Comment on WordPress Theme Development by Mark Biernat.
I think forward thinking about SEO is about encouraging human behavior and SEO tools might be techniques provided that help influence users in a positive way.
I have been watching John Mueller a lot on Google +. He again has conveyed that direct signals (User analytics type) and indirect signals (mentions, conversation about and links) all come into play with ranking.
The reason I think they do not use exactly Google Analytics numbers for ranking is I think it might be against their terms and conditions. That is why they have their own set of user analytics which are more complex. But I would say the general categorizes are the same, such as bounce time, time on site, mobile readiness, the way users interact with the search, i.e. do they click back and revise their search, the percentage of direct traffic and people searching your brand.
For indirect signals, I speculate links have been devalued as a signal and with all the talk of disavow files, that is smoke and mirrors. I think it comes down to most except really trusted links are dampened in important. Conversation about your site on people’s personal accounts are more important. Google has a backdoor to so many social sites and browsers that they have a pretty good ideas how people act and interact on a website and talk about your site.
So when Jill Whalen is getting out of the business after 20 years, of SEO because she said her work is done, just make quality site, hmm. I think SEO is still alive and well; just shifted from relevancy and links to behavior on and off sites. Google wants to model the collective unconsciousness of humanity :). There seems to be more of a convergence of SEO and techniques to get people to behave in a way you want them. Stay on your site and talk about it.
This is where real SEO begins and there is a lot and I mean a lot that can be done, perhaps more than ever. It just takes a change in paradigm – thinking.
I think tools that direct people around your site and convince them to talk about it beyond offering them FaceBook buttons (arrows with images (I use this on one of my sites to encourage FaceBook likes and it seems to work), are a simplistic example or a mobile phone call link button). I do not know what they are, but I am 100% sure you can help the process with proper tools. All though we have free will human behavior can be influenced.