Is Organic Search Dead? Dying? Yes. And No.

30 Mar
March 30, 2012

Here at Sitewire we enjoy a good debate, especially when it gives us the chance to show off our smarts and flex our brain muscle. Here’s a little glimpse of one such debate.

With Google’s continuous updates, increased emphasis on content strategy and the overall shift in digital media of late, the question of where and how organic search fits into all this is ever present. So, the brains on our media team began mulling it over. Travis Unwin, Director of Media Strategies, and Chris Corak, Lead Media Planner, had a fun back-and-forth on this very topic.

So, is organic search dead?

TU: I’m going with a solid YES. The new approach and how we should be focusing our efforts should include, among other things, a focus on content that resonates socially. Make more of that.

CC: My answer is NO. Every time search changes, there is a large segment of marketers who ask this question. Each time it stirs up a debate. And in the end, it hasn’t died. If anything, it’s become stronger. In my opinion the answer is  ”no,” but organic search now encompasses more than it previously did.  In addition to everything it has always been (and those things still matter), SEO is also now design, UX, content, social, local…we just need to be a lot more well-rounded in our approach.

And when it comes to socially resonate content, I couldn’t agree more. I just want to add, content has always mattered for SEO. Historically, we have not focused on improving it enough. But it’s been difficult to get clients to buy off on changing content. Thanks to Google, we now have a sales tool as to why they need to improve quality. Now there is an, “or else.

TU: But keep in mind, Google is heading towards semantic search. Keywords – as they were used in the past – will become next to useless.

CC: Google is moving towards semantic search, or at least they are trying. My gut says they are a long way off from depending on semantics entirely. They already have some semantics (understanding the true meaning or subject matter and giving you a search result based on that understood meaning, not dependent on a literal keyword) in search – and we are still very dependent on keywords.  Think about how advanced Siri is, and still she can’t answer 99% of all the questions I would need her to, if I was entirely dependent on her.  I believe there will be a semantic/keyword blend for years to come. Even if we get to the point of no keywords, there will still be organic search work in helping search engines truly understand the subject matter/meaning of your content.

TU: The keywords won’t mean anything unless we start focusing on a fantastic end-user experience. Design and UX matter.

CC: Couldn’t agree more!

TU: And we can’t just build social properties. We’ve got to grow the audience.

CC: Again, we’re in agreement here! I’m very excited about where SEO is going. I totally get your point, Travis, that organic now includes other work, out of our typical norm for SEO work (titles/header tags, etc.). And I love it. It’s going to be a massive opportunity for us and our clients. There is finally a literal tie-in relationship between search, social, content, UI.

There you have it. Organic search is dead. From a certain point of view. And organic search is just beginning a brand new life. From another point of view. One thing we know for sure: Sitewire will keep asking the tough questions and encourage exciting new research and schools of thought as the digital landscape continues to change around us.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we talk more about search, Google, content and how all these changes may end up effecting you.

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