21 Aug 2019 15:42 IST

Is search engine optimisation a dying art?

The simple answer is no but marketers should focus on realigning their SEO strategy

Ranking on page 1 of Google search results is the holy grail for many marketers. Quite possibly, no other component of digital marketing has been as subjected to the imagination of conspiracy theorists as SEO (search engine optimisation) has. Almost every year, there are claims about the death of SEO which are then consequently debunked by experts. This time, the assertion isn’t coming from marketers pushing for more PPC campaigns, but from concerned content creators themselves.

So why are experienced professionals in the field worried that 2019 could signal the death knell of SEO? Here are a couple of factors that might explain their fears.

Organic CTR is the lowest it’s ever been

With every SERP (search engine results page) feature that Google adds, click-through rates dip further. In the past, users searching for weather information would have to click on a result, enter the website and look for their answer on the page. But now? You see an answer box.

These new features don’t just affect broad searches but long-tail queries as well. A first-time real estate investor, for instance, might search for ‘how to calculate stamp duty’ to clear up their questions on it. When they do that, Google will present them the answer neatly packaged in a featured snippet. Since the user already has the answer to the question, they might not feel the need to actually click on the website.

Google maps eats up local search traffic

Businesses, understandably, want users to visit their website for all information related to them. This is especially important for local businesses such as restaurants and cafés since purchase intent is typically higher for local searches. However, Google might be hoarding most of this traffic for itself. If users search for cafés or restaurants, their search results today look very different than they did just a few years ago.

In the past, they would see a restaurant listing when searching for ‘Chinese food near me’, click on the website link that appealed to them, and check out the menu and contact details on their website. Today, while they will still see restaurant listings, clicking on one will take them to Google Maps and not the restaurant's website.

Mobile search most heavily impacted

For the last few years, a mobile-first approach to SEO (and almost everything related to digital marketing) has been adopted by marketers everywhere by implementing strategies like AMP (accelerated mobile pages). The number of mobile users and mobile searches have also been on an upward trajectory in the last few years, underlining the importance of mobile SEO. However, recent statistics about the nature of mobile searches have emerged, making marketers wonder if mobile SEO still has the same ‘do-or-die’ effect that it did a year ago.

According to Rand Fishkin of Moz, mobile no-click searches have grown by 11 per cent, almost 2.5 per cent higher than no-click searches on desktop. With these seemingly gloomy numbers, it’s no wonder that websites and brands are worried that they might be losing out on a chunk of their organic mobile audience.

Voice search is increasing no-click searches

Voice search can be interpreted as both a boon and a bane for marketers. On the one hand, it’s a growing new platform to make their brand more visible to users and one of the biggest digital marketing trends of 2019. On the other hand, no-click searches are most prevalent on voice search. For brands and marketers, this poses a unique conundrum: is voice search worth ranking for or will it provide absolutely no value in terms or traffic and brand awareness?

But does this mean SEO is dying?

The simple answer to that question is, no. With SEO, when one door closes, another opens. There are certainly many facets of SEO that are dead or dying today, but that has always been the case since its inception. As users, platforms and Google’s algorithm evolves, SEO needs to adapt to keep up.

Instead of getting bogged down by all the alarming statistics being thrown around about the end of SEO, marketers should instead focus on realigning their SEO strategy in the following ways.

Grow branded searches

If there’s one keyword that Google cannot steal traffic from, it’s searches for your brand. For example, if a user were to search for just ‘digital marketing companies in India’, Google would first list out map listings of companies.

Shift focus from volume to CTR%

Most keyword research today consists of analysing keyword volume and difficulty alone. But with the new SERP features, high volume keywords don’t necessarily guarantee high traffic from them.

To counteract this, content creators should include a third dimension when choosing keywords to optimise their content with: click-through-rate (CTR) percentage. By carefully choosing a keyword that has a high CTR, content marketers can be assured that they will be creating content that will drive organic traffic to their website and not just adding to Google’s no-click search percentages.

There are other ways to optimise your content so that it features on top of the SERP list, and we will take a look at these next week.