Is SEO Getting Less Effective?

I was at the first SIMEngage event in Cincinnati the other day and I heard someone say they thought SEO was getting harder and less effective. I've heard this before and I understand it. The updates Google's rolled out over the last several years have led to dramatic changes in the SEO business.

SEO is Dead in 2014

Whereas there used to be a simple, repeatable process for improving rankings, it doesn't appear to be that way anymore. Marketers are starting to try social, email, and "content marketing" to help promote their brands.

I think this is a big reason why content marketing is exploding as a service offering – companies aren't just going to close up shop, they need to pivot into something related but "effective" and, perhaps more importantly, sellable. Bravo to Hubspot for not only riding the front of the content marketing wave but playing a huge part in creating it.

If you look at SEO as blasting millions of automated links out into cyberspace in the hopes that you rank for some head term vaguely related to the searcher's intent, then yes, from that respect, SEO is much less effective.

But if you look at SEO as what it is – the process of maximizing organic search traffic – then it's quite definitely not less effective.

Take a look at this chart of CNN's organic search traffic over time:

Chart of CNN's Organic Search Traffic Over Time

Now check your website traffic sources? What's your #1 source of traffic? I did a quick spot check and for every single one of the analytics accounts I checked, "Google organic" and "direct" were the top two traffic sources. I even checked a few large, well-known brands and the same was true.

Our top traffic sources

The problem with seeing SEO as "less effective" is that it isn't. Not at all. Google's getting bigger by the second, more than 2 million searches occurred on Google since you started reading this (source). As more and more people get online, offline methods of advertising will continue to become less effective, and search is going to become even more a part of everyone's life.

SEO still drives far more directly attributable leads than any other digital channel [source].

Chart of the best traffic sources for lead generation

And in case I still haven't convinced you, think about this:

  • Search fulfills a need that isn't going to change and people will continue to use search to find what they're looking for.
  • Internet usage is skyrocketing and more people are using the web to find things than ever before (source).
  • The search engines aren't just throwing random pages at the top of search results, someone is going to show up. If you want to be one of those pages you need to understand how things have changed…

The key to SEO success in 2014 and on

The key to SEO success now and in the future boils down to 2 things:

  1. Understand that SEO is not less effective, it's just not as easy to game the as it used to be. Now you have to understand what search engines want and give it to them.
  2. Understand how and why the search engines rank web pages – we've written about giving search engines what they want extensively here:
  3. How we use PPC to drive SEO domination
  4. 4 reasons your SEO is ineffective
  5. Why cheap SEO doesn't work
  6. Know your customer and cut PPC costs by 62%

So, is SEO less effective now than it used to be? No. It just requires a deeper understanding of how search engines work. This is a good thing. It provides a better experience for those searching and allows us, as SEOs, to actually start contributing to making the internet a better place.

John Crenshaw
John Crenshaw
UFO company founder. 15+ years experience in performance marketing.
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