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Joshua Bains

The Dark Future of Your SEO Agency (And What You Can Do About It)

Joshua Bains
The Dark Future of Your SEO Agency  (And What You Can Do About It)

A warning to SEO agencies involved in digital marketing: the online trend is to offer more user control. Here’s an indicator.

Gradually we’re passing the age of television advertisements. Last year cable television spots were outspent by online ads, and Forbes declared we’d embarked into the age of paid digital, where advertising is now worth over $42 billion dollars, or almost two-thirds of the approximate $66 billion dollars spent on cable and broadcast television combined.

This isn’t about what medium is winning. Rather, it’s about what the trend means.

The Talking Box

Television sprang from an ethos: "Do what you’re told and have little or nothing to say about it." Long ago in a Generation X far, far away — we only watched television. We consumed most of what it blared without using free choice to swap channels every seven minutes to outsmart its commercials.

Prior to the Web there were fewer consumer choices. Arguably, television viewers were less savvy than modern customers and ill-equipped to navigate the many decisions that would allow them to sail online.

As Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore penned, “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

Compare that to the digital vision of galactic hitchhiker Douglas Adams: “A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about.

That personal power to meddle has made us a demanding generation.

Our Wish is Their Command

As we flip digital channels and flit among online media, feeding on unending reefs of curated content, we all inform companies how their media must be made and delivered.

More of us are getting a fuller experience online than on television, and media dollars are now being split from television marketing budgets.

But our consumer behavior hasn’t just stricken analog.

While it’s now fashionable online to comment on the possible demise of television — it will be inevitably vogue to quip over the demise of our current marketing of digital technology.

The Downfall of SEO

Presently, Google and the semantic web are working to overturn the very name SEO, which may eventually be dropped from the industry altogether. If the only goods an agency offers are eventually mirrored by Google, agencies will be hard pressed to deliver worth to consumers with access to cheaper Google services that are likely just as good when measured in aggregate.

How will the agency fight back?

The short answer is to be a one-stop boutique. The long answer is to be like a used bookstore.

Lesson of the Book Shops

Shakespeare-book-shops

Amazon attacked the big, publicly traded booksellers. It forced Borders out of business, and Barnes and Nobles into a painful attrition.

But in fairness, what businesses were these two big booksellers kicking off a cliff?

Independent bookstores.

According to the American Bookseller Association, 1000 local shops died between the years 2000 to 2007. After attacking large public companies, duplicating and upping their services, Amazon allowed the niche book sellers to rise from their graves in droves.

Because these shops have products that Amazon can’t match.

Products like ambiance, fresh coffee and creaky rolling ladders at the fore of oodles of pungent books. A rich, tactile experience is worth money. Anytime a business has a niche carved from the bedrock of our lives it stands a chance of holding us happy captives despite the power of lightning quick Internet, cheaper prices and same-day-to-your-door shipping.

The SEO Agency of the Future

When Google and ubiquitous cheap technology flood SEO services like Amazon hit big bookstores, the agencies that remain will be standing in a niche.

Future visions:

  1. Current agency tactics will become irrelevant. Our methods of online marketing, such as media buying and SEO, will eventually be replaced with automated and common alternatives.

We’ve already seen the beginning in Google’s use of the Search Engine Results Page to bypass websites completely and offer its own answers. Today we don’t have to visit certain informational web pages once Google’s search results page beats them to the punch.

Tomorrow, we’ll never call certain agencies once their search services aren’t worth buying.

  1. To stay relevant, agencies need to create a niche. If the product that agencies provide is something that can’t be automated or isn’t widely available, then the business can remain viable.

That requires agency leaders to use lateral thinking — to discover ways they can deliver unique and valuable service. It may be based on an agency personality, expertise or a sub-stratum of general knowledge.

It won’t hinge on today’s SEO.

  1. Agencies that survive will hire more than experts in digital technology. Eventually we'll all be something of an expert as digital technology democratizes and automates.

My daughter’s grandfather wants her to learn how to code. He says in her generation it’s imperative — and she’s just 5 years old.

  1. Agencies will need to provide more creative services to remain competitive. The best agencies will tell stories about their clients and themselves. Tale spinning won’t change. It's become a central feature; straight journalism mutated with public relations and advertising has become a new breed named Content.

With creative media products, today's SEO agencies can appeal to millions who demand brand transparency and humanity before agreeing to a purchase.

SEO Endgame

When digital marketing as we know it ceases, those who can wield the new technology for niche products, markets and story branding will fare better than those who rely on SEO data alone.

That data, sooner or later, will be as common as television.

What are your thoughts on the future of the SEO agency? I'd love to hear them in the comments section!

Photo credit: Canva & Deviant Art, and Flickr

Joshua Bains is a Content Marketing Specialist at Eclipse Web Media in Atlanta, Ga. With an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, he produced video news features for the English desk at InfoliveTV in Jerusalem, and writes for Ami Magazine. He speaks about better content writing and video on the Small Business Samaritans show with Phillip Saxton, part of the Wall Street Business Network.​ His last article for SEMrush was “The FCB Grid: What It Is and How It Works."

