Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Relying too much on SEO? Think Again.

I usually don’t write about SEO (since I am not an SEO, here are the posts labeled SEO) but this issue has been bugging me for quite a few days so I thought I will write about my views on this topic and open it for comments and suggestions.
Search Engine optimization has become an important part of the marketing strategy. However, I feel, a lot marketers are getting too obsessed with traffic driven to their sites from Google, Yahoo, Live (MSN), ASK etc without thinking about the consequences of dropping off from search engines rankings. I understand that it is relatively cheaper (notice I did not say Free) than paid inclusions, banner ads, affiliates etc. And ranking high on search engine is something to be happy about and proud of, ranking high on search engines provides you competitive advantage. But Free comes with risks.
Relying too much on search engine driven traffic can also mean trouble soon or later. SEO is a powerful and relatively cheaper way to acquire new customers. The problem is when marketers rely too much on it and take it for granted. A lot of markets I have come across do SEO as one time thing, achieve a position on top page and get a false sense of security. Let me remind you that organic traffic from Search Engines is not guaranteed all the time. Yes you are number 1 or on the number one page today but that does not mean you will be there tomorrow. If 60% of your traffic is driven from search engines and 40% of that is driven from one Search Engine (say Google) what will happen if one day you drop out of 1st ranking or 1st page on that search engine? Below I have highlighted some of the factors that can cause you to lose your top position and hence traffic and revenue.
  1. Competitive SEO - You are ranked number 1 today does not mean you will be ranked number 1 tomorrow. As competitors are catching up and working with SEO’s you can very easily be displaced from your top position. Number 1 position on the search engines is not guaranteed. No one can guarantee it. If you think you have a good SEO team so does you competitor. Remember only 10 organic results can show up on the first page and 70% of the search users don’t even look beyond the first search result page.

  2. Universal Search – As Google and others try to integrate regular web page search, images and other searches on one search result page, a site could be pushed further down the search results. So if you were number 10 even higher before universal search, possibility is that you could be pushed to the next page after universal search is available on your keywords.

  3. New Formats of the search results page – Search engines are experimenting with new formats all the time. Example is’s new three column search result page, with so much information on one page it will be hard for users to go beyond first page. If you are on page number two and beyond you will see even lower traffic than you originally saw.

  4. Personalized Search – As personalized search becomes more common, a site could rank number 1 on search results of one user but not for the other. There won’t be a universal number 1 position for a keyword in personalized search results page

  5. Co-op search engines – Co-op search engines are new form of search engines from Google that allows anybody to form a vertical search engine. The proliferation of these kinds of search engines could cause your sites to completely disappear from the search results.

  6. Changes in Algorithm and technology – Search engines are innovating all the time. As search engines experiment with new algorithm you could lose your coveted 1st position over night.

  7. New Search Engines – Google did not invent search engine. Today Google is number one who knows who and in what shape will be the number one Search engine tomorrow.

  8. Negative SEO – There was an article in Forbes on “Negative SEO”. If your competitor uses such a practice they can temporarily throw you out of the SEO rankings hence causing decline in your traffic.

I hope this gives you an idea on why relying too much on organic search engine traffic could mean trouble. Here are some of things that you can do to ensure you stay on top of the game and do not suffer a lot even if Google (or other search engines) decides to drop you from organic rankings
  1. Paid Inclusion (Pay Per Click also known as PPC) - Put PPC in place to counter a sudden drop in search engine ranking – This is your backup plane, have set budget set aside for PPC just in case SEO fails. You get up one day, your web analytics and SEO monitoring shows that you have a drop in traffic because you have lost your top position on a keyword. That’s the time to kick in your PPC at full speed while you try to get back on organic rankings. Note you don’t have much control on organic rankings.

  2. Diversifying – Just like your financial adviser will say, do not put all your eggs in one basket, diversify. Diversify your sources of traffic. Having 60% of your traffic driven from one source is like investing 60% of your portfolio in on stock. I am sure a lot of you know how that goes. So make sure you are not too dependent on Google, Yahoo, MSN and ASK. You should have a strategy to generate traffic from varying sources such as Banners, Affiliates, Link partners, Search engines, direct traffic, newsletters, emails, offline etc.

  3. Branding - This is an important part and often forgotten by the SEO. There have been studies which say it takes a visitor 4-5 visits from search engine before they buy anything, so marketers assume that as a norm. Great!!! But what happens if after two or three visits, by a user to search engine, you competitor shows up as number 1 result on the search engine result page for the keyword that initially drove users to your site? It is very important for your brand to make an impact when the visitors first lands on your site. Even if the visitors go back to search engine next time, they should search for your brand and not a generic term to get to your site. Branded keywords are sort of (not completely though) guaranteed to bring your site at the top of search results. In a future post I will show how I used Google Analytics to track if the site was doing a good job branding to search engines driven traffic or not.

1 comment:

  1. great article, just a comment on a slight spelling discrepancy. Your number 8, references an article in 'Fortun' and links to a Forbes article. :)


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