SEO is dead, if you ignore all that growth - Web Marketing School

SEO is dead, if you ignore all that growth

Im writing this post/rant as a response to the latest in an infinitely long line of “SEO is dead” posts, this one from the Guardian newspaper:


The article makes some pretty bold claims, including “Search engine optimisation (SEO) was always a flawed concept.” and “a recent Forrester report on how consumers found websites in 2012 shows that social media is catching up with search, accounting for 32% of discoveries“.

The first of those two claims is entirely subjective, the second is take out of context and highly misleading.

Lets look at whats true:

Yes – it is true that Social Media is expanding at a terrific rate.

Yes – it is true that executing a Social Media strategy is of increasing importance to businesses large and small.

Yes – it is true that a lot of what people called SEO was little more than manipulative tricks to fool search engines into ranking you higher.

But search is not dying

The part of the article that I have a problem with, is the assertion that social media is growing at the expense of search.  That is misleading.

Social would be beating SEO senseless if internet traffic was a zero sum game.  It is not.

Jan ’07 to Mar ’13 Total Search Query Volume

As you can clearly see from the graph above, total query volume as measure by comScore in the US is still increasing significantly.  Its important noting that the above data is desktop search only, and does not include the (equal to social media) explosion in mobile search queries.

In fact, many sites I work with are fast approaching a 50/50 mobile to desktop distribution of search traffic.  Even top end estimates state that Social accounts for 50% of the traffic of search engines.

The over simplification in the Guardian article is down to this psuedo-scientific-assumption that there is only a certain amount of internet traffic to go round.  People spend more time online every year, consume more information every year, and are crucially connected by far more devices than they were a decade ago.


The figures in the above charts are just indicative of my point, but if you look at average traffic sources 10 years ago before Social really got going you would see something like that.

Two thirds of traffic coming from search engines, the other third being split up between direct type-in traffic and referrals from other websites.

The picture in 2013 does make it look like search has been hit at the expense of Social, but we know that isn’t the case thanks to the increasing amount of queries being returned by the search engines.

So whats fuelling this explosive growth?

Exhibit A: People spend more of their time online each year.


The statistics above show an increase over 2009-2012 from 26.6% (Online+Mobile Nonvoice) to 36.5% in 2012.  Those figures are just the share in time that people spend consuming these different types of media – it does not factor in the increased growth in internet penetration globally (which is a significant driver of growth in itself) so the picture is even better overall for web marketers.

Exhibit B: The internet is still growing


Apart from the increased amount of our lives spent online, the total number of people actually using the internet in all its flavours is still expanding rapidly.

Exhibit C: The internet is much faster, so you can consume more & search for more.


To compound the above two increases, the internet is now much quicker than it was.  Thats a no-brainer for those of us that started on dial up connections in the mid nineties, but it still plays an important role.

If you spend 1/4 of your time online, but the internet is twice as fast, it stands to reason that you’re going to be performing more searches and consuming more information.

Lets be honest about consumers intentions

The final reason to ignore the Guardian articles conclusions, is of particular importance to anyone that makes a living from an online business.

Consumer intentions are vastly different between social and search.  The chart below shows the typical consumer behaviour in the purchase funnel.


Search traffic is highly qualified, you are able to target people at very specific parts of the consumer buying cycle.  Social does not do that.
Social traffic is awesome, for product discovery.  Its not awesome at targeting people at the point in which they want to make a purchase.

Social therefore is great at getting your message out there, but when you actually want to transact, not having a presence on search engines is online marketing’s #1 deadly sin.


As always, I would love your comments and thoughts on the post – am I wrong and the Guardian article is right?  Have your say below!



79 thoughts on “SEO is dead, if you ignore all that growth”

    • Organic Search is taking up less space in the SERPs. However, the article was extremely misleading, it said that organic only takes up 13% of the SERPS.

      This is not true, the article he got that quote form actually states that organic results take up 13% of the SERPs above the fold….

