Is SEO Dead? How Inbound-Focused Brands Can Still Build Value in 2022

Is SEO Dead? How Inbound-Focused Brands Can Still Build Value in 2022

This post was updated on June 13, 2022

Is SEO dead?

It’s one of those seemingly simple questions thrown around in marketing circles but doesn’t appear to have a clear answer.

(If it did, we’d hardly need to write a whole blog post on the matter).

The answer is a little more complicated than a binary yes or no (though if you’re looking for a quick response, it’s gonna be “no”). 

Some industries have become incredibly saturated, making breaking into organic search very challenging and budget-intensive (though not impossible). In others, there are still plenty of opportunities for quick wins and successful short-term SEO campaigns.

In this article, we’ll cover both sides of the argument. We’ll discuss the current problems with prioritizing SEO (search engine optimization) and list the strategies to avoid and those to prioritize if you’re serious about making SEO work.

Table of Contents

Is SEO dead? 

The short answer here is nice and easy: no, SEO isn’t dead.

Ambitious brands are still finding serious value in investing in high-volume, educational content that establishes itself as a topic authority and simultaneously wins in search results.

Take DoNotPay, for example.

By launching a full-scale assault on content production and optimization, DoNotPay grew organic traffic from 0 to 1.5m visitors a month over 24 months. And they started this effort in 2020.

Google Analytics report of DoNotPay's organic traffic growth
Google Analytics report of DoNotPay’s organic traffic growth (Source)

So much for SEO being dead…

But that doesn’t mean that SEO will be an easy win for every brand in every industry, and the reality is there’s a reason why the question “Is SEO dead?” is still being asked.

The problem with SEO today

There are a few problems with SEO (or rather, problems people have with SEO).

Constant Google updates

The first is that Google (and other search engines, because they do exist as well) is continuously changing its algorithms for search ranking. Even earlier in 2022, a major update meant that many sites experienced severe volatility in search positions.

seo volatility google changes
Example of SERP SEO volatility (Source)

In layman’s terms, it’s not uncommon to hold several first position rankings which fall off the first page after a major Google update. (It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens).

All of this means that SEO is an ongoing, iterative process, and those that rely on organic search to provide website traffic (and capture leads) will need to constantly have an ear to the ground for changes in best practices.

Secondly, like you, Google constantly seeks to improve its product and user experience. A few years back, Google launched featured snippets, displaying answers to search phrases within a given SERP (search engine results page).

Here’s an example.

screenshot of google search for "when did featured snippets start"
Featured snippets started in 2014

Now, readers don’t need to click on a ranking website, as the answer to their question is displayed within the SERP itself.

Saturated industries

SEO may not be “dead,” but it’s safe to say that breaking into the organic space is difficult for some industries.

The truth is that many verticals (especially for certain B2B SaaS products) are highly-saturated. Take email marketing software, for instance.

There are hundreds of email marketing platforms available, and everyone’s competing for the same search terms. Ranking for the term “email marketing software” is pretty much impossible.

semrush screenshot for email marketing software
Semrush results for email marketing software

Mark Shaeffer, the author of The Content Code, calls this concept “content shock.”

The theory is this:

Much like the Law of Supply and Demand, 2 factors exist when analyzing content economics:

  1. Content consumption (demand)
  2. Content production (supply)
content shock
Content Shock (Consumption vs Production)

Up until a few years ago, content consumption and production grew steadily together, but demand for consumption was always higher than available production. 

But as content marketing and SEO have grown more popular (and more accessible), the tables have turned, and content production is growing at such a rate that it has now far exceeded the demand for consumption (which has more or less plateaued).

Bad actors in SEO

In many circles, SEO has developed a bit of a negative reputation, described as “mysterious,” “fake,” and “smoke and mirrors.”

In reality, this is the fault of several bad actors in the SEO game: consultants or agencies who’ve promised big results from their SEO services but failed to deliver (or used sneaky black hat SEO strategies to generate compromising short-term results).

SEO today is about high-quality content

This is less of a problem and more of a change in the methods and tactics brands need to employ to see SEO results.

Whereas in the past, SEO professionals could rely on technical elements or hack together some impressive results by stuffing keywords into on-page content, today’s search engines are much more scrupulous.

The main reason Google continues to change its search algorithms is to deliver a more relevant, user-friendly experience for its customers. More and more, these algorithms are including intent and engagement signals like:

  • Bounce rates
  • Dwell Time (time on page)
  • Authority and expertise

But don’t take all of that as a negative, as it’s actually 1 of the biggest reasons SEO can still work if you get it right.

Why SEO still works 

At the beginning of this article, we made it clear that our position on the “Is SEO dead or not?” debate is a clear “no.”

Here’s why.

The bar for content is still relatively low

Though Google is pretty good at prioritizing valuable content, it can only work with what it’s given. In some industries, low-quality content that focuses on keywords and rankings (rather than value, user experience, and readability) is still prevalent.

For instance, this paragraph doesn’t really tell the reader anything, yet exists on a page 1 result:

example of bad SEO content
An example of bad SEO content (Source)

Suppose you nail basics like including semantic topics, answering related questions, and writing good titles and opening paragraphs. In that case, you can still get away with fluff pieces, although it’s best if you write better content.

Valuable opportunities still exist

While saturated industries like email marketing might be hard to crack into, opportunities still exist if you know where to look for them.

The search term that rendered the above example of (not-so) high-quality content, “best SM57 alternative,” has an incredibly low keyword difficulty.

semrush screenshot for best sm57 alternative
Semrush results for best sm57 alternative

Sure, the monthly search volume may not be super impressive, but this could be an easy win between the difficulty rating and the less-than-average content currently ranking.

