Will SEO Be Dead Within The Next Two Years?

Another question we received recently was:

"SEO as we know it will be dead within the next 2 years – true or false? With the wealth of info at their fingertips combined with localized, customized search to name but a few Google will no longer need to do what it does now to determine rankings?"

I'd say "false".

People have been predicting the death of SEO since, well, the beginning of SEO. Here's a debate from 2004, and another from 2006. These arguments probably started around 1995.

So long as search engines display a list of sites, for which payment is not required, SEO will exist.

How SEO is done will change. It has always changed. In the bad old days, SEO was all about getting listed in the Yahoo Directory. If you didn't, you were pretty much invisible. There was a time that listing with Looksmart got you decent rankings in MSN. These days, few of those new to SEO have even heard of Looksmart.

Google will certainly adapt and change, and use a variety of metrics in order to determine relevance. SEOs will adapt and change, trying to work out what these metrics are.

Recently, Eric Schmidt made the following comment:

The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. Speaking with an audience of magazine executives visiting the Google campus here as part of their annual industry conference, he said their brands were increasingly important signals that content can be trusted"

So, having a brand might be a signal of quality, which may, in turn, lead to a higher rank. Or perhaps Schmidt was just playing to the audience of newspaper owners. Difficult to tell ;)

Google collects a wealth of usage data from toolbars, analytics, and their ad systems, so it is conceivable they might fold these metrics into their ranking systems. Marissa Mayer recently suggested that SearchWiki data might be used ranking calculations.

Will the bar get raised? Will SEO become more difficult? Of course. But a raised bar works two ways. If you can reach it, there's a new barrier between you and those who follow you. That gives you some level of defensibility.

So how do you do SEO going forward?

I've written a lot about the importance of holistic strategy. Your aim should be to sell something to people - be it an opinion, a product, a service. All your endeavors should support this goal, and most of the time, that means doing the basics well - make your site crawlable, well linked, and solve a genuine problem for people. If your SEO efforts are not resulting in an improvement in the bottom line , then there is little point doing SEO.

Bob Massa put it well:

"I believe anyone can be successful at online marketing or even traffic generation and search engine placement specifically, if they just stop looking for ways to trick machines and instead look for ways to connect with humans".

Published: January 21, 2009 by A Reader in seo tips


January 22, 2009 - 2:01am

Peter I see SEO/SEM as a permanent evolving field, as Search Technology evolves, so does SEO. As you mentioned it has been changing since the beginning back in 1995. Thanks for your great posts Peter. How about a post related to being an in-house SEO from the Management perspective, how to organize a team, reports, resources needed, etc. Thanks

January 22, 2009 - 3:13am

Excellent post on a topic that won't die. All we can do is monitor, learn and adapt. Thanks for making all your great tools!

January 22, 2009 - 3:17am

SEO Practices - yes, I'll post more on the inhouse SEO teams and structures over the next few months.

January 22, 2009 - 3:22am

I agree that as long as there are non-paid, relevance/value based rankings in search engines SEO won't die.

However, I do think things are coming to be of a head - and now, what you might call a "holistic SEO strategy" is actually just a strong marketing strategy.

In a sense, SEO is becoming more of a result, or by-product, of a sound web marketing strategy and less of a practice unto itself.

If "SEO" now includes developing sound site structure and code, building links and crafting a strong user experience to ensure your bounce rates / other user behavior metrics are positive at what point does it become impractical to try and fit this all under the umbrella of this term?

January 22, 2009 - 6:37am

If "SEO" now includes developing sound site structure and code, building links and crafting a strong user experience to ensure your bounce rates / other user behavior metrics are positive at what point does it become impractical to try and fit this all under the umbrella of this term?

Maybe when our domain name has another acronym in it, rather than SEO. :)

Maybe we should just call our field profit and then share ways about achieving the goal. :)

January 22, 2009 - 5:49pm

It took almost a decade to get C-level executives to write checks for "SEO". By the time they started to recognize the need (some companies haven't gotten there yet) the industry had evolved from On Page/Keyword to optimizing websites for users. Some of these changes are driven by ROI and lessons learned from analytics and conversion test while some were driven by the evolution of search engine algorithms.

The bottom line is that the SEO process/methodology is about optimizing the entire site to understand search intent and deliver content to users that matches their intent. I like to call this processes Website Optimization, but as long as clients want to write a check for "SEO", I don't care what we call it.

The dirty little secret is that every SEO project requires a re-design at some level and that these changes are generally geared towards better information scent (headlines), content and calls to action.

January 22, 2009 - 8:55am

Maybe we should just call our field profit and then share ways about achieving the goal. :)

Profit Marketing, it's catchy that's for sure! THis post reminds me of Seth Godins book, the dip and sounds like there is quite a dip coming up

January 22, 2009 - 11:52am

Hi all,

I couldn't find any comment on the linked page related to this comment:

"Marissa Mayer recently suggested that SearchWiki data might be used ranking calculations."

Maybe it has been edited. Any indication that Search wiki could be influening natural rankings is really interesting.

January 22, 2009 - 1:26pm

SEO will exist. When you show only 10 natural listings, you automatically create a competition.
For conversion you need ranking and rankings starts with optimization. We might need to adapt our working methods but in my opinion SEO will not end up dead.

January 22, 2009 - 1:57pm

The world is always changing.

So is SEO.

The only issue is Google at this moment is a monopoly in terms of search so the "free" market is a little distorted.

But many changes have been happening in SEO and will happen in the future.

