What Part of SEO is Dead Exactly?

The “SEO is dead” meme is so common by now that some people start believing it. Every time Google introduces a significant change these type of articles pop out.

Strangely enough most people writing about the death of SEO are completely black and white. Either SEO is dead or not. You rarely get a decent analysis on what actually happens now, at least when the “SEO is dead” meme gets mentioned. There is plenty of analysis going on elsewhere.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s dead within SEO.

article_death_lifeI won’t focus on what SEO is becoming right now. It branches out into manifold realms nowadays. That’s too much for one post. Today I will focus solely on the techniques you rather not use anymore.

First of all, the most important aspect of the SEO death is the quality. Generally low quality tactics are dead. Short cuts that were too good to be true and prone to “over optimization” as Google clumsily tried to explain it using an oxymoron.

keyword data

This change is probably the most evident for average webmasters. Google hides keyword data now. Soon enough 100% of all search referral keywords will get hidden. In Google Analytics it’s the dreaded (not provided) keyword. Other analytics vendors are more blunt. They just say “encrypted” for example. Google now encrypts keyword data so that it can sell it to advertisers using Adwords.

Some Google PR people try to convince us that hiding keywords is about privacy. That’s nonsense.

According to the Patriot Act Google has to hand over the data to all kinds of law enforcement agencies from the US not just the NSA. The only thing that happens is that I can’t see that you are searching for weapons on my site anymore. So now that webmasters have insufficient keyword data the SEO tactic of optimization solely for keywords dies.

manual link building

Google still relies largely on links to determine rankings in search. They try to overcome this by creating their own proprietary ecosystem with Google+ etc. but it’s not yet there. Until then they have to curb what they insist on calling unnatural links. Any links you have encouraged are unnatural by now according to their latest definitions.

So even links from high quality infographics bloggers are embedding of their own accord are unnatural today.

Most importantly any links you can build yourself, that is insert personally into websites are dead according to Google. So in case you manually add links to websites or pay people to add these links you can stop now. Of course that’s not entirely true, as these links still may work. Google has to notice them to discount them but it gets better at it.

low level content

For years many sites thrived on a business model only geared towards Google search: keyword optimized pages with lots of low quality content. The so called “content farms” made millions and dominated the Web shortly before Google pulled the plug with the so called Panda update. Ever since they attempted to banish cheap mass produced content even more effectively from their index. They succeeded to a large extent.

Keyword stuffed gibberish is finally a thing of the past, at least when it comes to more popular keywords.

You will still find low level content pages for rather rare “long tail” keyphrases consisting of several words. With the so called Hummingbird update Google tries to reroute this type of long tail traffic to major keywords by now. So when you ask a long question you may see the same results as someone who just entered two words describing the query more aptly.

matching anchor text

For a few years you would see a lot of comment spam solely created for the sake of manipulating Google search results. So someone called “mbt shoes online” would add some meaningless auto-generated text to your blog post. Some people even did this manually, adding their keyword instead of their real name in the name input.  Amazingly this worked for years! It still does to some extent. In more and more cases it backfires though.

So linking to yourself with your most relevant keywords as the so called anchor text is more likely to harm than help now.

Anchor text optimization is dead, at least when it comes to the simplistic kind of “the more matching keyword links the better”. You can still optimize anchor texts but how to do that is more difficult to explain.  This paragraph won’t suffice. Let it be said that branding and natural language are key among other factors.

objective rankings

Do you want to rank on top of Google? Which Google? My Google or your Google? The Google in New York or the one in LA? The desktop Google or the mobile Google? I could ask like that forever. Google adapts search results to the context and the searcher. So there are many levels of personalization, localization and behavioral targeting going on. Google will look at what you have searched in the past. They will check your last query and so on.

So there are no objective search results anymore. Everybody sees different ones to some extent.

SEO that solely relies on Google rankings is dead because of this. Google rankings are still important but just one of the metrics you should keep on your radar. Ideally you should spend more time trying to look at what your visitors are actually doing on your site now. Advanced analytics tools like Mixpanel can help you here.

SEO is more complex these days and more intertwined with adjacent disciplines like conversion optimization, user experience or content strategy. Some people outside of SEO call it findability by now. Is SEO dead? Some parts of it are, many others aren’t.

Tad Chef

Tad Chef writes for SEO blogs from all over the world including his own one called SEO 2.0. He helps people with blogs, social media and search, both in German and English. You can follow Tad on Twitter @onreact_com to get his latest insights daily.


  • http://www.mintonlinemarketing.net/ Andrew Plant

    ‘Everyone sees different ones to some extent’? I agree. The point of marketing communications is to take people through the buying cycle. Online marketing is part of this process. So when people search to solve a problem they are somewhere in the buying process. Therefore results will be dictated by what information they are searching for to solve their individual problem. So the focus needs to be on providing content that can solve problems at all levels of the buying cycle and takes people to the next stage with your business.

  • http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com/ Tam Francis: The Girl in the J

    Interesting article. Quite a bit of it went over my head, but am pointing it to my webmaster +Kathy Anderson

  • Larry Kim

    i think the golden age of SEO is over.

    • onreact

      That might be true for most webmasters but SEO professionals have even more work now.

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  • http://www.ammonjohns.com/ Ammon Johns

    Great piece, Tad.

    Of course, the low-quality, high linkbuilding, churn and burn isn’t really dead either. It simply has a much shorter lifespan. But churn those links fast enough and put up content fresh enough and it still works for maybe a month. Churn every week and you can stay there indefinitely … for now.

    But I totally agree with the spirit of this article. I’d also *love* to see how much AdWords will increase revenue over the next couple of years where people can’t detect organic traffic keywords in the long tail to get cheaper AdWords traffic. Not to mention that it helps make organic SEO a lot less accessible than ever, while AdWords seems more than ever the easy option.

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