Every few months, marketers around the blogosphere start the next batch of chants that search engine optimization is dying or dead. It's like clockwork; Google makes a change, their pages rank poorly, they declare that the party's over. I think I've written about the topic at least once a year since 2008.
The chants are starting again and I'm here to tell you that, as usual, they are premature. I'm not so naive as to make a statement like "SEO will never die," but the thought that the death is here is silly. It's not dead. It has changed. It changes frequently - perhaps more frequently in recent months - but it's not dead yet. In fact, those who are doing the right things are finding that their rankings are actually improving.
Since the dawn of SEO, there have been tricks that work for a short period of time. We've always taken the stance that anything that smells like a "trick" will not last and should be dismissed. This concept has helped us to stay on top of our searches and the keywords of our clients.
For example, 2007 saw a major increase in the effectiveness of social news and social bookmarking links. It was almost too easy - if you submitted a piece of content to Digg, it would rank for easy keywords within a few hours and for tougher keywords in a few days. Smart marketers refused to play this game knowing that Google would catch on and instead learned to use sites like Digg and Reddit to drive real SEO juice by posting powerful content and exposing it to the social news world. This still applies today for many sites, though they are fading quickly from relevance (except Reddit, which is growing).
Any time one of these tricks stops working, the SEOpocalypse is declared.
The most recent change that has everyone up in arms is the devaluing of automated links. Footer links, sidebar links, link farms - Google and Bing both have found ways to not only discredit these links but to make them harmful when done too much. SEO is dead... for those who couldn't keep up with these changes.
Thankfully, smart marketers did not participate in the automated link-building programs. Personally, I'm shocked it took as long as it did for Google and Bing to figure it out. There was a time in late 2011 that I was starting to doubt my choice of not having our SEO team get in on the link-automation trend. I was getting questioned by some within the company because the path we chose, one of unique content and contextual link generation, was much more expensive to operate than the automated ways.
The corner was finally turned with the Penguin update and subsequent tweaks and my choices were vindicated.
Today, content is no longer a tool for SEO. It is an overarching concept that includes SEO as part of its mandate. In other words, the tool is now the goal and the goals of SEO, reputation, branding, and social media marketing all revolve around quality content.
When you're out there reading about the marketing trends of 2013, take note of those who are pulling away from social media or SEO and those who are pushing forward. This is easy for me to say since it's the direction that my company is heading, but it happens to be the truth. Quality content that people can enjoy, proper link-building and social signal practices that revolve around this content, and social media marketing that doesn't rely on funny cat pictures - these are the real trends that will drive proper marketing in 2013.