ERROR 530: We’re Sorry. The Internet Is Fully Optimized. Please Find A New Occupation.

By Nuno Andrade

The death of search engine optimization as we know it is inevitable. As more SEO “experts�? crowd the industry, the less value each one can provide to companies in search of their expertise. Only a few years ago, it was not uncommon for an SEO specialist to receive six figures for work that, although simple in nature, would bring their client twenty times that amount.

Then, the “secret�? to ranking well was as simple as making modifications to HTML title and heading tags or copying the code of a competitor site that, by pure happenstance, already ranked well. Today, although these methods have evolved with the help of tools such as Keyword Discovery and WebPosition, they are of far lesser significance.

As more and more companies become aware of the importance of search engine rankings, the value of these modifications diminishes. The savvier CEOs become, the more they will demand that their webmasters design their websites to be search engine friendly from initial launch. If you’re still earning six figures for performing on-page tweaks, take a look around, you’re a member of a dying breed.

The search engine optimization of today is much different from that of even five years ago. Then, the industry was shrouded in mystery, as its members did all they could to keep their tactics secret. Alas, as with any “black box�? industry where the methods and techniques are kept hidden, the reason is likely that those methods are easily replicable.

Today, the most recognizable names in the industry are likely those that share their knowledge, thereby building their “expert�? status while at the same time adding valuable content to their websites.

Moreover, search engine optimization has become more than just about on-page factors. With the advent of PageRank and the subsequent importance of inbound links, the term “search engine optimization�? itself no longer truly describes the job of an “SEO Specialist.�?

With the current emphasis on “link bait,�? the practice by which SEOs build viral content for the explicit purpose of garnering links, the SEO industry has begun to adopt more traditional marketing strategies.

This should come as welcome news for both SEOs and the traditional marketing agencies that have at once feared and downplayed the emergence of search engine optimization. For SEOs, the simple question is the one hinted at in the title of this essay: If every website was properly optimized, what would separate one from another?

The obvious answer may be “content,�? but that is only partly true. More often, it is about the packaging of that content and what others say about that packaging. As Wade Roush recently stated in his Technology Review blog , users of Digg — the object of many an SEO’s link bait campaign — often never get past the packaging (the story’s headline) before “digging�? the story or commenting on it.

Fortunately for traditional marketing agencies, there is very little today’s SEO experts can say about the importance of headlines that Claude Hopkins, David Ogilvy and John Caples haven’t already taught us.

Does this mean that traditional agencies have the upper hand? Are all SEOs doomed to return to their previous day jobs as newspaper editors, copywriters and webmasters? Not in the least.

Those who specialize in SEO are in the unique position of understanding the web in a way that no traditional marketing agency can hope to. Those SEO specialists willing to accept the current limits of their industry have the most to benefit from the potential windfall of the synthesis of online and offline marketing.

Lest it be forgotten, the Internet is still a medium in its infancy, and it is constantly changing and evolving. The strength of today’s SEO specialists lies in their adaptability and willingness to learn new techniques.

Nevertheless, this very strength also qualifies as the industry’s greatest weakness. Whereas traditional marketing depends on tested and proven approaches based on years of painstaking market research and analysis, the very medium in which SEO specialists operate by nature demands a much speedier approach. On the Internet, by the time market research is concluded, the market may have already moved on.

The future of Internet marketing will be built by thinkers and innovators rather than by traditional coders or marketers. It will not look like the search engine optimization or traditional marketing of today, but a combination of the adaptability of the former and the proven strategies of the latter.

[The above article is a submission for Marketing Pilgrim’s Search Engine Marketing Scholarship Contest. Each Monday in October, entries will be published and the most popular article of the week will qualify for the $5,000 grand prize. If you’d like to submit an entry, please view the contest entry-requirements and guidelines.]