But I don't expect any radical change, just evolution.

Regards Aaron

January 22, 2009 - 2:00pm

Well put, Peter. I really love the way you ended this piece. It's not about gaming an algorithm. It's about connecting with users.

@Aaron - I'm eagerly awaiting profitbook.com ... just make sure to setup the proper redirects from this domain ; )

January 22, 2009 - 2:49pm

I agree, and don't think SEO is going anywhere...but I echo the thought that has been weaving through recent posts and comments that the means to the same end are changing. Personally, as these shifts are becoming more of the norm rather than the exception, I have started to shift my own marketing from "SEO" to "Web Optimization." Because I don't think it is about the engines anymore - it was when it was more difficult and took longer to get noticed - but now you can Tweet something and have a pile of visits within the same hour you post something. So I think our job will become helping our clients to find the right methods of optimization, through search, PPC, blogging, Facebook, Twitter or what have you...again, a more holistic and user-focused approach. And if you refuse to adapt, you will simply evaporate.
@ MikeTek - maybe it's me, but SEO has ALWAYS involved code and site structure...this is nothing new. I think the emphasis on user experience is getting stronger, but if you look back historically, people like Seth Godin, Jill Whalen, and Aaron have been singing this song for years. It's recently that the rest of us are catching up to it.
And it's good to see you posting again Peter! Aaron had a ton of great stuff in January, but I did miss your perspective. You two make a very powerful (remarkable?) team.

Nikki Flores
January 22, 2009 - 5:09pm

I'm VERY much interested in seeing how WikiSearch will affect the SEO market. At first glance, I worry that SEO won't have much effect on search in a bit because of WikiSearch. The search results are in the hands of searchers, and it's likely open up to fraud...Like PPC click fraud.

January 22, 2009 - 5:24pm

Great points Peter, I couldn't agree more! As mentioned this debate has be going on for years so, a few months ago I asked Matt if "Google sees SEO as having a future?" His reply was "Certainly, as long as the SEO is whitehat."

- http://www.seroundtable.com/gwclc-qa.txt

January 22, 2009 - 7:18pm

"Marissa Mayer recently suggested that SearchWiki data might be used ranking calculations."

Le Web Conference:


"“At this time we aren’t using SearchWiki to influence ranking but it is easy to see how that could happen in the future” she said."

January 22, 2009 - 8:45pm

I for one am coming to believe what Schmidt says about Brands.

I came across bluehatseo in August 2007 when my career was in flux and it just totally wrecked my mental health. I got involved in web publishing with a grey hat orientation and had some success. Last summer I looked at some sites I owned and divided my yearly revenue by the number of pages. I realized that a site that makes X cents of revenue per page per year could be a great business if you could create the pages for X/2 or X/4 cents.

I've noticed that the thing that holds my sites back is the quality of the sites, not the number of links that I can buy or steal. There's just a limit to how many bad links you can drop before automated protective mechanisms kick in: I've observed those actions time and time again. On the other hand, understanding how much my sites suck made me realized I can greatly improve user engagement and the rate at which I get organic links.

Recently I've decided to create a brand which will link all (well, most ;-) of my sites. I figure the extra perception of legitimacy that I'll get from the web community will be worth the "footprint;" having a brand is going to hold me to higher quality standards too: you don't need to have the best site on a topic to get the #1 position, but it doesn't hurt.

January 22, 2009 - 8:54pm

Most certainly not. SEO has a lot of thigns to it and not everyone has the time to REALLY make it work.


January 23, 2009 - 1:24am

Great comment, CureDream.

There's a reason brand is so valuable in the offline world, and there's no reason to think the web is any different.

Essentially, brand is about user trust.

January 23, 2009 - 6:39pm

As a small business owner doing my own SEO, it takes up a lot of time and has an impressive learning curve. No matter what factors go in to SEO in the future, sites will need their design/content, etc. to match those factors if they want to rank. I think very few other small business owners would want to spend the time or see it as an intellectual challenge. So, I think SEO firms will be in business for a long time.

January 24, 2009 - 9:59am

I admit that SEO is new for me and I'm still trying to come to grips with it but even as a dummy I don't see how it can die.

It will no doubt change and adapt as searchers change the way they want to surf and interact on the Internet, but if you want to appear in their results, then you just have to keep up and adapt your SEO strategies accordingly surely?

Or am I missing something more here?


January 24, 2009 - 8:05pm

We agree with your position as well Susan. :)

Jill Whalen
January 25, 2009 - 6:46pm

As long as there are designers, developers and IT departments that continue to be clueless about real SEO (i.e., they finally get it's not about meta keywords) there will always be a need for SEO.

January 27, 2009 - 4:58am

The fact that these topics even warrant discussion leave me feeling a certain amount of subconscious angst about my professional career. But those that can adapt and change with the times are, and will continue to be, at the forefront of the industry. But I do agree with martypants and others who argue the term "SEO" is almost redundant and doesn't cover the scope of what most of us now do on a day-to-day basis. We're no longer just optimising for search engines/rankings, we're focusing more on usability, social media, universal search medium like video etc etc

February 4, 2009 - 9:51am

I say false too! I think as long as search engines are set up the way they are there will always be a way to optimize your site for better ranking. Although that does not mean things could change and change drastically and we might be optimizing in a totally different way but non the less still optimizing.

lee pearl
April 6, 2009 - 10:27pm

Excellent post on a topic that won't go away. Thanks for making all your great tools!

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