I've been making websites for 23 years and have been exclusively doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for 8. I don't want to invoke the 'SEO is dead' meme but I am – Return of Investment (RoI) gets lower every year. We can see search to click ratios dropping all the time and Google is looking tired and broken. Hell, I don't use Google very much at all to find information, products, news, cos it's kinda shit (maps and local is a bit different)… and that's on top of the fact that it's obviously facing serious issues, for example, the explosion of JS single-page applications that might as well be on the dark web for all G cares. Sheesh.
Feels to me like it's time to pivot – is Google Search a dumpster fire? – It feels like that to me but maybe I'm horribly wrong. It wouldn't be the first time.
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I'm afraid it's you, Mike. I'm an old schooler, started building sites commercially in '95, and moved to exclusively website promotion in '97. Every single day of those years I have seen the market grow, more and more new SEO users jump on the career bandwagon. I see SEO agencies that are decades old still going, and new ones coming up all the time. The money in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) keeps growing, even though so does the competition for any market share.
If your Return of Investment (RoI) is dropping, then you are losing market share, because the market has grown and grown, and grown, and so have the budgets.
I've been doing this since around 2005, and every year it's evolved or devolved, but every year a method dies and it's doomsday for those folks, but a million more exist and it continues.
It's up to the individual if they want to evolve and devolve with the big G.
Remember when you could buy a long tail domain and it would rank top 3 with little to no effort within weeks or even days and it could be the most black hat lander and link building and it would stick for months? Every year there's a new "thing". It's fun to play the game 🤷🏼♂️🎢
Ammon Johns 🎓 » Nicholas
Exactly. Many SEO users evolve with it all, and every year a few don't.
Nicholas » Ammon Johns
Even if you don't evolve you can still make $$$. 99% of people who turn to agencies don't have a clue about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so just keep doing old shit lol
Fleming » Ammon Johns
Have to totally agree with you here mate. The marketing agency I work for is probably the second largest in the world. We are still getting more and more clients every month with some insane budgets and we're constantly seeing growth for them otherwise they wouldn't bother spending such amounts. But they do because we make them even more revenue. That's not to say they don't have dips now and again with new algo updates or seasonality changes, but those are just merely bumps in the SEO road that we all experience at one point or another. But they are still spending big money because they are making so much from SEO. Not sure if it's his niche but I'd definitely be looking at his direct and indirect competitors to see what they are doing differently from him and what the outcomes are.
Ammon Johns 🎓 » Fleming
Yup, absolutely. Of course, another massive factor is what level of the market someone competes for. The entry-level, low-budget, and first-time buyer market is notoriously lacking in barrier to entry, thus the most cut-throat competitive with the lowest of margins.
The booming agencies _tend_ to be the up-market ones tending to clients who know what they are doing.
Fleming » Ammon Johns
Yes that's a very true statement to be fair. We're enterprise SEO as it would technically be defined. But yeah entry level SEO is ruthless and yes it's harder and harder because so many jump into it lowering the revenue for most in that area.
Mike ✍️ » Ammon Johns
Aah, there are lots of comments to my OP and there's no way I can address all of them. But I really like yours. My point is not that people are b1tching about getting their JS sites indexed, it's that they increasingly don't give a shit if they are indexed or not. Because search traffic is increasingly irrelevant, if it comes to a choice between UX and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), people are choosing UX and marketing by other methods.
BTW to all. I don't sell SEO services, I'm in-house/invested in a bunch of projects and my job is traffic and sales, by any means. And btw, I have built up sites to glean millions of organic users. I'm not wet behind the ears.
Someone above suggested I'm going through burn-out. This is 100% true. I'm cynical about Google and the state of the industry and I don't really enjoy SEO anymore. I'm tired and as such, I am probably guilty of repeating methods from a year ago that don't work today.
We've just had Christmas and I had time off. Because I'm a nerd I was still on my laptop 24/7 researching stuff that I am interested in. I noted, while I was doing this, that I didn't use Google once apart from for branded search or as a spellchecker/calculator.
However, shout out to Steven Kang whose approach is very data/test heavy and refined… respect. I know I have limitations and that there are others pressing more buttons than I do.
Selling SEO services is easy. I could happily take on any website and increase traffic. But I don't think Google search, keyword focussed content, blah blah is the future at all.
Marketing fundamentals of course remain the same but SEO isn't really about that. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is just Google and they're the ones that are losing touch.
