Quoting Marissa Mayer stating Google makes two algorithmic changes a day, and factoring in longer queries and personalization, marketer and technology thought leader Steve Rubel wondered if "SEO as we know it really could one day be extinct."
Thats a valid question, a valid concern, and with the conditions "as we know it" and "one day" built in I'm of course forced to answer "yes".
Could the Internet, as we know it, one day be extinct? I'm pretty sure, eventually, yes.
Could Democracy, as we know it, one day be extinct? Sure, why not?
Could marketing, Coca Cola, or the Roman Empire " yes, yes, and check.
So the first thing we have to do is limit ourselves and remove the "one day" condition. Let's focus on what in Internet terms is near-eternity: the next 2-5 years:
Could SEO, as we know it, become extinct in the next 2 to 5 years?
I cant say; there's a hidden premise in "as we know it".
"As we know it" alludes to an illusionary common knowledge and experience with SEO. To some readers, both here and on Steve's blog stream, SEO is a scam, an act of legal thievery. To some it's an art, to others science.
So what do we know about SEO?
SEO As We Know It
Search engine optimization is the process of increasing the visibility of a web site in search engines, the purpose of which is to drive more targeted visitors to said web site where the web site's calls to action and conversion funnels take over.
That's SEO as we know it and just writing that working definition makes me want to pose the rhetoric question; do you really think one day people will not want their web site to be (more) visible in search engines?
But that — whether we want what SEO aims to achieve " is not what bothers Steve, I think.
What Steve wonders " implied — is whether the whole process can still work.
Here's how I read Steve's question then:
"Is search engine optimization becoming increasingly obsolete as the very engines on which it works have become so fickle, so variable and so personalized?"
The answer is a clear and confident: no, search engine optimization not only remains relevant " it becomes more relevant.
Explain Why SEO Still Works
The shortest, fastest connection I can make, Steve, is one of recognition:
"Is marketing becoming increasingly obsolete as the very consumers on which it works have become so fickle, so variable and so personalized?"
You'd say, no, now more than ever you need marketing to reach those people, to reach those groups, to access those markets.
And after having said that you'd warn that, yes, the way how this is done might need to be changed.
Tools vs. purpose.
Tactics vs. strategy.
The fact that search engines have become such fast moving targets is the reason why knowledgeable search engine optimization is more relevant than ever.
How Can SEO Still Work?
With what we hear about personalization, ranking changes, human quality raters " how in the world can SEO still bear any results?
On the lowest level the answer is: scale.
Google receives 2 billion searches " per day.
On that scale, increasing the visibility of your web site for one 4 word query by 0.001% can mean hundreds to thousands of visitors extra " per day.
On a higher level the answer is: basics.
Despite what the news buzz may suggest, nothing much has changed in search engine land:
Discoverable, indexable content is relevance-matched with search queries based on words in that content and words in the citations of that content, and are sorted based on quantity, frequency and importance of those citations.
Algorithmic changes don't change that: they tweak it, fine-tune it.
Personalization doesn't change that: it re-sorts that initial list of results; it doesn't tend to generate a completely different list. Think of a New York Times' Bestsellers List displayed based on your taste in thrillers; you don't expect nickel and dime crap to float to the top, do you?
"But isn't SEO replaced by"
No, it isn't.
SEO isn't superseded by <insert whatever it might be> the same way public relations isn't superseded by marketing.
Although almost anything might directly or indirectly help to change the visibility of your site in the search engines, only Search Engine Optimization has that goal as its express purpose.
What can change are the tactics, the tools, the way the game is played.
A Key to Understanding
Those in marketing are confronted regularly now with a fast changing landscape of consumer differentiation, disappearing common grounds, the rise and fall of platforms.
These changes pose challenges and, in a way, ensure that "marketing as we know it" not only will be "extinct one day" but is extinct to the new marketer who has kept evolving these past years.
And yet, by evolving, marketing is still there with a common purpose, a common goal; recognizable, teachable, understandable and most importantly repeatable.
That is SEO.