SEO is still vital for businesses today, but its long-term future looks doubtful

Traditional search behavior is being eroded by mobile devices – leaving the SEO industry with a headache, says Matt Owen

A decade ago, SEO was an entirely predictable and (relatively) accessible digital marketing channel. Websites were created, stuffed full of keywords, cloaked with supporting content and – hey presto! – Excellent rankings ensued. More recently, as page ranking became the focus of SEO efforts, the process of “gaming” the algorithm was still relatively straightforward, thanks to the link economy and the relative ease with which off-site authority could be manufactured by directory submissions, content placement, and grey-hat efforts to acquire links via sponsorships, ad banners and the like.

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Fast forward to the present day, and the latest algorithm changes have raised the bar substantially. Let’s be clear; Google’s Panda (which rewards websites that deliver high quality, original, in-depth content) and Penguin (which punishes websites for the presence of clearly manufactured back links) are undoubtedly a good thing for users. They effectively ensure that only the most relevant, reputable and responsive websites are rewarded by Google with prominent search engine results page (SERP) visibility. These latest updates have effectively killed the traditional low-cost/low-value approach to SEO campaigns. And rest assured, future changes will deliver more of the same, as Google (and Bing) will increasingly use a broader and more subtle range of signals to deliver improved search quality.

For some marketers, this is very good news indeed. Established and recognized brands that genuinely deserve to reap the benefits of quality, authenticity, and advocacy will dominate the SERPs, gain traffic, interaction, and conversions, and naturally, reinforce their strengths.

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But hold on, what if I run a startup business, perhaps with a limited budget, and a rapid break-even prerogative? Forecasting the returns from SEO is extremely difficult. Given a choice between a mid to high-risk punt on investing in SEO over a sustained period, versus the relative certainty of PPC, where entry costs can be low, learnings are rapidly acquired, and audience targeting is becoming more and more sophisticated, marketers could be tempted to opt for the safer paid media option.

What makes SEO offputting?

SEO today demands a sophisticated blend of content creation, on-site optimization, structuring, distribution, amplification, authorship, and socialization. In short, it’s either expensive or time-consuming or both. It’s often beyond the means of many smaller businesses, unless they are very determined, or operate in a lucrative niche market. This in turn means that SEO campaigns can only be justified by larger players, leveraging existing and expensively gained domain authority to launch new products within an established category, or just splashing the cash to mirror brand aspirations by creating visibility for vanity keywords (“we’re the biggest chocolate company in the UK, we should be number one for chocolate,” for example).

Now for the killer blow to SEO – mobile. Consider the facts: UK smartphone penetration is running at just over 50%, with 59% of these users accessing the web via their device every day. Mobile search queries have increased in volume by over 500% in just under two years. So what? Well, pop out your smartphone, and search for something. Now look at how many natural versus paid results you see. For the majority of search terms, the page will be dominated by paid listings, enhanced with eye-catching ad extensions such as user reviews, click to call, maps, etc. Not much natural visibility there. And already there are further developments ahead, with Google and others launching interactive glasses.

And there’s a second killer blow to consider, that our search experience moves from a proactive quest for information to a reactive and intuitive scenario where your device knows about you, your diary, your location, your friends, your purchasing history, your pets – and makes helpful suggestions in real time to support your information needs. In case you missed it, this is already happening – it’s called Google Now, and it’s not searching, in any way, shape or form.

In the context of consumerism, products such as Google Now will inevitably erode traditional search behavior, because people are lazy, and get lazier. That’s why consumer innovations such as video on demand, home-delivered groceries, and one-click ordering have been so successful, and equally why the future of search as we know it now, and especially SEO, looks a little less than rosy.

On a positive note, this does create an opportunity for SEO to succeed, because for every business that runs the numbers and decides to focus on paid media or (heaven forbid) some offline marketing, there will be another player who does something innovative, compelling and creative, with a “just do it” attitude and an appetite for long-term success. Good luck to these pioneers, and goodbye to rest.

Netflix will suck it up’: why the Cannes movie festival isn’t always so sit back Peter Bradshaw
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Bong also discussed feedback made with the aid of Cannes jury president Pedro Almodóvar, who stated that he believed that films without theatrical distribution like Okja shouldn’t be considered for the festival’s prestigious Palme D’Or.

“I’m a big fan of Pedro. So the mere truth that he talks approximately my film, whether it’s in sparkling or negative terms, that’s great for me.”

Okja stars Korean infant actor Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija, a young female who has to protect her pleasant pal, a massive pig named Okja, from being kidnapped by way of a multinational company. She’s assisted in her efforts via participants of the Animal Liberation Front, portrayed in the movie as a set of hapless however well-natured eco-warriors.