Also perhaps I shouldn't be spending my time on the dead internet hypothesis and other such conspiracy theories 😅
And as an aside Ammon Johns I was an ActionScript dev, not in the 90s but in the early 00s. In fact, I was making Shockwave CDRom apps when Flash was just in v4. I loved those days. Flash was supposed to change everything but looking back… urgh!
Much respect to you. I strongly suspect that you are a more talented SEO than I and I doff my cap my mate.
Ammon Johns 🎓 » Mike
Flash and Shockwave were a lot of fun, good for what they were meant to do at the time, just not great for machine readability – because of course they wanted people to have to license the encoding/decoding.
Flash was an important stepping-stone toward movie content online, so for that at least it should be remembered kindly. It didn't predict the iPod, but then, who did? 🙂
What I'd say to remember, Mike, is that your experiences, and seeing what failed over the years, have just as much value as knowing what worked. If you find Return of Investment (RoI) is low on client-side stuff, focus more on delivering profit (which can be attained as easily by reducing costs as by raising gross) rather than rankings. People will always be willing to spend a hundred to get a thousand.
So don't sell rankings (you can't have control over those) but instead sell increased profits, and you'll find it easy to make excellent ROI on client services.
It's been a tough couple of years the world over. I for one have counted myself incredibly lucky to be in a career that makes it so easy to work remotely, and help so many clients just when they most need to innovate and market better.
(By client-side, I include any in-house stuff where you aren't the actual owner too – an in-house role is a freelancer with one big client taking all your time)
For your own projects, there's still tons of mileage, especially if you focus on the conversion rates. The better your conversions the more you can afford to spend (in resources or budget, on-site or with others) on traffic gathering and still out-profit the competition.
Thank you Ammon Johns – that, I think, is exactly the pep talk I was looking for. You're right. It's all about having the right attitude!
And maybe, right now, what with covid and this business landscape that is just all over the place – maybe I just need to step back and reflect atm. Good man, I appreciate you!
SEO is far from dead. Plenty of people making 20k a month
I don't quite understand. What you can make from selling SEO as a service has little to do with my OP. I am interested in long-term aggregate results and compound Return of Investment (RoI), not what I can charge a customer. This kind of thinking is one reason I will never set up or work for an agency.
Google My Biz (GMB) is the way to go for local. I put about 75% of my resources into that now. It brings in way more leads than anything else.
Google search is definitely a dumpster fire in certain verticals.
For example in my area of vertical expertise (medical info), 'organic' search results are completely rigged now based on ad buyers and other influencing factors that Google will not tell you about (e.g. patented pharma science will outrank non-patented non-pharma science). It's definitely not true 'page rank' like it was 10 years ago.
We saw an extreme example of this just last week, where you could literally see Google rigging the results in real-time, after a certain Joe Rogan interview.
Ammon Johns 🎓 » Syrjala
Wrote "search results are completely rigged now based on ad buyers"
Bill, if that is genuinely what you think you are seeing, then that is WHY you are getting your ass kicked in the SERPs.
There's a HUGE range of medical related stuff where the highest bidders WERE the exact people the algorithms now attempt to shut out – like all the hundreds of legal firms bidding on all the industrial exposure related cancer keywords until you literally cannot buy higher placement now for terms like "mesolethemia" as in there are more bidders paying the capped amount possible than there are ad spaces in the top 10 pages of SERPs.
Pharma, Insurance, Lawyers, and just plain tin-foil hats crazies were fighting hard over so many medically related words that Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) stuff was an absolute necessity.
And those ALL bid the highest.
What changed is that they need sites to demonstrate actual Authority – i.e. they have links from other expert sources and official bodies and are recognized industry authorities or resources.
Syrjala » Ammon Johns
None of that rebuts anything I said, and your last paragraph is definitely incorrect (with respect to medical information) … you don't know what you don't know
Ammon Johns 🎓 » Syrjala
So are you saying your pages not ranking are the ones with the links from the CDC, or a national health service, mentioned in medical research papers, and often featured as a source for national news services? No, didn't think so.
The people who bought the most links, or hired the most affiliates, or bought the most ads, and didn't have the chops with the real sources are the ones the new algorithms try to shut out.
Of course it isn't perfect. And I'm sure you look at your one or two specific niches and believe you know better than the engine that has to work on a scale of BILLIONS of queries per day. Because, as someone recently said, you don't know what you don't know.
