SEO: Is It Really Dead?

The goal in business is to make money. Right? We all know it, but how can we achieve it in today’s increasingly competitive online world – and how is digital marketing impacting profit potential?

Digital marketing, long hailed as the cure-all for business ailments, has seemingly become a cost center instead of a revenue center. What used to be free advertising is now a “do this, not that” war of words amongst marketing gurus who charge exorbitant fees and deliver lackluster results.

Within digital marketing, the aptly titled subcategory of search engine optimization (SEO) has its own inherent issues. Buzz phrases like “content is king,” “it’s all about backlinks” and “the more keywords, the better” have graced our screens for decades. These phrases highlight the SEO issues that became important for limited periods of time until online competition rendered each of them nearly obsolete. We’ve even heard “SEO is dead” time after time.

It may be time for marketing thought leaders to come to the conclusion that the latter is actually true.

SEO’s Backstory – And The Impact Of A Digital Giant

In the 1990s and early 2000s, SEO brought with it relatively cheap, if not free, traffic. SEO epitomized the excitement that a new website instilled through its potential for higher incremental revenue. Google, in its hyper-efficient drive to deliver a high-quality product/service to its users, effectively killed that dream. SEO has become nothing more than the end of a stalemate chess game that cannot be won and can only be lost by the non-experts.

Modern-Day SEO

It’s possible that many of us have reached the peak of our website’s potential as a result of SEO best practices. Effectively, we may have collectively achieved the arbitrage of Google’s own algorithm. We may also have effectively eliminated positive ROI through increased SEO implementation. In other words, while you can continue to fix negative SEO attributes, your rank will likely not move in the near future. Part of this is due to the relative sophistication of machine learning, gamed by the very software meant to help you. Basically, your competitors may have already beaten you to the punch. Unless your website can compete with the largest online retailers, you have very little chance to catch up in a B2C environment.

Further consolidations and machine-learning investments in the B2C ecosystem have continued to place only the biggest online marketplaces and retailers on the first page of search engine results pages (SERPs). That market condition has created an environment almost entirely devoid of formidable B2C competition for SEO placement. Further, Google has added to its opacity by accelerating its information-blocking techniques. It now removes many of the keywords that result in a website appearing, which makes it difficult for marketers to determine exactly where their organic search traffic originates.

As recently as 2012, the rate of “not provided” keywords within Google Analytics was often below 20%. Fast forward to 2018 and you’ll find a bleak future for SEO keyword data, with “not provided” rates as high as 98.5% on many websites that have Google Analytics installed correctly. Given that, it’s become increasingly difficult for marketers to determine which keywords to target, what their SEO benchmarks are and how well their SEO implementations are performing. In short, Google has changed the rules of the game and delivered a knockout blow to a good portion of the pure-play SEO cottage industry.

Though there are some exceptions, the fallout has impacted many websites and domain holders. And while it’s true (if not fully a rule) that B2B websites generally follow the lead of B2C websites, SEO is no exception. For obvious reasons, the online consolidation that hastened the B2C SEO gains of yesteryear did not affect B2B websites as quickly. As a result, B2B websites offer potential incremental traffic from a fairly easy semiannual SEO audit and implementation process.

How To Gauge Your SEO

The easiest, least expensive way to perform your own audit is to subscribe to a good SEO service. The online interfaces these platforms employ are fairly intuitive and easy to use. Moz and SEMrush are two of the best platforms. They both give you varying versions of detailed to-do lists for your web developers, in addition to understandable overviews for your managers. Integrating your SEO work with a project management platform is one cool idea to streamline your SEO process. SEMrush provides an integration with Trello so your marketing team can quickly and efficiently send your SEO to-do items to your web development teams.

The SEO Verdict

SEO isn’t completely dead, but it is on life support. You can still deliver value from SEO via incremental organic traffic, but in order to drive positive ROI, limit your investment to automated tools like SEMrush and Trello. Couple this technique with the use of your web development team’s available slack time, and you’ll deliver the highest potential-revenue-driving SEO activities while minimizing risk. Goal achieved.