Is SEO dead? The state of SEO in 2017

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | December 2016

It seems like every few months someone publishes a blog post with a title along the lines of “SEO is Dead.” This has been happening for years now. These posts must elicit good click-through rates because people keep publishing them. And as head of marketing at ArcStone, I get this question quite a bit.


So, do I think SEO is dead?

Yes and no. Bad SEO is dead. Good SEO is thriving!

To show you what I mean, let me take you through it’s crazy evolution.

I remember the days before Google. ArcStone was just a baby and we had just started working with a woman who owned a successful eyeglass and sunglasses shop in the Western Suburbs. She had overheard my husband and co-founder David talking to his mom at the Ediner (a breakfast joint located in Calhoun Square) about websites, the Internet and ArcStone. The woman was intrigued enough that she interrupted David and his mother’s breakfast. She wanted to know how she could sell her polarized sunglasses online.

That quick conversation, over pancakes and eggs, lead to a website project where we designed an eCommerce store, selling hundreds of sunglasses – everything from RayBans to Maui Jims. At the time, there were no solid eCommerce platforms and everything was coded from scratch.

Once we got the site up and running, our client was poised and ready for all of the orders she was about to receive from all over the world. Unfortunately, it didn't take her long to realize that there were no orders: her online business wasn’t booming, in fact, it was on life support.

That was my first foray into SEO.

Search Engine Optimization or SEO, is the practice of using strategies and techniques to increase the number of “organic” or free website visitors by achieving good visibility in the search results pages. Needless to say, the strategies and techniques used to achieve success have dramatically changed throughout the years. Let me tell you how.

Changes to SEO over its history

It all started with keywords.


This first SEO campaign I mentioned involved a lot of on-page optimizations. In other words, making edits to the online pages to achieve rankings. For example, if you wanted to rank well for the search phrase “Polarized Sunglasses,” a good start would be to look at who was currently ranking first, take a look at their source code, check to see how many times the keyword phrase appeared on their page and then simply make sure that it showed up more times on your own page.

You can probably imagine what happened next? SEOs began stuffing sites chock-full of keywords. This technique is called keyword stuffing. With so many people using this technique, the search engines – Altavista, Lycos, Infoseek and the rest – quickly caught on and developed more nuanced ways to rank websites.


The next big trend in SEO was link building. Links to a website were seen as a vote for that website.* If your website was linking to another website, search engines would trust both sites more. At the time, this tedious chore that fell on the shoulders of SEOs, involved trading links with other website marketers. Soon SEOs and webmasters (yes, that’s what we called them at the time) started linking back and forth and reciprocal linking became the next big thing. Most of the time, the links were superficial and weren’t exactly helpful or valuable.


In the not-so-distant past, if you had a good, keyword-rich domain, you could gain visibility without too much effort simply because you reference popular keywords. Soon, people began snatching up domain names and putting them up for sale and emails from salespeople became common.

Next came Articles, Guest Posts and Comments

Links were still important but it was no longer enough to simply trade links. As I mentioned before, link building is terribly tedious work that involves using all kinds of advanced operators (fancy ways to refine your search) and then looking for sites that had pages with links, sending emails to webmaster or writing blog comments. This was an exceptionally low period for SEOs because there was so much spam out there.

To avoid this, guest blog networks became the rage. The idea was, SEOs and marketers could write content that would be posted on decent websites for FREE in exchange for a craftily-written or heavily-optimized byline.

Soon, Matt Cutts (the head of the web spam team at Google at the time) cracked down on sites that were trying to game search results.


By now, Google, Yahoo!, MSN and the rest, once again caught onto those tricky SEOs and started discrediting reciprocal linking.

With the rise of Facebook and Twitter came social signals. The thought behind this was if someone liked or retweeted your content, it meant that it must be trustworthy and sites that are trusted should receive higher visibility. Soon, some SEOs were looking for ways to manipulate social media to gain followers and likes.

Content & Video

The next big thing was content. We all heard about “Content is King” which for the record, I still believe. Google was/is looking for content that is valuable to visitors, updated frequently and regularly. In an effort to give users a great experience, Google ranked websites that were regularly updated higher than those that were stagnant.

SEOs, myself included, jumped on the content train and the whole notion of content marketing was born.


With the rise of cell phones, came mobile friendliness. Who can forget mobilegeddon? It was kind of like Y2K for SEOs. If you weren’t ready for it, you were going to pay. The thought behind it is pretty simple. People started and continue to use whatever device is convenient to search the web.


Technical SEO looks at how well a search engine can crawl your site and index your content. Both are critical to the success of your SEO initiatives.

Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools, rebranded in May 2015) helps you monitor and maintain your website’s presence in Google’s search results. GSC shows how Google crawls your site, finds errors and pages that are indexed, and more. In May 2016, Google upgraded the integration between Google Analytics and GSC, showing more details and offering more visibility.

The whole enchilada

Today’s SEO involves ALL of these tactics and more.

SEO is definitely not dead. If done right, an effective SEO plan can be a great ROI for your organization. Contact ArcStone today if you’d like to learn more about SEO.

Topics: Digital Marketing

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