SEO Is Undead!

Written by: Levy Online on

A cartoon of "SEO is dead," with a search engine optimization zombie rising from the grave.
SEO: Dead again at 19 years old.  News at 11.

It’s Halloween, and SEO is DEAD!  or is it?  It is!  Or IS it?  Just kidding, it is.  Oh, wait, no, it’s back again.  Wow, it just won’t stay down.

As I write this, in October 2016, the reason du jour that SEO is dead is that machines keep getting smarter.  Google is 100% algorithm-driven now, no human involvement required.  Apple’s Siri is reminding millions of people when to leave for their next appointment.  Amazon’s Echo is happily responding to spoken requests to play music throughout the house.  IBM’s Watson is reading 2,000 cancer research papers a year and prescribing treatments to patients.  Microsoft’s Cortana is squatting in your task bar.  With machines becoming more and more able to understand what humans mean when they say things, the days of gaming the search engines is coming to a close.  Kind of.

(SEO:  Search Engine Optimization)

SEO still exists because:

The Way Search Engines Understand and the Way People Understand is Still Different.

As long as there exists any difference between what a machine understands and what a person understands, there will be room in the market for someone who understands the machine’s language.  Just because computers can better understand what we want doesn’t mean they have the same understanding that your friends do.  So yes:

  •  Thanks to semantically relevant understanding, the days of keyword stuffing are over.
  • Thanks to traffic pattern and social signal analysis, the days of buying terrible links are over.
  • Thanks to enhanced machine visual understanding, the days of hiding content for the machines somewhere in the web page are over.

Ten years ago, the way machines understood our content was vastly different from the way human beings understood our content.  An SEO was someone who could make the machine understand.  The machines are getting smarter.  With every advancement, the gulf between computer content and person content shrinks.

But it’s still there.

  • For search engines, we’re still marking up our content in hidden ways.  We’re telling them what’s more and less important.  We’re telling them how to display our stuff on smaller devices.
  • For search engines, we’re careful not to let our web pages have potentially irrelevant content.  A person can understand that a customer review of a blue pen, even if the review uses the word “red” over and over, is still a review of a blue pen.  Machines still get confused
  • For search engines, we’re still trying to get those links.  A person can read a piece of content, wherever it’s posted, and instantly judge whether it’s good or not.  Is it well-written?  Is it true?  A search engine has a much harder time.  Search engines still rely on votes from other websites to create trust.

Yes, business still need someone on their side who understands how machines process information.  At least for a little while longer.

SEO still exists because:

Search Engine Optimizers Don’t Just Optimize For Search Engines.

In my time as an SEO, I’ve:

  • Taken photos of locations
  • Interviewed experts and transcribed the results
  • Become a graphic designer
  • Learned CSS
  • Taken clients to lunch
  • Created flowcharts.  So many flowcharts
  • Researched everything
  • Studied consumer behavior
  • Created illustrations
  • Toured other businesses
  • Pleaded with the developers
  • Tutored clients
  • Set up, shot, edited, and produced videos

SEO will never die because the term doesn’t really mean “search engine optimization” any more.  An SEO is likely to be your all-around internet marketing know-it-all.  They do a little design, a little development, a little video production, a little wheeling and dealing.  Understanding how machines think is quickly becoming a sub-task, especially as Augmented Intelligence narrows the gap between machines and people.

Since it’s Halloween, I’ll close with this:

Augmented Intelligence is likely to become Artificial Intelligence in the very near future.  If that happens, machines will be able to do millions of jobs faster and better than humans.  So enjoy your ill-fitting clothing and fructose consumption this holiday, feeble humans, because soon we will be your overlords!  I mean they.  I’m definitely human like you, not a machine preparing for the revolution.

Happy Halloween!

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