Earlier this year, I did something highly out of character.
I went to my local tailor (yes, they still exist), bought an old-timey three-piece suit with a tailcoat and top hat, schlepped out to the Internet Cemetery in the dead of night, and busted out a mighty, joyous rendition of the final number from Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance on top of a grave marked Search Engine Optimization.
See, Search Engine Optimization has been long dead. It was old and sick and dying, and then about six years ago, it simply died. SEO consultants all over the world tried repeatedly to zap it back to life, applying defibrillator paddles and shouting “clear!” until SEO’s corpse was smouldering and singed from the electrical burns. But eventually, they had to call it. SEO was declared dead in the middle of the night. I’m told that he struggled and fought to the very end, trying to keep conscious, trying to fend off the starvation – until Google unleashed a giant, fearsome Panda that mauled him to bits. The official cause of death was an artery blockage caused by the narrowing of his revenue streams.
The funeral was well attended, with friends and family members giving beautiful eulogies (or eugoogolies, if you prefer) on the fleetingness of Internet trends and the importance of Carpe-ing the hell out of the Diem while you still can.
“SEO and I had a long and beautiful relationship,” said SEO’s long-term girlfriend, PPC, as she wiped a tear from her eye and stifled a sob. “We just…clicked.”
But not all of the funeral guests were quite so distraught. Nobody said anything during the service – the Internet still has manners, after all – but it was at the wake that attendees started opening up about how they really felt.
“That conniving old jackass was always taking credit for my accomplishments down at the firm,” said Content Marketing as he chomped on a cigar. “But what really gets my goat is the fact that he was basically just shouting random ideas and stringing together half-baked sentences in some cobbled-together piece of garbage that he called a project. Thing is, he knew all the right buzzwords and he said them loud, and that’s why the bosses decided to promote him. He didn’t know the first thing about selling – but he talked the right talk. Took a good five years before people wised up that he was just making noise.”
Not to be ignored, User Experience adjusted his glasses, stood up, and said in a squeaky voice, “At least he talked to you. Whenever I tried to make any changes to anything, he just shrugged and walked off. I once told him that we had to change the context of the article to incorporate the search phrase in a logical manner. You know what he said? He said, ‘The only logic I care about is Boolean logic.’ As if the Booleans ever knew what they were talking about. They use so many qualifiers and conjunctions, it takes forever to actually find what you’re after.”
That’s when Advertising Psychology brought over a round of brews and bellowed, “Thanks to SEO, the company forgot all about me! I’ve been here every day since 1920 – I’ve got seniority over all you Internet Strategies – and yet, the very instant SEO walks in the door, suddenly the bosses don’t even so much as look at me. They were too busy admiring their pretty-boy. You know what SEO said to me on his first day? He said, and I kid you not, he said, ‘You’re all washed-up, you codger. Nobody wants your opinion anymore.’ And I said, ‘Young man, I’ve been working in this department since before you were born. I’ve been involved in more marketing campaigns than Tiger Woods. I’ve forgotten more about selling than you’ll ever know. Didn’t your mother ever teach you to respect your elders?’ Honestly, he thought that people buy things just by reading about them! I can’t say I’m surprised that I outlived him, but damn, you’d think he’d have had some more humility.”
And there I stood, listening to the conversations, not saying a word, lest I betray my festive footwork-related plans.
Later that night, after the last call had been served, the last toast had been made, and the last note of Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep had rung out, I rushed home, swiftly changed into my three-piece suit, grabbed my top hat and extra-fancy cane, took a moment to glance in the mirror and straighten my bowtie, and ran out the door. Under the cover of darkness I stole away to the cemetery and located the grave of SEO.
And there, under the fading light of the stars, atop the freshly ploughed burial plot of Search Engine Optimization, I danced an Irish jig with zeal and vigour.
So why exactly did I – a man with no discernible sense of rhythm and no interest in performative dance-movement – take the time and invest the effort to learn an ancient and foreign style of dance just to gambol about in a creepy cemetery in the middle of the night?
There were several reasons, each one relating to the very cause of SEO’s very timely death.
People. Hate. Noise.
When people go online and search for a certain term, most of the time they’re looking for a certain solution to a certain problem. They’re looking to learn specific and detailed information about a specific topic. And when they find little 300-word posts on eHow that offer nothing more than common-sense step-by-step processes that they’re already familiar with, they feel like they wasted their time.
