I’ve been working in the Search engine optimization business for over seven years now. And while it is not a complicated business, I am amazed at how much it has continued to grow and also, how often I have heard the phrase “SEO is dead.” Let me say a bunch of things about that.
First, some history…
When I went to my first Search Engine Strategies conference in Toronto in 2005, the Keynote Speaker was Danny Sullivan. He talked about how he was one of the first people to take search seriously. He was critical to the organization of many of the first SES conferences and he was told as early as the late 1990’s that “search engine optimization probably has about three to five years.” Well, by then it was already eight or more years later, he noted, and the crowd at that conference was the biggest yet, as were crowds at all conferences. That was over five years ago. In 2007, Jakob Nielsen said, “I am pessimistic about the long-term prospects for SEO jobs…. but maybe I am wrong.”
And then there’s the old saw, “SEO is dead.” An extremely prophetic fellow from 2008 gets number one ranking for a search for the phrase; according to his post, the industry will be dead by November of this year (right after the rapture?) Recently this other prophet said it again. When Google Caffeine was announced, other (in this case, remarkably badly informed) soothsayers said that this was ‘it’ for SEO; ditto for this year’s Panda I’m sure, although I may have grown blind to seeing the phrase by now, so I don’t remember seeing it in print anywhere. Clickz published this “SEO is Dead” post in 2007 and then went on to proclaim the value of SEO in another article, three years later. The latter article (predictably perhaps) generated more comments, interest and agreement.
Every one of these sage prophets of doom (like all prophets of doom, we might add) has been dead wrong. (Of course, though, being wrong is no reason to stop saying the very same thing again.)
Is SEO here to stay?
In early 2010, SEMPO announced that companies predicted an SEO spend of 14% increase over what they’d spent in 2009 (long after SEO should have been long dead).
And later in the year, Rand Fishkin released details of his 2010 survey of the industry. The reason it was a bit late was because he got more responses than he ever bargained for. The industry was growing much more than even he realized. One survey question discussed spending and survey results told that even in the US (where outsourcing and a weakened economy should have taken a big bite out of the market), over 70% of respondents indicated an increase in demand for SEO services.
All forecasts for the year 2011 show that search engine optimization and search marketing budgets rule the day for any company serious about getting found on the web. Budgets for SEO (and its close sister SEM) are growing and show no signs whatsoever of slowing down. SEMPO predicts that 2011’s increase over 2010 will be greater again – not just in money but in percentage of growth (16% this time).
In other words, the search engine marketing and search engine optimization industries are still vectoring! After all this time. So where, O death is now thy sting?
Like Rock and Roll, SEO will never die. And here’s why.
All of this reminds me of a feature article I wrote in graduate school about rock and roll music. In the essay I discussed how rock music had been declared ‘dead’ throughout its history (by Don McLean, by The Who and by a lot of other people no one should remember, including Lenny Kravitz). But like Neil Young rebutted, rock and roll will never die. I argued that the reason for this is simple. It’s because the idea is timeless: rebellion, anger, and crashing away on drums and guitars will never, ever go out of vogue permanently. It might change, it might go through some valleys but by the nature of the beast, there will always be a way to renew it. It’s not necessarily tied to a form but to an idea with staying power.
The same holds true for SEO.
Why? Simple: because search will always be done by machines, based on algorithms and there will always be a gap in the logic of the algorithm. And if we’ve learned anything from the Terminator movies, the Matrix and every other movie that explores the Frankenstein complex it is that people are more resilient and adaptable than machines. There will always be a way to game search results for profit. And of course if you didn’t know this, search is never going to go away, either, because people will always be looking for new information.
And when they do they will use a machine that is using an algorithm to search for that information and that algorithm will give privilege to certain qualities of the information and someone somewhere will be gaming that algorithm in order to be seen as the source for that information… because there will be money in it.
And I’ll bet that 20 years from now… 30, 40, 50 years from now, people will be listening to rock music as they use a search engine (I’ll even bet Google, in some form), and someone somewhere will be listening to Neil Young as they do so, and they will be singing along “…There’s more to the picture than meets the eye…”