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This story originally appeared on Under30CEO.com.
For more than a decade, search engine optimization (SEO) has been hailed by many as the most effective digital marketing strategy out there. This claim has always been debatable, but it’s even more relevant in the modern age when the SEO landscape has considerably evolved.
Can we definitively say that SEO is still the best digital marketing strategy? Or are there other channels and tactics that have surpassed it?
The trouble with defining “the best” strategy
This is a tricky question to answer in any objective capacity, and for several reasons:
- Industry differences. For starters, the effectiveness of various digital marketing strategies fluctuates depending on the industry and business using them. For example, SEO tends to be highly effective for law firms, but it may not be as effective for a small, physical retail store. While any business with a website can conceivably benefit from SEO, there’s no denying that it’s a more effective strategy for some businesses over others. Because of this, we can immediately say that SEO isn’t necessarily the best digital marketing strategy for every business.
- Performance metric variation. How do we define the best digital marketing strategy? Depending on who you ask, you probably hear many different performance metrics named. Is it about traffic generation? Conversions? Brand visibility? All of the above? Again, this is super subjective.
- Strategic execution nuances. The effectiveness of SEO also depends on a person’s execution of it. For example, a person who chooses poor keyword targets, builds spammy links, and develops questionable content is inevitably going to be disappointed by their SEO performance. They wouldn’t claim that it’s the best digital marketing strategy available.
How has SEO changed?
SEO has changed significantly in the past several years, which is why we need to reevaluate it. These are just some of the high points:
- More competition. Back in the 2000s, SEO was a somewhat obscure strategy that only some digital marketers had heard of. Today, even people completely outside the marketing discourse community are aware of it. That has led to a massive surge in competition, which makes the strategy more difficult for everyone to execute effectively.
- Stricter quality standards. Most people in the SEO community are familiar with Google’s E-A-T guidelines for content quality, standing for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. In addition to adding another E for experience, Google has stepped up its quality evaluation efforts, cracking down on questionable content and link-building practices. Again, this has increased the difficulty of successful SEO planning.
- More resources and tools. In some ways, SEO has become easier. More resources and tools exist than ever before, making it easy to involve even for amateurs in this digital marketing strategy.
- Localization. SEO practitioners have heavily invested in more localized efforts, optimizing for local keywords and serving local audiences. Local searches have become more popular and more powerful in terms of visibility, and it happens to be a great way to avoid national competitors.
- Dependence on user data. Searches have also become more individualized, with search results fluctuating based on individual user data. This has made it more difficult to predict the average user’s search experience, though it has made search results more relevant to users, on average.
Competing digital marketing strategies
SEO is still valuable. There’s no doubt about that. The question is, is it more valuable than strategies like social media marketing, email marketing, influencer marketing, and pay-per-click (PPC) ads? This is a hard comparison to make since every strategy has strengths and weaknesses, as well as use cases in which they are the best.
Why SEO is still near the top
Even so, we can reasonably conclude that SEO is still near the top if it’s not the top digital marketing strategy overall. This is for three main reasons:
- Low barriers to entry. It’s relatively easy to get started with SEO. Most website builders optimize your website for search engine crawlers by default, it’s free or inexpensive to get started with SEO, and there are countless available tools to make it easier to plan and execute your strategy.
- Strategic flexibility. There’s more than one way to practice SEO. In fact, there’s practically unlimited strategic flexibility here. No matter what your goals are, or what challenges await you, there’s a way forward.
- Incredible ROI. Return on investment (ROI) is commonly considered the “gold standard” for measuring digital marketing effectiveness. And SEO, on average, has an impressively high ROI, thanks to its low costs and practically infinite potential benefits.
SEO isn’t the same as it was a few years ago, and it certainly wasn’t the same as a decade ago. We wouldn’t expect it to be. Even though it’s gone through many changes, and practitioners must regularly fine-tune their strategies to keep up with the latest changes, SEO remains a dominant force in the marketing world.