      This is the type of article that could cause a company to decide not to go ahead with an SEO campaign and that decision would be based on false information which could be extremely damaging to people’s livelihoods.

      • Good point Gordon – that stat was above the “fold”, having said that the whole notion of where a fold really is these days is so far removed from anything standard that I’d suggest any movement is a bad thing.

        Having said that of course, there are still a really decent % of results that have either very few, or no advertisers at all.

  1. Great post, Martin.

    There have been articles written about “SEO being dead” since 2001. As long as people use search, it won’t die.

    And in terms of quality traffic and sales, I haven’t seen social bring anything near to what organic traffic brings in. Across a wide range of sites I have access to, social generates 3-5% of sales whereas organic generates 35-40%.

    • 5% of sales coming from Social sounds like a very healthy amount, especially if you’re looking at last click attribution.

      My gut feeling is that multi-touch attribution, combined with a long cookie period (say 180 days) would unearth a decent amount of socially impacted conversions.

      Point still though would be that the last click is generally fuelled by search, and if you totally ignore it, you will lose sales.

  2. Great article Martin, im sick of all the seo is dead stories, agree with both Gordon and Jim on the space organic gets in Google serps although we’re aiming for less space its still important to be there on page 1.

    Working where I do we’re lucky big firms still want to invest in SEO.

    • And long may that trend continue – its important to present a balanced view, but its a sad fact that a lot of C-levels will look at a piece in the guardian or other authority sites and place too much credence in its opinions.

  3. Lazy, poorly researched linkbait. Social is getting more important but in terms of % of monthly revenue for some clients but it’s not having its not having the impact search is (yet.) Scaremongering about our industry changing and dying never helps matters either. I remember recently reading an article (or seeing a video on site) in the Guardian which referred to publishing stories and how nothing got past their SEO desk before being published, they must put some stock in it!

  4. I’m glad I’m not expecting all my social media efforts to bring me traffic to my website; when I do some social media push it lasts only 48 hours max. But the consistent traffic I get with organic searches from either Google or Bing are always constant and increasing everyday. This article just confirms my thoughts about social media.

    • Hi Andrea,

      first off thanks for the comment – and you raise a good point. Social/SERP interaction is an increasingly important factor of overall optimisation, but its important to mentally separate authorship credentials from the notion that social media replacing organic SEO.

      Those two elements are unconnected.

      Nor am I in ANY way saying that Social Media marketing is any less important, or relevant in todays world, but suggesting that its taking share of voice from SEO is straight wrong.

      • the issue starts with the definition of Search engine optimisation, which is very often a bad definition or even a blatantly misinformed definition of what #SEO is all about.

        I blog about SEO and some thing I like to call #FUFISM or Functional User Friendly Integrated Social Media, where my definition of Search Engine Optimisation is defined as all the collective work done by your entire marketing team to ensure that your online information is found by your intended target market when they search for it on the internet.

        What this implies is that all these new fangled words like
        Social media Optimisation (#SMO) Content marketing, and all others that profess to replace SEO are infact just new avenues for SEO to be expanded and reach deeper into the new areas that have become available online.

        SEO is not DEAD, and will only die once all search engines have been eradicated from the Internet. as long as we have search engines that help us find the information we need, we will have technical people ensuring that it is easy for us to locate the correct information, and so SEO will remain with us. It may well take on slightly different forms and be managed in new ways, but it will still be Search engine otimisation.

  5. Like your slant. It would be great to see search + social by volume, not by % share, to get an idea of how much each medium is growing (especially considering that there’s huge overlap between the two).

  6. I think if you look at what conference-speakin’/socially-tweetin’/cuttin’-edge guys thought constituted “SEO” 5 years ago, you’d struggle to reconcile it with what the same people call “SEO” right now. That’s cool, because things evolve over time, and from that perspective, SEO ain’t did, it’s just grown up.

