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R.I.P: Search Engine Optimization is Dead!

May 20, 2010
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There's been a lot of talk recently about how "SEO is dead." The claim is based largely on the specter of mounting algorithmic complexities, rising barriers to entry, the advent of personalized search, integration of social usage data signals, global warming, the Tea Party movement, blah, blah, blah, (insert your own fatalistic theory).

There was one post in particular that I read a few months back where a blogger used a pretty compelling graph from Google Trends to make the case that SEO is on life support due to a steady decline in query popularity juxtaposed against a meteoric rise in social media query activity.

SEO is dead!!!

Going by this graph, it appears that SEO is in fact "on the back nine." So if you make your living as an SEO, or if, like us, you just launched a line of SEO tools for search marketers, including our slick SEO for Firefox plugin (shameless plug alert!!!), then you're probably getting the cold sweats, thinking there goes my livelihood, time to polish up my resume.

But fear not. The data is skewed.

It's true that search engine optimization is "dying," that is to say the query popularity for the phrase is waning. But to me, that's more a byproduct of SEO's growing pervasiveness. You see, as SEO is becoming a staple of many marketing plans and more embraced and more familiar to more and more business owners, the formal "search engine optimization" has been cast aside for the colloquial "SEO" shorthand.

Wait a minute...SEO is NOT dead!!!

So according to this chart, it's clear that SEO is NOT dead. In fact, the term's popularity is trending higher and continuing to gain momentum. But is the popularity of SEO (in search terms) an accurate gauge of the relative health of the SEO marketplace?

I think so. IMO, query strength is a valid barometer. Even before seeing this Google Trends chart, I would have predicted the same outcome. I see it every day. Client activity for SEO marketing services continues to flourish. At WordStream, we're seeing stronger demand for our new SEO products. In addition, SEO-related keyword searches in the WordStream analytics data continue to trend higher, week-over-week.Heck, even my Dad said he saw something about SEO on CNBC the other night. So no, SEO is NOT dead. Quite the contrary. It's blossoming and hitting on all cylinders.

How Does SEO Compare to Other Channels?

So this got me thinking about examining more query trend activity to see how well SEO fares against other online marketing channels, like PPC marketing, for instance. Since, I moonlight as a search consultant and work full-time for WordStream (where we sell both SEO and PPC tools), I have my own theories about how SEO fares against PPC in the marketplace. And in my experience, PPC's popularity is waning.

In fact, we conducted a recent survey of a few hundred business owners and marketers who said  that they plan to spend more on search marketing advertising in 2010, but the bulk of that spend is allocated for SEO.

People will spend more on SEO than PPC in 2010

What's more, nearly 70% of participants we surveyed say they see SEO as more instrumental in their businesses growth this year. But what does Google Trends tell us about the popularity of SEO vs PPC with searchers? Is this growing disparity between paid and organic bearing out in the SERPs too? Let's take a look.

PPC is dead, baby.

Wow. That's not a good chart for query activity for the term "PPC." If this were an equity chart, you're talking about some truly bearish technicals. So it appears what's really dying (in terms of query popularity) are searches around PPC.

SEO also slaughters PPC for raw search data and estimated cost-per-click (how much someone is willing to pay for the traffic), according to the Google keyword tool:

SEO trounces PPC in search volume

Given my experience, this is really no surprise. Clients typically start with PPC (because of the ability to land on page one instantly and evaluate the profitability of a vertical), but ultimately they reduce spend on PPC as their SEO campaigns begin to bear fruit, and in many cases they want to turn off PPC entirely. So contrary to popular belief, SEO is NOT dead. PPC however appears to be in a death spiral.

Social Media is On Fire

So back to the original thesis that kicked this post off: that social media is surging while SEO is dying. Certainly, half that statement is true. The popularity of search queries for "social media" is on an absolute tear, with no signs of slowing.
 Social media is on a trending tear

In comparison, here's a more accurate portrayal of how SEO fares against social media in a head-to-head Google Trends chart.Social media search queries are surging

Social media query popularity looks to be on course to supplant SEO volume very soon. And where SEO is enjoying nice, steady growth, social media looks to be shot out of a cannon. That's great news for social media marketers and enthusiasts, but keep in mind charts like the one for social media, with hyper growth, are impossible to sustain. I expect the pace to level off at some point. When that happens, though, is anybody's guess.

Finally, let's look at how SEO, social media and PPC all look together on the same chart in Google Trends.

SEO and social media are kicking ass, while PPC is in a death spiral

Now if I were a gambling man (which coincidentally I am), I would bet that these current trends with SEO, PPC and social media continue (there's certainly no reason to believe otherwise). Concerning marketplace opportunity, social media shows much more potential for short-term growth than SEO and definitely more that PPC. After all, there are still millions of users who are still not onboard the social media bandwagon yet— like my Mom, for instance, who asked me what Facebook was the other day — which means millions more in growth opportunity.

