Google made 516 algorithm tweaks in 2010. By 2018, this had increased to 3234 – that’s 9 changes per day. It might feel like a hopeless mission to try to keep up with all these changes. Is SEO still worth the effort?
You may be spending many hours, even days, trying to keep up to date with algorithm updates, researching profitable keywords and creating great content for SEO (search engine optimisation). But if your CTR (click-through rate) is dropping, you’re probably wondering, is SEO dead?
Well, current estimates suggest that $79.27 billion dollars will be spent on SEO in 2020. So if SEO is dead, no one has told the world’s digital marketers yet.
You might have given up on SEO and just be focusing on high-quality content. But there’s a good chance that your competitors are still using SEO strategies to attract traffic to their websites, customers to their shop floors and dollars into their bank accounts.
Some marketers think that SEO is dead, while others think it’s still going strong. Read on to find out if SEO is still relevant and how to use it to your advantage in the current digital marketing environment.
Is SEO Dead?
The recent major updates to Google algorithms and changes to the layout of the search engine results page (SERP) can be hard to keep up with, meaning that many people don’t understand how to ensure their web pages rank highly in search engines.
Google searches resulting in zero clicks are increasing. Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to attract customers, due to the immense amount of data and information now available online.
Can good SEO be the difference in helping you to cut through the forest of content and attract customers to your site? Or is it a lost cause? It’s certainly true that some elements of SEO are no longer effective.
Outdated SEO Tactics
SEO used to be quite a simple process. Google could understand website information, but not in a very sophisticated way. The rankings algorithms weren’t difficult to manipulate, and this is exactly what SEO marketers did.
As a result, a lot of low-quality, spammy web pages were scoring highly in the rankings. Google switched its focus to providing quality content and now considers a lot more signals to determine which site deserves to come top of rankings.
This is why SEO is dead, at least in some respects. Some traditional SEO techniques are no longer reliable and can also cause rankings to drop. These are the practices you want to avoid in your digital marketing strategy.
It used to be the case that generating a large store of backlinks, for example by spamming links all over digital directories, could result in high rankings. Google has got wise to this. Link-building remains important as a ranking factor, but a more nuanced approach is required.
Focussing on credible link-building on authoritative sites is what’s needed now, aiming for quality rather than quantity. Cultivate links to relevant and high-quality sites, rather than seeking as many links as possible to climb up the rankings.
Quantity Over Quality
Sites which posted frequent new content used to rank more highly. However, bigger is no longer better. Google now prioritises in-depth content which adds value and extends knowledge.
Content which lacks detail ranks poorly, as visitors don’t stay long on the site. It’s better to provide better content less often, to encourage readers to stay on your site, read multiple pages, and scroll to the bottom of posts.
Google actually ranks pages in relation to the relevant search query or keyword, rather than the whole website. This means that in-depth content can cover a lot of keywords and score more highly in the rankings than thin content would score.
Keyword stuffing is an SEO strategy which definitely no longer works. Google can now identify this through its latent semantic indexing feature. This means that overuse of keywords and awkward wording to fit in more keywords can actually damage your rankings.
It’s more important to optimise content for readability and ensure excellent user experience. You should focus your content on solving user queries and answering questions, rather than crow-barring keywords in at every opportunity.
Is SEO Still Relevant?
We’ve looked at some of the reasons why it might seem that SEO is dead. Is Google dead? It seems not. There are still 5.6 billion Google searches per day and it remains the primary method people use for finding information and conducting research to inform purchasing decisions.
Some marketers may think that Google is dying. But Hubspot research shows that organic search results equate to 94% of all web traffic, and there’s a 34-35% click-through rate for the first position on Google.
If you’re not trying to be at the top of those search results, you can be sure that your competitors are. Investing time, energy and money into organic traffic is definitely still a viable and relevant marketing strategy.
Let’s move on to look at a few strategies to help you use SEO to your advantage in the marketing landscape of 2020. This includes understanding some of the changes that have been made to Google algorithms and the SERP layout.
How to Use Google Changes to Your Advantage
Various major algorithm updates have taken place in recent years. They’re named after various animals and birds, including panda and penguin. But these mysterious updates seem far from cuddly and friendly to perplexed marketing practitioners.
It’s true that search engines, including Google, aren’t keen to give away the secrets of their algorithm updates. The primary aim of Google is to promote high-quality content, so they don’t want SEO marketers to produce low-quality, spammy websites to gain a higher place in the rankings.
Algorithm changes are intended to improve the user experience and help people find the information that they need. Google wants to provide the most useful, relevant, and accurate local search results. So high-quality content will always be rewarded, and this should remain your focus.
Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
Google’s search results page used to just be based on organic ratings, with the occasional AdWords Ad. The layout is much more sophisticated now, with a lot more competition for clicks. Rather than seeing this as a problem, you can view it as an opportunity for more effective SEO.
