Is SEO really dead? Industry insiders discuss the transformation of search

Search marketing has undergone a transformation, with content playing an even greater role. But is SEO dead, as some have argued? As part of The Drum's search supplement, a cross-section of the industry share their views on the subject.

Is SEO really ‘dead’?

Joel Coppersmith, head of search and affiliates, Profero No. It’s an eye-catching headline that has been churned out with regularity for years. And it’s deliberately misleading. Achieving high rankings in search-engines for business-critical searches remains a worthwhile goal because it still provides a long-term boost to the bottom line.

The methods (and practitioners) involved in achieving this have changed to cover a far broader set of competencies, but the goal remains the same. Maybe the term ‘SEO’ has its own associations that no longer quite match the current skills and activities being employed, but there’s enough there that someone calling themselves an SEO five years ago would recognise.

Rhys Williams, managing partner, Agenda21 SEO as it stands is dead and buried because it's becoming impossible to 'game' the system. No longer can you simply implement tactics such as link-buying, content distribution or buying low quality content and expect them to deliver results. Google has put an end to that, which means that many companies are struggling to adapt.

One great example of this is the keyword "car insurance". For years the search visibility of this term has been dominated by aggressive aggregators who employ – many of them very well – some of the tactics mentioned above. However, now they are struggling because those tactics don't work anymore and good quality, engaging content that is actually useful to the end user is being rewarded instead. That's a lot harder to manage and scale-up effectively. It’s also more expensive and requires a totally different skillset, which most SEO teams don't have.

Jimmy McCann, head of SEO, Search Laboratory Change the record! People have been crying wolf on this for years. SEO is alive and kicking – it’s just changed a hell of a lot. Spamming is dying a death, if that’s what people mean when they say this, but to me and many others (including Google), SEO is not spamming. SEO is now about creating a good website that users like and then doing proper marketing and PR so you maximise the digital signals of quality and relevance.

Ben Austin, CEO, Absolute Digital Media I wouldn’t say that SEO is dead, more that search engine optimisation in its traditional form is having to change to adapt to the way consumers now search the internet. Digital marketing has to follow a more integrated approach, using SEO alongside methods such as paid search advertising, content marketing, video marketing and social media engagement in order to capture the audience at different stages in the buying cycle.

Whilst I would agree that social media optimisation is growing in importance, I’d say it acts as a complementary tool to SEO rather than something to replace it. At the end of the day the first page of Google receives 89 per cent of all search traffic so businesses will always be seeking techniques to get their website here, this just needs to follow a more sophisticated route.

Caragh McKenna, group account director UK, The Search Agency SEO at a very basic level certainly has not changed or died, in that spiders still want to find architecturally friendly crawl paths so that they can index as much of a site as possible, so that’s something you still have to look at. But beyond that, the seeding of content and how Google and other search engines treat external content with an intent that relates back to your site has changed, so it’s not merely about getting a link that points back, it’s about surrounding the link back to the site with content that has a relevancy for the audience and imparts authority back to the brand.

Matthew Hayford, head of SEO, Greenlight SEO has been ‘dying’ for the past decade. Every few months we hear how SEO has once again died, but it’s only another evolvement in how SEO is becoming more natural and how Google and other search engines are becoming harder systems to influence. Like everything else in the world which evolves to become more robust and harder to defeat, search engines are the same.

SEO will never ‘die’ as there will always be key factors search engines need to find so that they can identify whether one website is better than another, and yes having these factors opens the engines up to being manipulated, which is the reason why these factors change. There will always be a need to optimise websites for keywords users search for – if you don’t mention certain words on your site then you will not be relevant for them and will not rank. If you don’t engage with your community and the wider internet then your website will not become stronger and it will be harder to rank. These two factors of relevance and strength will be there for many years, but the way that search engines view these two factors will no doubt change. SEO won’t die but it will certainly evolve.

Jon Myers, VP and managing director EMEA, Marin Software No, and it won't die. The only element of SEO that's dying are the careers of SEO practitioners who are still using outdated link building tactics.

Alex Postance, head of earned media, Epiphany SEO described as a process is dead. When we say search engine optimisation, what we really mean is the improvement in search engine rankings of our websites; this is an outcome, not a process. And to achieve this outcome, you do not 'do' SEO. You do marketing, lots of different types of marketing.

This feature is published as part of The Drum's latest Search supplement.

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Katie McQuater

As magazine editor at The Drum, I edit the monthly print edition of the magazine as well as commissioning and writing features for the publication.

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