SEO is a combination of technical work at the site code level, content management at the editorial level and usability work, often spanning both of the first two areas. It’s the basic work that needs to be done today. Table stakes, if you will. You cannot sit at the poker table without putting money on that same table.
So, SEO is foundational work sites need to engage in – that’s been clear for a while.
But as the engines get smarter with and about signals, and as new, trustworthy signals are grown and adopted, the SEO of yore becomes a bit less relevant. No one really cried when we all walked away from <meta keyword> tags after they were inundated with spam. No one cried when keyword density became a passé topic, largely covered up in the then somewhat novel approach of “making quality content”.
And so it goes with what most people think of as SEO. As the Internet matures, as semantic language markup adoption increases, as new partnerships around data are formed, things change. While many fear change, a savvy SEO knows change is always just a day away, and they’re ready to learn the new, arcane and relevant tactics that work moving forward. Even if those tactics aren’t strictly SEO anymore.
So, while SEO isn’t likely the “future” as it was, say a decade ago, it’s still relevant.
In the history of marketing, every new tactic was met with cries of “The Future is Here” and “This Will Doom Us All”. SEO had that period of time as well. I like to think that it weathered the naysayers quite well, proving to be a viable long-term tactic. As with all those things that came before it, however, it is but a single tactic.
An SEO may have work and responsibilities beyond SEO, often edging into social, usability, content, code, design, etc. But, SEO as a tactic will remain seen as a largely singular focus area. A solid tactic, to be employed if you even hope to be on equal footing with your competition, but still a single tactic. One arrow in the quiver to be chosen as needed, for a specific goal.
What does this mean?
Largely it means that folks covering more than just SEO will be in greater demand, and those focused solely on SEO may want to consider doing more in a broader range of areas. Yes, this may be limited by your company’s goals, budgets and planning, but nothing stops you from building your position of thought leadership within your company, across more areas than just SEO.
Mostly what it means is that if a business is singularly focused (we’ll focus mainly on SEO this year, and focus on social later), you could be falling behind and not realize it. Success today, as in the past, is measured by the results of a combined effort. SEO, paid search, social media, usability investments, customer service, print media, PR, partnerships, sponsorships, etc. All, when well executed in a thoughtful fashion, can push you higher than any one area ever possibly could. Most businesses will say they perform across all those fields, but it’s actually rarer than you think. Doing something isn’t the same as doing something well.
In the future SEO will be seen in the same basket of marketing tactics as TV, print, radio, social media, billboards and so on – just another tool to use (we’re pretty much already at this stage in many large companies). It won’t even seem that novel anymore, but it will remain a skill that’s in demand to varying degrees.
What will be important, today and moving forward, is embracing the mix, getting the mix right and repeating that success using these newer tactics. For a business to really achieve success, they have to look beyond the search engine and set their sights firmly on impressing the customer. If you attract their attention, we’ll follow. If we’re not showing you the love you think you deserve, maybe it’s time to do some real-world testing to see if you’re impressing customers as much as you think you are. And if you are, then you should ask why your customers aren’t compelled to share that love.
When that customer gets up in the morning and goes online, it’s with a goal. If your goal is to build the best optimized site then you’re misaligned. If your goal is to provide that customer with exactly what they seek, and maybe a bit more they hadn’t expected, but find very useful, then you’ll be successful. Those are the stand outs. Those are the sites that customers can’t wait to tell friends about. Those are the ones they share, link to and talk about.
Where is the future?
Mobile, wearables, in-home devices, automobiles. Anywhere a sensor can exist to collect data about you, an individual, that can be shared back to glean some tidbit of information about you that can help a marketer more effectively target you. That’s the future. The difference today is that all of this technology exists, or is on the threshold of being released in improved ways. Almost none of what’s happening in these areas is actually SEO work. But, an SEO may be ideally suited to take on work in these new areas to influence the success of a business. Want to show up on the nav unit in my car’s dashboard? Better get your local listing data optimized and submitted to the right databases. And while “local” isn’t “SEO”, so many SEOs manage that work, too.
SEO might not be the future, but your past in SEO has prepared you for the coming changes. Set your sights a bit higher than optimizing H1 tags. Your business will thank you for it.
Sr. Product Manager