SEO will never die and here’s why

At this point in my career, I think I’m *starting* to get old enough to where I frequently begin see the same questions crop up, as in “is SEO dead?” and it’s many variations, every so often.

Lately, according to the data, SEO, at its core is rising in popularity:

Google Trends: Interest in “Search Engine Optimization” as a topic increasing over time.

Why? Well, one theory is that earned media (as SEO is also known) is more of a cost effective channel that’s worth investing in (especially in these types of economic times where costs are rising across the board.)

But, SEO is not free. It’s an investment.

If I may, I feel Search faces the same scrutiny as other enduring mediums, those of art or comedy. It got me thinking as, on this particular Sunday, I was watching John Stewart’s acceptance speech for the Mark Twain Prize at the Kennedy Center.

It struck me because, in a way, I could see many parallels between the medium he was referring to at the time (comedy) and that of SEO.

For context, here’s the full speech.

Jon Stewart acceptance speech 2022.

For the skeptics who keep asking “is SEO dead” let the record show Jon Stewart Googled it (the Mark Twain award), and he said, “it’s real. It’s a real award.”

He didn’t look it up on Snap, TikTok or Insta. He Googled. Google’s Search product is still very viable and likely will be for some time.

In that regard, I’ll leave you with a few quotes that resonated with me from his speech:

The first is personal.

“You’re not your circumstances. You are not what happens to you. You are what you make of it.”

Jon Stewart on his mother exemplifying work ethic

I love this so much. Get up. Pull yourself up as much as you can. Fight on. More than what you think is in your control.

And this one relates to my profession.

His entire acceptance speech about the art of comedy is endearing but the part that I feel pertains to what I’m talking about here, specifically about SEO, starts at minute 7:38.


“What we do is an iterative business. It’s a grind. It’s work. The best amongst us just keep at it. “

Jon Stewart

I did a lot of informational interviews coming up to learn where I should go and how I should spend my time. In that interview process, someone once told me about himself in the industry, “I’m in the right ballpark but I haven’t found my seat yet.”

In a dynamic industry like SEO, you will always feel like you’ve never reached the top; you’re never really an expert. That’s a good and bad thing. Good because the pursuit of knowledge is needed in an ever changing discipline, but bad (not helpful mentally) in the sense that what you do or know is never enough.

“When you’re a comic. you look in a room and 200 seats are facing one way. And there’s one stool and it has a light shining on it. And you walk into that room and go, “That’s gonna be my chair. I’m gonna sit in that one. And you spend the rest of your career trying to earn that stool.”

Jon Stewart

<<and a min epiphany goes off in my head>>

Since SEO is AKA earned traffic, we as professionals tweak things on a website from technical to content and wait to see if Google likes it and rewards it with higher rankings.

You spend your career trying to earn the spotlight, the stool Jon is talking about in comedy. For SEO’s it’s earning the preverbal top positions 1-3 of Google’s organic listings that get the most visibility and subsequent clicks.

Jon goes on to say,

“Some nights, you don’t even belong in the club…but you get back at it because, there isn’t any fixed point in comedy where you make it or you don’t make it. It’s the journey with the greatest friends I could ever possibly have made”

Jon Stewart

That resonated too. I probably know a handful of the OG’s in the SEO industry. But it’s also the type of industry to where, if you reach out to someone openly, you’re apt to get a genuine response and/or piece of advice from those that have gone before.

Here’s why I believe SEO will never die (READ: everywhere Jon says “comedy” replace it with “SEO”):

“and there’s a lot of talk right now about what’s gonna happen to comedy…’is comedy going to survive in this new moment?’
Now, I’ve got news for you, comedy survives every moment.”

Jon Stewart

And so will SEO. Because just like we all need an outlet, humans are naturally curious. They’re going to search for answers, insights, entertainment or whatever – you name it – on whatever platform suits them at the time. The only question is (as a business), do you want them to find you there?

If so, you need SEO.

In closing, I leave you with my interpretation of Jon’s closing thoughts:

“….it’s a reminder to us all that what we have is is fragile, and precious. And the way to guard against it isn’t to change how audiences think, it’s to change how leaders lead.”

