Is SEO Dead? No, But It Might Be MIA

Search is getting more personalized every day. From seeing different results when logged in to Google vs. not logged in, to Google making assumptions about your intention from your physical location, to your social connections and browsing history – what you see when you enter a query into a search engine has never been more diverse. While this may be a more positive experience for searchers (though there seem to be mixed opinions on that) it is definitely making site visibility and marketing strategies a lot more difficult.

It is an exciting time for local businesses – tighter integration of Google+ and Google’s increasing weighting of other “trustworthines” factors have created a climate where a savvy local business can get some real traction in search exposure. Local SEO is finally beginning to reach the potential many saw when social media exploded and mobile devices began to be serious and indispensable searching tools.

But what about businesses whose focus and clientele are not exclusively local? Obviously, every business has a physical location, but many B2B (and some B2C) organizations serve and want to serve areas well outside of any of their physical presences. How can they accomplish this through search in today’s environment?

Now before you start saying that search should not be 100% of an organization’s marketing plan, let me just state that I agree. Wholeheartedly. But search, both organic and paid, is a really important and often critical marketing channel for many types of businesses. To simply dismiss the seismic shift happening in search by saying that organizations “shouldn’t chase rankings” is patronizing and does not advance the conversation.

Should you “chase rankings”? The answer to that question is a lot more nuanced than just a simple yes or no. Should you chase the number one organic or paid spot in search results just because you’re obsessed with being the first result? I would say no, chasing #1 just for the sake of being #1 can be an incredible waste of resources – both time and money. As with any marketing initiative, you should be chasing what gets you business, what brings in actual dollars, rather than some empirical metric. But, and this is a major but, study after study keeps showing that the number of clicks (and therefore potential sales) SIGNIFICANTLY drops off after the first organic result, again after the second and again after the third. To ignore this completely is nuts.

I have always been a proponent of using every tool at your disposal to bring in business – that includes SEO, PPC, social and whatever else might work to find, convince and convert your target audience. Search isn’t going anywhere, in fact with so many people not only carrying but actively using mobile devices 24/7, it seems to me that search is only going to grow in importance.

We have already seen a number of our clients shift their mix of organic and paid search initiatives and goals in response to this evolving landscape over the past 2 years. Getting onto the first page of Google, and certainly getting into the top 3 results, has gotten a lot harder to consistently achieve even using “white hat” SEO methods. And to make matters even murkier, if you search for SEO articles these days, many experts will tell you that even many of their previously recommended and above board methods are no longer a valid strategy. You’ll get lots and lots of articles about content marketing and social media strategy.

You can have all of the most wonderful, targeted and useful content in the world out there, but if your target audience never sees your site or posts or tweets what does it really matter? PPC is still an area where exposure can absolutely be had, but it is becoming more and more expensive to compete in that area for many industries and locales as well.

So much of the SEO advice being offered these days takes me back to the late 90s when the prevailing web marketing theory was “if you build it, they will come”. SEO largely came into being because this was such a terrible marketing strategy. Have we crossed into the space where search today is what television, billboards and print media were in the past – a place for only the big dogs to compete? Will businesses be forced to go back to today’s version of word-of-mouth and dump all of their eggs into the social media basket?

Very interested in others’ thoughts on the state of search these days and where we might be headed!


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