Ever since Google's Panda/Farmer algorithm update last year, the Mountain View folks have been refining their algorithm in order ensure that the most relevant and highest quality content is displayed at the top of search results.
Google's definition of quality content now includes user experience, and user experience is defined as time on site, pages per visit and bounce rate. As an example of how Google values the opinions of users, Duane Forrester speaks about the importance Google's algorithm places on social sharing, which is when site visitors use their social media presence to endorse a Web page.
Google has been less transparent than Bing with regard to how its algorithm uses the Open Graph and social signal data, but I am confident that these signals are, and will continue to be, an important part of the algorithm.
It seems that Google's top priority is to eliminate the so called "black hat" and "grey hat" SEO marketers, and everyone else whose main focus is to create Web content for the search engines' crawlers and not for human beings. Doing SEO the black-grey hat way has become such a precarious process that even veteran online marketers have completely changed the way they think of organic ranking value and organic traffic ROI.
How many times have you been through the process of optimizing your site, only to find a minute later that Google has again changed the rules? How can today's online marketer plan an SEO campaign given that Google keeps moving the goal posts?
Content always has and always will be king. However, producing content only for SEO purposes will no longer take you very far. Writing Web copy should be treated the same way as writing something for offline use. Your main consideration should be how to connect with your readers and engage them with your message. There definitely are some unique aspects of Web copywriting, like call-to-action words, text link descriptions and a few others, but the main focus should always be the same: connecting and engaging with your site visitor.
This brings us back to the issue of quality content and what this means for the average site visitor. From a quantitative point of view, this could simply mean a click-through, a polite post, a tweet or Facebook mention, or even a backlink from the site visitor's blog or social media profile.
Quality content does not necessarily mean something that leads to an online conversion, but more importantly can be a gesture of appreciation for the time invested by the site visitor to engage in your site. You will know if you have provided quality content to your users by monitoring their behaviors on your site and following their sentiments on social media sites.
So the question, "to SEO or not to SEO?" brings us to a single conclusion: Since Google always moves the goal posts don't try to outsmart it. Create good content that provides valuable information to your visitors and Google will reward you appropriately.
A site or any online content that is genuinely useful and engaging, and is designed and built to suit a target audience, is by far the best online marketing strategy for your organic search rankings and traffic optimization.