SEO is Dead. Long Live SEO: How to Rank Highly on Google

How to Rank Highly on Google

Ever since the term SEO (which stands for “search engine optimization”) was first coined, people have consistently announced its impending doom. One of the best known examples of this doom-mongering is found in a 2012 piece from Forbes, The Death of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR, and Real Content, which succeeded in riling up SEO experts and industry analysts either coming to the defense of SEO or adding more nails to the coffin.

As you can guess from the title of this piece, my stance on the matter is rather nuanced. But before we get into that, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with our definitions. Traditionally, SEO has been defined as the tactics employed in order to make a particular website and/or web page rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs). This generally involves two aspects: 1) On-Page SEO, which includes things like having relevant meta information and alt tags for images, a well-structured site layout, fast loading times, and lots of relevant keywords; and 2) Off-Page SEO, which mainly consists of building links from high Page-Ranking websites back to your website.

The points I’ve just described are all well and good, but with the good comes the bad. Increasingly, the SEO industry has developed a negative connotation, and for good reason. For every well-meaning and honest SEO “expert”, there’s another practicing shady tactics like link buying, web spamming, keyword stuffing, or phony article placement.

However, the dominant search engine against which such tactics are employed is no longer putting up with these kinds of gimmicks. In ways both praised and reviled by practitioners and civilians alike, Google is consistently tweaking its algorithm and its SERPs so as to render such underhanded practices ineffectual. For instance, anyone who searches using Google has likely noticed that an increasing share of real estate on SERPs is devoted to sponsored results and other Google products. Indeed, one observer calculated in 2013 that organic search results account for a mere 13% of screen space above the fold. This means that any good digital marketer should be employing advertising tactics as part of his/her overall digital strategy (see my eBook, How to Create a Comprehensive Digital Marketing Strategy in 10 Steps). People may hem and haw about this development, but the fact of the matter is Google is a for-profit company, and as such will do whatever it can to make money. Whether this may end up hurting Google in the long run is a debate for another time.

The thing that has really forced the SEO community to reexamine its tactics, though, is how Google is changing its algorithm to better serve its users. When people search on Google, they are ultimately asking a question. If I type “birdhouse help” into the search bar, the question I’m hoping to have answered is probably “How do I build a birdhouse?” or “What tools do I need to build a birdhouse?” or maybe even “I’m think about building a birdhouse, but maybe I should just buy one instead. What do you think Google?” Understanding this, Google is no longer interested in driving users to websites that have simply employed all the best SEO techniques. Google is looking for the websites that best answer the questions people ask of it.

So back to the title of this piece. Traditional SEO remains necessary to making a functioning, accessible website, but it is no longer sufficient to rank highly on SERPs. To really get your website ranked highly on Google, you have to create and publish content that answers the questions your customers are asking.

How can you accomplish this? Simple: know your customer! Study the search terms your customers use to find your products/services. Create buyer personas for each of your main customer segments, determine their needs, wants, pain/pleasure points, interests, budget, and favorite places to hang out online, and then create content that addresses each of those points (for more, see my previous blog post Create Content for Each Step in Your Sales Funnel). Create multiple touch points through which you can reach your customers and through which they can engage with you. Get on social media. Create monthly e-newsletters. Publish customer testimonials, FAQ pages, videos, eBooks, white papers, case studies, and anything else your prospective customer might be looking for. When people want to buy something these days, they like to spend lots of time researching before they pick up the phone. Make sure you have quality content for them to find and to help them remember you when it comes time to buy.

SEO is dead. Link-building and keyword-rich content is no longer enough. That’s why savvy SEO firms are increasingly adding content marketing to their overall suite of services, helping businesses create content that answers the questions customers are asking and publishing it to places where they can find it. Long live SEO.

Matthew Givner is Agency 33’s ePR Specialist. He can be contacted at