Is Technical SEO Dead?
Gary Reid from The Search Works argues that today’s search consultants won’t be concentrating on tags and structure, but a broader set of business skills.
Technical SEO is the science of building websites that are search engine friendly. It’s based on specific skills for the development and architecture of a website. Understanding how web pages are coded, what makes a web server work and how search engines spider a web page are all key areas of expertise needed to carry out technical SEO.
A few years ago, SEO specialists built their expertise and honed their skills with developers, designers and small businesses. They were doers. These folk were accustomed to having to make radical changes to sites and had the access to do it. However, times have changed.
Three major developments have impacted upon technical SEO:
1. Search engines have become better at accessing even badly coded websites,
2. More websites are using SEO, making it much more competitive,
3. Big brands have got in on the act.
These changes have of course created a whole new set of challenges for web marketers as SEO consultants no longer need the skills to code and structure sites. Instead, they need general marketing and business skills to understand what is important to clients. Today, changing the structure of a site doesn’t bring about increased revenue like it did 10 years ago as sites can get indexed without major technical changes.
Indeed, search engine spiders are not as fussy as they were. In the past, if dynamic pages weren’t indexed easily, their relevance was diminished and large transactional sites found that the majority of their pages were not in the engines’ indices.
As major brands have embraced the web, especially e-commerce, they have built and re-built their sites. During these rebuilds, the latent power of the site has become increasingly more exposed to search engines. Today, developers build sites with much greater architectural structure, with logical navigation and clean code. In fact, as search engines have expanded their ability to index all types of content, now including Flash, so web developers have embraced new design and coding conventions, especially W3C compliance and table-less design.
As if this serendipitous convergence wasn’t enough, search engines have also developed new ways to ensure they find every bit of content on your site – by simply getting you to tell them! All major search engines now actively seek out structured sitemaps, built to be easily understood by their crawlers. By allowing a site to list every page they want indexed, give it a level of prioritisation and a frequency as to how often it changes, webmasters can ensure indexation of just about every page they want, when they want.
As brands understand more and more about search so the focus of SEO has changed. In today’s client meetings the talk is of demographics and user journeys, integration with traditional media and paid search. For instance, if my customers are female between 35 and 45, of higher education and earn between £45k and £55k per year and I want to know how this affects my SEO strategy, all the technical skills in the world won’t help me answer this.
Search engines want to provide their users with the most relevant results, the ten blue links delivered in return for a few words have to be what the user wants, right there at that moment. If a family of four with a household income of just above the national average searches for ‘holiday in Spain’ do they want the same results as a retired couple who use the same keywords? These are the challenges search engines face, they have little to work with, generally two or three words and in return searchers expect ‘best fit’ results.
SEO specialists need to understand so much more than the technical aspects of the subject. As the competitive landscape fills up, so the skills needed to understand users and their intent increases. Once a site has achieved good indexation of their content so the real challenge begins and that challenge requires people who understand the industry, the market, the customers and the journey from beginning to end.