The last few years have been a turbulent but truly exciting time for online businesses and the digital industry. There has been a proliferation of new platforms, and the emergence of new, disruptive channels for marketing in the connected world. In a short space of time, social media has changed the way we interact online, and mobile devices have redefined the entire experience.
Despite these tectonic shifts in the digital landscape, however, many of the same principles still apply; you need to build something great and drive the right people to the great thing you built.
In the online space, there is still one channel that eclipses all others in terms of generating traffic: organic search.
Organic search still dominates -- but SEO is now a dirty word
Despite the rise of social, organic search continues to dominate when it comes to driving visits online. The latest figures suggest more than 30% of all web traffic still comes from natural search -- maximising your share of that traffic is key for any online business, but the ultimate goal should always be growing your brand and giving your customers a reason to come back for more.
Major Google algorithm updates have forced the so-called SEO industry to completely rethink its approach. An industry that grew up on an ultimately self-destructive diet of keyword stuffing and directory spam has been coming to terms with an existential crisis. Who are we? What are we about? Is it time to ditch the 'SEO' label altogether?
Goodbye 'link building', hello 'content marketing'
I recently noticed a poll on the Moz site, asking users to vote on the phrase they think will grow most in popularity this year. This is how the results were looking so far:
The message seems pretty clear: 'link building' is out, 'content marketing' is in.
Google Trends tells a similar story; searches for 'content marketing' are growing at the fastest rate, and searches for 'link building' starting to fade away. There is enormous interest in social media marketing too, even though this accounts for less than 2% of traffic for most websites.
And even Google itself seems to agree, suggesting that 'link building is dead' and 'content marketing is the only marketing left'.
Incredibly, 'content marketing is dead' also seems to be quite a popular theory. As humans, I guess we're just a bit obsessed with death. Print? Dead. The web? Dead. Even God isn't safe...
If the magazine covers above all seem a bit sensationalist, then maybe the idea that 'link building is dead' is slightly melodramatic too. Rather than content marketing actually replacing link building, perhaps it's more helpful to view both concepts as inhabiting the same 'continuum', as Matt Gratt argued in his post 'The Imaginary Separation Between Link Building and Content Marketing'.
But focusing on links at the expense of everything else could mean missing opportunities to create content that achieves wider benefits for the brand. In his 'Link Building vs Content Marketing' presentation last year, Rand Fishkin (sporting a somewhat less luxuriant moustache than he's been rocking recently) put it like this:
"Are we trying to get lots of people aware of our brand, aware of our product? Are we trying to do some positioning? Are we trying to get people to change their minds about how they solve a problem and come over to our world? Or is our metric just are we ranking well?
In the long term, one of the things that I do worry about is a lot of these tactics and a lot of Google's algorithm has been getting more and more focused on things that are outside of just how many linking root domains do you have, and does the anchor text include your keywords, and is it pointing to a page that you're targeting?"
As 'SEOs', of course we should always be looking at opportunities for generating links from content assets, but if we can be involved in creating content that does more than just targeting keywords and links, then we're providing more value and more security over the long-term.
Introducing the full-stack, left-right brain, holistic modern day Marketer
If we're not just SEOs anymore, then what are we exactly?
From technical SEO and analytics to idea generation, content creation and outreach, the role of a modern day, forward-thinking search marketing professional is unusually broad, involving a skillset more diverse than many other disciplines require.
Will Critchlow has been talking about the 'full stack marketer' for a while now (check out his presentation from LinkLove last year). Will thinks SEOs can exist at the intersection of content, technology, and 'fame' (read: 'influence'):
And just this week at MozCon, all-round industry badass Will Reynolds has this message for his audience: You are so much more than an SEO.
The nature of SEO has changed. Disciplines have converged. Buzzwords have been thrown around with abandon.
But rather than SEO or link building being 'dead', online marketing has simply evolved, and that's only going to continue. By evolving with it, we can make a bigger impact for the brands we work with than ever before.