Comments

2000 symbols remain
Kyle Alm
Just another SEO is dead post.
Marianne Sweeny
My hat is off to you Joshua as this is clarity and truth, so seldom found together. However, the SEO community is reluctant to give up its talisams of optimized tags and Meta Descriptions along with a belief that links still dominate relevance. So, encouraging SEO agencies to retain, let alone recruit, from other disciplines is still like rolling a very big rock up a very steep hill. Ask me how I know? I hope that your article goes a long way to convincing them. Otherwise, anyone who does not have a UX/content strategy/information architecture/design strategy background to fall back on might want to start looking at law schools and prepping for the LSAT.
golfnerd
Marianne Sweeny
The problem I see is that neither you nor Joshua has defined what SEO is!

There have been many, many predictions that SEO is dead, going all the way back to 1997!

SEO will just continue to evolve in the same way that just about EVERY other part of the Internet has and will continue to do.
Midasjohn
golfnerd
Show me that 1997 Reference please :D
golfnerd
Midasjohn
Seriously? Do you know how to use Google?
http://searchengineland.com/is...
Don Purdum
Hi Joshua,

I owned a web development company several years ago and I have seen this coming now for at least 2 years.

Google was able to commodotize the web but they even starting figuring out after 2008 that search was in decline due to vast amount of content that has been generated and the competition that comes with it. The last number I saw from Roger McNamee is that Google's search share has dropped year over year since 2009.

Why? Well you've identified much of it.

I have a good friend who is the CEO of a very reputable and large SEO company in Dallas,TX that told me a few months ago they are already figuring out how to transform their company because SEO will not be available in a few years in its current state at that if they don't they are risking their companies future.

Of course this could mean grate things for content producers like us. As I wrote in my article on this site a few days ago, we can position ourselves in dominate and influentional online communities and with influential bloggers who have the ability to bypass SEO for those they connect with.

But, it does require work and a fundamental shift in mindset from mass marketing concepts (which so many in seo have embraced over the years) to highly individualized and personalized content that is extremely helpful to a reader.

Fantastic read Joshua. Thanks for sharing your insights!!!

~ Don Purdum
Julian Connors
Julian Connors
Great article Joshua and I agree that the best search marketing agencies of the future will be those that are able to become agile and diverse in their services and the types of people they staff. From video production and animation to social media and web designers, agencies need to understand what their core strength is, while also being able to accommodate any particular need that arises.

It's odd to me that so many "recommendation" agencies exist since it causes a tremendous amount of issues dedicated to lag time in implementation.

Great read!
Rebekah Faucette
Huzzah for content! Though your daughter's grandfather might not be wrong entirely, he is forgetting to factor in the natural evolution of job trends. When certain types of technology or systems are being invented and honed, the market demands the left brain wizards and scientific masters. But, once the initial tech has been borne, it is then that the right brain creatives are asked to step in to create color schemes and content to make the technology interactive for users. It only makes sense that this trend is becoming applicable to SEO after years of focus on algorithms and numbers. Great post and I look forward to the future!
Adam Baxter
Adam Baxter
The bookstore story is such a great example of a business understanding what it takes not just to survive, but to capture peoples attention. I once read a good article about how Barnes and Borders fall from Glory was inevitable because essentially all they were offering was, "look at all the books we have!" Which is a battle Amazon could easily win.

Similarly, SEO companies need to move to a business model that focuses on 'quality' over any sort of 'quantity.' Great Article!
Elizabeth Weaver
Elizabeth Weaver
Awesome article, Joshua! It does make me stop and wonder how the future of SEO will progress - and how quickly! I completely agree with your points about agencies creating a niche and offering more than "experts in digital technology" to stay relevant. I really like that about the industry though - that it's always so quickly changing. Keeps us on our toes and forces us to use our creativity. Again, great job!
John
John
This is a really cool topic Joshua! It is interesting to see that even when giants like Amazon seem to offer just about everything cheaper and better than everyone else, other businesses can still thrive. The most interesting thing is to learn how they do it, i.e. the specific niches that they discover that amazon can't utilize.
spawnofirmo
spawnofirmo
I completely agree. In the media world we already see Google and other large companies both democratizing access to media technology and automating many of the best practices we use as experts.

Additionally, they often remove granular levels of control which levels the playing field for less experienced users. An example of that is Google forcing all Adwords users to accept Exact match terms would now match to plurals and misspellings (and even phonetically similar terms from our testing!).

We're still a ways away from this but there is definitely a trend to make experts in the media work hard to become far more specialized to stay relevant. Nice article Josh!
Ed Leake
Ed Leake
Interesting article Joshua. Innovation is required of most industries, not just SEO.

"If the product that agencies provide is something that can’t be automated or isn’t widely available" - I'm hoping this is a thing a of the past already. Any SEO agency, consultant or employee worth their salt doesn't automate, they innovate (or do their best at trying)!

I completely agree that SEO agencies need to be more than the traditional link builders, in fact if your agency is only providing link building you're already 12-18 months behind.
Joshua Bains
Ed Leake
Thanks for writing, Ed. You're right agencies should not be robots. However, the automation I was thinking about are in the future; these are innovations like programmatic media buying, which works better and more cheaply than people, and can render a human agent unnecessary.
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