    However, what quite a few marketing managers consider to be SEO (chuck a few links at these meta keywords and I’ll get to number 1 innit) hasn’t really grown. From the marketing manager’s perspective – which ultimately is super important to the average agency SEO as they pay our salaries – SEO probably is dead, because by their understanding, it doesn’t work any more.

  7. I applaud these kind of articles, the more people think SEO is dead/dying, the easier it will be for me to rank, get massive amounts of traffic and get ahead!

    Please all those who think there is truth in the Guardian article, stop your SEO… I will be happy to take your place in the SERP’s.

  8. The thing is businesses who know what is going on, still know SEO drives a great amount of traffic to a website for a very good ROI if done correctly. If you are dealing with a marketing manager who does not know the benefit of SEO then you need to educate them and train them up to be one of your biggest supporters. I worked with marketing managers at big brands 3-4 years ago and I got them in the SEO mind set back then they are still referring me clients today.

    But yes I was surprised a publication such as the guardian would post such junk.

  9. “…rather than merely setting up a web property in the hope that Google will deliver hits”

    Love to see what the Guardian’s Head of Search makes of this.

    • That was my favourite line too… I wonder if anybody has ever managed to convince a client into SEO services by saying those words?

      The Guardian article is disappointing – partly due to its one-sided bias, and partly due to the intended audience; Marketing Managers that read the Guardian and that are influenced by organisations such as SalesForce. It would have been far more beneficial to talk about creating an integrated online campaign – but that wouldn’t have got the same level of attention.

      The article is currently number 1 – due to those ‘junk’ News results!

  10. Having the read that very piece in the guardian I am glad you took the time to write this piece. While SM is clearly an important to most businesses I am yet to know of a business that generates more business from social media than SEO!

  11. It’s also worth looking at the vertical of the site in question.

    A number of verticals, especially in the B2B sector get a lot less in the way of social traffic because it doesn’t have the customer engagement in the way that B2C does (unless you’re particularly good at it like Moz) but try as hard as you may, it’s very difficult to get customer engagement for glass reinforced plastic and other manufacturing. Sure…they could make a funny video for sharing in social and get some views/shares of the video but the people doing it won’t be their customers.

    In these sorts of verticals, Search will always dominate social in terms of traffic and conversion as people only tend to engage with them when they have a specific need.

  12. This is an interesting study about internet and the tools used for marketing. Internet is still growing and the thing connected by internet is also growing all over the world. This growth confirms that there will be more searches in future and if this will be true then the search traffic will increase. The social media is now playing a supporting role for search engine. If everything works well, means more privacy, security will come in social media, there are big opportunities for local business to use this media.

  13. Hi Martin,

    Another highly articulate, well researched response to what was a poorly written and poorly researched article from The Guardian.

    I too have written a response, which you’re welcome to read here –

    The main points I make are that search and social are not mutually exclusive – as you say, with growing internet user numbers and more time spent online, there is not a restricted amount of traffic to go round. Rather, social and search both play a big part in the online experience and neither will usurp the other.

    Google has proven that it considers social in its algorithms and to suggest people will stop using search is a sign of a very poorly researched author. Hopefully The Guardian will respond to this too and we’ll see better quality SEO articles from now on.

  14. What have you done to Earl Grey to make him comment lol

    On a serious note, I’m hardly surprised by mainstream media not getting it (again) and just publishing something with a sensational looking title. Sheesh, we don’t see people posting shit like “surgery is dead” or “atom physics is dead” – why does everybody think they understand SEO enough to be entitled to posting their (ungrounded) opinions?

  15. Very good analysis of the original article and point well made about how internet traffic is always increasing and therefore so is the overall reach of search results.

    I do think eventually that Google will pepper pages with a lot more paid results than they currently do and how businesses respond without needing to pay over the odds to appear high up will be interesting.

    • Not sure they’ll put on more ads, but they’ll definitely put on more ways they can make money through services such as credit card comparisons, hotel searches etc.

