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:
- Keyword Research with Google Suggest Could Add 5,000 Visitors a Day!, Marketing Pilgrim
- How to Actually Use Google Suggest Feature for Keyword Research and Beyond, Search Engine Journal
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.