Part of the job for any good website developer is to stay caught up in the world of SEO. I've become a bit of an algoholic over the past couple of years. I read all the insider information I can find on Google algorithms. I watch the search percentages between Google (& YouTube) and Bing (& Yahoo). I'm even going through withdrawals because Google's Matt Cutts is taking a "digital break." Because of this sort of involvement, I have a ludicrous sounding prediction:
"The End of SEO? Are your crazy!?" Let me explain. If you define SEO as the comprehensive ongoing strategy to help connect users with your companies information than SEO isn't going anywhere. However, if you (as many of us do) define SEO as the efforts to help search engines connect potential clients with your website, than yeah, its days are numbered.
I am a chief of sinners here. In the past, I have optimized sites so they are more readable to search engines. That much is still a very good and appropriate thing to do. However, I have not done a good job of explaining the difference in displaying web content for a search engine and getting more people to come to your site.
To most of my clients the important thing is to be ranked #1 on Google and have a lot of people come to their sites. At least that is what they think is important.
One of my clients designs railroads. He's a dying bread and works all over the place to keep his work flow where it needs to be. He thought that being #1 in a Google search would be the ticket he needed (pardon the pun). The truth is that most of the people searching for his key words weren't actually looking for railways. They were looking for model trains. He received tons or hits and no converts.
Really, this concept is a continuation of what I've been saying all along. People want information. We don't have to replace the term, but we need to replace the concept. Perhaps instead of thinking of our SEO in terms of how high we rank, we should think of our SIO (Site Information Optimization) in terms of how well we are communicating our information.
As the web becomes more and more demystified, we as users want to take a little more control over things. As crazy as it sounds, these days I very rarely hop on a search engine to find a website. I use search engines to find information. Right now I find that information on various websites, but soon that will not be as necessary. For instance I can see who won the 2012 Iowa Caucus without having to ever leave Google. In fact, I just had to type in "iowa ca." There it was, right there on Google, straight form the AP. That's communicating information!
As search engines, algorithms and usability become more sophisticated so do our expectations. Before we were fine with using a search engine like a Control+Find key and getting the information ourselves. But, as things progress that process will seem more dated. We will become more comfortable asking questions and expecting answers. We will be less concerned with ranking #1 and more concerned with providing answers to the questions that our potential clients are asking.
In short, Search Engine Optimization will continue to play a role in the development of website, but it will all the more (as it always has) come back to whether or not you are providing the right information with quality and professionalism. Remember: SEO is a tool not the craftsman.