I Heard That SEO Is Dead. Is That True?

Brendan Egan

I Heard That SEO Is Dead. Is That True?

As the owner of an SEO agency for over ten years, I have seen a lot of changes in the SEO world.  I recall back in 2008 when I was just getting our agency running hearing from people saying that “SEO is dead” or that “SEO will be gone in the next 18 months”.
Fast forward over 10 years later, and all over the internet and social media people are asking “Is SEO dead?  I hear it is dead.”
SEO.  What does it stand for?  Search engine optimization.
The reality is that as long as search engines exist, there will be a need to be optimized on search engines.  SEO will never be dead, at least not in my lifetime.  But what is guaranteed is that SEO will continue to change.  SEO is far different today from when I started, and it will be far different a few years from now or a decade from now.  But the constant is that it is not dead, never will be, and when done right will continue to be a highly profitable marketing medium.

Proof That SEO Isn’t Dead

We work with a variety of clients in a variety of industries.  Below are three unique and simple examples that SEO isn’t dead, but that it requires a little bit of a unique approach for every business.

The B2B Manufacturer

We work with a small manufacturing company who recently introduced e-commerce into the mix.  We’ve been working with them for about 15 months now, and over the last year, they did $911,120 in e-commerce sales through their website.  Of that, $450,240 came from organic search.
The year prior to them starting work with us, they did $511,250 in e-commerce sales, of which $158,000 came from organic search.

This particular client pays $4,000 a month for their SEO campaign, which comes to $48,000 per year all inclusive.  In year one, we were able to get them an additional $292,240 in e-commerce revenue, which means for every dollar they spent with us on SEO, they saw six dollars in return.
For this particular client, their industry is not saturated with giant competitors, so we were able to focus on highly competitive keywords through content creation, improving their site structure, and external links.
Is SEO dead?  Certainly not for this client.

The Law Firm

We work with a law firm who was interested in driving more leads for their practice.  This firm works primarily with corporate clients on various types of legal issues, but is primarily focused on attracting business owners and leaders with legal problems.
When we started work with them, they had an awful website and were only getting about 800 visitors per month from Google.  Fast forward two years, and they were getting over 5,000 visitors per month and over 1 year had over 400 new leads.

This client unfortunately doesn’t track in their CRM their average case value or retainer fee, but based on discussions with our point of contact at the firm, their $7,500 per month SEO campaign was generating for them 7 figures in revenue.  I don’t want to give an exact ROI because it’s unknown, but it is well over 10x ROI just from two years of SEO.
For this particular client, their industry is highly competitive, so we focused on very specific long tail keywords that described the exact problems their clients were facing.  Through long tail keyword research, content creation, and link building, we were able to generate success for this client without going after any of the highly competitive keywords that we knew would be a long shot to rank for.
Is SEO dead?  Certainly not for this client either.

Other Unique Campaigns

We work with a local business that services restaurants.  They are focused on SEO for local search, and we have them as the top 3 results in their map results for all their relevant search phrases.
We work with a professional services company that was only concerned with ranking higher on Yelp.  We were able to help them optimize their profile, clean up their reviews, and they are now the top 3 result in their local area on Yelp for their services in search.
We work with an attorney who was having issues on Avvo, a niche legal directory site, so we helped them optimize their profile, get more reviews/recommendations, and with these changes they are now in the top 5 in their large metropolitan area.
The reality is that whether it is organic search on search engines like Google or search on some other site, the process of SEO is very much alive and well and will continue to be.
We have example after example, case study after case study of SEO not being dead.  But in every example, we do something a little differently to find success and results for the client.  The days of one size fits all SEO are certainly dead, but the days of custom built SEO campaigns still seeing tremendous results are here to stay.

Why Do People Say SEO Is Dead?

Most simply put, people say SEO is dead because they aren’t able to adapt or the strategies they are using are no longer working.
When I started in SEO, keyword stuffing, blog networks, and link spam were all the craze.  Today to anyone who knows anything about SEO, this may sound crazy.  However the reality is that they worked, were inexpensive, and produced tremendous ROI both for the SEO agency as well as for the client.
If you could charge a client $3,000 a month for an SEO campaign and do a little keyword stuffing and buy some blog network links for a few hundred dollars, you could run a really profitable SEO agency and could deliver results.   Add in some overhead and fixed expenses and you’re still looking at a 60+% profit margin.
Fast forward to today, and that same $3,000 a month client might cost you $1,750 to $2,000 a month between paying a team to build links, properly optimize their on-site activities, write content, and handle technical SEO tasks.  Add in your overhead and other fixed expenses and suddenly you are looking at a 20-25% profit margin at best.
In a world filled with longer blog posts and the need for higher quality links, SEO is changing and those who don’t change with it will be left in the dust.
SEO has become more expensive, more labor intensive, and more difficult.  It is an increasingly technical field that requires a sharp mind to get results.  However as we demonstrated in the previous section, it’s still absolutely possible to be extremely successful with SEO, produce a fantastic ROI, and make it one of your most successful marketing mediums.
SEO is alive and well.  But it needs to be thought of differently than it was in the past.

