The rules (algorithms) of the game may change and the playing field (SERPs) may look completely different in the future. But search engine optimization will exist as long as people are using search engines.

Let's pretend, just for a second, that one day Google can tell whether any link is natural/deserved or not. The rules would have changed. Linkbuilding would be dead...but not SEO. Links are just a tool used to get rankings, and it will simply be replaced by other tools (e.g. social metrics, user behavior etc.).

As a SEO, a part of your job is to game Google. At least to some extent depending on your skills and ambitions. If links were not the best way to get rankings, something else would be. And this something else would be exploited instead of links. Social metrics, user behavior and pretty much anything else can be exploited in many different ways.

Another thing some people fear is that Google will fill the SERPs with their own services and give most answers directly in the SERP (Knowledge Graph, Google Calculator, AdWords, Google Maps, Google Places, Google Flight, Google Movies etc. etc.) and ultimately become a one-stop place for any information you may seek.

In a way, this could be the future. Google is certainly doing what they can to push their own services and increase clicks on ads (and thus advertiser spendings). The new Knowledge Graph is a big step further in this direction.

But no, this will also not kill SEO. Google will always crawl a lot of data (whether it's webpages or plane tickets, local restaurants and cheap LCD monitors) and they will have to rank this data in order to show it. The playing field may not be a page with 10 different sites as results, but there will always be a playing field which can be gamed. It may seem distant to the SEO we know today, but there will always be the need for someone to manipulate these rankings. Look at the Google Places results embedded in the SERPs. It's not the traditional organic results, but being ranked #1 there, is still worth more money than being 4 or completely absent. And when something is worth money, people will pay.

You can stop pretending now. Links are still working just fine, and there are still 10 organic results on each page - for the most part at least :)

But when the day comes, SEO will not die.
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