“SEO is dead” is a well-known catchphrase, most commonly heard from newly unemployed spam merchants in bitter reaction to Google’s latest algorithm update.
It’s always a wild exaggeration of course – the only thing that can “kill” SEO is for consumers to stop using search engines.
Unfortunately, nuance and restraint does not a clickbait headline make and the true victims of this hyperbole are business owners caught in the middle, trying to make sense of confusing and often conflicting advice on search marketing best practice.
But while SEO may not be dead, there’s no doubt that in just a few years it has changed almost beyond recognition.
Until fairly recently by pulling the right levers virtually anyone could build a business on “free Google traffic” from their target keywords.
A few optimised meta tags, keyword-stuffed content and some guest posts or paid links (never mind where from) and hey presto, a top spot for all your main lead generating (“money”) keywords:
- Vacations to…
- Hotels in…
- Flights to…
- Cheap deals for…
But allowing anyone to buy their way into the top rankings regardless of their actual worth was a problem for Google and along came a succession of updates aimed at eliminating the shortcuts, a more punitive regime for sites caught breaking the new rules, and a concerted psy-ops campaign to terrify the link spam industry out of business.
The result was the colonisation of the money keywords by major brands, the ones with the perceived authority to justify a prime spot of Google real estate.
Run a search for any major travel queries and where there was once a diverse ecosystem you’ll now find (with a few exceptions) a monoculture of TripAdvisor, Expedia, Orbitz and other long-established brands.
Although breaking into top rankings for major queries is still technically possible, it’s certainly not feasible for most smaller companies or new entrants without very deep pockets.
Sadly there are still many SEO agencies out there who’ll gladly say otherwise to part small business owners with their cash.
For a stark indication of how far SEO has diverged between large and small brands, take a look at Google’s own Customer Journey tool which breaks out the role that each channel plays in the marketing funnel.
NB: This is an analysis by Matthew Barker, head of strategy at IandITravMedia.
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