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SEO Isn’t Dead: The Facts Behind The Theories

Laura Hampton

by Laura Hampton on 31st July 2013

Zombie GraveIt’s not the first time SEO has come under criticism, but The Guardian’s claim that ‘SEO is dead’ has really ruffled some feathers. Even a swift clarification felt like little consolation. Here, Laura Hampton, Digital Marketing Manager at Hallam Internet, explores the facts behind the article and gives her take on why SEO really isn’t dead…

Search engine optimisation is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy. But look to The Guardian newspaper last week and you’d be met with the sensational headline:

SEO is dead: Long live social media optimisation.

The article by Tim Anderson caused a stir within the SEO and business communities as readers voiced concerns about the claims made, anger at the misrepresentation of SEO and confusion over the inclusion of such an article in what is usually a high quality technology blog.

What struck a chord for a lot of the article’s readers was the use of ‘facts’ which appeared to have little or no foundation in truth or experience. Let’s debunk some of those theories now:

“Search engine optimisation was always a flawed concept.”

The premise of SEO is simple; create high quality content and follow a few simple rules to show search engines that yours is the most relevant result for any given query.

Rooted in user experience and providing the best content for the web audiences, we’re not sure what in SEO Anderson considers flawed. Needless to say, we continue to support any practices which improve online experience.

“Google search may display only 13% organic results; ‘the rest is ads and junk’”

The research Anderson cites here is that of Dan Graziano, Android Editor for technology blog BGR, in which it is allegedly ‘found’ that true organic results only account for 13% of Google’s search display.

Let’s unpack this a little further.

Firstly, ‘13% organic results’. A strong claim – until you read further into the research and find that the ‘experiment’ was done using a 13 inch screen and that the total space available was only considered to be that which is above the fold. So what is actually being said here is that 13% of the space above the fold on a 13 inch laptop is taken up by what is considered by the author of the report to be ‘organic results’.

Next, let’s look further at ‘organic results’. There is an assumption put fourth here that ‘organic’ means good and ‘the rest is ads and junk’. But the ‘ads and junk’ here refers to a map showing providers in the local vicinity (can’t argue that’s useful), some PPC (which is still reliant on relevancy) and, oddly, the navigation and search bar at the top of all Google search results. This seems a very subjective way of categorising what is valuable and not valuable in search results.

“A recent Forrester report on how consumers found websites in 2012 shows that social media is catching up with search”

Now this is true – in part. The Forrester report did show an increase in website discoveries through social media compared to last year, when participants in the study were asked the question ‘How have you typically found the websites you’ve visited in the past month’.

But percentages and year on year studies are not the full story. As Martin Macdonald suggested in a response article, ‘internet traffic is not a zero sum game’. There aren’t a finite number of internet users for the different medium to fight for a share of; rather, the number of internet users grows every year and with it, the number of search users and social media users. Both will continue to grow, but neither usurps the other.

“Recommendations from friends count for more than a search engine algorithm will ever achieve”

As Emma explained in a post on Koozai’s blog a few months ago:

“It is believed that Google considers social signals to be a strong, natural indication of site authority and uses this in its ranking algorithm. If everyone is talking about your brand or following your profiles on social networks, there’s a good chance that people will want to see your site over your competitors in relevant searches.”

Google continue to evaluate and update its algorithms to take into account online developments and ensure the results it generates are the most relevant to the user. Social is a big part of that, and therefore discussion of SEO and social as two separate entities is no longer viable.

It’s always a shame when the topic of SEO is negatively portrayed. But its value is something very difficult to argue, and it is those businesses that learn to combine search engine optimisation with other digital marketing strategies that will succeed on Google and in the eyes of web users.

Read Hallam Internet’s interview with SEO is Dead author Tim Anderson for more insight into the author’s opinions and how he responds to the reaction his article has received.

What do you think? Share your comments in the area below.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.

Image Source

Zombie hand by BigStock

Laura Hampton

Laura Hampton

Laura is one of a team of consultants at digital marketing agency Hallam Internet, which specialises in search engine optimisation (SEO), social media management, Pay Per Click (PPC) management and email marketing. She is a featured author in publications including Mashable, Figaro Digital, PR News and Marketing Donut, as well as the Hallam Internet SEO blog. In her spare time, she is an avid skydiver and spends her weekends jumping out of planes.

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  • Mike Essex

    Mike Essex 31st July 2013

    One thing I find slightly ironic about this whole fiasco is that days after they declared SEO as being dead the Guardian moved their domain as part of a large scale SEO project months in the making.

    Not to mention that they have an SEO team in-house and use third party consultants for training. Hardly the moves of a website that would see a tactic as “dead”.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Hampton 31st July 2013

      Absolutely agreed Mike.

      In digital publishing, SEO is incredibly important and I know The Guardian knows that because, to be fair, they’ve posted some decent SEO tips in the past and they also work with a very large SEO company so they clearly know the value.

      I fear this article is one which ‘slipped through the net’ – the issue now being that it’s out there and it’s posted on a trusted source.

      Reply to this comment

  • Barry Adams 31st July 2013

    Funny how Anderson points to Forrester research that purportedly backs up his point, but neglects the Forrester research (Sept 2012) that shows that social media contributes to only 1% of online customer acquisitions. Similar research from Custora in July 2013 shows that social media only features as a channel in 2% of online transactions… Search – especially organic search – ranks first as the biggest driver of online sales in both studies.

    What Anderson does is called cherry-picking, and it’s a cardinal sin of investigative reporting.

    Reply to this comment

  • John Gibb 31st July 2013

    hi Laura

    I’ve been into affiliate marketing for more than 10 years now, and SEO is a big part of my overall strategy… I know the game quite well, and I laugh when “specialists” talk about the death of search engine optimization and how Google does X and Y…

    These opinions are not fully tested, they’re half true, as you laid out quite well with this article…

    I don’t like how social media is portrayed (like the big next thing since sliced bread) and the anti-SEO propaganda… so I do what I know the best, and neglect the rest…

    Does it make sense?

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Hampton 31st July 2013

      Absolutely John, and thanks for commenting.

      I agree with you and I often refer to the ‘marketing toolbox’. What I mean by this is that we have a whole array of tools available to us in marketing, both online and off, and successful marketing is about using the best tool for the job.

      That said, I know of very few businesses that wouldn’t benefit from at least a basic grasp of SEO and those who invest in it will undoubtedly see a return on that.

      Reply to this comment

  • Susan Hallam 31st July 2013

    The Guardian has published a follow up to the original “SEO is Dead” article with links to Martin Macdonald’s article and Laura’s original reply.


    (unfortunately the link to Laura’s post is currently broken, but we’re hoping to get that fixed!)

    Reply to this comment

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