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From the time of its inception, search engine optimization has faced criticism and pessimism. But lately, the voices implying that SEO is on its last legs, or that the trend is finally fizzling out, have gotten stronger. People both inside and outside of the SEO community are making bold predictions that inside of this decade, the entire industry could collapse.
Is there any truth to these speculations? Is SEO starting to weaken in terms of power or profitability, and if so, is there anything we in the SEO industry can do about it?
The threats to the SEO industry
There are some major threats to the SEO industry on the table. Already, SEO is not a perfect strategy. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to generate traffic for you or become profitable, it can be tricky to implement and even if you get everything right, it could still take months or even years before you start seeing the results you want.
Add to that the series of threats facing our industry:
- Apps and direct services. Why bother searching for something on Google when you could simply pull up product recommendations on your Amazon app? Why search for a ridesharing service when you can just rely on Uber? The truth is, apps and direct services are taking away some traditional search traffic. However, these apps and direct services could present new opportunities. Most apps like these do still allow users to search for specific products or specific needs, and if there’s a search algorithm in play, there’s a way to take advantage of it.
- Social media. Similarly, people are turning to social media for their news and information. Organic traffic and searches are taking a hit because of it. That said, most people involved in search engine optimization also have a social media strategy of some sort, allowing them to capitalize on both fronts.
- Digital assistants. Digital assistants, rich snippets and other search enhancements are also making search optimization more challenging. Users are sometimes presented with answers directly, rather than forwarding them to a specific piece of content on the web. The algorithms used by digital assistants are more ambiguous and harder to parse.
- DIY optimizers. Thanks to the prevalence of online content about SEO, the power of built-in SEO tools of website builders and other factors, DIY optimization is much more accessible and a much more common choice. While this doesn’t weaken SEO as a strategy, it does potentially weaken it as a career choice
- Smarter algorithms. Google and other search engines are constantly updating themselves to provide users with higher quality results in greater consistency. But there are some downsides here for search optimizers; namely, it gets harder and harder to write the best content and build the best links for the algorithm in its modern state. SEO therefore continues to get more nuanced, more time consuming and more expensive.
SEO budgets and spending
If the SEO industry is dying, business owners haven’t yet gotten the news. SEO spending has historically increased, year after year, for as long as SEO has been around. The past few years have been no different, and surveys of business owners suggest that their optimism for SEO hasn’t faded. You could make the argument that it’s going to take a few years before public perception catches up to reality, but the markets currently indicate that the SEO phenomenon isn’t going away anytime soon.
Reasons for optimism
There are additional reasons for optimism in the SEO industry.
- Constant Google updates. Despite dumping money into apps, smarter algorithms, digital assistants and other technologies, Google is still constantly updating its core search algorithm. Google itself has faith that conventional online searching is going to be around for a long time – and the company is continuing to improve service offerings for its users.
- The ubiquity of search. Traditional search is still used billions of times per day and it still stands as the dominant way to find information online. For as long as people are still using search engines, search engine optimization will remain a relevant and effective way to persuade and direct them.
- New audiences. There are currently 4.66 billion internet users globally, and that number increases every year as internet connections bring more and more people together around the world. Even if the power of conventional search engines begins to wane, the surge in new potential target audiences can more than compensate for the gap.
Transformations are slow
One last important consideration here: industry transformations tend to be slow, even in the face of radical new technologies. If search engines and user behaviors are changing, search optimization experts have plenty of time to study those changes and adapt with them. Tomorrow’s SEO may not look like today’s, but search marketers will inevitably find a path forward to serve clients and turn a profit with similar tactics.