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Analysis

The State of SEO: Sinking Ship or Full Steam Ahead?

Is SEO really dying? Here’s a breakdown of this ongoing debate that's shaking up the marketing world

Lauren Dowdle
March 29 2019

No marketer wants to hear that search engine optimization (SEO) is dead or about to bite the dust — especially if they spend hours on end working on keywords, links and topics. But it’s a discussion that’s filled blogs and break rooms for years. What’s behind this ongoing debate, and what facts back up the idea of SEO’s imminent demise?

Let’s take a look at some stats from 2018. According to HubSpot:

  • 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority
  • Organic SEO is about 5.6 times better than paid search ads
  • Google is responsible for 94% of total organic traffic and 96% of mobile search traffic
  • Local searches lead 50% of mobile users to visit stores within a day
  • Marketers dedicate 9% of their time to SEO, which eventually converts 15% of their leads to sales

These findings seem positive, but not everyone is sold on SEO’s continued importance in today’s marketing world. Here’s a look at why some are jumping ship.

According to Critics, SEO is Dead

SEO isn’t what it used to be. What was once a method for outperforming the competition is now oversaturated. But aside from the crowded competition all yearning for those coveted top ranks, critics see several other indicators that could explain the demise of SEO.

When Google changed its algorithm last summer, it hit finance, health, and medical industry sites especially hard. Many companies had to assess how to fix their post-update rankings and not rely on old SEO practices. While Google favors quality content, providing great information isn’t enough; you need to optimize your site to improve its ranking.

Naysayers may also point to the plethora of new search devices, like phone and home voice (more on those below).

If you’re still unsold on whether SEO is obsolete, look at the numbers. Statista found that SEO marketing spend in the United States went from $11.44 billion in 2008 to a projected $79.27 billion in 2020. Spending has gradually gone up each year, increasing about $20 billion from just five years ago. That’s a lot of money SEO would be taking to the grave, if in fact it had any intention of dying.

SEO is still alive, just different – but where does that leave companies? For the ones looking to succeed in this sector, it means it’s time for an evolution.

Not Gone, Just Evolving

While most experts agree SEO is still alive and well, it’s not the same as it was when it first emerged. Marketing practices change through the years — printed mailers might become personalized email campaigns, for example — and SEO is no different.

Beyond traditional SEO practices, marketers must think about optimizing all digital assets across devices and formats. People are still searching for content, companies, and services, and improving your SEO will help get them to your site.

Voice Search Gains Ground

Consumers want immediate responses, so it’s no wonder voice-activated tools like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home continue to grow in popularity. By 2020, 30% of all searches will be done without a screen. People use voice assistants for everything from shopping to queries for general information.

What does this mean for SEO? Identifying conversational, long-tail keywords will become more important. Even users who are typing their searches are putting them in a question or statement form: 50% of search queries are four words or longer. Think about how your audience phrases their questions and thinks about your business.

The voice assistance boom also means the sites with the quickest response times — not just the top ranked pages — will win. Make it easy for search engines to find your info by creating FAQs, contact details, open hours, and other general information pages, with the information on top, front and center. The deeper the search has to dig into your pages, the less likely it will pull up your page.

Change with the Times

You could wake up tomorrow to a brand-new Google update that completely changes how you view and implement your brand’s SEO. Or, some futuristic device could hit the scene and mix it all up again. SEO will continue to change; you just have to change your techniques with it. That means focusing on what has been proven to work — like mobile-responsive designs, quality content, mobile-first indexing and easy-to-find info for voice search — and keeping up with how consumers use search today, and going into the future.

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