Alex Butzbach

2014 was a big year for SEO … if having a big year means innumerable changes and seeing your obituary everywhere you look. A lot of people spent a good chunk of the year telling us that search engine optimization was dead. So it’s understandable if you have questions about how it will continue to serve your marketing strategy in the long run.

But is SEO dead? In short – no, but it is changing.

Let’s rewind the clock 10 years. Back in the distant time of 2004, SEO meant optimizing content with keywords, stuffing metadescriptions with more keywords and begging for links that included (you guessed it) lots of keywords. So if that’s the definition of SEO you’re working with – and most of the obituary writers these days seem to be on the same page – SEO is absolutely dead.

If we’re talking about optimizing content so that Google crawls and indexes it, that is absolutely essential. But there are plenty of ways that SEO can indirectly help any business that has a website.

Create a place where customers can learn about you online

One area where brands might underestimate the power of SEO is when it comes to customer research. Just because organic search traffic doesn’t form the heart of a lead generation strategy doesn’t mean it isn’t important – it’s just hard to track in terms of the sales funnel.

Here’s an example: A B2B intelligence software firm mostly makes contacts at trade shows, from word-of-mouth recommendations and through email newsletter sends. However, after cultivating relationships with potential clients, sales associates find that there’s a big drop-off in meetings booked. Why? One possible explanation is that prospects’ secondary research turns up a woeful search presence. Or worse – the prospects can’t find it all.

The solution is to at least attempt the bare minimum:

1. Register on Google+
2. Build a small library of content for your landing pages at least
3. Make sure your site design and navigability work intuitively for users

Build a backup plan in case your current model evolves

Avoiding a formal SEO plan is like not putting money away in a savings account. Sure, you might be able to live paycheck to paycheck at this point (at least as far as marketing is concerned), but what if something unexpected comes up?

One possible scenario is a change in business strategy. Perhaps you have a partnership with brick-and-mortar stores to sell your product, and your web strategy is just in place to give vendors a way to contact you. If that partnership comes to an end, and you have to start selling your products on an ecommerce platform ( Example: SAP Commerce Cloud) , you’ll wish you had kept a healthy SEO profile now that people can only find you through Google.

Conversely, maybe it isn’t your business model that changed, but the internet itself. As Brafton has reported, even Google doesn’t necessarily know what the future of web use will be. Consequently, it doesn’t hurt to make a low-resource investment in at least beefing up your search profile. In the not-so-distant future, search technology might be so sophisticated that leads are seamlessly matched with businesses that can solve their pain points – so it’s best to be prepared. Speaking of which…

Plan for the unexpected buyer’s journey

Perhaps the most compelling reason for coming up with SOME kind of SEO strategy is that no one is omnipotent. While you might know your industry extremely well, maybe there’s a sizeable minority of people who would love to purchase certain items or contract with a particular organization – but they simply don’t find it. Worse, they find competitors.

Think this sounds far-fetched? What if a town just passed an ordinance requiring all classrooms to be insulated with a certain type of material – a material that your business is certified to install. Even if the bulk of your leads come from non-SEO sources, you would be missing out on a huge boon by not having at least some SEO profile.

This is just as likely in the B2C realm. Perhaps a new generation of smartphones is released that use a certain obscure accessory like a camera lense magnifier normally purchased by scientific labs or electronic hobbyists. Soon, teenage girls are looking for this gadget, and parents want to buy it as a stocking stuffer. If only they could find where it’s for sale…

The bottom line is that SEO makes brands agile. It’s a lot like exercise – you might do it to lose weight, but the benefits go far beyond shedding a few pounds. You become more flexible, sleep better, improve your diet and generally function better. Without SEO, companies miss out on changes to the internet, pay far higher costs when their own business models change and ignore customers they didn’t even know they had. With an SEO strategy in place, you get the traditional benefits associated with search optimization as well as the hidden bonuses that aren’t obvious at first glance.