SEO. I tried to learn it for almost a year but I don’t understand what I do wrong cause everytime I reach first page for a keyword that I target it Google throws me back on the 3,6,7 page. To much link building makes my website a spamer?

    June 8, 2011 at 3:37 pm
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      Gabriella Reply

      There is an art form to link building Silver, It’s called “earning” links rather than building them. There are some amazing link builders out there that create strategies and campaigns around “building” links where one can get them naturally. Without having to ask or reciprocate. Ideas that have been discussed are using infographics, or great video’s, podcast, blogs, FAQ pages etc., let me be clear, depending on your focus & value a custom approach to link building has to be created. At Levele343 we use an organic approach.

      June 8, 2011 at 3:45 pm
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        Silver Reply

        I understand…but tell me one thing..and don’t laugh 🙂 cause it’s a newbie question: how many backlinks are allowed by google for one keyword in one day?Let’s say that the domain is one year older.

        June 9, 2011 at 12:01 am
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          JRPittman Reply

          Hi, Silver – that’s not a newbie question; that’s a trick question. The real question is, how many backlinks does your site get on a normal day? Because, you see, Google looks at the whole picture – your link profile – not just a single day. If it just looked at a single day, we’d have been banned for our Google Dance infographic – we got tons of links for that beauty, WAY above what we normally get.

          And what kind of quality are the links you’re getting? Do the pages linking to your site get traffic, too? Do people click through or talk about the pages liking to yours?

          Instead of counting links and focusing on numbers, you might be better off focusing on site quality, as well as the ideas Gabriella mentioned (which is basically creating quality, linkable content). You can get a bunch of crap links, but they won’t keep your site where you want it. A quality site, on the other hand.. well, that’s a gift that keeps on giving.

          June 10, 2011 at 10:50 am
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            Silver

            Thank you very much for the nice answers! I’m glad that I found nice people like you..It’s a little hard for me to understand all the things about SEO but I will do my best to learn all the tricks by pratice…I have a lot to learn..cause I’m stuck..I don’t know why from about a year I don’t manage to get on first page for a keyword that has good competition..I don’t know what I do wrong..maybe I do to much link building for my website and repeat to much the same keyword..I don’t know..thanks again 😉

            June 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm
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    ワンピース Reply

    ワンピースThanks for your great post.I like this very much, please write more about these,wait for your update.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm
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      Gabriella Reply

      Thanks 😉 glad you made it out to our blog!

      March 28, 2012 at 7:26 am
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        Nathan Bailey Reply

        I don’t think I could stand reading any more of those silly posts about how seo is dead but with googles latest update the Emanuel update as its been named by SEL, I think we can expect to see some more popping up again soon lol

        August 13, 2012 at 4:38 am

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SEO is Dead, Long Live SEO