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FEATURE: In the New World of Search, SEO Is Alive and Well

by Jessica Lee, February 21, 2012

Estimated reading time:
6 minutes

Audience:
In-house marketers/SEOs

Top takeaways:
• SEO, just like the search engines, is a changing, evolving affair that is grounded in critical methodologies but flexible enough to reinvent its strategy when needed.
• The foundation of SEO includes things like creating quality content and information architecture, building authority and the user experience.
• Knowledgeable SEOs should always have a place on the search marketing team.

Many people in the search community have been saying SEO is dead for years. And with the emergence of new, important disciplines within search marketing and dramatic changes to the search engine algorithms in the past year, some speculate the end of SEO is near.

But the fact is, SEO, just like the search engines, is a changing, evolving affair that is grounded in critical methodologies but flexible enough to reinvent its strategy when needed – all with a primary goal in mind: To help businesses reach their goals through increased visibility online.

Sound SEO raises the quality of the content on the Web by working in tandem with search engine algorithms to create a great experience for their users. This is something that will always be a necessity.

A recent article on Search Engine Watch, “The Case For and Against SEO” by Miranda Miller and contributor Andy Betts discussed if perhaps it was the name “SEO” that was dead, not the practice. Semantics aside, understanding the evolving role of SEO and how it fits into the bigger picture of marketing builds a case for it for a long time to come.

Building on that piece from Search Engine Watch, in this article we’ll discuss the longevity of SEO and which methodologies in SEO are still very important in the new, multidisciplinary world of search marketing. We’ll also touch on how companies can build powerful search marketing teams with SEOs as a critical component. This exploration reveals that SEO is still very much alive and thriving.

SEO is the Cornerstone of Web Marketing

There's been some big developments in search in the past year. The most recent came in January with Google's ultra-personalized results, Search, plus Your World , which is shaking things up a bit in the Web marketing world. Add to that the growing need for social, conversions and a whole slew of other search marketing tactics, and yes, SEO is adjusting the way it approaches things a bit.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the fundamentals of SEO are still a necessity, although the ways in which they are carried out may change. Let’s take a look at what some of those fundamentals are.

Content/Information Architecture

The way the information on a website is structured is still an important part of helping search engines understand what a site is about, and to help users sift through the information they need with ease. Navigation, content silos, keywords and Meta information all intend to help the content reach the user and present it in a manner that’s easy to understand.

The way the content is organized throughout a website helps give it structure and a theme. If a site has mish-mashed information that’s hard to follow, both search engines and users are confused. Therefore, siloing content on a site will always be an important part of the user experience.

Keyword research and optimized content is still an important part of matching a user’s query to content that fulfills the objective. Google and other search engines will always put relevance at the forefront, and good SEO practices ensure content is as relevant as possible to the intended audience. What good is having quality content if it can’t be found?

And sure, there are methods for marketing content outside of optimization, but the optimization of the content is an element that shouldn’t be overlooked because search engines still rely on that information to understand what the page is about in order to serve it to users.

Building Authority Online

Historically, inbound and outbound links from authority sites were a way to elevate a website and its own authority, thus giving that site a better chance of ranking over another similar site that maybe didn’t have as much PageRank. While PageRank may be less important these days, and the way in which search engines bestow authority is changing, the concept is the same; endorsements are key, and SEO is still a big part of obtaining those.

SEO Chalkboard

Since social signals are at the forefront for obtaining endorsements, some businesses use these mediums and completely forgo a website or an SEO strategy. But SEO still fits into social media tactics and vice versa.

In last month’s SEO Newsletter feature, “Understanding Search, Plus Your World,” senior SEO analyst here at Bruce Clay, Inc. (BCI) explained why SEO still factors in an uber-personalized search result:

“As much as people want to constantly call SEO dead, I don't think that's possible. What that would mean is that everything on-page is irrelevant and only social linking is important."

And in a recent post on the Bruce Clay blog, SEO analyst here at BCI, Matthew Young, asked, “Is Pinterest the New Social Media Echo Chamber?”, exploring why tried and true SEO methods still matter in a Pinterest world:

“A link must fulfill its promise to deliver content relevant to anchor. In other words, if the pinned image does not live up to the expectations of the user, then that link falls flat, or worse yet, the user bounces.”

The lesson: Use social mediums as a way to enhance SEO and conversions, not as a solo endeavor. And don’t forget how SEO methodologies can enhance social media marketing, too.

Focusing on User Experience

A factor that has always been important in SEO is ensuring a site is set up for the user experience. What’s good for the user is good for Google is good for a website. Things like server response time are an important part of prepping a site for success. Search engines like Google will favor sites that provide an efficient experience for users.

The many technical aspects of SEO are other facets that are likely to be important for a long time to come. This includes employing robots.txt file, ensuring a website’s IP is not in a bad neighborhood, creating custom 404 pages, implementing 301 redirects as appropriate, choosing an appropriate domain name and on and on. And don’t forget about important elements like SEO-friendly content management systems, too. This is just a small sample of all the technical behind-the-scenes details that work in tandem with the search engines to raise the quality of a website.

Quality content has seen a boost in importance and the definition has evolved since Google’s Panda algorithm update, but content has always been king in SEO. Over the years, the level of quality that’s expected has grown, but the goal is, again, user experience.

There are countless other tactics that fit into the discipline we call SEO, that it’s hard to imagine that all those aspects of Web marketing will cease to exist. Which brings us to the next question: Will SEO simply be folded into another discipline? Anything is possible. But, it seems the more realistic route is that SEOs will continue to add value to organizations as long as they have a solid background in the foundations of SEO and a good understanding of the other disciplines and how they all work together.

Powerful Search Marketing Teams Will Always Include the SEO

It’s true, the industry has become more sophisticated to allow for more disciplines that seem to become more complicated to perform each day. This is why a powerful search marketing team is comprised of very focused skill sets and team members who each understand the other team member’s discipline, and how it fits in with theirs.

Keep in mind that while all the Internet marketing disciplines are important, there are still many small businesses without a website, and many other enterprises that haven’t invested in SEO yet or are barely getting started. That said, SEO is currently a cornerstone for any healthy Web marketing plan.

The need for technical-minded SEOs will never go away. But it’s important for those professionals to supplement their skill set with an understanding of search marketing as a whole. And while many people may rush to become a Jack- or Jane-of-All-Trades, this can potentially be counterproductive.

A team of search marketers, each with their own area of expertise, plus an understanding of all the other disciplines is a powerhouse. Working together, holistic goals can be obtained, informed decisions can be made, and each person can focus on what they do best. SEOs should always have a place on a team such as this.

On the topic of SEO as a discipline and skill set, Bruce Clay had this to say: “User satisfaction, site performance, content relevance – as SEOs this is our job. Understanding the objective of the user community is our job – whether it’s the community of a site, a blog or a social network.”

He adds, “The job of the SEO is to market a business in a way that satisfies the searcher – and I don’t think a lot of people look at SEO that way. We, as SEOs, have to figure out how to balance the objectives of the business and the end user. And yes, SEO is far more competitive these days. Where it used to take amateurs to be successful, it now takes professionals.”

When asked if SEO as a discipline will survive the evolution of search marketing, Bruce replied:

“At what point can we say ‘this is what search is’ and clearly define how it works? Until we can say that, the job of the SEO is never done.”


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