Every couple of weeks we meet a business person who asks us this fundamental question – “Is SEO Dead?” And it’s always a difficult question to answer, since answering it requires providing even more education to the business owner on what SEO really is, what it was (and never was), and was it is developing into. In order to answer the question, we first need to know what SEO is.

So, in a Nutshell, What Is SEO?

For those who are have been on extended vacations to remote areas of the world without Internet access for the last 8 years, SEO – often referred to as search engine optimization – is the process of optimizing content in order to create favorable conditions for the content to drive targeted, relevant traffic or reach a favorable metric. Examples of metrics might include increased visibility in search, increased revenue for the company, or increased branding and mind share. It has always involved a range of factors, loosely classified into ‘on page’ and ‘off page’ camps.

However, while some of those core factors have remained the same over the years, a great many of the factors involved have changed considerably – or have entirely evolved altogether.

How Has SEO Changed – and What is it Today?

While Google and Bing still place considerable emphasis on inbound links as a gauge for measuring the authority of any given website (and therefore trust, and rankings), the nature of the links Google and Bing tend to value have changed considerably. And on page factors have changed considerably too – even though many of the traditional on page factors still play a large role in a properly optimized, well-performing web presence. Here’s a great list defining some of those changes in SEO that took place in 2013. Still further to this, social media metrics, and how often content shared and engaged with, continue to play a larger role in determining how the major search engines view your business and content.

Content has taken a larger and larger more meaningful role in search, and Google has adjusted to reward sites developing unique content and positive user experience more and more. This trend will continue through 2014, as one of Google’s main goals is providing a positive user experience in search. Some believe that this switch has reduced the need for professional SEOs in the market. Indeed, recently, Jill Whalen – a veteran in the SEO world, announced that she is retiring from being a professional SEO, because Google “finally got it right”.

In general, I don’t agree. As a business, the need to optimize your website and all of your online assets, resources and content hasn’t changed (and won’t in the future) – no matter how much better Google, or Bing, or future search gets at predicting which content is the best candidate. The way in which you need to strategize your content and go about performing optimization, outreach and targeting has.

So answering the question properly really requires a ‘redefinition’ of what SEO really means. The future of SEO – the way in which it has operated in the past – is gone. But can’t we say the same about most things?

Here is Why SEO Is Not Dead (and is merely “changing states”)

1. The Internet is built on the premise of content development and since SEO is about optimizing that content to be seen by the largest number of people in your target audience that content will still need to be optimized.

Content isn’t going away – if anything, the amount of content is increasing exponentially. How is content prioritized for the user? What elements and signals dictate which content is the best possible choice for the consumer?

2. The sheer number of marketing channels available to “search” and the ways in which one can search (and therefore optimize presence and delivery of content) continues to grow within those channels.

Factor in social media (real time search), photo sharing, mobile search and voice search, and the number of options continues to grow, as new companies try to develop anchored positions within the industry.

3. Social media continues to expand, and within it, social search continues to grow larger and more prevalent.

New, hybrid companies are building increasingly complex social search options for the consumer.

4. By definition, the meaning of ‘optimize’ can and does take on many roles.

A business can optimize for rankings and visibility, click through rates from the SERPs (search engine results pages) to your content, or even mindshare and branding, depending on the specific strategy they employ.

5. As consumers continue to become more and more adept and educated in utilizing search, power is shifting to the user.

This change velocity almost certainly means increasing numbers of new disruptive technologies and startups geared at helping consumers find more compelling and interesting ways to return the best, funniest and compelling content.

What Should We Expect in 2014 and Beyond?

So, the million dollar question for the business owner is, what should you expect in 2014 and beyond?

I am not a search engine, but if I were one, I would certainly want to see:

1. More remarkable content that engages, answers questions and solves problems for the consumer.

2. Development of algorithms and changes that help me measure consumer sentiment; ensuring that the consumer is increasingly happy with the results I serve up.

3. Thoroughly optimized content that is thoughtfully created for my target audience.

4. A massive reduction in content that is thin, not usable, and not helpful for the end user.

What are your thoughts on SEO – is it dead, dying, or simply being redefined? Tell us below, in the comments, or share with your community.

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