Syrjala » Ammon Johns
Nope, you're wrong … you don't know what you don't know… I've been in the medical info vertical for 27 years … you have no idea what you're talking about … typical SEO rules/criteria do not apply in the same manner with respect to medical info, as they do in other verticals … it's a highly unique rigging, which Google does not publicly disclose
as an example, a friend of mine with a $10m medical info company, was completely removed from google's organic results… and all of his science was peer-reviewed, from journals, and curated by licensed MD's … yet, because his medical solutions to his readers were almost entirely via non-patented solutions to healthcare problems (as opposed to the typical patented pharmaceutical like Biktarvy for example), that was the reason for his site's removal
he hired the best SEO experts money could buy, and they concurred: google's new criteria for medical info are totally rigged, and the *actual* real-world criteria that Google uses, are not the same as google's stated and purported criteria that you mentioned above
Ammon Johns 🎓 » Syrjala
So the SEO users who told you they were "the best SEO experts money could buy", also told you the reason they couldn't manage to actually deliver results was because this one vertical has a totally magic algorithm … and you believed them?
I think that may either be the saddest, or the funniest thing I've heard, and I really can't decide which.
Syrjala » Ammon Johns
Your argument fails, because these same SEO experts produce world-class results (top of page 1), in all other verticals in which they consult
but that's just one example at one medical company … the same thing has happened to hundreds of other medical publishers around the world
again, you have no idea what you're talking about, and you don't know what you don't know … so we'll just have to agree to disagree
Truslow 🎓 » Syrjala
Ammon is correct, sorry. I live in a sort of hippy village in Connecticut where 70% of the businesses are alternative health and healing sites. I help those sites rank (and make money) all the time.
You say that "typical SEO rules/criteria don't apply" – and that's partially correct. It's not that they don't apply – it's that they, alone, are not enough. You need to do more. And as the knowledge graph expands, those things you need to do more of are expanding out way beyond the medical field.
You keep saying that Ammon doesn't know what he doesn't know. Having known him for 20 years or so now, I can say that he absolutely does know what he doesn't know. When someone asks a question that he doesn't know the answer to his solution is to STFU. Believe me… if he comes out and says something about any aspect of digital marketing, you can take it to the bank. You might find a few finer points to disagree with, but that's where the "art" part of SEO comes in. As such, it seems that you are the one who doesn't know what he doesn't know, nor do you know enough not to be so insistent rather than trying to learn something new.
As for your $10m Medical Info company… if you really mean "removed" – it wouldn't be because of anything we're talking about here. Removal comes from other things. If you mean that his rankings tanked for the things he was providing information on… then that's a bit different. It's also not the patent (or lack thereof) it's the product's approved use that comes into play. I won't give away all the answers here, but the problem (and solution) lies in the fact that you can't draw a straight line between the product and the science that the product isn't approved for. There is a growing niche of SEO agencies and experts that specialize in this – and that make great money doing so – and make great money for their clients, too.
Yep. It's "different" – and EVERY part of search is heading that way – it's just the medical field is further ahead – you know… Medic Update and all. (Actually, it started a bit before that… but I digress.) And you're right… it's going to be damned hard to rank #1 for "Aids Treatment" with something that isn't approved for treating aids… but as a complimentary or alternative treatment the field is much more open. And, while it's a smaller audience, the audience that is there is looking for these alternatives and tend to already have the skillset needed to strip away the mainstream solutions and get down to the options like the ones you're offering.
Syrjala » Truslow
Nope, you're wrong … I already explained the specifics above, and this is extremely specific to just one vertical, and I did a deep dive for 36 months on this issue, because millions of dollars were personally at stake for me… trust me, you have no idea what you're talking about, and you are 100% incorrect
it's also 100% clear that you have no idea what you're (or I) am talking about, because you mentioned the Medic update… and what I mentioned above is not related to that update
almost all SEO "experts" on this specific vertical's issue, have the Dunning-Kruger Effect, because they don't have the medical and scientific background, that would allow them to discern what I have been able to discern on this issue, and how it is a highly unique rigging that Google is doing, compared to any other vertical
I'd look at Google s earnings, traffic and queries per day as leading indicators of people's preferences. Long as I see they are growing up and to the right, SEO will continue to thrive.
Sure, it's becoming more expensive every single year, but so is SEM. For some businesses it may not make business sense to invest in SEO, depending on the stage, niche and market they're in.
Surely the only metric that counts is conversions from search. With G, CTRs are dropping year on year.
