About a month ago, I wrote a piece about the ultimate fate of SEO being ground out in discussions about how companies are going to distribute their digital marketing budgets over the next few years. Predictably, this led to a few strange looks around the Latitude office the next time I was in there.
A few things have happened since then, and they’re probably hastening those decisions.
Google moved pretty much all of their search traffic to SSL, and as a result, pretty much all organic search referrals in analytics are now “not provided. I’m not going to dwell on that, because pretty much everything that needed to be written about this has been.
There are a couple of points worth noting:
The red eyed evilness of Google in allowing advertisers to retain keyword data is probably being a little overstated. There are some fundamental differences in the mechanics of how traffic flows from organic and paid search, the primary one being that paid search advertisers control the URL that they push traffic to – either by specifying a landing page, or appending campaign and source data onto the URL like this:
This contrasts with the way organic data was traditionally provided through the referring URL which would look something like this:
Google refine their results based on previous history, so the things you search for before you search stay in the URL. I think that the outcry from users if their previous search history was being passed to unrelated third parties without their consent probably outweighs the concerns of the small, but beautifully formed SEO community.
Another thing that happened ON A FUCKING FRIDAY NIGHT was a Penguin Update:
Penguin 2.1 launching today. Affects ~1% of searches to a noticeable degree. More info on Penguin: http://t.co/4YSh4sfZQj
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) October 4, 2013
Not a great couple of weeks.
All in all, it makes SEO a much harder sell:
- No guarantees
- No data
- Tonnes of risk
Don’t get me wrong. SEO still works. Really well. Even the stuff that doesn’t work still works. But there’s a lot of reasons why businesses don’t need to hire an SEO in 2014:
- All of the above
- Modern CMS aren’t crap
- Copywriters write better copy
- PR people build better links
- Your 14 year old nephew probably has a better grasp of social media
Something else happened in the last couple of weeks:
Google Hummingbird: According to David Grohl, Hummingbird’s about using semantic cues to measure context.
He does a better job of explaining it over there, go read.
Hummingbird’s exciting to me, in the same way as Google Caffeine, and Google Big Daddy were. It doesn’t feel like an algorithm change, because it was live for a few weeks, and no-one really noticed at the time.
The thing about Caffeine and Big Daddy was that they enabled different kinds of change within Google. Platform changes create opportunities for Google to update their algorithm in new ways to provide better results with less SPAM.
Get to the Point
At the risk of prompting further awkward looks in the office, I stand by my earlier assertion that a bunch of super important people who make super important decisions probably aren’t going to be deciding on SEO next year, despite their importance, they’re wrong.
The guys who’ve been doing this SEO stuff for a while are nothing if not adaptable. Ultimately SEO has never really been about links, 301 redirects or boring shit like that, it’s been about loopholes, exploits, creativity, and problem solving.
Next year’s budget shouldn’t have a line in it for last year’s techniques. Next year’s SEO is more about understanding the motivation of users and the story that precedes and succeeds the action of searching. If anything, it’s about marketing.