The End of SEO

Ian Lurie

HAH. Bet THAT got your attention.
No, I’m not actually saying SEO is dying, or SEO is going away, or that SEOs are crooks. I’m an SEO. Some of my best friends are SEOs…
But the definition of SEO is changing. The latest YaBing news will probably accelerate that change. And when the dust settles, or at least starts drifting in a different direction, SEO will no longer be a standalone craft.
Instead, SEO will become about deriving value from search visits to a web site. And that will make SEO a full-on marketing discipline. Here’s why:

Rankings are dying

Optimizing for a specific keyword and ranking is an even dumber strategy now than it was a year ago. With personalized search, behavior tracking and other fine things, the search engines are constantly tweaking and adjusting which sites go where.
Focus on the keyword rankings and you’ll lose your mind, as well as your business.
What can SEOs focus on, then?

Traffic matters

Instead, watch your organic search traffic (traffic from unpaid search results). Is it going up? Great! Your SEO is working. Is it going down? Bummer. Your SEO hasn’t kicked in yet.
So, SEOs aren’t in the rankings business any more. We’re in the traffic business.

But quality matters more

‘More traffic’ is not a business goal. So search traffic quality is more important than quantity.
‘Quality’ is determined by search traffic’s direct contribution to the growth of the business. Nothing else matters.
SEOs aren’t in the traffic business, either. We’re in the business growth business. Ask any competent SEO and I’ll bet they have at least one story of clients asking about bottom-line results rather than rankings. If someone’s going to shell out cash for your services, they want to know the work’s paying off, directly, for them.

Traffic will shrink

I’ve talked about the big shift from index to aggregator that most search engines are making.
That’s going to reduce traffic. It won’t reduce attention, though.

Clickability will rule

So, SEOs are going to be caught up in a battle not just for first-page real estate, but also for clicks. Our ability to craft search listings that grab attention, answer questions and make searchers click is as valuable as our ability to increase traffic.
And, our ability to get the right clicks (see ‘quality’, above) will become more important, because you can’t write a different search snippet for every search query.

OK, you can, but I’ll not talk about such black hattery here.

Conversion will rule

If you do a fantastic job of search engine optimization but the web site is a pile of steaming poop, you’ll still end up fired.
No conversions = no quality
No quality = no benefit
No benefit = you’re FIRED
SEOs must start learning about conversion optimization and usability. We have to be able to make query-focused recommendations that improve a page’s conversion rate among searchers.

SEOs must become marketers

In short, SEOs have to become marketers. We have to learn to help companies derive real, bottom-line value from SEO. If we can’t do that, I may someday write about the end of SEO and mean it.

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Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Search is valuable. When in the mood to purchase, we search.
    However, a “search-and-search-alone will be our marketing strategy” that was prevalent 5 years ago is now officially a dead-end.

  2. Very well written and informative! Thank you for sharing.I forwarded it along to all the people within my organization that I have dealt with SEO and heard their interpretations…most of which are out of date to today’s world.

  3. Hah!! Posing as a know-it-all blowhard at LinkedIn a few months ago, I made kinda-sorta the same argument — except that I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about, and I didn’t make the point one hillion-gazillionth as well or as eloquently.
    Other than that, though, my LinkedIn comment was just like this post. heehee!
    Seriously, though–great post, and I agree 100%. Sure, it’s important to get customers to your site. But, if you don’t convert ’em once they’re there, then what’s the point?
    My employer’s products are household names, so traffic’s not that huge an issue. Conversion is the name of the game.

  4. I don’t think this is anything new to be honest, I think everyone had established that rankings are now just a shield to try and hide behind for bad SEO services that assume listings = traffic. It’s not just about getting that traffic to the site its about following it all the way through to the sale. It really bugs me when people automatically assume that because they’re getting more traffic from a keyword they’re getting more sales, that is not always the case don’t be so naive. Good post though nethertheless!

  5. Just landed on your blog and I love it!
    Your writing style is killer as is the content.
    And yes, the header for this grabbed my eyeballs. I think the point you make is very true and we will see everyone go back to basics and actually do marketing and not the technicalities of SEO rankings.

  6. “SEOs must become marketers.” That’s it, on the nose.
    I’ve been a marketer since well into the last century and I’ve seen innovations come and go, with me scurrying along in an attempt to understand and employ them for clients. From catalog marketing to SEO, the technical people tend to be the “first in,” but the issues remain the same: you need to get someone’s attention, demonstrate you understand their situation, present a solution and motivate some type of action. The stuff of marketing, all of it.
    I appreciate your parsing the current evolution of search so well. Perhaps a geek AND a marketer happily inhabit your body. Regardless, thanks for the insights.

  7. The oversaturation of sites on the web, as well as the number of dead blogs, have certainly made the SEO world different that it was 5 years ago. But with the advances being made in search technology I think SEO will be able to adapt and again be a dominant strategy for marketing information and products.

  8. I don’t think seo was ever just seo… It has always been about traffic first and foremost. I’m not sure exactly what you are referring to.
    But marketing has always been the second half of seo.
    Links still matter. And that’s what worries me about most marketers. They just don’t pay attention to what links count.
    They might as well make a phone call for all the long term link equity value they produce.
    On the other hand. Driving traffic through marketing, establishing long term link equity value, media buying, and just plain old solid tech, with excellent content, and good design.
    It all matters.

  9. Ian,
    Nice title! You got me there.
    Direct and specific, this article is nicely done.
    Almost all individual engaged with this business has their goal aiming for conversion (the rest, don’t know). It’s not new. SEO, definitely must become a marketer. I guess, that’s the reason why people are doing their research, to be updated as much as possible. Trying almost all possible internet marketing strategies and loosing time through optimization. Is it worth the effort? Results will talk.
    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Great post – i keep seeing blogs decribing how Google are putting different weights on differents methods, very difficult to keep up with what they are doing.

  11. I think that SEOs being responsible not only for how high a website ranks in search engines for specific keywords but also by what real value that high ranking provides for the business is a given. However, improving rankings for high volume, relevant keywords is still a huge part of that and will remain a huge part of that. It isn’t that focusing on rankings isn’t what we do anymore, it’s that in addition we are also responsible for choosing the right keywords, monitoring organic traffic, and finding out what exactly the business needs to rank for.

  12. The header is all that counts.I was greatly attracted by that title.
    But i feel that “Marketing is already a part of SEO”.People who clearly understands the concepts of SEO can become better marketers and help companies derive better value from SEO.

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