Talking about the SPA, why do Google care to find pages with it's bot by clicking and store data of all contents? It's the dev's task to make it dynamically renderable and let google's bot to crawl.
Next JS will make it easy if the site is using React.
Yeah but this attitude that we should pander to Google… I know this is an SEO forum but seriously, Google's job is to stay current with modern dev standards – and they aren't.
Unfortunately, it comes down to what he said, she said in my opinion. This is because people take to heart what others say works and doesn't. Because SEO has been working really well on all the projects I work on but I do a lot of testing on my own and do not take someone else's word for how to do it. Each year it's slightly different but mostly on the same principles as before.
Our REACT URLs are getting indexed by the thousands, despite not having categories on the site and not prerendering. There are a couple of issues we worked through, but we're getting organic traffic with what amounts to primarily manufacturer or distributor product descriptions with a SPA.
Steven Kang 👑
Based on your post and comments, you don't seem like a novice and seem to know your industry better than most. I'm surprised by how many people who don't know you are dismissive of your background and endeavors. After so many audits, I've realized you have to look at each vertical with a unique set of eyes. My specialty is comparing what you've experienced against direct competitors and their patterns. If what they are experiencing is not the same as what you are going through, there is an anomaly. I would then research what went wrong. Usually, there are winners and losers on the SERP, and there are reasons. PM me if you want me to do a quick scan.
Thank you Steven Kang. And please know that I see you as an absolute OG. I'm part of this group mostly because I want to know what you have to say.
And the memes of course.
Kevin » Steven Kang
Do you do these types of audits for GMB,sites or both? Thank you.
Steven Kang 👑 » Kevin
I do organic, covering all sizes but specializing in enterprise clustering gaps. You won't see my data points anywhere.
Regarding some of your points :
1) Quality of Google search results have dropped if you are looking for good content.
Because the 'SEO'd' content is what you will mostly find.
Then SEO seems to work fine.
2) JS SPAs – Next JS with SSR and SSG seems to be the new hot favorite for being SEO friendly. You should explore that.
3) Client SEO will probably have worse ROI than running your own sites.
Or find better paying clients.
If you want to game Google SEO then you should be using Google Search more not less 😉
So get out. Do something different. You are clearly burned out. Find something that brings you joy. Every one of my clients businesses grew last year, their traffic, engagement and a dozen other metrics all went up from the previous year. We see more of what we believe, good or bad.
Would be genuinely curious to learn more about the ROI everyone's seeing, especially if you disagree with this post… and the attribution model everyone's using to show the value of SEO… and how you filter out results driven by other channels
I only see things to do in my opinion. I am a 360° SEO for an ecommerce and theres always something I can't reach for the lack of time. For first time in two years I am going to manage 1 or 2 new persons on this ecommerce. But still, tons of work and things to do not only on the SEO side, but with influencers, social, strategy, evfn I created a few products myself for the store.
Nice numbers man. Respect!
These kinds of posts used to make me roll my eyes, but honestly I kind of agree now. Maybe I'm just burned out, I don't know. But I'm bored of basic issues Google seems to have picked up like the terrible indexing and such.
Exactly this. Indexing issues are one of the big reasons I've got so jaded. This is my first 'SEO is dead' post. I use to think folks who posted such stuff were morons too!
There's no doubt that the way people find things is changing. I saw it in wedding photography – Facebook took over Google about 6 years ago.
However my other business – a leadgen directory – remains very buoyant.
I'm sure that this is more down to niche, and maybe competition within those niches?
Instagram is also *huge* for anything primarily visual, so great for promoting photography of all kinds (even drone photography, along with YouTube), but also for interior design, landscape design, etc.
Phil » Ammon Johns
Absolutely it is..
Just because you follow every guideline doesn't mean you'll be successful. Keywords is one thing, how people actually search and what appears into the SERP is another. Also other people are out there trying to compete with you and your clients. Every SERP is different across browsers, locations and devices. We are all seriously under valued, under cut and under appreciated. But we also take on clients which probably shouldn't do SEO because they can't afford the investment at their business life cycle stage. It's not as simple as "do the SEO" fixing alt tags and doing 301s won't instantly make a site rank. 500 pages might and it needs to be good. Your web Dev background might be leading you to think you're doing things "by the book" but do you know marketing? How content clusters work? How actually vital back links are on good on-page actually counts? So many web devs I've worked with dismiss SEO users about small things they choose to ignore because they don't understand the marketing playing field .
