The Death of SEO: Fact or Fiction?
Last month, Sean Jackson prophesied the death of SEO. In its place, he espoused a new term, something he calls OC/DC.
Yes, SEO is officially dead. Not the practice, but the term.
While one shouldn’t push the connection too far, Jackson’s declaration is like Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous indictment of nineteenth century religion:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
Nietzsche may seem a little quick to declare the death of God, for religions still practice their beliefs. But what Nietzsche meant, and what Jackson means, is not the death of a practice, but the death of an institution.
Both thinkers declare this death, not because they hate what the institution stands for, but because its practices have become lifeless. For Nietzsche, crude religious dogma and scientific methods crushed the blood and love of religious life. God, then, was dead. Though Jackson speaks not of religion, his intention is like Nietzsche’s: SEO has lost its life, its personality, its content. SEO, as a term, has died.
But not everyone is as certain as Jackson.
“SID,” a supposed “SEO expert,” begs to differ. In fact, he begs to differ everyday. Just look at his website—ironically titled “SEO is dead”—and you will quickly see what I mean. The date is code-generated, so it will always read, “So, it’s [today’s date] and SEO is dead…again…” The website is, essentially, a one page yell against anyone espousing the “cliché” of SEO’s death.
So what’s going on? Is SEO dead, or are we just hallucinating?
To answer this, let’s compare some voices, particularly SID and Jackson. I have two purposes for this. For one, I want to bring together multiple voices on SEO tactics into one medium and really get at the truth of the issue. Secondly, I want to answer two question:
Is SEO dead?
If so, does OC/DC revive it?
Who is this Article For? Not the Scholar.
While I don’t want to expand my purpose too far, I don’t want to exclude anyone from my audience. I’m not here to write to SEO scholars and marketing gurus. I’m here to write to those in the trenches, in the heat, in the practice of marketing to a business.This article will, hopefully, reach the executives, owners, managers, employees of multi-unit businesses, and anyone else involved in the marketing of a local shop.
Thus, as you read this, constantly ask the question of practicality: does OC/DC sound like something I can do with my multi-unit business? SEO only dies when its practice becomes ghostlike, like a Windows 95 program or a VCR. Thus, once multi-unit businesses—online and off—start practicing OC/DC, then, and only then, can it replace SEO.
What’s Wrong with SEO? Three reasons.
Let’s start with Sean Jackson. Jackson is the CFO and Partner in Copyblogger Media. His article “SEO is Dead: Optimizing Content for Discovery & Conversion” makes some important arguments on web culture. In short, his argument rests on two assumptions leading to his conclusion:
- For a content marketing strategy to be successful, it must optimize content for all web channels, not just search engines.
- SEO implies optimizing content for search engines only.
- Therefore, to broaden the limitations implied by “SEO,” we need a new term, OC/DC, that encompasses all web channels.
Now this may sound like an argument over semantics. And in some ways it is. But Jackson gives three good reasons for the shift in terms.
1. SEO is too spammy.
At the beginning of the article, Jackson admits his prejudice.
I really hate the term SEO…for the past two years I have felt that the entire concept of SEO, while an important part of online marketing, had a very ‘spammy’ connotation.
He then elaborates by referring to the “Rap Genius” case, where Google caught this website using dishonest link schemes to boost their web traffic. A case like this, and plenty exist, give SEO a bad name, a spammy connotation, a negative vibe. So part of Jackson’s’ mission is to replace SEO with a word less loaded with potential misunderstanding.
Of course, this begs the question: even if he creates a term less spammy, won’t that term be susceptible to the same abuse and disuse as SEO? Won’t that term just degenerate as well?
Jackson never addresses this question. But he does try to avoid it. The term to supplant SEO is OC/DC, a word that is more general and sounds pretty cool at the same time. OC/DC stands for “Optimizing Content for Discovery and Conversion,” a term that encompasses all modes of content distribution, unlike SEO, which brings us to Jackson’s second point.
2. SEO is too limiting.
In his article, Jackson uses two senses for the word “SEO.”
The first sense is the spammy one described above. I call this “SEO in the public mind,” for in this sense, SEO is misunderstood by most.
The second sense is the actual practice of good SEO tactics. For Jackson, the practice of good SEO tactics ruptures the direct meaning of “Search Engine Optimization.”
The problem is that the terms themselves—SEO and search optimization—are used when discussing what is actually the broader strategy of content marketing.
In other words, SEO is too limiting a term. It fails to describe the broader resourcefulness associated with a good SEO strategy. It’s as if NASA began exploring the ocean in addition to space: the term NASA, then, (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) would fail to convey the broader meaning of sea and space.
Again, this is not just semantics. For the noob who is unfamiliar with the broader content marketing, SEO may restrict his strategy. Instead of designing content for many outputs, he uses just one, namely, search engines. Instead of exploring creative avenues for content generation, he focuses on just keywords and Google searches.
The mention of content brings us to Jackson’s last point, which I think is the most important: OC/DC redeems content.
3. SEO experts generate some pretty crappy content.
Now, I have to admit. This is partly my prejudice here. But Jackson implies this when he says:
The real rock stars of search engine optimization have always known that it took a lot more than just getting the top result in Google to measure the success of their work.
When you focus on SEO, you write content for the search engine. Now, in some ways, all content writers care about search engines. I mean, if no one reads our content, then, technically, the words disappear in the air, the thoughts go unnoticed, the articles fail to exist.
But writers too focused on SEO poop out some pretty terrible stuff. Keyword laden, the content fails to make a point. Filled with jargon, the main ideas get stuck in the article’s self-induced wilderness.
