To “opti­mize” some­thing means to put that item to its best, most effi­cient use. Most of the time, that’s a good thing. A cou­ple of decades ago, as com­put­ers became main­stream and early search engines chugged along, SEO was in its infancy, learn­ing to crawl through early algo­rithms in an attempt to improve search results.

As SEO matured, teams of “opti­miz­ers” worked to game the sys­tem, using every avail­able tac­tic to improve search results. Search engine tech­ni­cians helped SEO nav­i­gate puberty, flirt­ing with pan­das and pen­guins in an effort to become accom­plished in its social graces.

Two decades later, SEO has evolved and changed. It now walks upright, able to digest full sen­tences as opposed to just key­words, and is work­ing to sift through the moun­tains of force-fed con­tent arriv­ing daily. It would appear that the rumors of its death, as Mark Twain might have put it, are greatly exag­ger­ated. It is not dead, nor even dying, but sim­ply changing.

In a recent con­ver­sa­tion, social and SEO expert Chris Ben­nett of 97th Floor exam­ined the evo­lu­tion of SEO with me, explain­ing that this “mor­ph­ing” of the title is a good thing. Chris noted that early SEO saw back­links as a vote. Today, he says, peo­ple tweet or blog to vote, reg­is­ter­ing con­sumer responses through social interaction.

A lot of it is tech­ni­cal,” Chris said of the changes to SEO, refer­ring to load speed, focus, qual­ity, and design, but the over­whelm­ing change has come through empha­sis on use­ful content.

It’s mak­ing the (sales) fun­nel a lit­tle longer,” Chris adds. With so much infor­ma­tion now in front of the cus­tomer, busi­nesses must ease cus­tomers in through good con­tent that helps them feel informed.

The more you break stuff, the bet­ter you make it,” Chris con­cludes, cit­ing Google’s expe­ri­ences that taught us all how to do a bet­ter job. Would Chris rec­om­mend a career in SEO to young graduates?

Yes. And no. No, because the nar­row silo of SEO just won’t hack it as search engines learn to speak in whole sen­tences and reach toward intel­li­gent sophis­ti­ca­tion. It is becom­ing increas­ingly impor­tant to embrace a clutch of aspects like mar­ket­ing, design, copy­writ­ing, and ana­lyt­ics, along with the basics of SEO.

Yes, Chris says, because an SEO back­ground still makes peo­ple good, results-driven pro­fes­sion­als that drive back to gran­u­lar results. “Under­stand, test, and learn SEO,” Chris says, pol­ish­ing that metric-centric back­ground, but pay atten­tion to a broader range of mar­ket­ing tools to suc­cess­fully keep pace with SEO, step-for-step, as it con­tin­ues to evolve.