Is SEO Dead?

This article on led me to put down my own thoughts regarding the death of SEO.

We regularly get asked about our SEO services and my feeling is we take a very different approach to many of our competitors.  Most still believe in charging a monthly fee for “SEO services”.  I know for a fact that one of our prospects went with a competitor because we did not supply these magical SEO services. They came back after a year of little progress with their traffic levels.

It’s not that I think “SEO is dead” per se,  just that it has changed fundamentally over the last few years, and for very good reason. It has changed enough for us to re-evaluate how we provide SEO services going forwards.

I have personally been involved with SEO projects for over 10 years.  In fact, Reverse Delta entered the recruitment sector as SEO specialists in 2005 when there was a pressing need for it.  At that time, many web designers did not really understand the way the web and Google (when I say Google, I do mean search engines generally) worked.  We reviewed hundreds of recruitment sites over the years, and we regularly saw the same issues over and over again, among others:

  • Badly written pages with no keywords present
  • Embedded jobs pages from a recruitment system that were on a different domain
  • Difficult to index the jobs, so they were invisible to Google
  • All jobs on a single page so it meant nothing to Google
  • No links to the site therefore it was not being crawled – many were totally invisible
  • Poor site and URL structure
  • Lack of titles and heading tags
  • Redirects, frames and splash pages

We would routinely pull sites apart and put them back together.  This started to get a little tedious and also showed a gap in the market. It was through this process that FXRecruiter was born.

The wrong approach for the right reasons

In parallel, we and other on the ball consultants would “game” the Google PageRank system, by acquiring links to the sites from various places around the web (including the legendary DMOZ where a link was considered gold dust – ).  Sites large and small were been penalised, but we all did it; in fact Google unwittingly encouraged us by telling us that links to the website would increase our PageRank, which we all obsessed over and constantly monitored on our Google Toolbars. Google stopped publishing PageRank.  It was also the wrong thing to obsess about.  In early 2017 DMOZ posted the following note: “As of Mar 14, 2017, will no longer be available.” Beyond the obvious issue of cost, DMOZ had stopped being relevant. If, in 1998, DMOZ could far outperform computers in terms of categorizing and summarizing sites, 19 years later that was no longer true. (read more here)

When Real People started to matter (again)

Keyword stuffed pages with lots of links to them are not necessarily the most “relevant” pages for a given keyword search.  Google knew that that had to change or people would go elsewhere – Bing is just a click away. Google wants to give you the best possible results, not some spammy page made for Google Ads.

The Google algorithmic changes over the last couple of years (mainly Panda and Penguin) have simply been about cleaning up the results, and making sure Google keeps its crown. Social media (especially Google+) signals are increasingly important.  Keyword stuffing and link building are actively discouraged. Search results are personalised so we can no longer obsess about our rankings either: what I see may be very different to what you see.

SEO can typically be boiled down to 3 things, and little has changed here since the start of this century, other than the “social” factors:

  • Content – the words, their relevance to a community, who links to it or ‘likes’ it on social media
  • Code – the way the site coding has been written so that Google can make the most sense of it
  • Domain – history,  topicality, authority, trust

There’s a good summary of success factors here from Search Engine Land.  This is recompiled every two years by a variety of industry leaders, so isn’t just one person’s opinion.

No more link building.

Instead, good content will be naturally linked to, and also shared via social networks.  This will increase your domain’s authority, and relevance.  And each article you write is a potential magnet for traffic.  The more articles = the more traffic.  We see a direct correlation each and every time.  Why have only one ‘advert’ in Google results when content management systems make it easy to add new articles daily?

No more “structural” SEO.

Instead, the coding of most leading content management systems is already very well optimised.  It should be a case of just adding good content.  If your CMS does not do this, I’m sorry but you have bought the wrong CMS, and no amount of SEO tweaking will really provide a cost-effective solution.  Get a decent CMS that does the basics out of the box (e.g. WordPress, Joomla, FXRecruiter) rather than throwing good money after bad.

That leaves content.

Do you really want web designers or developers creating your content? I do not think you will find the best copywriters in a web design team. Ideally it should involve your input as well – you should know your subject matter best. Make the most of the content you already have.  In the best of all worlds, you would have someone internally to run this for you.

It’s not just about creating the content.  It’s about communicating it to your community, social network sites and groups, using RSS and email, and generally creating interest in your content.  Your content should sit on your site, and not on an external blog.  Your job ads should be well written, containing the keywords that real people use.  Clear calls to action can then encourage further engagement. Automated emails can bring repeat visits.

The changes to the way Google analyses sites will benefit their users, and keep Google at the top of the tree.  So it benefits all but the black hat SEOs who used to pollute our search results.

This is probably why most SEO agencies are re-positioning themselves as “Content Marketing” companies.  They know the old dark arts of SEO are dead. Experienced SEO practitioners are moving on.

Of course, digital marketing is more than just SEO: it is a holistic process than includes having a well coded site, with great relevant content available on all devices and channels, automated communication tools, and supplemented with engaging calls to action.  Get this right and you will get the traffic you truly deserve.