      All the while removing the organic results and replacing them with the structured data we’re all busy giving them so people never actually have to come to our sites

  16. Great article and I couldn’t agree more, I thought the Guardian piece was shockingly bad. As others have mentioned, the idea that SEO is dying has been around almost as long as the discipline itself.

    Whilst social of course has its place, it’s just one aspect of a larger area which digital marketing encompasses. I think that PR, traditional advertising and digital marketing are overlapping each other these days, so a more holistic approach to SEO is necessary.

  17. For me, organic traffic stills results in better bounce rates, better time on site, and more pages per visit. It is better traffic which lasts. Social you can end up chasing silly headlines and focussing on speed instead of quality.

  18. IMHO, SEO is strategic. Not only the way customers and users found you. Is not only the channel, but the way you build your site: UX, structure, content,… etc. SEO is way more than just SEO.

    Focusing first on “keywords”, means that you are focusing first on the interests and intentions that potencial users/customers can search. That means you are researching and analyzing the archetypes of the target users. So, user-centric.

    And social media optimization is exactly the same, user-centric interaction but based on conversation and awareness. Not so visibible when people have that necessity.

    I think companies understand the value of search, but end-users think SEO is irrelevant or spammy because they just experience the web as it is. And sadly, the web sometimes is spammy and sometimes it isn’t.

    Social media is great, don’t get me wrong. But is not one or another. SEO and social media are complementary.

    Great article, by the way 😉

  19. If you go with the figures instead of percentage, 50% of search traffic in 2013 will be many times more than that of 70% in 2003, this is the actual growth,

    So If you ask me, Search traffic is not declined but there are just more traffic resources evolved in the last 10 years

  20. SEO has changed and I’d be interested to hear how Expedia is going to deal with it Martin.

    A very high proportion of search eyes are on Google+ Local Pages and comments on this article appear to have totally missed this.

    Break one example of this down to the guts …

    A single resort in Mission Beach, QLD Australia ( also listing rooms with Expedia ) organic search visits around the same for last few years at 4,000per month ( that can be qualified as to why not too much increase ) but eyes on G Local search results have increased to over 15,000 in last month.

    SEO isn’t dead but even Expedia needs to work out how to work in with Google Local or keep forking out millions for Adwords.

    And don’t even get me started on mobile search … oh bugger, too late.

    Search on iphone or mobile for ‘Mission Beach Restaurant’ in Australia and Shrubbery Restaurant sits up at the very top of the results. They don’t even have a website ( they do have a G Local page I made them and a very nice Google StreetView Virtual Tour I shot for them ).

    Mobile search accounts for over 50% of searches for MB restaurants and going higher and the latest stats on actions from mobile searches are exciting to say the least …

    If you want to call that work SEO then fine with me … I sorta didn’t read anything on those lines from anyone else and yet it is already a huge influence on search.

    Cheers …

    • Hey Paul,

      thanks for the comment and questions – and as much as I would love to answer stuff relating to expedia brand I’ve got two issues with that:

      first – this blog is purely personal stuff, not expedia’s views etc. (got to say that, as I publish some blackhat type stuff which my employers would probably rather not be associated with!)

      second (and more important) – I dont work for Expedia’s brand business (ie. etc), my position is within Expedia Affiliate Networks and I work on SEO/Social/PPC campaigns with third parties using our hotel booking engine, ie. Airlines, OTA’s and so on. Given that, I dont have access to stats or strategy decisions that are taken by individual brand managers.

      So, not trying to be evasive, but its genuinely “not my department” and anything I did say would be purely theorising…


      • Appreciate all that thanks Martin … definitely intrigues me as have read quite a bit of what TPIs/OTAs are doing online and apart from advertising it appears the golden days of SEO ranking are fading to be replaced by Google Local … then there’s the new Google Carousel results for hotels, POI’s and restaurants. Not so long ago it was head to head with our own hotel website to try and pull direct bookings to save on that commission. Billboard effect of TPIs was definitely helping with direct bookings but a single hotel with minute budget could not compete against $100s of millions of dollar spend online of TPIs so optimising and tweaking those listings ( yep, even our listing on Expedia/ etc ) came under SEO. Now, Google Local appears to be blitzing everything as far as eyes on search results. Love to hear your thoughts on that ..

