A lot of people that work in SEO find it offensive when people say SEO doesn’t work anymore.  This is a topic that comes up almost weekly in the SEO circles.  The problem exists because so many different types of search optimization services get lumped into the SEO acronym.

So when someone asks if SEO is a waste of time I have to give them a complex answer. In truth, it’s a little of both.  Some of it is dead…some of it is not.

Certain Types of SEO Services are Dead

There are SEO services that were originally created during the early years of search primarily from 2000 to 2010.  These services focused on helping sites get large quantities of back links with heavy keyword anchor text.  These links were often links you purchased from networks of sites that were made specifically for linking, but also include blog comment links, forum links and low quality directories.  Recently, I’ve seen the SEO industry experts call these links “non-editorial” links.  Meaning that no human being actually moderated, analyzed or put thought into “giving” your site the link.

For years, SEO services were available and helped sites obtain these cheap links and promised great results.  While it was never looked at as the best type of SEO service, it was effective for a lot of small niche sites and could even help give a large site a little bump.  This type of services was often used by site owners because it was affordable and easy.  And because it was fairly simple, these SEO services sprung up everywhere.  Unfortunately, a lot of people think this is SEO as they know nothing else.

This type of SEO. The type of service that gives you quick, cheap, non-editorial links is DEAD.

What Changed and Why

There are thousands of articles on Google’s changes, specifically Panda and Penguin. I don’t want to get into a full, explanation but I’ll give you a short recap.  Since 2010, Google and other search engines changed the way they value links and pages.   They always viewed links as a vote for a site and its logical that sites with more votes would rank higher.  However, the cheap links enabled some sites to acquire thousands of links quickly.  Google even learned to ignore most of the bad links, but since many link networks and cheap links sprung up new every day, they had a hard time keeping the spam from getting an upper hand.

2010 is roughly the time, when they started getting aggressive.   Officially the first Google Panda actually launched in 2011, but late 2010 they were starting to make changes. The first Google Panda started to penalize link farms. Some called it the “farmer” update. It even hit very large sites like ezinearticles.com and hubpages.com.  Indirectly, links you may have received from these mega content sites gave you a lot less “link juice” so many other sites felt the effects.

From there, Google made several changes to Panda, though this algorithm focused more on page quality than linking.  It was Google Penguin, launched in 2012 that really effected links.  For the first time in Google’s history, they could penalize your site for having bad links pointing to it.  Even though it may not have been your intention to get these bad links, your site can lose ranks if you have too many low quality links.

If you think about it, it makes total sense.  Links are still important for search engines to determine value, but in order to have real value, it needs to be a link that a real person gives to your site because it’s worthy of the link.  So, they decided that penalizing sites was the best way to reduce spam.

I believe it worked. I don’t see near as much spam in the Google index.  However, a lot of small sites, small businesses that didn’t know any better got hit by the Penguin updates.  Certainly some sites may have suspected they could get hit. And yes, some sites may have deserved it, but my opinion has always been that a lot of smaller sites just didn’t know any better.  Also, I think that many sites didn’t’ realize what their “SEO Services” were actually doing.

The Right Type of SEO 

Now that you understand a bit of history about the different types of SEO and how things have changed in recent years, you might realize that there are still some amazing truths about search:

  1. Google and search engines still can deliver huge amounts of targeted traffic
  2. It benefits your business to try to rank as high as possible for related keywords
  3. It takes a good number of high quality, editorial links to help you.
  4. Many high quality links can actually deliver traffic.
  5. There are people that are experts at getting these links and helping you build direct and search traffic.

A good SEO is going to explain to you what they do and how they do it.  When you understand what is involved, then you should be able to determine a cheap fly by night service vs.  a quality SEO Consultant.  And getting it right is important because one type of SEO will destroy your web site. The Right SEO can deliver amazing results.

Many professional SEO services  provide a real value that can capture a high ROI.  By nature, these services are much more expensive. They have to be, because a quality SEO professional has to spend countless hours to complete their job.    Usually, results are most effective SEO is performed as an ongoing engagement. 

An SEO expert should be developing a search strategy and communicating their plans.  They should be working with content developers and social media (if not managing those tasks themselves).   They help you build partnerships in your niche with bloggers and authority sites.  And of course, the SEO expert helps you build high quality editorial links that help you rank higher in Google and other search engines.

So if you hear SEO is dead.  That means that $9 SEO Service that gets you 10,000 links in 10 minutes.  When you hear about a today’s SEO Professional that provides a full scale service, tackling the tasks I laid out above. That type of SEO is not dead and  that professional can help you grow your business.

P.S. I wrote this article out a few weeks ago, but today a great piece was published from MOZ and it includes a fantastic PDF that outlines the link building process. This really shows you what you need to do if you really want to do your own link building.  

The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building by Paddy Morgan, Distilled

The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building (PDF format)