Jon Stewart

Think about that: How leaders lead.

What that means to me is that every SEO Manager or leader in an organization or individual consultant role has an obligation to try to reach the upper echelons of leadership to inform and educate them as to what SEO does and is.

It’s a marketing channel that needs to be nurtured, continuously, over time, in order to deliver dividends over the long term.

If you are someone who has a voice in SEO or is developing your own voice, I hope you will continue that message.

Lastly, as you climb, don’t forget those under you who support you or lead in to your introduction.

The Alchemy of Silicon Valley

I had the good fortune of being introduced to Vito Brandle, Director of Finance at BrightRoll, and recently sat down with him to chat about the allure of startups and the collective growth-mindset of Silicon Valley tapping into the fundamental human desire for growth. Vito’s thoughts on the startup scene—how structure can be the foundation of spontaneity—was of particular interest to me.

There was no sugarcoating from Vito on the topic of mergers and navigating change in the corporate setting. But, I found his honesty to be compelling and his unique perspective as both participant and observer equally intriguing.

Design the life you want

In this town, one could argue there are more opportunities for new companies to acquire VC funding or get acquired than there are Tesla’s gliding around on the highway. There’s no shortage of opportunity in Silicon Valley and companies large and small get acquired all the time. While it can be difficult to remain positive in the face of a corporate merger, one of the choices Vito made early on was to consciously disengage from the personal aspect of the job.

“You have to be OK with putting a part of your work-self to bed” he said. “In a bigger company you have to remove that defense mechanism and let go of the fact that ‘it’s mine’.” This allows you to function without succumbing to the highs and lows of working through change.

I’m of the belief that the best parts of life are that way by our own design. They’re architected in such a way where we enjoy what we have yet we still strive to see how far things can go. “Every choice we look at should be a set of options,” Vito said “creating options allows us to optimize.” Once the track is set, then we just need to start the engine and accelerate down that path.”

What’s the best way to begin? Take action and course correct along the way? Or plan it all out in advance and then begin? There are merits to both but only one produces real results.

Structure allows for spontaneity

Just as there are certain types of people that operate better within a structured environment there are those that perform better when given more freedom. The same is true for the framework of corporations and startups where structured environments can be engineered to deliver growth and alternatively, autonomy fosters new developments. The great irony is that while it might not seem to be the case, companies both large and small rely on some form of structure to grow.

While structure provides a starting point, the inescapable fact of life is that there is ambiguity in almost everything we do. Even when developing structure itself. This is why taking action is so important. Actions produce results (or data), which can be mined for insights. It’s in the doing that there is refinement.

The upside to companies driven by large corporations, Vito noted, is that they can teach you about process and equip you with a more formalized method of operating. Vito had virtually made a mini career out of being at corporate giant, Yahoo!, over the course of four years. Albeit having a variety of jobs and the opportunity to “wear different hats” during that time helped to stave off boredom and career stagnation.

His advice, “Tell your manager up front what you want.” Be clear on your interests, inject variety into your work, and have challenges to work towards.

That’s not to say startups have all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks. But it’s the idea, Vito alluded to, of a collective acknowledgement that everyone in Silicon Valley is creating and playing and inventing in the same sandbox. Collectively, we’re making things better as a result of taking action.

Silicon Valley is one big sandbox

“My reason for coming out here was the tech space [because it offered] flexibility and optionality and the ability to pivot quickly. People have a desire to grow and change. There’s this cohesive mindset here—almost [like we’re in] a sandbox of sorts; there’s not that many obstacles here and you can build what you want.”

Indeed, it’s this consistency of mindset among the individuals in Silicon Valley, at large companies and startups alike, that makes this particular “sandbox” a unique playground. Startups may be the bedrock of Silicon Valley but the mindset of the individuals and their willingness to take action and architect a better way of doing something is what makes Silicon Valley attractive beyond measure. “Even if you’re not the one with the shovel, you’re getting your hands dirty,” Vito remarked.

So, get moving! I’ll leave you with a shortened list of Vito’s recent reads and a link to some great pod casts:

  1. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by James C. Collins
  2. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt
  3. Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica