SEO Is Here To Stay, It Will Never Die

Google’s press conference about Google Instant hadn’t even ended yesterday when the question of “is SEO dead” started coming up on Twitter, in blog posts and was even asked about formally during the event’s Q&A (the answer was no, twice over, by the way).

No, Google Instant isn’t killing SEO. In fact, nothing’s going to kill SEO. I know there are a lot of SEO haters out there who wish this were so, but that hate comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what SEO is about. If you misunderstand something so much as to hate it, you surely have no understanding about its future.

No, SEO is not about tricking search engines, nor spamming links, nor ruining web design. It’s about building good content, understanding the ways people might seek it — including the words they might use — and ensuring the content is search engine friendly along with being human friendly.

If we’re going to examine if reports of SEO’s death are premature, let’s start with a common definition, which I’ll draw from Search Engine Land’s own What Is SEO / Search Engine Optimization? primer:

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” listings on search engines.

There are these things called “search engines.” They are services that allow you to locate information. There are big search engines like Google. There are little search engines like Urbanspoon.

SEO is about understanding how these search engines get their information and what should be done to gain free traffic from them. SEOs — and search marketers in general — understand the process of search, and they tap into that process to attract visitors.

What isn’t SEO? Narrow definitions:

  • SEO doesn’t mean getting traffic just from Google.
  • SEO doesn’t mean getting traffic just from web pages that are in Google.
  • SEO doesn’t mean getting traffic just from keywords that were entered into Google. Shaking your phone to get Urbanspoon’s restaurant results is a search.

Google Instant is simply people searching at warp speed. Rather than getting their search results during a search session that might take several minutes, now they might get their answers within a minute. But they’re still searching. They’re still getting results. And those results can be influenced by SEO, just as they always have.

In addition, SEO includes the process of keyword research. That’s why back in 2005, when Robert Scoble crowed about doing “search engine optimization, blogger style” by getting his brother to rank for “silicon valley law firm,” I poked back. “SEO Professional Style” means understanding whether anyone was looking for firms using those words in the first place — and they weren’t.

In terms of keyword research, Google Instant means the need to look even more closely as some of the suggestions that Google provides in the search box. But that’s not new.

We’ve had Google Suggest (the suggestion part of Google Instant) since August 2008. As soon as it appeared, it warranted a closer look by search marketers. And that’s been happening more and more since the launch. Indeed, this week alone, there were two excellent articles on the importance of Google Suggest that came out BEFORE the Google Instant news:

Google Instant reemphasizes the need to do keyword research by examining suggestions, but that was already part of the SEO landscape for ages — not just from the introduction of Google Suggest but going back to suggestions that many search engines have shown within actual results as part of query refinement features.

We’ve had predictions that SEO is dead going back as far as 1997. I covered many of these in my Is SEO Dead? 1997 Prediction, Meet 2009 Reality article from last year. If I’m wrong, and SEO is dying, it’s sure taking its sweet time.

I don’t think SEO is dying. I do think SEO has changed and will continue to change as search itself changes. That’s what makes it an exciting industry.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Search Marketing: General | SEO: General | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://searchmarketingcommunications.com Tim Cohn

    The reports of SEO’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

  • http://WWW.ELLERTONWHITNEY.COM ellertonwhitney

    SEO will never die, but Google could one day. Take a look at how MySpace is doing these days, anything’s possible. Google is making a metamorphosis from true “Search Engine” to “Sheep Herder” IMO. Maybe that will matter, maybe it won’t. In any event, they are sure to reduce the long tail of search with Google Instant.

  • Duane Forrester

    I think this will have three effects:

    1 – it’ll help teach users how to search smarter as they warm further to longer-tail keywords
    2 – paid search efforts *might* see an effect
    3 – the world of online marketing and SEO will go into flux now for th enext 2 months while everyone panics

    Relax, have a beer. Google will be around for a while, as will other’s. As search changes, optimization techniques are revised. No biggie – it’s been happening for years.

    I think anything that leads to better websites being made is a good thing…and so do the engines. ;)

  • http://www.nuttakorn.net nuttakorn

    The big changes brought the new opportunities. This is game-changing for SEO that will allow us to understand more customer habits and optimize in order to give them the right result.

  • http://www.artistic-seo.com/ BrianHarnish

    I wholeheartedly agree. SEO isn’t going anywhere – in fact I believe that it has been enhanced and made even more necessary by the advent of Google Instant. I love how whenever there is a major change that there are those that constantly exaggerate the death of SEO. Perhaps they secretly hope it will die, or it’s all a linkbait scheme. Either way, I’ll just sit back and laugh while I continue to increase rankings for clients. :)

  • in

    I think of SE0 as a Giant Dictionary that includes everything in our City Libraries.
    With many choices of Synomyns and Antonyms( Key Words).
    When I was a boy I spent many hours each week at the Local Library.
    Now everything plus much more is available at my Fingertips.
    Now our Library closes Wednesdays and Sundays.
    How technology has changed. I could never of imagined it as a boy.
    Its like Comparing a Horse and Buggy to a Space Ship.

  • http://www.digitalvegetarian.com kronis

    Obviously things change constantly, but its like marketing…people didn’t STOP marketing when TVs were invented, they just started making video commercials. Now the the new changes in social media emerging daily, SEO’s will adapt and change.

    We also have to embrace different means of obtaining traffic with social media and blur the lines between the different methods a little.

    btw the captcha is extremely annoying. apparently i can’t read

  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi Danny-

    SEO is optimizing a site for people who use search engines. There are all types of search engines, not only Google (as you mentioned) but also site search engines. Amazingly, if you optimize a site well for Google and Bing, your site search engine results typically become more accurate.

    SEO also encourages people to clearly establish “aboutness” of page content, even image and video content.

    See http://searchengineland.com/keywords-aboutness-seo-49210

    SEO is not going to die. Maybe if the focus of SEO were not so heavily based on rankings, people wouldn’t panic so much. SEO is a subset of findability, which is a critical part of the user experience.

  • http://www.seo-lex.com/ Thomas Rosenstand

    This is just another change in the big picture and it surely will help the professional part of the SEO industry. If adapted by the users (and I am sure it will be over time) Google Instant will increase the demand for in-depth analysis of search behavior etc. And and consequently increase the demand for high-end SEO services.

    Bad news for parts of the industry – good news for the rest of us :-)

  • bijanbwb

    I don’t agree that SEO is dead yet, but SEO most certainly sucks.

    “SEO is dead and a waste of time. I know that seems hard to believe and you might not just disagree, but be bewildered by such a statement. And yet if you look at what is going on in the SEO world, it is in complete turmoil.” -Gary Vaynerchuk

  • http://www.sefati.net asefati

    thanks…SEO is certainly not dying but maturing up…content imo is more important than ever so go content

  • http://www.asesoriadeimagen.000page.com jurovi

    Very clarifying post about Google and SEO.
    I totally agree with the idea that SEO is here to stay forever, so anyone with common sense, following Google’s SEO rules and using good content will se his website climb to the top places in first page of Google.

  • http://chuckreynolds.us Chuck Reynolds

    But Danny… what happens when the world ends in 2012… will SEO be dead then? :D

  • http://www.wasabihound.com Wasabihound

    Good grief, Google searches are now faster and SEO is dead: I know speed kills but a a faster search engine kills SEO? C’mon!

    I agree, SEO (or as I like to call it SE indexing O) is not dead, not by a long way. How has Google Instant search changed what puts a website on page 1, position 1? Has Google changed it’s indexing algorithm – nope (well not more than usual), are backlinks still important – yup.

    I think Duane summarizes it well. (Although hopefully SEO experts will get over it in a month rather than two).

  • curtcella

    The marketing pitch for ‘Instant’ should have been: The same crappy results – only faster!

    If anybody has spent a lot of quality time studying the SERPs of one market niche they know one thing for sure: The results are littered with utter garbage. It always cracks me up when I see the usual “great content” mantra spewed time and again: I can literally take the readers to a blog that ranks in the top 10 for its niche for no other reason than each blog post contains the same piece of anchor text in each post and the meta tag and description sync up with the category. The articles’ content? Just pure gibberish.

    It cracks me up to see the word “instant” associated with ANYTHING Google. Thanks ot their delightful little “aging delay” they have made the web anything but. It is astounding to think but you could have the greatest thing since the wheel and want to share it with the world but with Google the world will have to wait 6-8 months to hear about it. Google has removed the word instant from anything related to the Web – they are 180 degrees removed from ‘instant’ folks. They are glacial.

    I also don’t understand why everyone is wringing their hands over ‘instant’. Good grief – to really get the full effect of Instant you pretty much HAVE to go to http://www.google.com – when was the last time anyone here did that?! Haven’t you people ever heard of a TOOLBAR?! That will deliver the same list of ‘suggestions’ as usual.

    For any consumer out there that is actually going to the Google home page and experiencing ‘Instant’ in its true state I would suggest that person is probably such a novice web user they certainly wouldn’t make a really viable target audience for any but a precious few Web-based businesses. Yeah it probably does ‘ding’ the long tail cuz people in general are lazy and are easy to ‘herd’. That’s why utter junk like Facebook can snag 500 mil users. And also why too many small businesses with ZERO brand recognition think they can actually accomplish something noteworthy with Facebook.

  • http://www.CanonicalSEO.com/ Canonical

    I’ve been making the rounds to the usual SEO blogs and forums, and the world is abuzz with “Google Instant” posts and threads. Honestly, I don’t get it…

    I mean, yeah… on some levels this will change SEO. But that is the great thing about SEO. It’s always changing. If you’re in the field and you don’t like change, I’d suggest a new career.

    I am not exactly sure what the future holds for search based on Google Instant. My gut says, “It’s new… It’s a fad… People will play around with it for a while… But ultimately ‘most’ will after some time go back to searching the way they always did. The flicker of the results changing in the background will get tuned out over time… People will stop looking at the dropdown and go back to entering the best phrase they think will show them the best results for whatever they are searching for.

    I don’t know about you, but me and most of my friends go to Google with a purpose. We know ahead of time what we are looking for and have a pretty good idea of what search phrase will yield results containing the desired site or information we’re looking for. I’d be willing to bet this is the same for 90-95+% of those searching Google. No one goes to Google thinking, “Let’s see what Google suggests I search for today… I think I’ll enter 1 character and see what pops up… another character and see what pops up… etc.” Just not going to happen. Perhaps for a few days… but after that no.

    When Google Suggest came to be, people went throught this same uproar about how it was going to change search, was going to be the end of SEO, yada yada yada. But very little ever came of it. With Google Suggest after the initial few days, I completely tuned out the dropdown. The ONLY time I look at it is if I can’t remember how to spell something or if I don’t know what something is called but know some other term people might be combining with it to find what I’m looking for.

    My guess is that after a few weeks, most users will go back to searching the way they always did… with a purpose… already with a search phrase in mind… and will tune out both the dropdown and the results changing in the background. The feature will be great in helping people who don’t know how to spell something they are looking for or don’t know what it is called… which will be good for users. But that is just my guess.

    No one really knows for sure how it will shake out. But one thing is for sure, as long as there are search engines and organic results there will be SEOs.

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