There's a new spin on the ever-popular "SEO is dead" meme that's been around forever, and this one is being propagated by organic search engine marketers themselves.
This new assertion focuses largely on Google and might be summarized as "SEO has changed, so do something else." That is, search engine optimization is no longer as effective in driving traffic to websites from Google as it used to be so the solution is, well, to look beyond the search engines.
Better leverage social media to drive traffic and foster brand awareness. Work harder at converting the visitors that do arrive on your site. Build direct and lasting relationships with your customers that circumvent the search engines altogether.
In short, what SEOs should be doing now, we're told, is … well, anything but SEO.
Much of this is fine advice for how to succeed in every realm of digital marketing except search, but what's a real scream is that this is become the de rigueur advice on how to succeed in search in 2014.
Let's step back for a second and see if the core value proposition of search engine optimization work holds true: namely, that it is possible to influence a website's presence in the search results for the benefit of the website owner.
Maybe I didn't get the memo, but as it pertains to the different aspects of search engines of which I'm aware, I judge ("judge," not "believe," as in "what I think is based on the evidence that continues to accumulate and offer itself up to analysis on a day-to-day basis") that it's possible through optimization work to influence search engine rankings, the visibility of websites in search results, the conversion rate from search engine-driven traffic, and the ubiquity and reputation of brands as they are represented in search engine results.
And even if these things are true, of course, in order for SEO to be worthwhile search engines must be used by large numbers of people, and effectively influence things like which sites they navigate to, or which products they purchase. The audience of this blog are largely marketers: does anyone really need me to post proof that search engines are widely used and have an impact on consumers' decisions? Just for the record, here's a recent article from Marshall Simmonds that at least addresses the traffic portion of that requirement, although this analysis is based on a ridiculously small sample (yuk, yuk – actually, it's based on 10,000,000,000 visits representing 48,000,000,000 page views).
Let me be crystal clear: I don't give a damn whether any individual who pontificates on how much search now sucks personally continues to practice, support, or believe in the effectiveness of SEO (and I certainly don't think there's anything innately laudable about SEO that requires defending it as a profession – it's just work I happen to enjoy). But it galls me no end to hear from them that the best way to succeed in search is to turn one's back on search: it's not bad advice, it's nonsensical advice.
You no longer think it's possible to optimize websites for search engines, or think the ROI on doing so is so small that there's better ways of spending the time and money you once devoted to SEO? Great: now get the hell out the kitchen so those of us that are still active in this particular branch of digital marketing can continue to share ideas and work on innovations that improve the performance of websites in search engines.
It galls me, but does it really matter that not doing SEO has become the new SEO? Probably not, although there's got to be a point where caring mostly about things that don't have to do with search engines is going to impact one's ability to keep on top of search engine developments, along with the changes that must occur in SEO strategies and techniques in response to these developments – and one's ability to contribute meaningfully to conversations regarding same.
I won't belabor the point, because it seems mind-bogglingly obvious to me: in order to be called "SEO" the target of one's optimization efforts must have something to do with search engines.
Sure, there are many areas of marketing that have at least a potential impact on search, even if once removed (and I'm very much interested and active in marketing that goes beyond SEO but at the same time incorprates it.), but simply listing alternatives to SEO does not in any way, shape or form constitute useful SEO advice.
As I alluded to at the beginning, much of this ire about SEO seems to be based on the fact that Google is no longer as effective at sending search traffic to websites as it used to be. Or, to channel my inner Cartman, "SEO has changed, and Google is bad, so screw you guys – I'm going home!"
Yeah, Google has changed, and I think those changes have made SEO more challenging – and more interesting – than ever. So we'll miss your incessant whining, but … bye-bye!