Yes, SEO Still Matters! 6 Future-Proof Reasons All Businesses Should Invest in SEO Posted by Natalie Hornyak Jun 30 2017 All With search algorithms changing constantly, is search engine optimization (SEO) losing its relevance? To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of SEO’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” Let’s be clear: just like the Internet, SEO has changed a lot over the past decade, and will continue to evolve and stay relevant. SEO has come a long way since the dark ages before Google Penguin doomed content mills to a fiery, unsearchable grave in 2012. It wasn’t that long ago that climbing the SERPs (search engine results pages) was as simple as stuffing an otherwise content-free page full of the same keyword over and over, with links that lead to nowhere, and a few misspellings to catch Googlers prone to typos. Google making search more difficult to game through cheap tricks and black hat tactics, undeniably, a good thing — but as our algorithm-refining friends at Alphabet work hard to make search results more relevant for users, marketers start to wax apocalyptic: “Is SEO dead?” No, SEO Isn’t Dead. It’s Just Different. And More Important Than Ever. Let’s look at the reasons people get spooked about SEO these days: Voice search is on the rise, changing the way people find information According to the 2017 SEMrush Ranking Factors Study, keywords — while still important — aren’t nearly as important to search as user experience Google keeps changing their algorithm, so techniques that worked for you last year may not be working this year As you’re about to see, none of these concerns will relieve you of your SEO duties. Let’s look at all the ways SEO is still important — and isn’t going away anytime soon. 1. Organic marketing is still a sure bet — and content is still king. How well your content ranks in organic search directly impacts how many future customers find you — and, more to the point, how many find your competitors instead. According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound Report, marketers say that improving traffic to their website is their second biggest priority this year, right after converting leads to customers. According to the same report, the majority of marketers say that inbound practices (that is, content marketing and other organic campaigns) provide the highest quality sales leads to their business — higher even than self-sourced leads from sales teams. The good news is that a slam-dunk SEO strategy is a rising tide that lifts all organic marketing boats. The easier you are to find in search, the better your content strategy will perform, the easier it will be to grow your social influence, the more likely people are to sign up for your newsletter. The bad news is that if you’re making SEO mistakes, that will have a negative impact on all your inbound efforts — red skies in the morning, SEOs take warning. 2. As user behavior changes, SEO best practices will address those changes. Voice search doesn’t mean SEO is dead — it simply means best practices are evolving! In Ye Olde World Wide Web, when you wanted to find an answer to a question — let’s say, Harry S. Truman’s middle name — you’d go to your desktop computer, fire up Internet Explorer, navigate to Google.com, and type “harry truman middle name.” (Note: his middle name is just the letter “S.” Seriously.) Now, you can use your phone, tablet, or laptop to type in that search query. Alternatively, you could ask Siri, Alexa, or another digital assistant using your own voice. But just because voice search and local search (“Where’s the best falafel near me?”) are growing in prominence doesn’t mean SEO pros aren’t figuring out the best ways to reach those users. Rather than throw in the towel because SEO best practices are evolving, you can become an early adopter of those strategies — while your competitors are still keyword stuffing their blog posts like it’s 2012, you can reach all the local voice searchers they’re neglecting. In the process, you won’t just grow your own influence, but you may also bury your competition on page two of Google (where Jimmy Hoffa’s body may actually be hidden) in the process. 3. As one SEO ranking factor loses power, other ranking factors overtake it. Writing keyword-optimized content used to be an exercise in obsession. The rule used to be that keywords or keyword phrases would need to occupy 1% of your word count — so if you wrote a 3,000-word blog post, you’d want to get your keyword in there 30 times. And if you’re working with a long-tail keyword phrase like “how to secure your linux server,” that gets old fast. That’s why we’re glad that keywords are gradually losing some steam as an SEO ranking factor. As search algorithms become more sophisticated, content creators can focus more on creating awesome content people actually want to read and share, as opposed to plugging a bunch of keywords into a formula. That isn’t to say keywords aren’t important — keyword research should always inform your content calendar — but it does shift marketer’s responsibility toward more important things, like… 4. Awesome user experience is as important to SEO as it is to