The death of SEO is a topic that’s been batted around for years but is 2021 the year SEO, an industry with a history dating back more than 25 years, finally kicks the bucket?
TikTok, digital PR, voice search – new terms have been coined and new social networks have popped up in the past few years. As industry experts take a look back over the past year and forecast trends for the coming year, the inevitable question comes up time and time again: “Is SEO dead this year?”
The answer, of course, is no. SEO is not dead.
If you’re a business reading this article because you’re wondering whether to invest your hard-earned cash in SEO, is it still a viable marketing strategy for 2021, or whether to spend it more wisely elsewhere, read on.
The History of SEO & Organic Search
How We Got Here
How did we get to a place where we need to contemplate the mortality of SEO? To answer that question, let’s rewind back to 2010.
On May 25, 2010, a website called, “SEO is dead” hit the hot sheets. The author posted it as a drunken rant about the supposed death of SEO by a supposed SEO expert.
In internet years, 18 years ago was an eternity. The state of Google at that time was nowhere near the capability of what Google is today.
Back in the golden age of search, a lot of black hat SEOs — meaning SEO specialists who would try to game a search engine — used shady techniques like adding keyword-rich text at the bottom of a page and then making the text of the page the same color as the background. You really couldn’t see it, but the search engines would find the text on the page anyway. The sad part of that story is that it used to work.
Another tool in their bag of tricks was to buy backlinks from nefarious sources and point hundreds, if not thousands, of backlinks to it. Again, strike two for Google because the algorithm couldn’t understand that these were unnatural links.
The Birth of Modern SEO
Google knew the fact that these shortcuts worked — and were widely used by marketers to make their content rank higher — was a big problem.
So, being the forward-thinking engineers they are, they wrote code to try to circumvent these ne’er-do-wells and their sneaky strategies. All of a sudden, we had algorithms named after cute, furry animals like pandas and penguins, and some feathered friends like hummingbirds.
When these black hat techniques stopped working, SEO specialists and marketers had to a find a way to rank their websites using different techniques. In one sense, this was the very first example of the death of SEO, and the resurgence of something completely new and exciting.
The fundamental truth about the death of SEO is that it does die and reincarnate in different forms.
We’re going to try to explain what these iterations are and what we do about them every time we see a massive change. Needless to say, those of us who live and breathe SEO live in a constant state of change and struggle.
You could spend months working on an SEO feature only to wake up in the morning, grab your fresh cup of espresso, and find out that all of those months of hard work evaporated like the money in my bank account every weekend.
So, we slurp down our coffee, crank open our weathered keyboards, and start keyword researching again.
We beat ourselves over the head with a hammer and continue to work on valuable content that’s search engine optimized, because the efforts — when done correctly — are dramatic.
2 Outdated SEO Techniques
Not all of SEO is in the grave, but there are several practices that aren’t reliable anymore. Outdated SEO techniques can cause rankings to drop and traffic to plummet.
Google has picked up on shady tactics and honed their ranking factors over the years. They’re better than ever at promoting helpful content, which means SEO experts have to take a new approach in some cases.
Here are the SEO techniques that have lagged behind and can hurt your campaign.
- Getting backlinks at all costs
Backlinks were originally a cornerstone of top rankings. Search engines placed immense importance on backlinks (when websites link to your pages). In the past, generating a large store of backlinks could skyrocket your site to a page one spot.
However, Google now heavily monitors for link schemes like overdoing link exchanges and flooding directory or bookmark sites. If you simply compile as many links as possible, it’s not a productive strategy to gain the good graces of search engines.
Links are invaluable to SEO — but 2020 SEO requires credible link building on authoritative sites.
Your link building needs to aim for relevant, fitting placements, which might cause your backlinking efforts to scale back and concentrate closely on industry powerhouses and big-name websites.
The sites you want to get backlinks from should have substantial volumes of organic traffic and provide value to visitors.
- Focusing on content quantity over quality
It makes sense to spread out your reach and target keywords with regular posts, but the level of attention you give to them is significant. It’s common to crank out subpar content and hope for decent rankings, but low-quality content doesn’t cut it on the current search engine landscape.
Thin content — content that hasn’t fully addressed a topic — ranks poorly and causes you to have low dwell time. Google wants content that adds value and extends knowledge about subjects, so it’s a good idea to accommodate with comprehensive content.
Thorough, helpful content takes time and effort to develop, and it’s the only way to keep long-term SEO success. In-depth material is what Google prioritizes so it can deliver accurate material to users and satisfy them throughout the search experience.
Is SEO Still Relevant in 2021?
Changing user behavior has led to the overhaul of optimization techniques over the years. The following are a few of the biggest transformations in the field:
- Increased Mobile Search
A breakthrough in the number of people using handsets or mobile devices made Google move towards ‘mobile-first indexing’. This means that Google will consider the mobile version of a website’s content for indexing and ranking it.
- Rich Snippets
Introduced by Google in May 2009, rich snippets have helped users find a lot of information on the SERP (search engine results page) itself, without having to visit any sites . This information may include, ratings, votes, read time, calories, etc.
- Google AI Algorithms like RankBrain
RankBrain is a machine learning based search algorithm which helps Google process search queries and provide more relevant, contextual results to users, based on the intent of search.
- Featured Snippets
A featured snippet is an information box that shows up above the organic search results of an SERP. It contains the precise answer to a user’s search query. The featured snippet may also be shown in response to voice queries.
- Voice Search
Voice assistants have improved a lot since their inception. Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana have come a long way and have successfully intrigued users into using them. This has resulted into a steady increase in the number of voice search queries. Remember that long-tail keywords are the key to success if you wish to optimize for voice search.
Conclusion – How Can a Small Business Ranks on Google?
It can be difficult to get links to your content as a small business. But as Google puts more emphasis on content quality and relevance, small businesses have an opportunity to rank on keywords just by creating valuable content.
Whether you use a tool like SEMrush, or try to cobble together keywords from other free tools and guesses, start by putting that keyword into Google.
You should get 10 links to 10 pieces of content.
Read them all.
Seriously—don’t skip this step. It doesn’t take that long.
Seeing what you’re competing with gives you a sense of what you need to write, and spurs new ideas. This is an underrated step that will give you an edge.
Then ask yourself: “can I do this better?”
Look at your competitor’s content and run through some questions:
- Is any point they make unclear? Are there places that are vague or need more explanation?
- Are there points that you think are important, but are missing entirely from the piece? Are there questions this content doesn’t answer?
- Is this content that you would absolutely love to find, because it gives you actionable steps to solve your problems?
For the vast, vast majority of keywords, I would bet that the top-ranking content could be improved.
If you can make that improvement—create what’s truly the best page on the internet for your topic—you’ll see that SEO is very much alive!
sources: coredna, searchenginewatch, impactbnd, forbes, jeffbullas, jivochat, webfx, searchenginejournal, activecampaign, yeah-local, fatrank