Just to clarify up front. I'm not against SEO & I don't think anyone should abandon SEO efforts but I question if the emphasis needs to change.
For years, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been the biggest buzz term when it pertained to digital marketing. If you had a website, your first concern was trying to get to the 1st page of a search engine like Google, Yahoo or Bing. If someone was searching for a term related to your business, you wanted them to see your business first. It was the equivalent of naming your company AAA in order to be first in the Yellow Pages (I believe there's still a copy of the Yellow Pages in the Smithsonian if you haven't seen one.)
You can pay these search engines in order to have your business on the first page or you can do SEO. SEO, simply put, is a series of techniques in order to you get a website on the first page of a search engine, organically - meaning, without having to pay to be there. For many businesses this priority has not changed and if you are a small niche business, then this may still be achievable. If you are in an industry with lots and lots of competition then this could be nearly impossible to do organically.
For example, when I owned a real estate company in Austin, Texas, I had a hard time being on the front page of Google even while paying to be there because so many other companies were paying as well. However, as a radio talk show host, I always came up on the first page and I did a quarter of the SEO!
However, even if you want to be at the top of our metaphorical Yellow Pages, the times have changed so maybe our emphasis on SEO should as well.
What has changed? First of all, the sheer number of competitive businesses with a website all fighting for a few slots available on the first page. Our ADHD-Give It To Me Now-Society also has made it so merely being on the first page isn't enough. You have to be in the first slot! The average clickthrough rate (CTR) for a mobile search ad on Google in the 1st position is 27.7%, whereas, the average CTR for the 2nd position is 9.2%. (Search Engine Land, 2014) The CTR for the first position on a desktop is 34.36% with a similar drop to the 2nd position. (Advanced Web Ranking, 2015)
What else has changed? People are on the internet a lot more than they were even 10 years ago. The advent of iPhones & Androids have contributed to that. Consider the amount of time you and other people are on the internet every day engaging in sites like Netflix, FoxNews, Huffington Post, ESPN, Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Apple Maps, Zulily $ more.
Now consider how much time you and people spend actually searching for something on a search engine. Different analysis has shown that people do between 4 to 10 searches per day. They are on the search page for a mere 5 to 10 seconds and are gone. That's between 20 seconds and 2 minutes a day on search engines! WOW! Now you can really see the importance of being at the top of a search engine when people are essentially only glancing at the results! OR...you can focus on getting your business in front of people the hours and hours they are on the internet the rest of the day!
THAT'S BETWEEN 20 SECONDS AND 2 MINUTES A DAY ON SEACH ENGINES! WOW!
What else has changed? People's search habits. 44% of people go directly to Amazon to start their product searches, compared to 34% who use search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to search for products. (Marketing Land, 2015) So people no longer go straight to a search engine to look for products! Clearly the emphasis on SEO has not kept up with the times.
Examine this scenario: Erika is interested in buying a prom dress. She goes to Amazon to search for prom dresses. She spends nearly an hour looking at all of the dresses, but she wants to see what they look like in person. She goes to Google & searches for prom dress shops near her. She opens the 1st link, doesn't like what she sees, so goes back to the results & clicks the 2nd link. She likes this site & bookmarks it to look at another day. She then goes to Netflix & binge watches a TV show a few hours then goes to bed.
The next day, Erika goes online & pulls up her favorite gossip websites. When she does she sees an ad for on the side of the webpage for a prom dress shop. However, it is not one that she saw on Google (even though it was the 7th one down on the front page.) She ignores it because she felt she already found a shop she wants to visit. As she continues on the internet that day she sees this new ad on 4 other websites. The 4th time she sees it she clicks it out of curiosity. She really likes the site & the dresses portrayed there and sees that they have a gift giveaway just for coming in for a fitting. She bookmarks the site & now plans to visit that store first!
That's search retargeting and that's the new internet. Welcome to The Media $tore!