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The evolution of SEO

As of late, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding SEO -- whether it ceases to exist, if it's now blended into the tactics better known as "content marketing," or if it still remains essential, and predominantly a set of website-centric tasks. By now, I'm sure we've all heard the phrase, "SEO is dead." While yes, we may be in agreement that certain aspects of traditional search engine optimization are no longer relevant, SEO is certainly not dead. It is simply evolving, and we, as marketers, experience the changes on a continual basis. Content marketing strategy has emerged as the ultimate roadmap to drive engagement in every channel. Will our old definition of SEO survive this transition? Certainly not. However, we can instead formulate a new understanding of what it means to optimize for search while creating valuable consumer experiences through content.


The past


When we think about the traditional pillars of SEO, they're often broken down into these three categories:



  • Technical

  • Content

  • Links

Search engine optimization was considered to be a very technical process -- worshipping the then-simpler algorithms to generate top search ranking, and carefully pinpointing the tactics to boost website traffic. It was about removing technical obstacles, stuffing our content with specific keywords, and excessively linking -- focusing solely on rank. 


However, as marketers, we recognize there are several factors that have driven dramatic change in the way we define our SEO strategies.   


The present


Proven and established best practices remain a part of SEO, but search engines today have transformed their algorithms to reflect a much different kind of value than we've seen in the past: user experience. With updates to Google like Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, brands have been required to adjust their content strategies to reflect not only an improved search engine, but to shift the focus to a new audience -- the end-user, rather than the search engine spider.


SEO is no longer just an effort to be No. 1 for your designated search terms, but rather it has evolved into a much broader landscape of idea and information sharing. What we like to categorize as "content" and "authority" have emerged as more critical components in understanding the successful approach to SEO. Today, content is often evaluated by its usefulness, relevancy, and educative value -- in other words, its ability to genuinely engage searchers, influencers, and social media audiences alike. By monitoring consumer insights, we are able to clearly identify audiences and give them access to content tailored to their specific interests. That's how great brand experiences occur, which then stimulate conversions.


As content marketing and SEO strategies are evolving, so too does our notion of ranking. While the coveted No. 1 ranking in the SERP was once deemed the ultimate recognition of SEO success, today we have substituted the concept of "ranking" with "visibility". What do we mean by visibility? It means capturing as much "non-paid" real estate on the search engines results page as possible (i.e., answer box, knowledge graph, image carousel, etc.). It also means having a reach far beyond just the SERP, extended to touch audiences across different content platforms, social media channels, and devices. It's giving people the chance to find, connect with, and learn from your content in the places they seek it. In addition to the broader, conceptual understanding of visibility, we all must think about it in the physical sense. Mobile visibility has become particularly significant, as consumers continue to change their online behavior and engagement patterns. Search experts have certainly harped on the importance of mobile optimization, and rightfully so. This evolution cannot be ignored.


Marketers and SEO practitioners have become more deeply aligned with these new methods of SEO and, in turn, have implemented strong content marketing strategies to bolster them. As we continue on this path and glance ahead, we must continue to create content not for search engines, but for people.


The future


Let us take a step into the future of the SEO landscape -- in fact, the term "search engine optimization" may no longer exist on its own at all. For all intents and purposes, let's call it what it is: content marketing. Content marketing will no longer be seen as the driver of a single channel, rather it will be the driver of all channels. We will leave methods of optimizing for channel-specific engagement behind. This will mean breaking down the internal silos within an organization, and allowing different marketing segments to function synergistically. It means that data scientists, writers, and content creators will work together on these strategies.


More and more, consumers have demonstrated that they value interactivity. We can no longer assume that the everyday consumer is going to be engaged by a static, text-based piece of content on their desktop. And their expectations only increase by the day. As they travel through their omnichannel journeys of brand engagement and product exploration, consumers will want content that adapts. A piece of content should travel seamlessly through the channels right alongside the people who view it. More than anything, content will become an experience.


Closing thoughts


As we look back on the SEO of the past and move forward towards a content marketing future, we have undoubtedly traveled a long, complex path. Though our methods have changed, our goals have perhaps remained relatively similar. We have always desired the visibility a good SEO strategy generates, but today we recognize that that visibility has taken on a much more thorough definition. As the marketing and consumer worlds continue to evolve, we must all participate in a greater conversation about content. If SEO is evolving, so must marketers. Adapt and survive…it's the only way!


John Iozzia is SVP, content services at PM Digital.


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John Iozzia is the Senior Vice President of Content Services (the Natural Search, Social Media & Content Marketing practices).  John works closely with the managers of the sales, strategy, and content delivery teams to develop customized...

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Comments

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Commenter: Tom Pick

2015, July 28

Excellent piece John, thanks. This bit is key though: "today we have substituted the concept of 'ranking' with 'visibility.' What do we mean by visibility? It means capturing as much 'non-paid' real estate on the search engines results page as possible." A bit more broadly, online brand visibility needs to be maximized across all channels: paid, owned, earned and shared. Content marketing forms the base; traditional SEO tactics remain part of the mix; and these coordinated with online PR, social media, paid, and industry marketing form a web presence optimization (WPO) strategy (you can Google that). That's the overarching approach.