SEO is dead. (Long live SEO… a case study.)

   |  2 Mar, 2015  #

For the past 3 to 4 months, I’ve been running an experiment on the largest freelancing website in the world, oDesk, focused entirely on one thing: website loading speed. Specifically, I sought out clients who were in the market for website migrations, security improvements, SSL certificates, and on-site optimization services, and offered them the following setup:

CloudFlare (DNS) + DigitalOcean (VPS) + MaxCDN (CDN) + CodeGuard (backups) + OpenSSL (SSL)

Over 50+ gigs later and with a 5.00 feedback rating, my “business validation” was finally complete. Not only were my clients pleased with the results, but they were regularly blown away by what I was able achieve on such a small budget. The experiment was so successful, in fact, that I became completely overwhelmed by the amount of referrals and follow-up work that I was asked to do not only from my oDesk clients, but from their friends, and friends of friends.

But surely the most exciting part of this “21st-century” business experiment was that out of all the clients I encountered, exactly zero of them were “pipe dream” startups, desperate wantrepreneurs, or reliant on SEO manipulation in any way whatsoever. That is, they were ALL stable and successful businesses simply looking to improve their websites.

SEO is dead.

Actually, its been dead for a while now, but you wouldn’t know it from all the hype-artists out there (STILL) trying to scam small business owners into buying their black-hat SEO products, spamming software, and other get-rich-quick baloney. (If you are unaware of what SEO is… simply put, its a stategic effort by companies and “internet marketers” across the planet to manipulate Google’s algorithm in an effort to rank higher in their search results… and thus, gain more traffic.)

Don’t get me wrong: SEO is not an inherently bad thing. In fact, understanding the art and science of SEO is what kept me employed through most of my 20s. It’s just that, after “SEO” became an industry in and of itself – complete with back-room meetings, PBNs, and companies tripping over each other to spam and scam their way to the top of Google – the focus on good business ethics went right out the window for quite a few years there.

And if you haven’t been paying attention for the last few years, all of that is coming to a screeching halt.

“You pigs, you. You rut like pigs, is all. You got the most in you, and you use the least. You hear me, you? Got a million in you and spend pennies. Got a genius in you and think crazies. Got a heart in you and feel empties. All a you. Every you… Take a war to make you spend. Take a jam to make you think. Take a challenge to make you great. Rest of the time you sit around lazy, you. Pigs, you! All right, God damn you! I challenge you, me. Die or live and be great. Blow yourselves to Christ gone or come and find me, Gully Foyle, and I make you men. I make you great. I give you the stars.”

― Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination

Since the beginning of the internet, millions of people all over the world have tried to figure out how to harness the mind-blowing power of the world wide web, with its unbelievable reach, unlimited opportunity, and infinite amount of information. Unfortunately, more than 90% of people who try to make a living online end up failing, and rather quickly. But I’m not here to share photos of luxury cars and big houses and sell you a digital eBook that will change your life. What I am here to say, though, is that I’ve learned over the past several years that successful online business people understand 3 key facts:

1) an online business is, at the end of the day, just another type of business
2) an online business can only succeed after its learned not to rely on Google
3) an online business needs a website that is fast, secure, and mobile-friendly

In short, your digital marketing efforts should imagine a world in which Google and search engines do not even exist. Only after your business plan has figured out how to succeed without search engines will you be able to truly succeed in the long-term.

“But wait!”, you are probably thinking. “Didn’t you just say we need a website that loads quickly? Isn’t that to rank higher in Google search results?” And here’s the golden rule that 90% of digital entrepreneurs simply don’t grasp: Google’s algorithm is intricately designed to reward forward-thinking businesses who value quality, reputation, and transparency, and who don’t merely “react” to the latest SEO gossip they saw on Twitter last week.

WHAT? Did I really just say that? Yes, I did. And I’m not the first, either. For years now, Google has been saying this to anyone who would listen, despite spammers, conspiracy theorists, and black-hat SEO “gurus” ignoring their friendly advice.

Of course, you are free to believe otherwise. But in the meantime, smart business owners will continue to focus on building a quality product or service, “adding value” to the world, and “letting them come” rather than spending a fortune in time and money trying to manipulate the search algorithms of a company recently valued at nearly 1 trillion dollars.

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4 comments on "SEO is dead. (Long live SEO… a case study.)":

  1. SEO isn’t dead, it’s evolved. True, the SEO that used to work is a thing of the past. Think of it like it was a tadpole. Now it’s changed into a more complex creature. Like a frog riding a bicycle.

    • Hey Lavi, I was hoping someone would come along to argue as much, heh. SEO as a concept, and as a business concern, will surely always exist and evolve. But for the sake of making a point, I decided to call it dead.

  2. Hi Jesse,

    Great blog post!

    For me my favorite line is “Only after your business plan has figured out how to succeed without search engines will you be able to truly succeed in the long-term” I like that line because it is so true. Personally I think regardless of how good the internet and Google is, if you have a business that can not succeed without it then you don’t have a solid business at all.

    I am really looking forward to see what the next stage of your business is and what else you can offer us.


    • Thanks a lot Ben, I appreciate your encouragement since the very beginning. Your company is a walking testament to the steady growth of a local small business that is leveraging the internet to organize and optimize its business presence, and I respect your professionalism and courteousness very much. :)

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