Totally agree. It's exactly because I have a background in marketing that I am questioning whether search is the thing I should be focussed on.
Harry » Mike
I've gone straight to Facebook for lead generation for a new agency. I say new but it's a division of another agency so we've got a marketing budget and staff ready to go. We also can rank sites really easy, so while we're 'SEO ready' lead gen is going to be all via FB, then ppc, then content + EDM. Focussing purely on SEO will take way too long.
In some cases, focusing too much on search is definitely not the way to go – at least not at first. I am a big fan of setting up a good solid foundation with properly marked up templates and structure that makes it so it "can" rank – but often budget and time can be better spent in other areas for the ongoing efforts. If SEO is going to cost you $2500 a month and it stands to really only generate $3000 in revenue per month at the stage you're at – then it's not a good investment. Spending that $2500 on things that are going to generate 20K in revenue are what you're looking for. THEN… once you hit that and your margins are sustainable, you can go back into dipping your toes into the SEO world.
There are TONS of other aspects of digital marketing that can bring better returns – though the specific things to do vary from niche to niche. It is really like any other business strategy though – find what your niche is lacking most and fill that gap first. If everyone in your niche is focused purely on SEO, then maybe video or audio content is your way in there – or something else.
The fun thing is that ultimately, if you're filling that gap that exists, then much of the SEO stuff for that gap just sort of happens.
Google Search as breaking the ATHs every year. It's more alive than ever.
SEO, on the other hand, is getting more and more expensive, unpredictable, and competitive.
My personal prediction is it's gonna peak this year before Google introduces some new feature or a couple of features that are going to break the SEO space completely. Like rewriting websites content into summaries and serve the complete answers in SERPs. Or/and creating more SERP features that are going to steal even more of your traffic.
It's been happening all these years but it was compensated by the market growth
Post covid world won't allow for the growth. It's going to drop and y'all will notice it
"Google Search as breaking the ATHs every year. It's more alive than ever."
True, because people use it as a spellchecker or to grab fast info from the SERPs. The concept of the Google rabbit hole or the idea that people spend hours using Google to research a purchase… that shit is over. So, Google might be increasing in traffic but that's their website, not mine.
I've been building site and doing SEO for virtually the same amount of time as OP. I disagree, but I get the sentiment.
What I mean is that if I look at Google from my perspective, I get it. I'm not a fan of all the different pay-to-play sections on a SERP. I know where and what they are, and very rarely do I click an ad. But that's because I'm in the business.
From the perspective of a consumer, especially non-tech users, Google still provides the results they are looking for. If not, Google would be losing market share. There are numerous options, many are well known, but none of them have any significant market share. In general, any changes in market share are just the little guys cannibizing each other.
As long as that continues, SEO will still thrive because the majority of clicks still go to organic listing in maps or the regular listings. Having a result in maps or top 3 is still of high value to businesses.
So for the foreseable future SEO still has a place in good digital strategy. The hard part is making the ROI equation work, not only for the client, but for the provider too. In the almost 14 years I've had an agency my prices have increased 250%. I set my pricing where it need to be in order to make the margins that I am comfortable with.
That means that the type of client my firm works with has changed significantly over the years. The type of companies we work with now have to have higher LTV customers, larger search volume, or a combination of both for it to make sense.
It has made it considerably harder to find good long-term clients for sure. It has also made it much more important to have solid tracking and reporting so you can prove your fees are worth paying.
A few people have commented on attribution and ROI so I may write something up on how we do it and send it to Steven Kang to start a discussion.
Paid is doing the same thing. It's not SEOSEM, Paid Social, Programmatic being bad channels, it's the effect from the anti-trust lawsuits. In fact, today my Facebook Ads Manager had an overly message acknowledging the decrease in return from advertisers.
Digital marketing is more competitive than ever, and now we also have to compete with anti-spam, privacy issues, bots, and a more informed clientele.
It's not SEO, it's the industry.
100% well said man.
Very cool insights here, thanks for sharing. I will say, as a stock investor and constantly analyzing earnings reports and direct contact to social media and other media executives thru my mentor, MAUs aka Monthly Active Users, have been dropping consistently (post-pandemic) especially with Pinterest, Facebook, and many other channels. Just look at their recent ERs, Facebook brought the entire stock market down for a few days last week after they dropped their bomb of an ER.. TikTok and Snap Chat seem to be the only social medium worth a damn and the hottest thing at the moment…
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