As SEOs and their clients alike invest a significant amount of time and energy keeping up with the best practices of this modern facet of marketing, they may begin to wonder how much long-term value this investment has. SEO is not only a very new field of marketing, but is also rapidly evolving. This could bring to mind the image of a bright flame that quickly burns itself out.
Will it lose its value? Or perhaps be replaced by some sleeker and shinier alternative as tech falling stars are wont to do?
While these concerns are understandable, there is not a good chance that SEO is going anywhere anytime soon — or less soon. First of all, while it is technically a new form of marketing, it utilizes tried-and-true best practices of marketing at its core, such as brand building and reputation management. Additionally, by looking at some key moments of SEO’s short biography, we can find some clues as to its probable longevity.
How Did SEO Start?
There is some contention about what should be considered the birth of SEO, as organic marketing can be approached in a wide variety of ways. As such, virtually any effort to organically improve visibility on a search engine could be considered SEO. That being said, just the choice to have your website indexed immediately following the creation of search engines could be considered the earliest form of SEO.
However, many consider the rising use of online directories during the late nineties to be the official “birth” of SEO. These efforts demonstrate a slightly more sophisticated approach to building visibility online. Accordingly, the first use of the term “search engine optimization” is credited to Bruce Clay, who used the term to describe his company's services in 1997.
What Is the Relationship Between Search Engines and SEO?
Because search engines like Google often update their algorithms and are notoriously tight-lipped about the specifics of these updates, it is easy to think that these companies are in some way leery of or even hostile to SEO. However, it is important to keep in mind that search engines are invested in serving high-quality search results to users, and SEOs generate a lot of high-quality content to serve a wide range of niche interests. In this way, search engines and SEO have a highly symbiotic relationship.
However, some more unscrupulous actors sometimes want to game search engine systems for quick profits. These efforts can choke the search engine with shallow, unsecured content that is detrimental to the search engine’s function and reputation. As a result, search engines have found it necessary to increase the complexity of their algorithms and keep some of the details close to the chest.
While white hat SEOs do utilize any information about the algorithm they can to inform their efforts, they ultimately fall back on basic best practices, such as the creation of helpful, high-quality content. Furthermore, Google does regularly release some key information about algorithm updates, indicating that they do not want to rebuff anyone interested in SEO efforts. Rather, it is a tricky but necessary part of their job to encourage allies and discourage bad actors.
How Has SEO Changed
As mentioned, search engines have adjusted their algorithm many times over by necessity. In addition to addressing bugs and finding opportunities for innovation, it has been necessary to confound and discourage black hat SEOs. For example, the more popular and sophisticated search engines no longer use keyword density as a ranking factor, as it led to the rise of spammy, thin content that was packed to the brim with the same repetitive wording. As search engines updated their algorithms to avoid this problem with efforts such as the 2011 Panda update, SEOs have had to adjust their game plans accordingly.
Following updates to reduce reliance on keyword density, white hat SEOs began to lean into building comprehensive, high-quality content, as shallow and gimmicky pages quickly lost value. Additionally, the reduction of keyword value shifted focus to the importance of building linkable content, as it provided a way to algorithmically demonstrate the website’s value through link building efforts.
Finally, a recent trend in the evolution of SEO is the focus on mobile optimization. People are increasingly using mobile devices to discover and locate businesses. As such, it is more and more important for SEOs to ensure that content is easily accessible on mobile devices. Accordingly, there has been a greater focus on optimization for local interests as many people will now use their mobile devices for quick discovery of local businesses as they need them.
How Is SEO Expected to Change?
None of us have a crystal ball so it is impossible to know exactly how search engines will develop and how SEOs will adjust their strategies to accommodate these changes. However, we can make some educated guesses based on trends related to public interest and demand.
For example, it may be fairly safe to assume that voice search optimization will become increasingly useful and popular. This is because there is a growing public interest in hands-free device navigation, as well as growing demand for accessibility accommodations. Meanwhile, on the other hand, it is unlikely that the basic building blocks of SEO such as the need for high-quality blog content are going anywhere soon.
Are There Alternatives for Online Organic Marketing?
Paid marketing is the most obvious alternative to organic marketing. While technically a business could engage with paid marketing alone, it is not advisable. It is both more costly (as the name implies) and less sustainable.
A major advantage of organic marketing is that it slowly builds a strong foundation for your website and related content that can permanently and dynamically improve visibility in the online space. While paid marketing can offer some long-term benefits through means such as building brand awareness, it is ultimately built more for drawing traffic in the short term.
Furthermore, organic marketing constitutes a wide variety of more specific forms of online marketing efforts. If you were to view the issue in terms of more traditional marketing efforts, the choice to ignore organic marketing is like choosing to forego producing a newsletter, encouraging word-of-mouth marketing, building your reputation, and a range of other marketing efforts. It would be inadvisable to ignore all of these various opportunities in favor of billboards and newspaper ads alone.
Unexpected Ways That SEO Is Used
Furthermore, SEO is used for purposes that may be completely off the average SEO’s expectation or radar. For example, SEO is commonly used by webmasters of unindexed content. On its face, this doesn’t make any sense, as the basic purpose of SEO is to improve a website’s visibility within a search engine. It’s in the name.
However, it is possible to increase the visibility of a website using SEO, even if the website itself isn’t indexed. This usage of SEO takes us back to its beginnings with efforts to increase visibility through directories. Some unindexed websites have similarly used directories and forums to increase awareness for their websites. Additionally, they may create companion websites that similarly serve as a hub to drive traffic to their unindexed website. A notable example of this approach was the growth of the Silk Road, an online black market.
With this in mind, it is important not to underestimate the versatility of SEO as a marketing tool. In many ways, the marketing possibilities that it offers are only limited by the marketer’s creativity. As such, SEO is poised for long-term relevance not only based on its continued value in typical online spaces, but also because of its flexibility as a practice.