SEO in 2019: Swan Song, or Timeless Classic?

We’re into a new calendar year, so naturally, digital marketing pubs are rife with information about how this is the year the SEO field will be shaken to its very foundations, radicalized, revolutionized, or even made obsolete.

I’m here to summarize all of these imminent developments in one handy post… so you can completely transform…revolutionize… er, crumple the entire corpus of intergalactic time-travel foofaraw into a handy recyclable ball that can fit easily in your hand, to be tossed and forgotten until next year, when everyone starts publishing those cute “20/20 SEO Foresight” pieces.

So let’s kick this off and get down to specifics!

An SEO shakeup is coming. It is known.

Surely any day, one or more of the following trends will totally change how we optimize sites to reach customers through organic search. As you’ll notice, the most exciting of them are widely known by their acronyms:

  • Voice search
  • Augmented (AR), virtual (VR) or mixed reality (XR)
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Accelerated mobile pages (AMP)
  • Featured snippets
  • Mobile-first indexing (MFI?)
  • Paid search shrinking organic results (PSSOR?)
  • A bunch of idiots playing a card game instead of interacting like normal humans

Further, other experts just can’t seem to stop predicting SEO doom and gloom in the old ways, including a recent blog post by a prominent digital marketer who claimed that:

  • You can’t rely only on SEO anymore
  • Content marketing returns will be diminished due to content saturation
  • Increased marketing costs will make it more difficult to compete
  • YouTube will be the next big thing (again?)

Cocksure predictions like these have been standard practice in the industry forever, and while real changes in how to succeed with SEO have occurred over the past few years, I’d say they’re way overblown.

When was it ever a good idea to put all eggs in the organic search channel? And what did we think would happen to SERP competition when everyone and their dog started blogging? Do marketing costs of any kind ever get cheaper? And, how could it ever make sense to hand control over your marketing assets to an external platform, no matter how much visibility it offers?

Fad nauseam

Change is inevitable no matter how we resist or wish it weren’t true. Every year, there are tangible evolutions in mobile technology, web programming languages, ad targeting, consumer behavior, and cultural practices that collectively lead to perceptible differences in how we might have tailored our marketing messages just 12 months earlier. Sometimes the changes are substantial, sometimes they’re iterative. As marketers, it is incumbent upon us to help our clients stay abreast of those changes and to keep them ahead of the game, lest we find ourselves holding the short end of the stick.

But, enough with the bombastic claims, punditocracy!

Such declarations remind us a little of that self-styled stock research analyst on Seeking Alpha—the one who leads the charge on some supposedly niche investing opportunity, and later, when others see the same value, claims it’s already a lame idea compared to the “path-breaker”.

And is it just us, or is chasing every marketing fad and attempting to “time one’s exit” from perfectly sound marketing practices a little reminiscent of the saga linked to heavy promoters of cryptocurrency?

We’re a little more Warren Buffett than all that, wethinks.

But back to search. Is voice search really practical for every type of search or environment? Imagine a world where, instead of silently conjuring a search term and tapping it out on a keyboard, it’s common for everyone to blurt out their queries into any device that will listen, a cacophony of word balloons crashing into one another. For a cheeky exaggeration of this cringy scenario, who could forget the classic TV commercials that accompanied Bing’s launch in 2009?

Keywords: The One True King

Newer technologies like augmented or mixed reality may eventually change how we use our devices, not to mention alter acceptable public behavior — yet that future would only come true if such technologies actually improve our lives. Unless you see your Uncle Bob suddenly embracing a “Minority Report” world with Tom Cruise-wannabes hyper-swiping holographic interfaces in the air, we’re talking about a gradual shift.

I’ll argue that the consumption of information and the development of knowledge will likely remain the domain of the printed word—whether on a piece of paper or on a screen—for decades to come. Sure, of course, we’ll all become cyborgs of some kind someday. And naturally, our communications will be telepathic. And it goes without saying we’ll only hanker for a nutritionally optimal green goo, instead of a delicious homemade African peanut stew (which—even nutritionally—kicks the ass of the green goo six ways to Sunday, but I digress). But not now. Not for many decades.

So how is it useful to “adjust your priorities” for 2019 based on these fantasies?

The bottom line for 2019-2022 is: textual content that addresses the needs of a target audience that’s findable through search engines will remain the primary modality by which people consume information and take action. That textual content is increasingly supplemented with video, imagery, and—as usual—keywords, but it’s ultimately anchored by textual information.

Will there ever come a day when traditional SEO as it’s been practiced for 20 years ceases to exist? “Difficult to see, the future is,” as Yoda would say. For now, it’s important to bear in mind that the endless predictions are usually advocated by those who benefit from getting you to subscribe. In other words, it’s easy to understand why someone is saying something when you understand that their salary depends upon you believing it.