Everything gets saturated eventually

Saturation is not unique to SEO.

All methods and strategies have the potential to become saturated over time, and they do (though usually, this happens by industry).

Take social media, for instance. Social platforms are seriously saturated in some industries (say, clothing and apparel). 

That doesn’t mean social media is dead. It just means that those who jump in early can gain some quick wins (think about all of the TikTok contributors who blew up during the pandemic, largely off the back of the platform’s growth).

SEO works if you throw out the old tricks

Like those TikTok early adopters, those who invested in SEO ‘before it was cool’ managed to get some impressive wins from many tricks and tactics that Google and other search engines have since caught on to.

Today, you’ll need to avoid such tricks to grow long-term SEO results. 

4 SEO “tricks” you’ll want to avoid 

1. Keyword stuffing and over-optimizing 

Keyword stuffing (focusing heavily on keyword density and prioritizing it over readability) is 1 of the oldest tricks in the SEO book.

Imagine writing a post you want to rank for the search query “digital marketing.” The keyword stuffing approach would be to use that phrase verbatim as many times as possible in the article. The result will probably end up looking something like this:

keyword stuffing example
Example of keyword stuffing (Source)

This is obviously not great for the user’s experience, and though it might gain you a bit of search traffic, readers are likely to bounce quickly, and you’ll most likely lose any positions you’ve won.

2. Only focusing on link-building

Obtaining backlinks is a valuable and important aspect of any SEO strategy, but it shouldn’t be your only strategy for boosting organic traffic.

The idea is this:

Google sees backlinks (links from another website to your page) as a positive indication that your content is valuable, so their search engine algorithm is more likely to position you near the top of search results.

Black hat SEO takes advantage of this factor by sourcing tons of links from less-than-trustworthy websites. 

Again, this may work in the short term, but in the long run, search engines are likely to figure out that the websites you’ve obtained links from have nothing to do with you (in terms of your industry, topic expertise, etc.), and you’ll end up being penalized.

3. Obsessing over the first position

Not every page needs to (or even can) get to position one.

Yes, position 1 is important. 25% of clicks go to the first result in a given Google search.

But obsessing over getting every page to the top of a SERP will be a money-burning exercise.  

Instead, focus on overall growth (are your pages moving up in rankings over time?), and prioritize page 1 over position one.

4. Prioritizing quantity over quality

Quantity is an important factor for ranking.

Suppose you’re publishing content consistently, discussing related topics, and building a solid internal link structure. In that case, Google is more likely to recognize your brand as a valuable contributor to its information network (and understand the topic areas you’re an authority in).

But, quantity should never be prioritized ahead of quality.

Pumping out dozens of poorly-researched and poorly-written pieces of content will be the death of SEO.

4 seo tricks to avoid
4 seo tricks to avoid

4 SEO strategies you need to adopt

1. Invest heavily in your most valuable topics

Coming up with a huge list of relevant keywords isn’t all that difficult, but if you want to create a piece of content for each of them, your content creators will either:

  • Prioritize quantity over quality
  • Take years to work through your list
  • Cost you a ton of money

Instead, narrow down your keyword list to only the most valuable short- and long-tail keywords by asking:

  • Is there reasonable monthly traffic for this search term?
  • Does the keyword difficulty for this term look like something we can tackle?
  • What is the search experience currently like? Can we improve upon it?
  • Does the user intent for this search phrase align with our product and organizational goals?
  • How likely is it that our potential customers are searching for this phrase?

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2. Repurpose, distribute, and promote

User engagement is a huge metric for how Google ranks search results today.

It’s a bit of a catch-22 because to get people to engage with your content, they’ve got to see it (and you kind of need to be on page 1 for them to see it).

Content repurposing and distribution is your key here.

CXL provides some great examples. They consistently repurpose SEO articles and distribute content on their social media profiles to grow their organic audience and drive traffic back to their site.

example of content distribution from cxl
Content distribution from cxl (Source)

3. Prioritize search intent

Rather than writing content for Google bots (i.e., focusing on semantic keywords, density, etc.), write for the humans reading your content.

Many companies get search intent wrong. They assume that they need to do it because everyone else is doing it.

But do readers searching for “email marketing benchmarks” want to see a first H2 section answering “What is an email marketing benchmark?” 

Or do they already know what email marketing benchmarks are (since, you know, they searched for it) and are simply looking for some hard numbers?

Personalization will also be a huge driver in getting SEO wins as we move forward.

Consider, for instance, Neil Patel’s blog page.

example of content personalization from neil patel
Content personalization from Neil Patel (Source)

His audience can customize reading results to their own preferences, so they only see what they want to learn about and nothing else.

4. Revise, edit, revamp, and relaunch

SEO is not a “one and done” checklist you can finish—it’s an ongoing process.

Search intent evolves, search engines alter their algorithms, and facts, norms, and best practices change.

To be successful long term, put a process in place for regular content audits and then implement changes, deletions, updates, and relaunches as required.

4 SEO strategies you need to adopt
4 SEO strategies you need to adopt

Conclusion 

Whether you’re an advanced digital marketer or a small business owner looking to earn a little more search traffic through valuable content creation, SEO can still be a very viable avenue.

So, no, SEO is not dead.

That said, to win SEO results in 2022 and beyond, you’ll need to throw out some of the old SEO tricks and tactics and focus heavily on content quality, search intent, and repurposing and distribution through social media and email lists.
Check out ActiveCampaign’s email marketing platform and start distributing content today with a 14-day free trial.

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