        • For sure its getting harder – the space is becomming more fragmented and the continued growth in meta search (ie. kayak/trivago) will only serve to further spread the market.

          I dont expect for a minute that many independent hotels will have the time, but more importantly the expertise to fully take advantage of each one of potentially dozens of potential traffic sources.

          Google Hotel Finder is an interesting factor as well, especially its rather unique CPC model. From experience in other industries (ie. finance) these types of products never really made a huge impact, BUT the placement and UX of the hotel finder product is far more invasive so that remains to be seen.

          Google Local profiles are a great way to boost your visibility and not be in the normal SEO mix, but good old “typical” organic search tips like getting local companies to link to you will always stand you in good stead.


  21. I have become disillusioned by the “SEO is Dead” tagline used to generate traffic to these types of misguided and misleading articles. Thank you for a detailed response! SEO will never die. It would be like saying something died because it evolved. There will always be different iterations of the methods and strategies of optimization, but it is simple in concept: optimizing web properties for visibility. Social Media is a web property and part of SEO, IMO. After years in search, I chalk up any talk of dead SEO to naivety and/or ignorance.

  22. Nice response Martin

    For me this isn’t a technology issue. Bottom line is your point about intentions. Some people are actively looking for something. Some people will come across something via network/community. Some people will do both. Some people will be watching the TV or listening to the radio and be prompted.

    There’s a whole lot of convergence happening. Thinking/arguing in channels is going to limit your effectiveness IMO

  23. “The picture in 2013 does make it look like search has been hit at the expense of Social, but we know that isn’t the case thanks to the increasing amount of queries being returned by the search engines.” Ummm well couldn’t increase also be because the results are so lousy that they query more often to find the needle in the haystack that is a real 100% transactional site in organic search? Look at payday loans on exactly 1 transactional site above the fold…the rest is wikipedia, a gov’t advocay site which are basically useless for finding a payday loan….which forces the use of the BS sites that are advertising…because they have to… their sites are eyesores that couldn’t give away $10 bills!

  24. Thank you for the therapy session, Martin.

    Here are three links proving SEO is still a huge – and growing – factor in marketing. They’re also links I doubt the Guardian read before publishing their article.

  25. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that as long as there is a need to access specified information quickly, folk will continue to use search. That being said, the Internet’s continued growth is another factor why organic search will hold it’s own and continue to deliver the traffic needed to make online businesses profitable. Martin’s research just confirms this. Social media is a great platform but more so when used in conjunction with what used to be standard online marketing methods. Thanks Martin for giving us the facts. Great info I think I’ii share it! 😉

  26. Thanks for the information. I can’t believe you actually had to write this post, because SEO is most definitely not dead.

  27. “All articles and videos on this page have been curated and provided by Salesforce”

    Sponsored crap being pumped out. Just filler articles to ensure quote is met.

  28. What intrigues me most is the relationship between what appears on social media and what turns up in search. My most recent experiments suggest your far more likely to find a g+ page than an fb page in google, which is perhaps why fb have introduced it’s own search.

  29. Agreed on the over simplification. Social media is a new outgrowth of SEO, as it evolves like all new business processes throughout history. The title was to catch attention and be novel. To the neophyte, they may take this seriously and literally. To those trained in SEO know exactly what you are explaining clearly.

  30. Very subjective. It confirmed what I believe.seo isn’t dead but the game will change. It will be interesting to see how mobile query and voice search query impacts search engine techniques…

  31. SEO is obviously not dead, or dying or any of the claims in the article linked. The Guardian writer was just being an attention whore.

    As long as my customers are searching for things i sell on Google or other search engines, the traffic and money is there.

