For small businesses and bootstrap marketers, it’s easy to feel persecuted by Google. From banning AdWords and AdSense accounts to Panda updates and from blocking keyword referral data (unless you’re a paying AdWords customer) to an increasing big-brand bias in the search results, it seems like Google is out to get small websites and small businesses.
That might not be literally true, but there’s no doubt that Google’s main goal is to make more money for Google. Being nice to small businesses doesn’t enter the equation for any decisions they make. And that makes relying on them too much a bad idea.
What then, are small businesses and individual SEOs to do? Is there a way to break out of the cycle of constantly trying to adopt to Google’s latest change, only to get smacked down by the next one?
There is. And it’s called the New Traffic Paradigm.
It’s no illusion that the SEO game is getting more and more difficult. A few years ago, building up a profitable niche website was fairly easy. As long as you did your keyword research right, you could buy mediocre content and some simple backlinks, slap some AdSense ads on your pages and you had an almost guaranteed winner. Things aren’t that simple anymore. While the niche marketing model is still viable, it now takes more know-how to find just the right keywords, build just the right content and get just the right links, to make it all work.
And even then, you’re always one Google slap away from losing all your income.
To make things worse, even apart from Google, we’ve seen tightening nooses everywhere: facebook introducing more stringent advertising guidelines, twitter banning accounts (after a massive increase in automated twitter-spamming), YouTube banning accounts left and right…
Any online business is always reliant on third-party services of one kind or another. Because trends come and go and policies change, it’s simply inevitable that your business will be affected by changes made to those third party sites and services, at some point. There’s no escaping that. But you can make the problem worse: the more heavily rely on any one single service or traffic source, the greater the risk.
The key is to never be fully reliant on any third party. The key is to have something no one can take away from you.
There is such a thing, that no one can take away from you: your brand.
In my post about how to start an online business, I emphasize the importance of focusing on building real skills and real assets and I recommend selling a product or service of your own. Exceed people’s expectations with the service you provide and you’ll be creating something that transcends traffic sources and other technicalities.
The same can be true for “just a blog” or other types of content-based sites. If you get involved and if you, as blogging-about-blogging bloggers love to say, give lots of value, people will relate to you and they will want to read, see and hear more from you.
The foundation of what you do online needs to be a real, valuable product or service (even if the service is providing great content). Engage your readers and be present wherever you can. Social media, search engines, podcasts, the news (if you can get featured), etc.
The crucial difference is illustrated by comparing two of my own websites. On the one hand, IM Impact and on the other Fitness Site X (not the actual name of the site). Fitness Site X was built to promote fitness related products, based on keywords that met a certain set of criteria. Most of its content was not written by me, but outsourced to writers who, while they do know their subject matter, have no personal involvement or vested interest in Fitness Site X. Almost all of Fitness Site X’s traffic comes from Google, from a small set of keywords that I’ve attained #1 ranking positions for.
IM Impact, on the other hand, was originally started because I wanted to provide honest, non-fake reviews in the Internet marketing space. The content started to resonate with people and based on feedback I got in comments, emails and surveys, it evolved into the site you see today. All of the products I’ve ever made and sold under this brand were based directly on feedback and user demand. IM Impact gets a significant portion of its traffic from Google, but much of the traffic comes directly from returning visitors, subscribers and, surprisingly from social media, even though my involvement in social media has always been minimal.
If Google makes changes tomorrow that lead to the total de-indexation of both these sites, Fitness Site X will become completely useless and will no longer generate even a single cent of income. IM Impact, on the other hand, would lose a lot of its traffic, but only a small part of its business. People would find this site by other means. I could start more actively pursuing different traffic sources and I could even get my existing readers to participate and help me out.
In short: a Google slap would annihilate my niche site, but it would only put a small, temporary dent in IM Impact’s armor.
No More SEO?
So, is this the end of SEO? Not at all. And neither is it the end of social media marketing, PPC advertising, email marketing or any of the other tools in your toolbox. In fact, all of these things are easier to do when you have an awesome product, service or brand to promote.
It’s just that the priorities have shifted. Before, I used to do SEO and that was my entire business. Everything I did was dictated by what was useful and working in terms of SEO. Over time, this shifted. I’m still SEO’ing IM Impact and other product and service sites. I’m still doing keyword research and doing deliberate work to get top rankings for specific keywords. But now, it’s not the be-all-end-all of my business. It’s simply something I do to support my actual business, which is selling awesome products and providing awesome services.
What are your thoughts on the New Traffic Paradigm? What will you do to shift away from an endless dependancy on Google and Co.? Leave a comment and let me know!