Schrödinger’s cat is a quantum mechanics paradox in which a cat trapped in a box with a bottle of poison may be simultaneously both dead and alive. Schrödinger’s SEO is a paradox in which Search Engine Optimization is dead or alive, depending on whichever headline makes more waves.
Everyone has an opinion on SEO: it’s dead and over, it’s alive and kicking, it’s somewhere in-between. Google “SEO is dead” and you get 735,000 results. Google “SEO is alive” and you get 758,000 results. So which is it?
Why It’s Dead
Let’s take a trip to the past. Don’t worry, this won’t take long and we’re not going far. It’s 2002, and Google is King. It’s only been around for 4 years, and yet it’s drastically changed the landscape of the web. If you’re not on Google, you don’t exist. Companies spearheading SEO promise to improve your website’s rankings on Google. #1 spot, guaranteed! And keywords are key: Google ranks your website based on how well it relates to what people are searching for. So the more times you say one of those keywords on your website, the better, right?
Peel back the veneer of technical jargon and it’s a wild west of backhanded tactics. Webmasters stuff keywords into every sentence on their site until it’s an unintelligible GOOGLE mess of GOOGLEing GOOGLEs. Designers hide an endless stream of keywords written in white text against white backgrounds. Google takes note of how many times other websites link to your own, so shady “linkfarms” pop up overnight, where people can sell and buy links in bulk. Type something into Google and you have about a 25% chance of seeing something you actually wanted to in the first five results.
Well, now it’s 2016. Google is still here, and if it was a King in 2002 it’s an all-seeing God in 2016. It’s also smarter. Google recognizes SEO tricks and cheats and punishes you for them. If you stuff a keyword into every sentence, you won’t show up first result in searches anymore – you’ll be lucky to show up on page 50.
Google constantly updates its algorithm. And it knows when you’re trying to trick it. The stealthy tactics that have become synonymous with SEO simply don’t fly anymore.
Why It’s Alive
Here’s the rub: Google exists to show users content that they want to see, not content that Google wants to see. In 2002, Google’s algorithm just barely extended beyond looking at the keywords people searched online. Now, Google’s algorithm is able to dig deeper into content. Your content doesn’t just need to speak to what people search for, it also needs to:
- Be fresh
- Be readable
- Be useful
- Be relevant
Basically, your content needs to be written with people in mind. Pick a topic and write authentically.
So…that’s it, right? Well, not exactly. Google doesn’t want you to try and trick it and it doesn’t want to see Google-oriented content, but it still wants your site to be optimized. When we say “optimized” what we really mean is “how easily and quickly can search engines read your site?” As sophisticated as Google is, it will never be as sophisticated as the human brain. You need to tell Google how to read your website using things like meta descriptions, meta tags and alt attributes in your code. Your site also needs to be organized cleanly so Google can navigate your site without getting lost. If your website is a cookie, your content is the creamy filling that the audience wants while your SEO is the chocolate wafers holding it in place.
SEO is simultaneously dead and alive, but the better way to explain it is that SEO has fundamentally changed. Has your website kept up?
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