Can You Rank My Site For X, Y, and Z Keywords?

This is one of the biggest changes in SEO and one of the things I dread.  As SEO has continued to change, so has an SEO agency’s ability to just rank for a specific keyword.
This is not an excuse to get out of doing our job.  Much the opposite.  This is an answer to protect our client’s website.  You see, if we put all our focus on one specific keyword these days, there is a very high chance that we will be penalized by Google and end up hurting that client’s website more than helping it.
For this reason, we put together SEO campaigns that consist of diverse keyword sets with a focus on driving quality organic traffic and quality organic leads.  Many times these campaigns include keywords that client’s ask about, but the difference is the diversity of keywords, and the fact that even if we don’t rank for that one term we still can deliver value and results.
Usually, when it comes to asking about a specific keyword, the conversation goes something like this:

Brendan: We saw a fantastic month for you last month.  Your traffic is up 10x since the start of your campaign and your online revenue has increased 5-fold.  Once you account for our SEO retainer, you saw a 700% return on your SEO investment.
Client: But I Googled “Widgets in New York” and we didn’t come up number 1.  I don’t think our SEO is working.
Brendan: We don’t currently rank for that keyword because it’s too competitive.  We rank for 5 very similar variations that show more buyer intent than that keyword at a faction of the competitive.  Realistically, I don’t think anyone will be able to rank you for that keyword based on Google’s current algorithms.
Client: But this is what our clients are searching for, I know it.

Even in the face of tremendous results, traffic growth, and more importantly revenue growth, these conversations happen all too often.  While we absolutely love our clients, most of them are incredibly uneducated when it comes to digital marketing and SEO.
You wouldn’t go to the doctor and tell him how to operate on you, or the dentist and tell him how to drill your tooth, or the mechanic and tell him how to tighten your oil filter, so why do you go to the SEO expert and tell them how to do their job?  Business owners need to focus on the bottom line.  They are engaged in SEO not for the fame or the ego boost of coming up for a keyword, but for the ROI that comes with a properly managed SEO campaign.
One of the largest changes in the SEO world is the fact that ranking for a specific keyword is becoming more and more difficult, especially when it’s a highly competitive keyword.  There are over 2 billion websites now online, a 10x increase since when I started SEO.

With this added competition, we are still fighting for the first 10 organic spots on page 1 of Google.  Something has to give.
Don’t focus on ranking for a specific keyword or phrase, but rather focus on your traffic and revenue growth.  At the end of the day, that is all that should really matter anyways.

How Do I Get Value Out Of SEO Then?

Work with an experienced SEO company.
Sorry to be so direct, but all the fly-by-night SEO agencies that have so called “gurus” aren’t doing so well anymore.
SEO is still alive and well.  When it comes to Google search, the keys to success are still very similar, the only difference is you need to do more of them and at a higher quality than ever:

  • Optimize your website: Make sure ALL your technical factors are in line.  This ranges from title tags to headings, site speed to SSL, mobile friendliness to site structure, internal linking to meta tags.  This is a huge area that could be it’s own 20 blog posts to do right, and something many businesses and SEO’s think they are doing right but are barely scratching the surface.
  • Build links.  You need lots of links and quality links.  You need to engage in content marketing off your site, make sure you are listed in relevant quality directories, offer guest posting and be interviewed in podcasts and news sites.  Every opportunity to get a good link you should take advantage of.
  • Write content.  This blog post is around 2,500 words long.  I used to write blog posts that were around 500 words long.  Longer, higher quality content, with quotes and research, are going to become the new norm in the world of SEO.  Make sure your content is up to the right standards.

The true SEO experts are fewer and fewer each year because of the fact that it takes more and more work and knowledge to get results.
However we continue to see results for our clients.  In fact, we have still ranked 100% of our clients for at least one of their major keywords on page 1 of Google within the first year of their campaign.
We still have a 95+% client retention rate after the first year of an SEO campaign with a client, even though they are on a month to month agreement with us.
And while this isn’t a hard metric that we track, I know through flipping through our client portfolio that we are seeing a positive ROI for every single one of our clients.  Every dollar they put into SEO they are getting more than a dollar back out, many are getting 4-8 dollars out of their dollar investment with SEO.
But the key is to do things right and with a trusted expert.  There are plenty of other great SEO companies out there aside from ours, but for every one good SEO company there unfortunately are 50 awful ones.  As a business owner, I know how frustrating this can be.
In fact, the reason I got into SEO is because I owned a business and went through SEO company after SEO company with awful results, and was frustrated so I started my own in-house SEO team.  I talk more about that story for anyone interested in episode 8 of my podcast and why I got into digital marketing and SEO in the first place.
Look for legitimate case studies, referrals, and a history of results, and your business can make SEO work for you.  SEO is not dead, it is just changing, and if you don’t change with it, the one thing that will certainly be dead is your ROI.