Google Search Ads
These were traditionally displayed at the top of search results. The new SERP structure can push these down and impact on CTR. Sometimes they appear at the bottom of the first page. A tight Google Ads strategy is needed to make the most of this feature.
Google extracts information from well-optimised pages to help people answer specific questions in a search query. This results in a higher CTR rate than other organic results.
This is often referred to #0 position on Google. To get there, you need to provide clear explanations, step-by-step guides, direct answers to questions, and present relevant information in tables.
Paid shopping results, which used to be called Google Shopping Ads, should be part of the e-commerce arsenal for any company using a PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising strategy.
PPC is still a valid marketing channel when used as part of an optimised website. Product Listing Ads sell products effectively, by providing images and pricing to inform purchasing decisions directly as a result of customer searches.
Image Packs and Video Results
Images and video may appear for searches where Google thinks these forms of media are useful and relevant. Images may appear as a row or in a grid format.
If you think that this may be relevant to your business niche, you need to undertake specific image and video SEO. It’s probably a good idea to get some help with this from an SEO agency, as it’s quite a specialist area.
New Opportunities for Better SEO
Changes in algorithms and SERP layout mean that organic rankings now have to compete for ratings with more elements. This has led to some companies seeing their CTR reduce, making them think that SEO is no longer worth the investment.
But the new SERP is actually more useful, as it brings opportunities for high-quality content, images, and videos to appear on the front page of Google in multiple spots, meaning more exposure and custom for your business.
Some old SEO techniques are dead, but doing SEO right can really reap benefits. So let’s look at some tried-and-tested SEO tactics, updated for 2020, and explore how they can help you increase traffic to your website and build customer trust.
SEO Tactics for 2020
We’ve seen that old SEO tactics which used to work are now no longer effective, and many companies have seen a big hit in organic traffic. SEO has evolved dramatically, and Google now priorities high-quality content, great user experience, and website authority.
So now need a few specific strategies, alongside having great content, to ensure that you’re still attracting relevant visitors to view your web pages. Each part of your website needs to be optimised to align with what search engines prioritise – that’s the new SEO of 2020.
Creating informative, worthwhile content is the most effective but also the most difficult SEO tactic. Google has changed focus, to become a means of discovery and information first and foremost, rather than a commercial engine to persuade people to buy things.
A great example of how you can work this in your favour is a case study by Proctor & Gamble’s Olay brand. Their primary focus used to be on placing ads, to sell their products directly, but this was becoming less effective over time.
When they switched focus towards providing education-based content, and selling through that content, they saw amazing results. Their click-throughs increased by 87%, while their cost per click decreased by 30%, and their conversions increased by 100%.
Producing high-quality content is therefore clearly worth the effort. It should be topically relevant rather than optimised for certain keywords. Search for what’s trending in your niche right now, then write something better.
Keyword research is still necessary to find current topics. Find your target topic, then optimise your content using detailed meta-descriptions, appropriate headers, mindful internal and external linking, and careful use of keywords.
You could also consider updating old content to generate a rankings boost, by adding extra internal links and improving optimisation. Content remains king, so make sure it works in your favour.
This is a major focus of Google right now and is much more important than backlinks or keyword density. Load time, readability and supporting copy with relevant media are all SEO techniques which are alive and well.
Focussing on people rather than search engines will bring valuable results. A well-designed website which is fast-loading and mobile-friendly is much more likely to generate conversions than one which is clunky and difficult to navigate.
Key performance indicators here are how long a visitor spends on a page, how many pages they view, and how far they scroll down each page before leaving. Having the correct site architecture can make a big difference.
You can improve on-page readability by careful use of titles and header tags. Labelled sections help the reader to know what to expect. This also helps Google to establish how well the page covers its subject matter, in comparison to other pages.
Off-Page SEO and Social Media
While on-site optimisation is within your control, you don’t have much power over external link-building. While spammy backlinks are a thing of the past, valuable links increase a site’s authority in its niche.
Your best plan to establish your site as a source of industry expertise is to generate amazing content. It’s worth noting, though, that the content which suits search engine optimisation may not be the same content which gains traction on social media.
Love it or hate it, social media is relevant for SEO, as Google looks to other sources including social networks to scrape information about your site and determine its place in the rankings. You might want to learn some tactics for Instagram and other newer sites, to bring your social media strategy up to speed.
So, Is SEO Dead?
We’ve seen that SEO is indeed still relevant in 2020. In fact, it’s more important than ever. Organic search traffic still makes up a huge proportion of internet activity, so SEO is still a powerful tool in the digital marketing arsenal.
It can take many months of focussed work to improve rankings and establish the authority of your domain. A long-term SEO strategy needs to be flexible and constantly re-evaluated, as practices change all the time.
But search engines still judge content, so you need to use the right techniques to optimise that content. To keep pace, it may be time to invest in the help of a seasoned SEO agency to help you stay ahead of the curve and beat your competitors to the top of those rankings.