Most articles about the future of SEO are technical. The latest zoo animal, AI and so on. Mine is not.
My approach is more broad brush, but the conclusions are just as relevant.
To start, what is holding most of our businesses back? It is a willingness to accept responsibility for our actions and their results. Most people seem happy to blame everything and everyone but themselves for their woes: Brexit, Trump, customers, competitors and so on… Bankers, consultants, Google, Amazon…
Yes, the world is a scary place, but actually the first problem is probably ourselves and our individual and corporate mindsets.
The second issue… customers are more informed, demanding, and impatient. They want to go, do, and buy. And they want to do it now. They want to do more and get more; they have ever-increasing expectations. And finally, they want it to be frictionless.
It is not so much that the ‘Customer is King’ but more that the customer seems pretty scary right now.
The elephant in the room is that all our businesses and those of our competition are so unbelievably similar: so much commoditisation and competition. Similar products. Similar design. Similar websites. Similar offers. Just dull and boring and predictable.
So, I ask you to return to Marketing #101. Segmentation and differentiation.
The basics of good marketing and sales (according to Doug Hall) are to present an overt (business) benefit, give a real reason to believe that you can deliver, and demonstrate a dramatic difference. These principles have not changed.
At the same time, we need to recognise that while it may not be totally dead, the sales funnel does not exactly fit the real world. Customers will skip your stages in your funnel and go straight to finding out about your product by looking at reviews and recommendations for themselves. This is known as Google’s Zero Moment of Truth or ZMOT. (I ponder whether you are now less or more in control of pointing them towards your product.)
The “New Normal” needs to be understood. Customers talk. The new world is customer-driven (or they believe it should be). Customer experience is everything. And to top it all there is accountability, in every direction.
It is now clear that there is a direct relationship between customer experience and loyalty and profitability. So, it is little wonder that agencies and clients see the prime way to seek to differentiate is via the customer experience: making the experience easy, fun, and/or valuable (Econsultancy/Adobe 2018). Content and experience management is the number one focus.
We know that SEO is more like a series of waves than one single product life cycle. Each new iteration delivers a greater ROI than the old iteration until it becomes popular and ROI declines. And suddenly a new iteration appears that delivers a greater ROI… The trick is to be on the right wave at the right time, when the ROI is optimal.
Is SEO dead? No.
Is it different from five years ago or even one year ago? Yes.
Are the principles so very different? No.
At the heart of the activity is segmentation and differentiation. Without those fundamentals your work will be wasted.
As Darwin is alleged to have said, in evolution the secret is in adapting to the environment, to the context: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”.