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.

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