Search engine optimization, as all traditional definitions describe it, is going to become obsolete. And the change has already begun.
The Internet has always been a landgrab. It started with domain name poaching and infrastructure oligopolies. Then we moved onto gaming search engines. Which, in turn, created a whole industry, built on one basic premise:
Figure out how to make Google put you on the first page.
While that strategy was relevant for its time (and still mostly is), it’s not what Google ever intended. And it’s not what the future of the Internet holds.
The Internet of 2015 is still a pretty simple world. Most people still access information through a web browser. The Internet still needs you to tell it exactly what you want in a very particular way.
(When I say “most” I don’t mean by file size. Media files obviously take up far more hard drive space. Comparing content on the basis of file size is apples to oranges.)
The Internet’s mobile-app generation has started to change this. The Internet of Things will change it further. So will wearable technology, once someone really figures that out. So will the continued proliferation of media formats other than text and image.
The Future of SEO
SEO, as it stands today, is mostly a one-trick pony. Keyword targeting, link building and on-page search optimization are all tactics that accomplish one thing. Get Google to think your text is more important than someone else’s text.
Even media like video and images requires text-based metadata or to be placed on a text-based page. Google doesn’t really read and index the contents of most media files. Google Image Search is a start, but it’s far from a complete solution.
What happens when Siri or Google Now become the way people access the Internet? What happens when text-based content, displayed on a web page, becomes the least important media you produce? What happens when "Her," Spike Jonze’s awesome take on artificial intelligence, becomes reality?
Search engine optimization, as a discipline, will disappear because it has to. The Internet cannot mature without that happening. And the Internet will mature.
But that doesn’t mean we’re going to have a Great SEO Depression. There won’t be hundreds of thousands of SEO panhandlers all across the world. SEO will evolve, until it turns into something that has nothing to do with SEO.
The future of the Internet is about context. It’s about knowing what content a person needs, when they need it. It’s proactive, not reactive to a search query in a box. And, it’s diverse in terms of format and function.
Rand Fishkin said it well in a recent Whiteboard Friday video. He reinforced how important it is to be contextually relevant; that if you create great content that readers want to consume, Google will rank you well. You don’t need to worry about much else. (I’m paraphrasing.)
This is the first step toward a truly audience-focused mentality about how we build web content. One of the most respected voices in the SEO community gets where this is going. That should be telling.
Too Many Eggs in the SEO Basket
We all do it. We all put many of our eggs into the first-page-on-Google basket. That’s still one of the best ways to be successful today.
But every time Google adds another level of intelligence to their ranking algorithm, the traditional SEO game gets less effective.
Every time a new media format takes a chunk of the world’s attention, traditional SEO gets harder.
Every time the Internet becomes less of a tool that we use and more of a natural part of our lives, reactionary strategies, like SEO, become a tiny bit more obsolete.
The best SEOs already get this.
We’re already good at stomping down content that isn’t relevant or valuable. We’re going to keep getting better. And, some day most of the content created using traditional SEO tactics is going to get stomped down.
Web content strategy simply cannot be the zero sum game called “Hack the Algorithm.” I’m talking about “white hat” SEO, too. Gaming an algorithm by Google’s rules is still gaming the algorithm.
It’s time to start thinking differently about being found. If your marketing strategy’s priority #1 is to rank on Google, your clock is ticking.