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Is Organic Search Dead?
Why I'm Happy It Might Be

Posted by Charlie Recksieck and Craig Choisser on 2020-07-23
Here's a question for you: Is SEO dead for organic search? If you've read some of Charlie’s posts previously you might see this waffling answer coming a mile away: Yes and no.

Deferring To Neil Patel

When it comes to answering the question "Is SEO Dead?" We feel very comfortable leaving that to an outstanding Neil Patel article on his blog - by the way, we completely encourage a deep dive into his site and insights.

This article is not going to disagree with Neil in the sense that yes, companies, web developers, SEO strategists still have work to do to properly promote and do things right when it comes to SEO. A business has to do this as well as possible to take advantage of organic search and appearing high in Google rankings.

(While we’re on the subject of Google rankings, Charlie previously wrote about non-Google search engines to think about but generally at this point in 2020 when it comes to "organic" search engines, Google is 90% of the market and should be 90% of your focus.)

Yes, Take Your SEO Seriously

The decreasing role of organic search (people finding you in a Google search just because of the content of your site) and rise of paid search is certainly happening. That doesn't mean good SEO practices on your site don't matter; if your SEO isn't together then you're shooting yourself in the foot and it's a totally unforced error.

Right after you finish reading this article, we really recommend you do an audit of your SEO to see how you're doing. These free tools are so very valuable. There's a bunch out there but here's a solid one:

Don't just stop there. Immerse yourself in SEO for an hour or so if it's important to you (or if nobody else at your business is taking the lead on this). Here's some great recommendations: SEO Must-Do’s
and here's some next-level stuff that's still easy to wrap your head around.

And while we're recommending things, please, please make sure you understand "search intent"; it's described masterfully in this Joshua Hardwick blog post.

Deep Waters, Beware

A dive into SEO can be a wade into a pretty arcane world that has had us both pulling our hair out. Being aware of what's involved is good; but, just like paying somebody to change your oil instead of doing it yourself, there's a reason there are SEO specialists.

Right now, most SEO is a result of off-site back links, which we're incredulous that Google still cares about. It's just a dark art and a world we're not well versed in, we pay people to get clients on page 1 and don't really know or care exactly how it's done. On-page content helps, but our latest SEO consultant said 80 percent (or more) is off site; i.e. backlinks). It's just crazy.

Here's The Point - "SEO" As A "Trick"

The main idea we’re trying to express in this article is that what 20 years ago passed as "SEO" was pretty much meta tags plus some web designer tricks of the trade. Yes, we’re oversimplifying a little, but not that much. Back when you were worried what AltaVista and Yahoo saw when they crawled your site (the name AltaVista should freeze things in a moment in time when Hanson and Will Smith had #1 singles), there was a perception that if you used the magic SEO tricks then you'd shoot up the rankings.

For a while, this approach was almost adequate. Lots of people in the business made nice livings as "SEO experts" primarily by tightening up meta tags and some strategic edits of page text/content.

Then came Google. They started as a search engine and got ahead because they were the best search engine. Well before Google Home was a concept or years before they became a cloud host or the biggest advertising platform in the world, they made their bones on advancing the search engine to actually do a better job of showing you the most relevant content for your search instead of just whoever formed their meta tags the best.

Dancing On The Grave Of Organic Search

As a consumer, this is great news. Google searches in 2020 so much better match what people are trying to find than they did back in 2000.

As software professionals, we're happy that clients/managers increasingly are aware that SEO aren't just magic words. If a couple started a home business in 1998 and put up a web site, odds are that they thought if they did a good job with SEO on their web pages, then business would just start magically roll in. It didn't.

More Like Traditional Marketing Efforts Now

1998 to 2012 may have been a unique time in business history. The romance of the internet "democratizing" information and access was alive and well, even if the reality of SEO's power was exaggeration.

In 1955 if you launched a new shaving cream company, you couldn't just hang out your shingle and get business. Building a product was the easy half of any business (and still is). Getting awareness of it was at least 50% of the problem statement. That new shaving company had to have the capital to advertise.

Here in 2020, the Internet still democratizes this ... smart online paid search campaigns can still have a great impact with small- or medium-sized budgets; you don't need to already be well-heeled to get national ad campaigns going. And being smart about SEO today still counts for an awful lot.

The Takeaway

Increases in the quality of search engines have actually "professionalized" marketing on the internet. The downside of that is that paid search rewards large companies with money and makes it harder to break out as a small startup. That said, money isn't the only factor and smart, innovative companies and marketing folks are succeeding.

Another result is that the false promise of magic keyword tricks from 15-25 years ago is finally dying. Good riddance.