Google-this, Google-that. Google, Google, Google!
Judging from the discussion that takes place at many Webmaster / marketing forums and mailing lists, you'd be excused if you thought Google was the only search engine on the web. But if you're in the "Google is all that matters" camp, I think you're making a potentially dangerous mistake.
Consider this case: Not too long ago, a small business owner confessed on one forum that he was laying off employees for the first time in 8 years because organic traffic from Google is down 50%-70%. He said:
"Most all of our losses have come from our long tail keywords."
The man was operating an e-commerce site with 200,000 products. Without having the chance to investigate, it seems safe to assume that many of those long-tail-targeting product pages had fallen into Google's supplemental index. If so, that might explain a substantial loss in natural search traffic.
But it also highlights a bigger lesson: You cannot rely so heavily on a single traffic source, especially one that you don't control.
Google is constantly tweaking how it ranks pages, and if all your eggs are in Google's basket, your business is operating at Google's mercy. What if the next algorithm change isn't friendly toward your site and the SEO tactics you use?
Don't just optimize your site with Google's SERPs in mind; build a site that's good enough to rank well and acquire traffic from multiple search engines. Yes, it is possible, even though the major search engines have very unique search algorithms dictating their SERPs. If you do PPC, don't just use Google's AdWords program -- use Yahoo Search Marketing, too. Diversify.
There's another point to be made: SEO is great and a necessary marketing tactic, but it's never enough. Natural search traffic, as the example that began this article proves, can go away on a moment's notice.
It's time to think in terms of "defensible traffic," about having a variety of traffic sources so you can survive the whims of any one traffic source, such as an algo change, or the introduction of "quality score" into PPC, or whatever else might come next. Social media, developing a loyal blog readership, or using newsletters to grow your business – those are all examples of creating defensible traffic.
Whatever you do, don't rely just on Google. A business plan that relies on free traffic from an outside source you don't control is no business plan at all. Spread your eggs around. Changes will come -- you can be sure of that. Question is: Are you prepared? Are you diversified?
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
Matt McGee is SEO Manager at Marchex, a search and media company in Seattle, Washington. He's guided successful projects for clients of all sizes and budgets, with special emphasis on traffic acquisition via organic rankings. Matt is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences, and writes about online marketing at Small Business SEM. He's a frequent contributor to several SEO/SEM forums, and is a moderator for the Small Business Ideas Forum.
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