The real content kings are the wizards of words who wield their pens and pencils in metaphors, fresh imagery, and the purest of thoughts. They are the legislators of the web, for what they write becomes what is read, followed, rejected, appealed, hated, liked, Tweeted, shared. As many writers have said before me, we write for people, not for machines.
Search spiders do not care about the spirit of the content they discover, only that the content exists. Thus, if not dead, SEO can certainly deaden the spirit of the writer.
So what will replace SEO? OC/DC.
If SEO is dead, lifeless, mechanical, Jackson think OC/DC can redeem its practice.
OC/DC adequately addresses the problems posed by the term SEO:
1. OC/DC is far less spammy than SEO. Indeed, as a new term, we can pretty much do whatever with it.
2. OC/DC is less restrictive, too. As its name means “Optimizing Content for Discovery and Conversion,” OC/DC means optimizing the content itself and not a search engine.
3. Again, OC/DC focuses on the content. While not a sure funnel for good writing, Jackson’s term renews the purpose of the content marketer: to be a content king.
Jackson’s new term defines itself: optimizing content for discovery and conversion.
“Content for Discovery and Conversion” or “OC/DC” for short, encapsulates this idea of amplifying the overall reach and results of content creation.
Of course, like SEO, OC/DC is a marketing method, a way of getting attention for something you write. But, unlike SEO, OC/DC expands the method of external optimization, or making your content accessible through multiple mediums. So, with OC/DC, you market not just through Google but also social media, blogs, Slideshare.net, among others.
In addition, Jackson includes on site optimization. This ranges from improving load times, the practicality of content, the design of the website, and the calls to conversion.
Again, OC/DC is content marketing with an emphasis on content rather than pure marketing.
Are we Declaring SEO’s Death Too Soon?
Jackson doesn’t like SEO because of its spammy associations and semantic limitations. But SID—a pseudonym that obviously stands for “SEO is Dead”—begs to differ.
So, it’s April 28th, 2014 and SEO is dead… again… One of the oldest clichés on the internet, SEO begin dead is about as old as search engine optimization.
SID’s main point is that if Google exists, SEO must exist, as well.
The reality is that SEO is incredibly basic. Take the standard on-page factors—you know all that cliché crap like title tags, H tags, alt attributes, good keyword choices, properly keyword-laden content, etc, and align them with your off-page efforts, and voila—you’re ranking. This should be incorporated into any basic web designer or web development team’s plan these days.
To SID, SEO is not an option. It’s there, inherent in all our content marketing strategies. If you put content on the web, you are engaging in SEO. Of course, some people apply better SEO tactics than others. But nonetheless SEO is very much alive.
In Forbes‘ article, titled “Is SEO Dead?,” VURO’s marketing CEO, Sam McRoberts, says something similar: “SEO, the art of making content more accessible and understandable to search engines, will exist and thrive for as long as search engines exist.”
So why do so many declare the death of SEO? Easy. Whenever Google updates its search engines, people talk. People speculate. People gossip. “Hummingbird is going to do away with SEO tactics.” “Google is finally cracking down on SEO.” SID makes this note of this, too, but for him, these updates do not eradicate SEO. Rather, they funnel out bad SEO tactics and highlight the good ones. (For a good article on these updates, check out Eric Enge’s “6 Major Google Change Reveal the Future of SEO.”)
The reason people want to abandon SEO, SID says, is that they are not committed to the difficulties and stress inherent in proper SEO tactics. These people replace SEO with “Twitter” and other social media platforms, because they find social media easier to market through. In one of my favorite sentences in the article, SID says:
These mindless zombies are just tweeting and retweeting their faces off and no one is listening. No one gives a crap.
In other words, no matter how much you Tweet, social media cannot replace SEO. SEO is, indeed, alive and well.
The Dividing Line: Is SID that much different than Jackson?
In SID’s article, he says something revealing:
Do off-page efforts count as SEO? SEO is supposed to be about optimizing your website for the search engines, right? Sure, in 1997. These days it’s an all encompassing process of getting your website ranked. This includes the process of getting backlinks using means that are whitehat, blackhat and everything in between.
SEO is an all-encompassing process. Ring any bells? Yes. This sounds like Jackson’s argument: good SEO tactics are not limited to search engine optimization but internet optimization. Indeed, on a closer look, both SID and Jackson argue for the same thing, despite their apparent contradictory conclusions.
Let’s state this similarity in simple terms.
SID concludes that SEO is not dead because its inherent to the internet. But he also believes SEO is expanding in its application. Instead of just search engine optimization, optimizing a website includes off-page efforts, as well.
Jackson concludes that SEO is dead, because its applications have burst through the word. SEO does not mean just search engine optimization anymore. It means off-page and on-page optimization.
So both Jackson and SID agree in this way: the practice of optimizing a website for discovery has expanded beyond search engine optimization. For Jackson, this led him to replace SEO with OC/DC, while SID was simply okay with using SEO to cover the broader applications of OC/DC.
So which is it: OC/DC or SEO?
As I said before, I really like the term OC/DC. OC/DC makes sense: optimize your content so people discover your website and convert them into returning customers. But I don’t think we should expunge SEO forever. As SID and Mc Roberts point out, SEO is with us as long as search engines are with us, despite Google’s updates.
Thus, instead of replacing SEO with OC/DC, perhaps we should speak of SEO as one lens on the broader marketing division of OC/DC.
Now, let’s return to the content itself. As Jackson implies, OC/DC beckons for good content. Optimizing content for the search engines does not automatically make the content good. Content is king when content is readable, enjoyable, lively, and searchable, in other words, when content is optimized for discovery and conversion. As SID says, we shouldn’t make our content in “sweatshops,” popping out articles for machines and such.
If we are to make good content, then, we’ve got to make content real to people. And to make it real, we must know our environments, our localities, our customers, friends, and city. The content king will return wherever the content is good.