Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave or had your head in a bucket these past few days, you’ll be aware of some pretty scary rumblings about SEO and website traffic from the Behemoth in Mountain View.
Here’s what Matt Cutts, Head of Google Spam Fight Team said in a Podcast on March 15 2012:
Normally we don’t pre-announce changes, but there is something we’ve been working in the last few months and hopefully in the coming weeks we hope to release it. The idea is basically to try to level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have been doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly doing their SEO – compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we are trying to level the playing field a bit.
We try to make the GoogleBot smarter, try to make our relevance more adaptive, so that if people don’t so SEO we handle that. And we are also looking at the people who abuse it, who put too many keywords on a page, exchange way too many links, or whatever else they are doing to go beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”
And since then there has been the inevitable gnashing and wailing of teeth from the Internet Marketing community as they imagine their website traffic and lucrative little businesses go gurgling around the U-bend. There’s also been the predictable crop of Pond Slime crawling out of the sewer, too, selling their “SEO is dead so Buy My Shit NOW” nonsense, too, but that’s another story.
But before I get into what we can do about this, I just want to make something clear: anyone who didn’t see this coming is as dumb as a box of rocks.
It’s long been Google’s aim to give the user — y’know, searchers — the best possible user experience.
What they’re trying to do, in effect, is second guess what a searcher wants to see when he or she clicks on an entry listed in the SERPS.
They search for rubber sex doll with real hair and that’s what they want to read about. Here’s a classic example of where Google at present have got it dead wrong and where I hope to see it change:
As you can see, the second spot is taken by some firm selling prescription drugs. I don’t have a problem with that at all, since, as a libertarian, I believe in the free market and adults’ rights to choose what they want to put into their bodies. It’s none of my business.
But in terms of search and the relevance of the results we get, it’s trash. And I’m not saying this simply because my own site is sitting down there at No.7. Increasing that is easy (but probably not worth the effort, since when I was at No.2, I still got very little website traffic to show for my pains).
My point is it’s the principle of relevance being violated, and the more Google does to stamp on these things, the better it is for honest people providing excellent content.
Website Traffic is NOT a Right
A second thing I find irksome is people seem to assume they’re entitled to website traffic, as if Google is there to pander (or would that be Panda?) to their whims. Fair or not fair isn’t the point. Google is a private company. They own this stuff. If you don’t like it, you’re free to use another Search Engine, or create your own.
Google’s in business to make money and maximise their revenues. That’s their legal obligation to their shareholders. And they’ve figured the best way they can do that is to give the users the best search experience, because the more searchers they have, the more money they’ll make from advertisers and the like. This is why they don’t seem to give a stuff about you as a webmaster or even Adwords advertiser — because their main concern is searchers.
So what does all this really mean?
Well, by now you’ve probably grokked I personally, can’t help but think it’s A Good Thing. And while you don’t have to like it, you do have to live with it.
How Much Website Traffic Without Google?
The first thing to understand is the world doesn’t begin and end with the Big G. It doesn’t even begin and end with SERPs but even if it did, there are other search engines out there, and outside of the UK and Ireland they even have a substantial share of the search market.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say SERPs were the be-all and end-all of website traffic. Here are some results from my blog over the last 28 days:
Crunch the numbers and you’ll find Google accounts for 88% of my visitors from search.
Well, that’s a lot but it still means 12% come from other search engines, and I haven’t even thought about optimising for them. On the other hand, the other search engines are undoubtedly playing catch-up so anything Google does, they’ll eventually do, too.
So what about non-SE traffic?
What do those numbers look like?
Well, take a look:
Now, one problem with interpreting these numbers is some of the visits, say through media searches, will no doubt have been through YouTube, which is, of course, owned by the Big G. Email visits come from clicks in links in my daily emails (I presume).
But look at the biggest numbers: searches, direct and links.
Search accounts for onl7 67% of my traffic. And Google accounts for 88% of that 67%, or 59% of my traffic all told.
OK, so let’s not be silly about this: it’s definitely a huge chunk of traffic to lose. But a few things to bear in mind:
- It’s nowhere near 100% of my website traffic.
- Unless the site gets de-indexed, any changes to Google are not going to hit my website traffic completely. Say I lose half of it… then my overall traffic is down just 30%.
- There are lots of other ways of getting traffic and I really don’t put in much time with any of them. How might my results change if I did?
- Traffic itself isn’t what you want. Quality is more important than quantity and conversion rates come top of the list. If you’re like most Internet marketers peddling $19 ebooks to clueless newbies, then you have every reason to worry about losing your traffic. But treat them right, and you don’t.
Again, let’s not be complacent: this would a substantial wallop to take out of my website traffic. But it wouldn’t be the end of the world especially if I anticipate it and take the necessary steps to minimise the effect.
Most business owners simply won’t bother, though. They’ll spend their time complaining about it instead.
In the next few articles I’m going to dig deep into how we can both get more website traffic and make the best of the traffic we do get.
The real problem isn’t so much getting website traffic and marketing on the Internet is too hard now; it’s more a case of before it was, perhaps, just too damned easy.