I was reading a post on the blog of a popular SEO website from 2004. A reader sent a question to the blogger asking about the future of SEO. I found it interesting that the question centered primarily on organic SEO vs. PPC. In 2004, pay per click advertising was still relatively new and organic SEO was quite a bit different than it is today. But the question asked by the reader was, “My concern is that with everyone seemingly wanting to fatten their wallets with paid inclusion and PPC, that the search engines will drop the regular spidering and go with advertising. Will the Internet community “allow” for this to happen and just go along with it?”
I like the answer that was given by the blogger then. It’s not much different than the way I would answer the same question today. In a word, the gist of the answer was that search engine optimization is more challenging now than it used to be. In the old days, if you didn’t rank well in one search engine then you had several other search engines that you were likely to rank well in and you’d still get the traffic that you wanted. Today, almost everyone is focused on the Big Four. This limits SEOs a bit because the bigger search engines, with a few differences, primarily rank websites pretty closely to the same criteria. Again, there are slight variations, but the similarities are noticeable.
On top of that, pay per click advertising is getting more expensive. There are some keywords in Google, for instance, that will cost you $5.00 to get a respectable placement for. If you are new and just starting out then you probably have a small budget and can’t afford to pay that much for advertising. So there are now barriers to entry that were not present in SEO and PPC just a few years ago. And even if you do real well at organic SEO and/or PPC, if your website is really bad and doesn’t make the conversion then you won’t make any money. So there is a lot to think about.
To answer the question, what of the future of SEO? Will it become obsolete? Will PPC replace organic SEO? No. I think if that were to happen then we’d have already seen it. I think today the main thing to worry about is how semantic search will change SEO. No one has yet come out with a popular version of true semantic search such that keywords would no longer be the focus. If search were truly semantic then keyword-optimized web pages and PPC ads would no longer be necessary. There may be a day when that is the case, but as of now you still need to optimize your web pages and your ad campaigns according to traditional SEO strategies. In some sense, though, search engines will always be a necessary component of SEO, no matter how it is done in the future.