  32. The thing that annoys me most about The Guardian’s post isn’t the fact that it’s a load of balls, it’s the fact that they have no comment section to respond! How can a mainstream media publication, with as much reach as The Guardian, publish subjective and inflammatory editorial content, denouncing a whole industry, without giving that industry opportunity to respond?

    I used to like The Guardian, but recently the poor quality and awful moderation of their content has meant they’ve lost me…

  33. Succinctly put and seems to be a balanced approach to data – unlike the article you cite.

    I have never liked % as a way of measuring anything to do with SEO. So if you run an SEO campaign should your % of search visitors go up? Well, not if part of that strategy is to gain great linking opportunities from websites which send traffic. So I find % can be misleading, or say what you want to say.

    I had to explain in a presentation that statistically, desktop use is still very strong, but that mobile is very much increasing at the same time – so there is not a SHIFT to mobile but a use of mobile AS WELL as desktop.

    The same principle applies in Social vs SEO (not that it is truly a vs situation) – and your article only further highlights the need to ensure people have a strong marketing mix (basic business principles) so your web marketing needs to consist of good SEO, Social Media (and possibly PPC) among other things.

    Well reasoned – and good to hear another rant agains the ‘SEO is dead’ principle. I think the problem we find is that SEO, in its proper sense, is misunderstood as ‘manipulation’ rather than strategic, constructive marketing.

  34. So glad SEO is never going to die, I have us on the first page of Google for several keywords using simple white hat SEO.

  35. Martin,

    I took a couple of days to spot this. So apologies for the delay in my response.
    Yup, Social is growing.
    Yup, Google is squeezing the space given to organic search.
    However, this doesn’t mean SEO and organic search is finished. Almost the opposite. There’s a greater premium to be had from the top organic rankings.
    I work on businesses that have spent 000s on social. Guess what, very little of that investment can dmonstrate a financial return. Whereas search – both varieties – can provide measurable returns (or otherwise) very quickly.

  36. Go home Guardian, you’re drunk.

    Social and search are different things, both produce traffic but as stated above social traffic is nowhere near as targeted as search traffic. You mill around social networks clicking, on a search engine you’re there to find something.

  37. Love your post! This is a topic I argue about with people daily as I believe, like you, that a reality check on just what social media can achieve is vital. Too much hype is upsetting the balance necessary to produce good results.

  38. Yes yes! SEO is dead. Social media is the new method of finding content on the web. So all you companies and would be SEO’s move along and stop optimizing your sites for organic search. It’s dead! Deader than dead. That is all.

  39. Thank you for writing this Martin, I cannot believe the bold statements Guardian made in their article, especially the fact they said SEO will not be missed, I am so tired of hearing these things as well as the “SEO is dead” headline.
    Great article with key points to support it.

  40. SEO is dead AGAIN?! We’ve been hearing this line since 10 years ago.

    For as long as people are still using the search engines, SEO will never die. The faster people realize this (especially the business owners), the better they can make the right marketing decisions.

    Flat out ignoring SEO for social media is a good way to lose a lot of business.

  41. What the article fails to discuss is that SEO alone is no longer the ‘silver bullet’ that business client’s thought it was.

    Website + SEO = eCommerce.

    Business now understands that successful digital marketing outreach, audience development and maintenance of ranking takes a multiple pronged approach.

    Website + Initial SEO + Long Tail SEO (Linkable Assets) + Social Media + Content + Email Marketing + Incentives = eCommerce.

    So rather than being the exclusive Super Hero it was was viewed as, it’s simply one tool in the arsenal for businesses who are more informed about effective digital marketing.

    And that is a good thing.

  42. Not only am I fed up with seeing the “SEO is dead” articles, but I noticed a “Social media is dead” article the other week (although I can’t for the life of me remember where from). So now, SEO is apparently pronounced dead, and social media is being predicted death. What a beautifully positive industry we live in.

  43. My prediction is that over the next few years Google will turn it’s attention to some of manipulative tricks taking place in social media. I think a lot of companies are going to get burnt when some of the fake popularity indicators get rumbled.


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