I’m a moderator on a popular Search Engine Optimization (SEO) discussion forum. More often than we’d like, more often than we can count, small business owners and webmasters arrive on our forum with a tale of woe — their search engine rankings have slipped, and now their business is in trouble. Big trouble.
It’s hard to not feel sympathetic to their plight. But sympathy won’t do them any good now. While it may sometimes be too late to help those business owners with their current predicament, what they and those who are heading down the same path need is some good old fashioned tough love.
So here goes: If you are building a business based on traffic from free search engine rankings, you are building a business founded on quicksand.
Face it, you have no control over the search engines and how they rank pages. You can try to influence the rankings through SEO, but in the end, the search engines will do whatever they want. Basing your business on an unreliable, uncontrollable source of traffic is extremely risky. If you choose to engage in risky business practices, you have no room to complain if the risk doesn’t pan out.
Search engine traffic from the “organic listings” should never be the foundation of your business. It’s a nice bonus. But if your business can’t survive without it, you’re in trouble.
Google and the other search engines have no responsibility to make your business successful, or to maintain your business success. That’s your job.
Their job is simply to return relevant results when people search — results which may or may not include pages from your site. There are probably many queries for which your pages may be relevant, but they may not be the most relevant pages, and they almost certainly aren’t the only relevant pages for the vast majority of those queries.
If you think (or worse, if you know) your business can’t survive without free search engine traffic, it’s time to get crackin’ on those contingency plans. Develop a robust PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising strategy. Set aside a budget for this and other, more traditional advertising. Begin building traffic from other sources — social networking, links on other sites, blogging, etc.
What specifically you should do will depend on what kind of site you have, what your goals are and what kind of budget you have available. The one thing you can’t afford to do is continue to rely on free search engine traffic with no backup plans in place.
If you need more ideas (or if you believe it’s impossible to create a successful business without relying on free search engine traffic), check out Jennifer Laycock’s series Hide and Speak, in which she will attempt to build a successful online business while actually excluding the search engines from her website.
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Copyright © Diane M. Aull, an online consultant for small and mid-sized businesses. For more information about her services, visit NineYards.com or BootstrapSEO. For resources and tools for home based workers, visit Torka's Home for Wayward Girls.
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