Earlier days, SEO was all about writing quality content and optimizing website for better reachability. After that, the direction was changed to user experience in terms of speeding up and creating helpful content. In recent days, SEO becomes directionless with AI and Google’s endless updates. At this point, if some agency or individual consultant comes to you with a sales pitch offering search engine optimization (SEO) services, just ignore them. It is not possible for anyone to help a site to rank top in current situation. So, here is why SEO is dead and especially gone to tomb after Covid-19 pandemic.
Traditional Search Engine Optimization
Here are some of the things most website owners do when it comes to white hat SEO.
- Writing long form quality content with images/videos.
- Optimizing meta description and post title.
- Passing Core Web Vitals.
Now, none of these can help to rank high in Google Search results as the landscape itself is changed or changing consistently.
Note: Promoting sites on social platforms is not included as it will not drive organic traffic. That comes under referral traffic which is not recognized by most advertising networks as valid.
1. SEO Was Long Dead with Smartphones
As per Statista, more than 50% internet traffic comes from smartphones. However, this traffic primarily comes from entertainment apps like news, games and social. This has not much value for small or medium sized content website owners targeting organic traffic. Even you can create a mobile app for your website, you can’t sustain and survive the competition in long run. This is also true for big content publishing companies and you will not find iOS or Android apps from most of them.
Though people do use Google, Bing, Chrome, Safari and other mobile apps for searching, it does not need separate or special optimization for mobile devices. This has been proved with the death of AMP which Google was pushing earlier. Mobile traffic will have same set of problems like desktop traffic as explained in further sections of this article. In summary, the SEO problem for small content website owners starter long ago with the growth of mobile internet traffic.
2. Sponsored Google Ads in Search Results
At this point, any search query with shopping intent shows 4 sponsored ads in Google Search results. This essentially means the first position in organic search result is 5th position in actual Google Search results layout. Since these ads show in huge size with multiple links, you will not get much traffic even though your site ranks in top three positions. This is especially a problem on small mobile devices.
As you can see in the below screenshot, searching for “good web hosting” in Google automatically shows the local results with 4 sponsored ads on top. First, web hosting is not a local topic which is generally offered globally. Next, I have to zoom out the screen to take smaller screenshot as the first organic search is long away from the top. Finally, the first sponsored result is neither from a local site nor from a web hosting company. It is from an affiliate review site which appears just because they pay more in Google Ads for the searched keywords.
The problem is not only for the top organic positions, with infinite scrolling Google also shows ads in-between search results when you scroll on results page. Below is the example of 3 ads showing in-between on the same search results.
With this kind of greedy search layout from Google, you can’t expect to get big organic traffic with SEO.
3. Distractive Search Elements
There are many major distractive elements in Google Search which will affect your traffic.
3.1. YouTube Videos with moments
This is illogical to show YouTube videos under general Google Search layout when there is a dedicated “Videos” search section. Sometimes these videos will show with moments occupying large space in the layout.
The idea from Google is clear that they want to push more users to YouTube instead of content websites. This is obvious as Google gets more money from YouTube compared to AdSense revenue share from content sites. If you are not aware, Google shares 55% for YouTube videos and 45% of Shorts while 68% for AdSense content ads.
3.2. People Also Ask and Featured Snippets
For some queries, you will see a “Featured Snippet” and then “People also ask” widget after first 4 sponsored results. This will simply kill your organic traffic even you are in the number one position (which will go below the PAA snippet).
3.4. Related Searches
Irrelevant “Related Searches” section is the final nail in your organic traffic’s coffin. As you can see, when I search for “top free WordPress themes”, Google shows a list of free plugins under “Related searches” section. Though the keyword blocks are relevant, they simply occupy larger space and push the organic results further down for the actually searched query.
4. No Ending Google Search Algorithm Updates
Though Google claims they implement thousands of changes in search results every year, earlier big algorithm updates used to happen occasionally. Now, you will notice the change in search results every few days. It can’t be a coincidence that unconfirmed algorithm updates happen exactly during weekend or busy holiday seasons consistently. It also can’t be the case that unconfirmed updates can go for a month-long period. Below screenshots are from Semrush sensor graph for desktop and mobile SERP volatility in Google between 17th June to 15th July 2023 (for USA). As you can see, the entire month is volatile with huge changes in search results.
So, it is a clear case of throttling and manipulation of search results hiding under the name of algorithm change. With this kind endless volatility, website optimization is nothing but a joke.
5. Generative AI Spam
This generative AI is all about content stealing and rewriting to its highest level. Unfortunately, Google itself does this with Bard and proposed SGE layout. SGE is a killer for small content site owners as it will go on top of 4 sponsored results thus pushing the organic results further down. Though you can see citations in SGE, users may not click and visit the site with zero click answers on the search page.
On other hand, there are millions of spam sites duplicating your content on the name of generative AI and Google can’t completely stop them showing from search results. Combining together, even a well optimized site showing on top of organic result will get a big blow and lose considerable traffic.
6. Profitability After Pandemic
IT services companies like Google made big money during Covid-19 pandemic. However, they can’t sustain the profitability as people return to normal world after the pandemic. You can check out the year-on-year drop in Google’s net income for Dec 2022 and Mar 2023 quarters as shown below.
To increase profit, Google is spoiling the search results and internet as a whole on the name of updates and layout changes. Unless things become stable, which does not seem to happen in near term, your SEO effort will not have any impact on the ranking.
With all the above stuffs, there is no real meaning of search engine optimization at this point. Content is ranked randomly without any logic and search positions are too volatile to follow a pattern or trend. The reality is that no SEO agency or consultant can predict what will happen to your site with tomorrow’s unconfirmed Google update. Small business site owners can still survive by moving on to paid advertisements and managing the cost accordingly. However, this is a real tough time for small content site owners relying on advertising revenue from organic traffic.
Will things change? – For that, you have to wait and see how AI and search layout evolves in near future. Until then it’s a time to reevaluate whether you can survive and run a profitable site or consider alternate options.