Working with the Google algorithm so closely, as we have done all these years, we find ourselves looking back as if on a particularly stormy relationship. Oh the highs and lows of the last decade, the squabbles, the makeups, the constant intimation that the great days are just around the corner. Winning on Google was always the greatest goal, the thing which was going to make the biggest difference to revenue, the ultimate kudos within the industry. So when did all that change? When did we realize that, not only was getting to number one on Google harder than ever, it really wasn’t that great when we got there! We’re realizing now, sooner than some, later than others, that the truly elegant and refined SEO strategy is one in which Google plays only a small part. My God, it’s a relief. Here’s why:
(a) Without PPC data, it’s impossible to know if number one is even worth going for.
Google’s own data is notoriously unreliable. Keywords with a projected traffic of 300 per day may yield less than 20 when you gain the number one spot. Others yield even less, meaning that, in some cases, its been an abject waste of time. Even when the traffic is there, the cost to get there makes it more than often than not a success that isn’t worth it. Google promises a five course dinner and, more often than not, delivers a greasy bag of fries. Our advice, eat elsewhere.
(b) Number one today, number one hundred tomorrow
As all SEO’ers know, Google is about as reliable as a bucking bronco. Tailor your entire site for today’s algorithm, then tomorrow they’ve changed it and you’re on page 10. Is that fair? Is that a good strategy for stable revenue? No, on both counts. Ranking on Google, increasingly, is becoming a matter of which way the wind is blowing. Pages geared to specific keywords rarely win, it’s the ones aiming for keyword clusters, or general subject matter niches which offer a greater chance of hitting the target. So move back from specifics, and focus on building your brand. The days where a specific phrase matched with a landing page could yield gold are fading fast.
(c) Earn your living from Google, don’t sleep at night
How can any business base its revenues on a company so changeable, so quick to penalize, without any customer service to speak of, and who are currently facing charges from European anti trust regulators because they have been so aggressively promoting their own concerns over any others. This is not a level playing field, people, therefore don’t expect a game where you have a fair chance of winning. Google wants you to beg, scrape, and bow for them to rank you, crank out the content of a small republic, network like the Great Gatsby, and only then will it deem you worthy of ranking. Well, take our advice, you’re better than this. Reclaim all those hours of your life spent writing meaningless content which no one is going to read and focus on reliable traffic sources outside Google. Focus on running your business, doing the thing which makes you better than others, and avoid the Google black-hole.
(d) Do everything right and you still may not rank
There are sites on Google (the Daily Mail springs to mind) who don’t run a tidy ship. Their page layouts are all over the place, they make few concessions to on page SEO, their link profile breaks numerous rules, and yet they still rank. Why? Well, it’s the power of big branding. Google has no real choice but to rank the Daily Mail, given the power of this huge global enterprise. What can we learn from this? If you’re a big fish, you rank by dint of factors beyond the algorithm. If you’re a small fish you can try in vain to keep the algorithm happy and still fail. Another signal that this is a fight you can’t win.
(e) Get a Penalty, your site is finished
Google send out letters of penalization with an ever increasing frequency. They sent a load to Interflora recently and another to the BBC. In the case of those two brands, their sheer size renders them inured from such things. Interflora made a spectacular comeback after flouting just about every rule in the book, just a few weeks after the ban hammer came down. For a normal sized company though this sort of recovery is just not possible. If a competitor spams you, if someone adds your RSS feed to their site, if some happy go lucky blogger adds a huge run of site link to their blog roll, your site could well be going down. Not your fault? – Google couldn’t care less. Write a letter of appeal? There are incidents of people recovering but they are very much the exceptions rather than the rule. Yes people it is flat out bizarre that a company of the size of Google should have so much power and no customer service of any kind. Can you imagine buying a pair of shoes which you take home, then realise there are no soles. You go back to the shop and it is deserted, there are no staff, only a sealed mailbox. You are without recourse to any solution. Such is the experience offered by Google.
Where to get your traffic from outside Google.
Bing – The good people at Bing are winning hearts and minds right now with their good old fashioned customer service, actual people you can talk to on the telephone, and good PPC alternative to G. Their search engine is not quite as evolved but it’s a pleasure to use nevertheless.
Facebook – Depending on your niche, Facebook is still well worth focussing on. Their advertising offers an incredibly targeted way to find new business and, with careful management, converts nicely. Not dead yet.
Pinterest – With it’s largely female demographic, high click through rate, and passionate group of Pinners, this trendy visually inspired marketplace can really deliver. If you’re in an eCommerce brand, selling something women might be interested in, you should be pinning right now!
LinkedIn - Reliable, largely unspammed LinkedIn offers a high quality place to find business contacts of a quality available no where else. Spend time on LinkedIn network as you would at a conference, and you will be pleased you made the effort. The business you will get from LinkedIn is generally of the first quality, and according to their stats of an enviably high average net worth.
Stumbleupon – This popular bookmarking site can offer great traffic returns and, again depending on your niche, a reasonable return on time spent. Check out the article on Kissmetrics about just this here
Twitter - What about a company where you can see exactly what your competitor is up to, who they’re targeting, and which people are interested in their goods and services. Twitter’s transparency and excellent geo-targeting opportunities make it a fantastic place to build brands, increase influence, and even make some sales. It’s soft marketing, and doesn’t work well if try to sell directly, but it’s still one of the best ways to get your name out there. And with tools like Hootsuite, it needn’t take up all your time either.
Youtube – The world’s most popular website keeps on growing. SEO’ers working on You Tube are making a killing. See the Seomoz article on how to get started on Youtube here
Guest posting on niche blogs - This is like preaching to the choir. If you do research well, you’re tapping into an audience who already has a hunger for what you’ve got to say. Click throughs can be fantastic on a high traffic blog and, with the added bonus, you’re building relationships with fellow bloggers, with is the kind of old fashioned networking that pays off in the search engine rankings too.
Forums – The web provides numerous places which, in the real world, would resemble the Masons. These tight knit communities have their own rules and regulations, their own pecking orders, their own traffic sources, their own following. Find a forum which represents your niche – whatever that may be – and get involved. Build a profile which you can be proud of. Interact with other community members. Most forums allow profile links after you’ve proved yourself a bona fide member and so, each time you leave a comment on another member’s post, you’ve put down another way for someone to find your site. Highly effective.
Yahoo Answers - one of the best knowledge sharing communities on the web, Yahoo Answers remains a thriving community of passionate knowledge sharers. Spend some time engaging with the questions at hand, build up your own profile, and then start commenting on relevant Q & A’s. Most of these rank well and can deliver traffic month after month.
Directories - Concentrate on the ones closely related to your business niche or, as in the case of Dmoz, of a sufficient standing to bring in traffic regardless. Dmoz remains a nice source of traffic, but getting in remains something of a lottery. Be persistent, though – we tried for several years, until a kind moderator finally gave us the green light. It still sends traffic monthly…
Email marketing – Building a targeted list should be a natural byproduct of all the other traffic sourcing options we’ve already listed. Email spamming is one of the great plagues of the modern web so be very clear we’re not advocating this. We’re talking about encouraging people to sign up via incentives, whether they be competitions, information, a newsletter etc. Then you have your own list of interested parties you can market directly too.
For now, you can’t ignore Google entirely. They have approximately 67 percent of the market share, according to this data here. But the chances are you can begin to move your dependency away from it. Do it NOW, and do yourself the biggest favour of your life…