SEO is dead (for real)

Laurent Bourrelly
6 min readDec 3, 2017
SEO is dead (for real this time)

I wish this post didn’t have to exist.

Since 2003, SEO on Google has been my main game.

The Golden Era, from 2004 to 2009, was amazing. We lived the glorious lives of super affiliates and click whores.

Making 5 to 6 figures in revenue every month was unreal for nerds, like me, working alone in front of a computer.

In June 2004, I entered a SEO contest. Goal was to rank first on Google, after 3 months, for the keyword “mangeur de cigogne” (French for “stork eater”). At the end of the contest, I ended third, but most important I got it. I knew how and what to feed Google.

It was obvious to me how to manipulate the search engine, in order to rank high for any keyword. Back then, I could pretend to push my web pages on any keyword for any topic, whatever the competition.

On the website used for the SEO contest, I started sharing my findings about SEO.

In the meantime, I build a huge affiliate test machine with this site.

It was crazy. I built a page about anything and it was ranking automatically on the first page of Google. Next, I was sending out a bunch of backlinks, and it was easy to rank within the Top 3 results.

From this SEO contest emerged a few people like me, who made money with Adsense and affiliate marketing.

At one point, you could type any major commercial keyword in Google France, and it was my friends and I, squatting the 1st page.

You know about the power of backlinks. Rumors say the best backlink comes from the number one on Google for the keyword you want to target. Imagine if you knew the owners of half the URLs composing the 1st page.

It was a carnage!

Back then, Wordpress didn’t exist, we were building websites by hand. You could not order content or all the web marketing related services one can find today for very cheap. Moreover, we had to figure everything by ourselves. You couldn’t google something and find a nice tutorial. There wasn’t much information out there, besides forums and a few books.

Some people tell me it was easier back then. They forget we worked a lot. I didn’t blink during 5 years! It was 20 hours a day and 7 days a week of work. It took me one week to build a site, write content, and get tons of backlinks. Then, it was pretty much on autopilot, bringing money with Adsense and affiliate links. My main site was making a lot of money, and my army of small web sites was growing fast.

Thing is it was fun. We were passionate about what we were doing, and we didn’t feel like it was real work. We were making so much money, it didn’t feel real at all. We felt it wasn’t deserved compared to real people with real jobs and real companies.

The Golden Era started to fade in 2007. Either you had to work more to make less or it was time to change the game.

By 2009, it quit every “making money online” type of businesses.

Lucky me, since the beginning, I was sharing my findings about SEO. Before blogs really existed, I was publishing content all over the place about SEO. I was also frantic on forums.

My results in SEO, combined with my loved for sharing, led me to do some consulting jobs very early. Little by little, the consulting part of my business grew.

By 2009, it was time to switch to be full time a SEO Consultant.

By working on other people’s projects, I learned to love sharing my knowledge even more. Actually, I started to get a better high when my clients reached their goals, instead of my own results.

About 500 clients later, I still get pumped when clients crush it in SEO.

2012 started to get funky with Panda, and Penguin put an end to the good old days.

In fact, I knew what was required to do a proper job, avoiding most Google penalties. My first encounter with a Google penalty was in November 2003 with the Florida update. Since then, I learned to deal with the fine line between pushing too hard or not enough, in order to rank high on Google.

Since 2012, SEO started to become a little less spammy. It’s still very much possible today to rank fast on Google with shady tactics. It’s just not worth it, unless you are doing it on an industrial level. Of course, you still have some individuals, holding up the Black Hat SEO flag. They are making a few bucks, but it’s peanuts compared to what I experienced.

Furthermore, I don’t see any evolution in the way to cheat. It is still about making some king of content, which is just barely good enough to feed Google. The real power is about backlinks. It’s the same old game of getting backlinks. There isn’t much focus on site.

Let’s forward to 2018.

Too many SEO professionals still target Google has a main traffic vector. They should see it differently.

Digital marketing is much bigger than search engine marketing and Google in particular.

It’s been a while since I integrated SEO as a layer, within a global content marketing strategy.

I’m witnessing a shortcoming for SEO where the top 3 results are not in reach. Without branding and everything around SEO, Google will not rank you in the top 3. You can still get a 1st page result, but it won’t bring you much traffic and conversion.

It’s a more valuable tactic to build a strong branding and content marketing strategy, based on video, text, audio and images. Bringing value to users is wonderful, if you care about the long term game.

Short term goals require to have some selling strategy in play, but I recommend to go the paid search route to make it easier. The content, long term branding, strategy needs to be based only on caring about others. The biggest mistake is the confusion between what you do to sell or build a brand.

If you don’t aim to build a brand, it’s going to be very hard to break out of the crowd with SEO alone.

On the other hand, once you start believing in the power of bringing value, a whole new world opens up. At the end of the day, winners give without asking anything in return. Lose the need to ask for something when you give. I know it’s hard, but it’s the only way.

Once you get very good at it, the return is much bigger than anything expected.

I created the number one SEO trend in France by applying this strategy, but it’s another story. I also built a great personal brand for myself, and achieved great success for clients. Some of my best clients don’t actually care much about SEO anymore.

Search is very much alive. People will always be searching for answers, but it’s everywhere. Google itself is breaking away from the wonderful search engine invented 20 years ago.

The framework to gain attention and build relationships remains the same, but the environment is evolving very quickly.

It’s not hard to predict there won’t be much left of those who still do SEO without the rest.

If you are interested to know how to become famous on the Internet today, I just started over my Youtube Channel in English (it was in French before).

Check it out, you might want to hear what I have to say.



Laurent Bourrelly

Search Engine Hacker, Content Creator, and Keynote Speaker Since 2003