We know, that headline sounds a bit...drastic, right? But this exact question is being raised all around the internet these days, so we thought it prudent to give you our take on the situation. And while it may sound like the sort of question that warrants a simple Yes or No, the reality is that it’s actually quite a bit more complicated.
How Do You Define SEO?
First things first. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and can mean several different yet related things depending on who you ask. For our purposes today, we’ll use this definition from industry leader Moz:
“...the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” (emphasis in the original)
Let’s unpack that and expand on the key pieces to give us a good working definition before we move on. Quality traffic refers to people searching for your actual product or service. We like the example Moz uses of an apple farmer getting people searching for Apple computer repair services—that is NOT quality traffic.
Quantity of traffic means that once you have the right people searching for your product, the more the merrier. Google loves it when tens of people are searching for something that used to get single-digit searchers. They love it even more when thousands are looking for it.
And organic traffic is simply any and all clicks you get that you didn’t pay for. Pay-per-click advertising does still exist, and it has its place in a well-rounded marketing campaign. That’s for a different article, however.
SEO encompasses the steps and actions you undertake to increase the organic traffic to your website by increasing the number of people who find your site when searching for keywords and phrases appropriate to your product. In the apple farmer vs Apple computer example, this would mean phrases like “fresh apples grown in Washington” as opposed to “where can I take a broken apple computer.”
The nuts and bolts of how you do this are, like PPC, a topic for another day. We’re talking about whether or not SEO is dead today. You may have gotten the feeling that we don’t think it is. And you’d be half right.
SEO is certainly still something you should be taking into account when laying out your marketing strategy, as it is pretty much required if you want to increase that all-important organic traffic. What gives us pause is when we think about how much this area has changed recently and just how big a grey area exists around the practice of SEO. There are 2 primary ways SEO has shifted focus recently, and both need to be taken into account before you’ll truly understand how to go about doing SEO right in 2020.
Site Authority is Priority #1 for any SEO activity
One of the biggest changes Google has made recently is to elevate what they call “site authority” to near the top of the list of what their algorithm takes into account when determining search results. While they remain tight-lipped as to just what that means, we can extrapolate a few pieces of information from what they have said.
First, they want people to be able to find answers to their questions right on the results page. Until recently, the SERPs (search engine results pages) were simply viewed as a hierarchical ranking of relevant web sites, with some paid entries at the top. Then Google added the “snippet” section (where they quote a larger than average chunk of text from the top result, that includes the answer the algorithm thinks is most accurate). Then they added business information to the snippet section, so when you’re clearly looking for contact information for a local business, it comes up right at the top of the page.
Google is becoming a discovery engine, not just a search engine
All of this serves their goal of becoming a one-stop-shop for discovery, rather than simply search results. If you can find the answer to your question without having to click off Google’s site, that’s better for them. And you, in that you no longer have to dig for the information you’re looking for. However, it’s not as good for the companies who’s SEO drove them to the top of the SERP, only to have you not click through and visit their actual website.
This is where that site authority comes in. The better your authority, the more likely it is that not only will your site rank highly, but that you’re content will be featured in the snippet section. This is the key, your content. The more high-quality, useful, and relevant content you’re publishing to your site the better your authority will be and the more traffic will be driven from the snippet to your pages where that content resides.
Google is also starting to use third party data when compiling rankings
Alongside your site authority, Google is also now taking into account data about your company and website from other sources. Searches and clicks from Google are now combined with how active your social media accounts are, how your ratings on Yelp look, and more to give an overall score that will affect your rankings.
Social media is probably the single largest source for this external data. How active your Twitter account is and your companies Glassdoor ratings are fair game to be considered when they look to rank your site for authority in your industry.
So How Do You Do SEO in 2020?
Great, so we’ve established that SEO is not dead, just that Google is controlling it in new and unique ways. Tweaking their algorithms to put more and more weight on social media, interactions with the public, and overall site authority are but a few of the pieces of this puzzle.
But what does all of that mean for your SEO strategy as we dive into 2020?
Go deep into your niche
Authority relies on your content being cohesive as well as comprehensive. So if you’re blogging about the state of global industry, you’re going to have a hard time ranking. On the other hand, if you drill down and write about a specialty niche within your sector of your industry—Eureka! You’ll rank in no time.
Don’t be afraid to get nerdy, either. The more niche your product or service, the more likely it is that people are going to be searching very specific terms and phrases that relate to that niche. By optimizing your entries for these keywords and phrases, you’ll elevate your site authority and begin driving new, high-quality organic traffic right to the pages they’re looking for.
Build your brand
Another piece of the authority puzzle is brand. We don’t mean your company name, we’re talking about the complete picture the public has when they think of your company and product. With the new emphasis on third-party data, brand building includes things like guest posting, cross-promotions with larger or better-established companies in your industry, and stories being written about you in industry publications. The goal is to get your company name mentioned on websites that rank for similar keywords and that already have authority.
Google is estimated to have made more than 3,000 changes to its search algorithm in 2018 alone. The fact that they give that much attention to how they rank sites tells us that not only is SEO not dead, it’s thriving. The rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, aided by the simple fact that a lot of companies are having a hard time keeping up with those changes.
The more you do now to solidify your presence on social media, ensure you’re being talked about by industry insiders, and are putting out great content on a regular basis, the better your foothold will be going forward—no matter what the next iteration of the search algorithm prioritizes.