I saw a post on Linkedin last week proclaiming that SEO is dead and encouraging people to just write great content. Are they right? Is SEO dead? Here’s why I don’t think so. Not in 2019. Probably not ever.
Don’t get me wrong. SEO has changed. Old-fashioned SEO, which amounted to keyword stuffing and little else, is dead. But ignoring SEO is a shortcut and it backfires on you. It backfired on me.
Is SEO dead? Maybe traditional SEO is.
The problem with saying SEO is alive or SEO is dead is that it means different things to different people. Back in 2001, people would play games with search engines and create meta tags stuffed with keywords, many of which had nothing to do with what was on the page. Adding meta tags with the names of attractive pop stars seemed to get more traffic for your post about technology, so people did it.
That trick doesn’t work anymore. If I put a bunch of meta tags on this post and include the names of the latest pop stars, I’ll probably get less traffic, if it has any effect at all.
Search engines punish you for trying to game the system. But search engines will reward you if you follow certain best practices, and ignore you if you don’t. If that’s not SEO, then I don’t know what is.
SEO is dead. Long live SEO.
Content is king, but a good ruler has a large supporting cast. Without any SEO, great content can languish in obscurity. I have blog posts that used to get 1-2 reads per year, and for years I didn’t know why. That content gets 20-25 hits per day now. The content is mostly the same as it always was, but I made a few subtle changes and now it gets traffic. A blog that gets traffic has a lot more purpose.
What kinds of changes? Maybe changing terminology in some cases. Search engines know a lot of synonyms but not all of them. Using the words people actually type into search engines makes a big difference.
There are other subtle changes that help too. Removing dates from URLs makes a difference. Enabling SSL makes a difference. Maintaining the correct balance of ads and affiliate links also helps. Too many will hurt your standing, but a reasonable number of each doesn’t hurt.
In some cases, I needed to adjust my writing a bit. Using less passive voice and rewriting to lower the reading level a bit helped. All else being equal, search engines do seem to favor content that’s easier to read.
Some self-styled SEO consultants will badger people for links, to try to boost a client’s content. From time to time I get messages from people wanting me to link to their stuff. Sometimes they’ll even offer to link to me in exchange, but usually, they just tell me I should link to them.
I don’t waste my time with that and most legitimate SEO experts don’t either. If you build good content, people will link to it. Linking to your own stuff is beneficial–to the tune of two internal links count as highly as one external link, and don’t require you to badger anyone. You can also open a Pinterest account and put your RSS feed in it. That gives you a free link to every new post, along with free exposure on a popular social network. It takes five minutes, so it’s well worth it.
It’s hard to understate the importance of images. Your content probably shouldn’t be all images, of course, but image-free content has the odds stacked against it. Any post that you want to receive significant traffic needs to have the featured image on it, and at least one image in the content itself. Yes, even if it’s a stock image. Don’t use other people’s images without permission, but it’s not hard to find free images you can reuse. Of course, original images are better.
Having related images with captions and alt text related to your keywords helps your SEO ranking. It helps in two ways. First, it helps you in regular searches. But a not-trivial amount of traffic comes from image searches. People look for images, come to your site for the image, and frequently they stay for the text.
Another side benefit is posts with images do much better on social media. I certainly can’t guarantee a post will go viral by adding an image to it. But I can almost guarantee without an image, it won’t.
Believing SEO is dead didn’t help me
People who tell you that SEO is dead and there are no shortcuts to getting traffic are right. But they’re wrong if they think SEO is a shortcut. Maybe it used to be. But in 2019, SEO isn’t a shortcut.
Going back and giving my content a once-over to make sure you don’t need a master’s degree to understand it is extra work. Going back and making sure my content links to other relevant posts, and going back after I publish and linking to new stuff from other older stories is extra work. Adding images is extra work. All this extra work improves your standing in the search engines, but it also increases the possibility that after someone finds your site, they’ll stay a while. I could write 50% more content if I didn’t have to worry about SEO, but I can say the same if I didn’t have to worry about fixing typos and other mistakes. It’s worth working more slowly to get the content right.
I saw an almost immediate spike in traffic when I installed the Yoast SEO plugin and ran my most popular posts through it and followed its advice. But sometimes SEO’s effects are more gradual. I ran some other posts through it and in some cases it took more than six months for the traffic to follow. Being patient is hard, but the payoff was that some posts I wrote years ago that only got 1-2 page views per month now get traffic every day.
In some cases, all it took to bring a post from zero views per day to 20 was inserting a couple of subheadings, and maybe adding an image. And while 20 views per day may not sound like a lot, the effects are cumulative. And a few more tweaks for Bing started bringing me significant traffic from there too.
So is SEO dead? Only if you think of it as keyword stuffing. But if you think of SEO as best practices for the web, it’s very much alive. And it probably always will be.