Comments

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Moosa Hemani
May 20, 2010

Very nice information...i love it....m with you man SEO is the present and ll be the future...

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David - SEO Canada
May 20, 2010

I love this post. Just another example of how you can create actual verifiable statistics to prove just about anything if you are clever enough. Like that SEO is dead. So now I'll get started on that graph proving that Kansas is really a spot on that back of a Humpback whale named Orvin.

Josh
May 20, 2010

Thanks for posting this Ken, I read that other blog you mentioned and really wondered how accurate the data was. Good for you for the hard work it took to compile all of this. I love it. @David - SEO Canada - I live in Kansas, and actually the whale's name is Cedric thank you very much.

Case Ernsting
May 20, 2010

haha, you had me scared there for a few paragraphs. I think SEO is coming into its own in terms of respectability and campaign noteworthiness. SEO is a high quality way to get attention and I hope it continues to get attention.

ken robbins
May 20, 2010

Excellent, compelling article. I wish everyone who proffered an opinion about marketing would back it up with an analysis like yours. Cheers, Ken President Response Mine Interactive

R.I.P: SEO is Dead! | WordStream « SEO BLOG
May 20, 2010

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Matt McGee
May 20, 2010

Hey guys - the URL for this story says 2009. I was about to delete it from Sphinn for being too old, but it seems like it was actually just published today. :-) Might want to correct that URL issue, though.

Tom Demers
May 20, 2010

Hey Matt,

Thanks for the note - looks like a copy/paste error: it is definitely a new post :). We'll take a look at modifying the URL, thanks!

Tom

John
May 20, 2010

Great post. I think another thing to think about it that social media is something that everyone is interested right now (not just marketers) because of Facebook, Twitter, etc. SEO is only done by those working for a business, doing affiliate, and the occasional person (outside of the industry) who wants to boost traffic to their personal blog.

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Gabe
May 20, 2010

If we're going to use this method of measuring industry strength based on keyword trends, lets do SEO vs SEM since PPC can refer to anything these days, such as, PPC display ads.I would argue that most people searching the acronym SEM are looking for paid search. If we use this example, it is quite a different story. http://trends.google.com/trends/viz?q=seo,sem&date=all&geo=all&graph=weekly_img&sort=0&sa=N

Marty
May 20, 2010

Ken, this is a fun post. However, please compare American Facebook traffic and engagement to Google. Then take into consideration that FB has internal search where "SEO" will become more and more important. SEO is not dead. You are surely right about that. However, SEO means something entirely different. Any "SERP" where a search result can be obtained without paying is now organic and requires SEO. I'll be talking about this at SMX Advanced. Hope to see you there :). I rarely drop links in blog threads, however you will enjoy this: http://www.aimclearblog.com/2010/04/28/what-the-hell-is-seo-now-anyway/

joseph
May 21, 2010

Hiiii Very nice information...i love it....m with you man SEO is the present and ll be the future... joseph Web Marketing

Christophe BENOIT
May 21, 2010

I'm not sure the comparison is right. When we compare SEO (search engine optimisation) and SMO (social media optimisation) http://www.google.com/trends?q=seo,smo&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0, the graph is completely different.

Atlanta Web Design
May 21, 2010

This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

offshore open source developers
May 21, 2010

awesome post thanks for posting this.

Sean
May 21, 2010

I agree that SEO is beginning to mature as a marketing strategy. It is by no means dead. Much like other new forms of online marketing as they come on to the scene, social media is in the prime of it's buzz time. In the early 2000s, SEO had the same buzz social media enjoys today. Social media will eventually lose the buzz factor and become just another marketing tool.

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Turnblue
May 25, 2010

Thanks for a great post! I think it's worth mentioning that the Google Trend for 'Adwords' is rising if you have a look here: http://www.google.com/trends?q=seo%2C+ppc%2C+adwords%2C+social+media&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0 Similar to the market knowledge of the term 'SEO' rather than 'Search Engine Optimisation' there is trend towards 'Adwords' rather than 'PPC'?

sacramento seo
Jun 11, 2010

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Jun 15, 2010

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Website Design Gloucestershire
Jun 16, 2010

Case in point that you should always be trying to encourage clients to pursue organic means of marketing, which now includes social media marketing. They are essentially free, and if your SEO and Social Media Marketing are carried out effectively there should be no reason to be spending any money on PPC at all. Regards Rob

Gilbert L
Jul 18, 2010

Great analysis. I think SEO has its place but social media is getting more important as we speak. Tools like Kurrently - http://www.kurrently.com (a Facebook and Twitter search engine) is invaluable.

Spunky Jones SEO
Aug 08, 2010

I do know for sure that SEO isn't as popular and effective as it use to be. Furthermore, it is something that is over exaggerated to make believe that people can't do themselves. I believe that their will always be the need for clean web page code and use of meta tags, image tags, etc. However, you don't need to hire a SEO expert to apply these things. I believe that search engines are developing and finding many other ways to determine web rankings. Therefore, don't put all of your eggs in one basket.