users. If your users look this happy navigating your website experience, you’re doing something right. Remember those pre-2012 content mills we mentioned earlier? Do you remember Googling a serious question you really wanted an answer to, and having to sift through pages of spammy, keyword-stuffed, useless content — lousy with sketchy ads and popups — to get to a relevant answer? Yea, that was a crappy user experience. Similarly, if your website offers users a bad experience, Google doesn’t want it to harm the user’s overall Google experience. To spare our search engine overlords the embarrassment of association, websites with poor UX are banished to the shadows of pages two and three of search results. According to the SEMrush Ranking Factors report, three of the top five SEO ranking factors are measures of user experience: time on site, pages per session, and bounce rate. That means that if a netizen finds your website, can’t make heads or tails of your information architecture, gets bombarded by intrusive advertising, or simply has to wait a long time for the page to load, your search position will take a hit — no matter how many times you got an awesome keyword into headings. You can think of it this way: if you’re following SEO best practices, you’re also boosting your website’s overall user experience. Happy users are more likely to become happy customers. If that’s not evidence of SEO’s wide-ranging business benefits, we don’t know what is. 5. More and more, SERPs are rewarding good behavior — like data security. Only you can prevent data breaches. We share so much of our data online that many of us don’t even think twice about it. But every time you tell the Internet your birthday, your mom’s maiden name, your mailing address, and the medicine you use to treat your athlete’s foot, information ends up living on a server somewhere — and as we see time and again in the news, hackers love stealing that data. Google’s getting wise to the threat, and rewarding websites that take extra steps to secure user data. For example, using SSL/TLS encryption to secure your website (look for “https” in the address bar to verify a site’s encrypted) will give you an SEO boost. Likewise, if your website includes username and password fields, or fields that collect personal or financial data, you’ll be penalized in search if you don’t use encryption. When you think about it, it makes total sense — where you are in the SERPs is a measure of your relevance, authority, and trustworthiness to the user asking the question. If your answer to “What’s Harry S. Truman’s middle name?” is “Truman’s middle name is just the letter ‘S’, and by the way a stranger is now using your credit card number to buy a jet ski,” you might not be the most credible source. 6. If you do it right, SEO delivers long-lasting benefits to your business. While the Chicken Littles of the marketing world may be worried about the long-term viability of SEO, organic search optimization is actually one of the best long-term tactics any business can deploy. Unlike paid advertising, SEO keeps drawing traffic to your website without a continuous investment. In fact, it typically takes three to six months to get an accurate picture of how well a particular piece of SEO content ranks in search. Far from being a flash in the marketing pan, SEO is a slow build that continues to provide value over time. A great piece of long-form, evergreen SEO content can continue to drive new traffic to your website years after you publish it — by then, several typefaces will go in and out of vogue, you’ll have reskinned your website at least once, and a new cast of marketing startup characters will dominate your social feeds. All the while, your content is working in the background, quietly attracting leads. And the best part? Website visits are the #1 SEO ranking factor. So if your SEO strategy works in attracting new visitors, those new visits will further boost your SEO, creating a feedback loop of awesomeness. SEO: the gift that keeps on giving. Algorithms change, but great content is still great content, and great content will always do better in search. If your blog post is still worth reading this time next year, that matters more than how many times you used a keyword in the image alt text. Grow Your Audience Organically With SEO While the nitty gritty details of your SEO workflow may change from quarter to quarter, the basic principles of SEO — create content that answers users' questions quickly and completely, provide a great user experience, and prove your brand’s authority on a topic — will endure as long as people have questions to ask. And if you’re not doing SEO, you’re ceding priceless Google real estate to your competitors. Whether you’re just starting to optimize your site for search or need a tune-up based on up-to-the-minute best practices, Garfield can help. We’ll uncover the questions your future customers are asking, research your competition, and serve up an SEO strategy that draws leads in like a magnet — if you optimize it, they will come! Contact us to get started. What would you add to this list of important reasons to invest in SEO? Let us know by tweeting us @GarfieldGroup!