Is SEO Dead?

SEO is alive and well. But it’s also changing — and if you don’t change with it, your traffic might as well be dead on arrival.
Headshot of author Jacob Hurwith
Jacob Hurwith
Expert Contributor
May 11, 2021
Updated: May 13, 2021
Headshot of author Jacob Hurwith
Jacob Hurwith
Expert Contributor
May 11, 2021
Updated: May 13, 2021

Adaptation is the key to success with any marketing channel. What worked well years ago likely does not work as well, or at all, for various avenues such as email, social media, SEM, brand and, of course, SEO.

There are many misconceptions about search engine optimization, and perhaps the biggest of them all is that SEO is dying. Don’t be fooled: SEO is not dying, but it’s evolving into much more than it was years ago. If you’ve been debating whether or not to invest in SEO for your business, read on to learn why SEO is not dying — but actually thriving — in 2021.

 

SEO Is Dead, Said the Naysayers

As much as it hurts me to say it, there are plenty of marketers out there who truly believe SEO is dead. Whether it’s because it was too hard, it changed too much or they just couldn’t move up the Google ranks, they no longer believe SEO is a profitable marketing channel. Ben Hirons from SmartCompany thinks SEO is dead because he thinks it’s confusing, there are no standards, it’s lazy marketing, and it just doesn’t work.

Those reading this are not the only ones hearing these myths. A Search Engine Journal poll on Twitter — all the way back in 2017 — showed that the one SEO myth marketers heard the most is that SEO is dead (41 percent). Four years later, that topic is still being debated, which tells you everything you need to know about whether the claim was true back then. More recently, SEO Book shared an infographic with various marketers claiming SEO is dead for one reason or another and why they are mistaken. The Medium Well claims local SEO is dead, in favor of integrated regional positioning (which sounds pretty darn similar to SEO, if you ask me). Finally, if you Google “SEO is dead,” more than 31 million results pop up.

Clearly, there is no shortage of both professionals and hacks claiming SEO dead. Fortunately, we have data and the experience to prove that SEO is not dead but flourishing.

4 Reasons SEO Isn’t Dead

  1. SEO is changing.
  2. SEO requires more effort.
  3. SEO is more complicated.
  4. SEO jobs and salaries are increasing.

Up Your SEO GameWhy SEO Is a Team Sport

 

Why SEO Is Not Dead

Let’s get to reality. SEO is not dead, and it’s not going away anytime soon — if ever. SEO will continue to evolve and SEOs, along with their companies that rely on it, will have to adapt as well. Here’s why.

 

SEO Is Changing

Many people are scared of change, myself included. After all, if it’s not broken, why fix it? Well, the old way of SEO was broken. Perhaps no later than 2005, websites could get away with black-hat SEO tactics. These scammy and Googlebot-focused tasks never had the user in mind and just tried to game the system. Such black-hat tactics included keyword stuffing (shoving as many keywords on the page as possible), cloaking (showing Googlebot one version of the content and the user a different one), buying links (paying sites to link back to you) and much, much more.

In the early 2000s, all these tactics worked. Fortunately, Google adapted, tightening their standards. Not only will these no longer help you drive more organic traffic, but they could bring on a Google penalty, which will vastly decrease your traffic until all is remedied.

Nowadays, instead of gaming the system with black-hat techniques, white-hat tactics such as delivering the best user experience, answering your users’ questions, creating a fast website and providing a sound site architecture are all not only the top SEO trends in 2021, but the quickest way to succeed in SEO.

 

SEO Requires More

SEO is not easy. Those black-hat tactics I described above were easy. Sites could literally type out hundreds of relevant keywords, wrap them in white text and place it behind certain pages. Voila: keyword stuffing and cloaking at its finest. The SEO traffic was sure to follow.

Not anymore. Nowadays, you have to produce quality content that your audience actually wants to read, from start to finish. You have to create a fast site that loads in less than three seconds. You have to focus on content and technical SEO, writing good title tags and metas, designing a cohesive page layout, updating your XML sitemaps, making sure Google can render your content and so much more.

If that latter sounds more difficult, that’s because it is. SEO requires much more work in 2021 than it did in 2000. If you’re not ready to get into the weeds and really provide the best possible experience for your users and Googlebot, SEO will not work for you.

 

SEO Is More Complicated

Whether you started in content or technical SEO, SEO work has likely gotten a lot more complicated than when you first entered the game. What worked before often does not work today. To succeed in content SEO, you have to provide a sensible page layout with logical headers, body content, hyperlinks, images, videos and transitions. Those without a writing background or dedicated content teams may find this difficult.

On the technical side, SEO used to be all about updated XML sitemaps, robots.txt files and HTML. Today, teamwork, site architecture, client-side rendering, JavaScript, dynamic rendering, pre-render, largest contentful paint, first input delay and cumulative layout shift are all topics SEO must grasp.

Whether you came up in the content or the technical ranks, chances are high that you’ve had to learn a few new aspects of the modern web that seem confusing at first. With education and real-world practice, the most successful SEOs learn to master these once confusing strategies and implement them how they intended.

 

SEO Jobs and Salaries Are Increasing

If SEO is dead, why are more companies hiring SEOs and paying higher salaries? Well, because SEO ain’t actually dead.

According to Conductor’s 2020 guide to job trends and salaries, SEO jobs nearly doubled in 2019 year-over-year and increased 8 percent in 2020. While 8 percent does not sound very high, content marketing jobs decreased 38 percent in 2020. These numbers show an increased interest in SEO, but also they also prove that more companies are bringing SEO in house.

On the compensation front, the average SEO salary increased by 8 percent since 2019 (from $68,150 to $73,167). The salaries for SEO specialists, analysts and managers all increased from 2019 to 2020. In addition, the average SEO director salary, first tracked in 2020 by Conductor, was $117,100.

Many industries and professions saw downturns in 2020 due to COVID-19, but SEO careers continue to excel, despite the naysayers claiming it is dead.

Up Your SEO Game2021 SEO Trends You Can’t Ignore

 

Why You Should Invest in SEO

Given the trends above, the return on investment for those who do SEO well and the following stats Google announced in March of 2021, continuing to invest is a no-brainer:

  • On average, local results in Search drive more than four billion connections for businesses every month.
     
  • This includes more than two billion visits to websites as well as connections like phone calls, directions, ordering food and making reservations.
     
  • Each month, Google Search connects people with more than 120 million businesses that don’t have a website.
     
  • Google sends billions of visits to websites every day, and the traffic Google sent to the open web has increased every year since Google Search was first created.
     
  • Google Search results page, which used to show 10 blue links, now shows an average of 26 links to websites on a single search results page on mobile (more opportunity for users to click).

Change is scary, but those who pivot and adapt reap rewards dinosaurs miss out on. And remember — despite all the changes we see in Google every year — SEO comes down to one basic principle: helping Google answer users’ queries. How you do that is up to you, but as long as you are giving your audience the answers it wants when they want and how they want it, you will succeed in SEO.

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