As long as there are search engines, there will be a need for search engine optimization.
You've seen the headlines about how SEO is dying, or SEO is already dead. Do you wonder if it's true - if SEO is really on it's way out? The answer is simply no.
If you look at the top twenty-five websites globally as measured by Alexa, you will find that several are search engines including various versions of Google, Yahoo, Baidu, and Bing. If you look at the top websites by country, you will find that their regional of Google is either first or second in the list.
Search engines are the most popular websites for users of the web. As long as that remains constant, search engines will never die.
As long as there are search engines, there will be a need for search engine optimization. The tactics involved in optimizing a web page for search may change, but the need to optimize web pages for search will always be a necessity.
Even if Google disappeared tomorrow, there are still lots of other search engines out there. We're not talking just Bing and Yahoo. We're talking thousands of search engines. Search engines on the web, search engines within social networks, and search engines within individual websites themselves.
Of course, you don't want to just take it from me that SEO will never die. Take it straight from various search engines themselves.
Google, by far, has the most valuable resources for website owners who want to optimize their websites for search and monitor their performance. For starters, they give simplified details on How Search Works, from crawlers to algorithms. In this series of documents, you will find links to three crucial places where Google tells us that SEO is important.
First, you have Transparency for Webmasters, also known as Webmaster Guidelines. These are Google's own tips for helping their search engine find, crawl, and index your website. They include the following.
If you suspect that your website is hosted on a server with other spammy websites, your options are as follows.
- Every page on your website should be reachable from at least one static text link.
- Think about the words that people would search for to find your page and make sure they are included on your website.
- If you must use images, include a few descriptive words of text in the ALT attribute.
- Make sure that yourtags and ALT text are descriptive and accurate.
Additional SEO tips presented in pages linked to Google Search Console (Google Webmaster Tools) include the following.
- Image Publishing Guidelines suggest using keywords for the image file name, the ALT attribute, and anchor text linking to an image.
- Flash and Other Rich Media File Guidelines suggest creating a text page that you can send a Googlebot to with text-based content that describes the rich media on the page.
Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
Next on the list, in 2010, Google created a starter guide for SEO. They introduce it with the following sentence.
This document first began as an effort to help teams within Google, but we thought it'd be just as useful to webmasters that are new to the topic of search engine optimization and wish to improve their sites' interaction with both users and search engines. Although this guide won't tell you any secrets that'll automatically rank your site first for queries in Google (sorry!), following the best practices outlined below will make it easier for search engines to crawl, index and understand your content.
The main topics covered in this 32-page guide include SEO basics, improving site structure, optimizing content, dealing with crawlers, SEO for mobile phones, promotions, and analysis. To summarize, here's what you learn.
- Create unique, accurate page titles. Google suggests the homepage should include words related to the name of your website or business, physical location, or main offerings.
- Make use of the "description" meta tag. Google suggests always adding this as they might not find a good selection of text on the page for your search engine results snippet.
- Improve the structure of your URLs with descriptive categories and filenames for documents on your website. Google suggests users might link to your page using the URL of that page as anchor text, and that including relevant words in your URL would tell users and search engines what the page is about.
- Make your site easy to navigate and provide a sitemap for users and search engines. Google suggests using mostly text for navigation as other elements like drop-down menus may not be as accessible.
- Offer quality content and services. Google suggests using Google AdWords Keyword Tool to find relevant phrases users might be searching and to create content that includes different variations of particular phrases for good results.
- Write descriptive anchor text. Google suggests doing this for both internal and external links.
- Optimize images with descriptive filenames and ALT text.
Use heading tags appropriately. Google suggests using them sparingly across the page.
- Make effective use of robots.txt. Google suggests this for pages or files you do not want discovered by users in search.
- Be aware of rel="No Follow" for links. Google suggests using this attribute to protect your site's reputation from linking out to spammy external sites.
- Make sure Google can access your mobile website and that users are directed to the appropriate pages based on their device.
- Promote your website in the right ways. Google suggests reaching out to others who are interested in the same subjects and your site's related communities (without spamming or purchasing links).
While these tips are several years old, they go to show that Google still advises certain practices for search engine optimization. Hence, SEO in the form of keyword research, content creation, on-site optimization, anchor text, and link building is still well and alive, according to Google.
If you want to dive even deeper into what Google wants to see, you can review their guidelines for Search Quality Raters (2012) and Content Quality Raters (2014). Both documents will show you what Google's employees look for to determine how well a website ranks in search.
