brotherhood_of_LAN - 2:21 pm on Sep 16, 2013 (gmt 0)
The clickthroughs to organic SERPs may be lower, but still worthwhile to compete for and invest time in. Any manipulation of ranks (i.e. an SEO strategy spending cash to acquire rankings) will have to have a ROI to work, so the playing field is set.
There still has to be natural SERPs for Google to remain where it is. I totally understand RE: Google being a business, but as far as I can see they will still have to 'stick to their roots' to some extent, when it comes to web search.
As a visitor I frequent maybe a dozen websites and can find most of what I need within those sites. But..., I found them via a search engine to begin with, I still need a search engine providing natural results.
The fight, it'd seem, is competing against larger brands and Google's greater algorithmic reliance on what it considers brand signals. Perhaps webmasters just have to spend more time and cash and think longer term to acquire any foothold in a valuable SERP. They have to be realistic about their expectations and consider the relevance of their own business in the wider world and not expect to rank top for X when X is a very competitive term.
The advice I've been reading over the past year or two suggests you should focus more on bounce rates, your UI, and generally focusing on providing the best service for the customer/viewer, and there's a correlation between that and your future rankings. It seems we're being told that SEO isn't required any more and any attempts to do so can result in a smack on the hand and a 'penalty'. It'd hard to gauge how widespread this is because you don't hear of people complaining when they're winning.
There are still SEOs who can rank for whatever they like (Matt Cutts UK payday loan recent example), but they have the financial clout and systems in place to do that, and the keywords with the ROI to target.
tldr; Google still needs natural SERPs and people still click on them. As long as there's an incentive to rank and a return on investment, and a means to manipulate rankings... the game is on :o)