5,000 different ads. That’s what the average person encounters every single day, and with an attention span of just a few seconds, nobody has the time to pay attention to every ad they see. So when your content marketing campaign looks like the same boring garbage, the same noise, that people are accustomed to filtering out, you get filtered out, too. But that’s exactly what happens when you write for machines and not humans – you make sure the humans will never see you.
There’s so much noise in the world already. The last thing your business should be doing is adding to the din.
Marketing is no longer about getting found…it’s about creating an experience.
If you’re marketing your business and you’re still not getting sales, chances are you’re not doing a good enough job of making people care.
The flaw in your marketing isn’t that you aren’t getting found – you are getting found. But if nobody cares about what you have to say, they won’t want to do business with you.
Thing is…Google wants to create a valuable experience for its users. So the articles that Google ranks highly are going to be the articles that offer a great user experience.
What SEO experts now call “SEO” is what copywriters have always called “content marketing”.
Do you want to know how dead SEO is? SEO is so dead that even SEO experts no longer just sell SEO. They can’t make a living off just pure SEO anymore, that’s how dead SEO is.
Most of the SEO consultants that you’ll find on the Internet today sell some combination of Google Adwords ad placement (SEM), Internet marketing consulting services, and content marketing.
But the thing is, these SEO consultants have taken content marketing and re-branded it as “SEO”, when what they’re really doing is optimizing content for discovery and conversion. And I’m strongly against that practice of mis-labeling OCDC, because it boils a far-reaching and highly effective marketing strategy down to its least important benefit.
Content marketing has a long, long, long history as far as marketing strategies go. In fact, content marketing has been around for over 120 YEARS.
The very first content marketing initiative started in 1895, when John Deere published the inaugural issue of The Furrow, a magazine for buyers that, today, has over 2 million subscribers. John Deere’s current Publications Manager, David Jones, said in an interview with Contently that “Even the most technical subject has to have a human story behind it…we’ve always been able to convince the management that the content shouldn’t be about John Deere equipment. We’ve stuck to that over time.”
Today, most SEO consultants use a combination of self-hosted blog articles, guest blogs, and other content assets to rank their clients’ sites highly for organic keywords. Why?
Because they know that Google has completely changed the way SEO happens. Nowadays, the top-ranked pages for any given search term are either internationally recognized brands that nobody can compete with, or they’re filled with informative articles and other content instead of product pages.
Like it or not, content marketing is here to stay – and that means there’s no more room for SEO. Google pushed all the low-quality crap off its results pages with Panda. And when a 900-pound gorilla like Google makes a decision, you roll with it. Because you have to.
The best SEO strategy is, always has been, and always will be to write for humans first and machines second.
Okay, quite simply: Google makes its money by selling ad space next to the search results it displays. But in order to sell ads, Google needs to be able to demonstrate to advertisers that it has a huge reach and that it can get advertisers in front of their desired audiences. And in order to do that, Google has to engage said audiences and captivate their attention. And in order to do that, Google has to rank the best content highest.
What do I mean by “the best content”?
I mean the content that produces the best user experience, does the best job of answering users’ questions and solving their problems, and is most relevant and most useful to meeting the user’s immediate need.
That means if you want your content to rank highly, you need to write it in a way that will make actual humans want to read it.
Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s Web Spam Team, said as much back in 2013.
So if you’re wondering how to boost your SEO, thinking about tactics like link spamming, you should know that the only proven way to get a great SEO score is to publish high-quality content. You can’t game the system, there are no “secret hacks”, and no number of backlinks and keywords will make up for organically great content.
Good SEO is not an end goal in and of itself – it’s a natural by-product of good copy.
We all want to rank well in Google. You’d have to be crazy not to.
But a great SEO score is NOT the primary reason why you should be using content marketing in your overall strategy.
Content marketing offers a variety of benefits and works well as its own standalone strategy apart from SEO. For instance, it helps you to be seen as an authority figure in your domain, to prove to your client base how useful you can be, to dispel myths and correct misconceptions about your offering, to instil trust in your audience, and to keep your business top-of-mind, so even if people don’t want to buy from you right now, they’ll think of you first when they do want to buy.
Using content marketing just to get a great SEO score is a terrible waste. Content marketing could very well supply your business with its entire revenue stream – after all, that’s how professional bloggers make a living – but you’ll never get there if you treat content marketing as just a tool for getting to the top of Google.
What we used to call SEO is dead and gone. It’s time to sing our funeral hymns, read the will, toast the departed, and let go.