If guidelines and starter guides don't convince you that Google still wants you to optimize your website for search, then their own toolset will. Google Search Console (Google Webmaster Tools) is free to all webmasters. Once you have set your website up on Google Search Console (Google Webmaster Tools).
Inside GWT, you will find tools provided by Google to help you with your website's on-site optimization. You will also find tools that help you determine your website's visibility for specific keywords, top pages in search, and latest backlinks. None of these tools would be necessary if Google didn't want you to participate in approved search engine optimization tactics.
You can learn more in our Ultimate Guide to Webmaster Tools.
How Bing Tells Us SEO is Important
While Google is probably all that matters to most marketers, it's good to know that other search engines still promote SEO too. Bing's Webmaster Guidelines are similar to Google's in the sense that they offer tips to webmasters who want to ensure that their website is indexed for search.
Bing calls search engine optimization a " valid practice which seeks to improve technical and content aspects of a website, making the content easier to find, relevant, and more accessible to the search engine crawlers." It follows this up with details for on-site and off-site SEO tactics that webmasters should focus on.
For on-site optimization, they suggest the use of title tags, meta descriptions, ALT attributes, heading tags, internal links, links to good external resources, and social sharing. On the technical side of things, they also suggest XML sitemaps, clean navigation and URLs, and correct use of the robots.txt.
When talking about content, Bing suggests building it on keywords that users are actually searching for - the main keyword phrase you are targeting should be used a few times along with variations of the keyword phrase. Content should contain enough to meet the visitor's expectations, and new content should be produced frequently.
As for links, Bing's specifically says that they reward websites that "have grown organically, that is, that have been added over time by content creators on other trusted, relevant websites made to drive real users from their site to your site." They suggest that you plan the growth of your incoming and outgoing links, ask for links via social media and from other websites, and that you carefully plan the actual words that will be linked to use targeted keywords when possible (anchor text).
Similarly to Google, Bing offers their own version of Webmaster Tools for website owners to use to improve your website's visibility in search.
You can use Bing Webmaster Tools to get suggestions to better optimize your website for search, review your backlinks, see the keywords your website ranks for, and much more.
How Yahoo Tells Us SEO is Important
Yahoo also has some simple guidelines for webmasters looking to get a higher website rank in Yahoo search results. They offer six basic tips that align with Google's and Bing's guidelines.
- Research key terms that your audience will use to search for your type of content.
- Choose terms for your page titles that match the contents of your web pages.
- Keep relevant text and links in HTML as opposed to images.
- Use descriptive ALT text for images.
- Carefully write your description meta tag, as it is most important for search users after the title of your page.
- Add an HTML sitemap for website visitors and XML sitemap for search engines.
Yahoo also has a page devoted to content quality guidelines. Similar to Google and Bing, it says that you should create high quality content for people and avoid anything that is made to manipulate search engines.
On Yahoo's webmaster resources page, they have a few helpful links that point marketers to more information on Yahoo paid search marketing, search support, and Bing webmaster resources. Because of their partnership, submitting your website to Bing will also submit it to Yahoo.
How Other Search Engines Tells Us SEO is Important
Beyond the major search engines, is SEO important? Absolutely! Search engines beyond Google, Bing, and Yahoo offer their own advice for ranking in their search engines.
For example, DuckDuckGo has a very simplistic view of search engine optimization. They suggest that the best way to get good rankings in any search engine is to get links from high-quality websites like Wikipedia.
Yandex has a more comprehensive page for webmasters interested in improving their website within search. They offer basic tips - create useful content, think about users first and search engines later, add links because they are interesting and useful, and think about search queries you want to promote your site for. Then they offer advice about what to avoid, which is similar to what you would find in Google's Webmaster Guidelines list of things not to do, including no link trading or link buying.
Many websites with their own internal search engines offer advice on how to optimize your content for better visibility. For example, LinkedIn has a short and simple page that tells you how you can make your profile more relevant to the people you want to discover you in LinkedIn search. Their tips include completing your profile, adding relevant skills (keywords), and using standard job titles that more people are likely to search.
Amazon is another example of a website with a powerful internal search engine that offers optimization advice for their product sellers. They offer suggestions such as using terms within a keyword phrase in logical order, targeting legitimate alternate spellings (aeroplane and airplane) as well as synonyms (pants and slacks), and to minimize the use of abbreviations.
As you can see, as long as there are people that want to use search engines, there will be search engines. And as long as there are search engines, there will be a need for webmasters to follow certain search engine optimization guidelines. While the rules of SEO will always change as search engines evolve, the need for SEO will never die. Hence, SEO will never die.