February 15, 2016

SEO is Dead! Long Live SEO!

Lee Steely

The rise of mobile use has some in the industry declaring “peak search,” but does this really mean SEO is over? What businesses need to know about the changing face of search.

Read enough industry news and you might start to notice that the health of SEO is a favorite topic of the rumor mill. Search at any moment, and you’ll find “experts” online declaring SEO: dead, dying, or alive and well. So, which is it really? Let’s do a quick pulse check.

Google’s Still the Heart of Search.

When we talk about Search Engine Optimization, the search engine we’re usually referring to is still Google. That much isn’t likely to change any time soon. Google is still the search engine of choice for most: 90% of desktop and PC users report visiting Google in the past month, and on mobile devices that only drops to 85%. These are still very healthy numbers by almost any standard, but we can dig a little deeper into that mobile vs. desktop difference.

For context, over the past 4 years, digital media consumption on mobile devices has increased by a whopping 394%, and tablet digital media consumption is skyrocketing, with an incredible increase of 1,721%. Desktop use is rising too—by a relatively modest 37%. Now, part of this disparity is due to the dominance of the desktop search. We’ve had desktops longer, and the market is more saturated than it is for mobile or tablet devices. But it would be a mistake to ignore or dismiss this trend. Last year, mobile search officially surpassed desktop searches according to Google. Mobile usage in general is on the rise, and a growing percentage of Americans in lower income and younger demographics are choosing to rely on a mobile device for all of their internet usage vs. paying for desktop Wi-Fi and a data plan. So when we see a gap in search behaviors between desktop vs. mobile, we need to pay attention.

Search is No Spring Chicken. Apps Have Come of Age.

Search engine use is lower on mobile devices versus desktop because mobile has changed the way we interface with online content. Opening a browser to use a search engine is just one way a mobile user can choose to get information, and users are increasingly finding that apps serve their needs as well or better. Facebook’s search capabilities and location-based suggestions are giving Google a fair amount of competition, with many mobile users preferring the personalized results of in-app search, or the natural discovery of friend- or location-based suggestions. You can get your news from Twitter, Facebook trending, or Apple News without ever needing to open up a browser to perform a search. But mobile users aren’t abandoning browsers and search engines so much as they are diversifying the ways they access online content based on an abundance of options. The mobile app, like any millennial, is now well beyond its first shaky baby steps, and the future still looks full of possibility. Search engines like Google are like the mid-career sibling: accomplished, reliable at what they do, and unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon—but they’re settling down a bit.

So, Is SEO dying?

As long as the search engine lives, SEO will stay in good health. And users still love search. The takeaway is that from this point on, SEO alone is not enough to maximize your reach. Businesses need to shift their approach to online presence away from SEO-only to a more diversified strategy. Social media apps like Facebook and Twitter may feel frivolous to devote time to, but research shows that social media app usage accounts for 14% of all mobile online activity, with the Facebook app beating out Google by just 1 percentage point as the most used app. If a potential customer chooses to search for businesses like yours in-app on Facebook or Twitter instead of using a traditional search engine, no amount of SEO perfecting on your website is going to reach them if you have no social media presence.

How to Stay Immune

So we can stop worrying SEO has one foot in the grave, and instead take a cue from it: optimize for every meaningful content channel, not just search. This means having a presence on at least Facebook—but ideally Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn as well. Keep the SEO practices you already have in place on your website for traditional search engine-using visitors, but make sure that website is available and shared on your business’s social media page. And if you haven’t done it by now: make your website mobile responsive so that the experience your mobile users have is as good as the desktop experience. With these basic inoculations covered, your online presence should stay in good health–no matter how many SEO rumors fly.