Right now everything seems to be in chaos and disarray, and many lost virtual souls are wondering if there is life after SEO. It is difficult to see how a large number of sites will survive as recent Google changes seem to have favoured big corporations like Amazon and punished the little guy. I do not know all the answers – What I do know is that everyone of us needs to find compelling answers to these two questions if we are to carry on running a business online.
Challenge #1 How do I Build a website that will Attract Visitors
All websites need traffic, and only a very few get enough. Indeed, the vast majority of websites get less than 100 visitors a month. Your traffic has to come from somewhere and there are only a few potential sources – Direct traffic, Referring sites, Advertising or Organic Search. Let’s analyze these one by one.
Unless you are a big brand like Apple or Starbucks you will get very little direct traffic, which occurs when a user enters your website or company name into the search box. The same is true with referring sites. You need to be very well established to have links from other sites or have a successful viral campaign.
If we take advertising the main options are Google Adwords and Facebook. The problem is that Google Ads are expensive and most sites have around a 1.5% conversion of visitors to customers. I had a client that paid $500 in ad costs to get just one client with an average lifetime value of $200, and another client who paid $140 to sell one product with a margin of $5. It sounds insane but you would be amazed at the number of businesses who do this. Look for yourself. Lets say you pay only $2 a click it will cost you $133 to acquire a customer at a 1.5% conversion rate. Are you prepared to pay that?
On the other hand, if you go down the Facebook route you have to face the challenge that most users do not expect to or want to click ads while they are chatting with their friends. Facebook is a great social media platform but I know very few, if any, success stories of businesses that have made a good ROI from advertising there.
So, the final option is Organic Search which is traffic from the search engines when people enter a keyword that you rank for like “ipad apps” or “ipad app reviews”. This has been the best source of long-term, low cost, targeted traffic. I became an expert at Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to get websites to the top of Google for their keywords. However, most website owners do little or no SEO and are surprised when their site does not appear at all in the top 100. They have the Field of Dreams mentality -”build it and they will come”. When there are over a million sites competing for your keyword, this is not a very realistic approach.
Challenge #2 How do I get traffic without relying or even using SEO?
The challenge is that it is incredibly hard to rank sites on page one of Google, and it just became a whole lot harder. I know because I have had considerable success with SEO. In December 2011 I enjoyed the benefits of ranking over 100 keywords in competitive markets in the top 10 positions on Google, or on page one as we often call it. I was number 2 for a keyword with over 50,000 exact monthly searches and our sites were making good revenue.
Then Google changed their search algorithm significantly, and what had worked for the previous 18 months not only stopped working but had an adverse effect. Over 50% of my sites lost their page one rankings and I was forced to re-evaluate most of what I had been doing.
Now I realize that the whole concept of SEO is fundamentally flawed. Google does not like SEO as they believe that practitioners are trying to “game” the system, and they are much better at identifying and penalizing sites that are in their own words “over-optimized” or “overly SEO’ed.”
Moreover, SEO is not necessarily good for your users either. The idea of optimizing your content for the search engines is likely to lead to inferior content in the first place, and you should be thinking instead of how you will provide the highest quality and the optimal experience for your visitors.
So, I now recommend that you stop doing SEO and focus instead on Content Marketing. I see this as one of the most fundamental shifts in internet marketing, and I also predict that SEO has a limited future. Yes, you will still need to think about keywords and relevancy but whenever you focus on the needs of SEO you will not be focusing on adding value. Instead, you need to focus on producing and promoting outstanding content that will bring visitors to your site naturally, not because you have stuffed your article with keywords. Perhaps, the first lesson I learned in business was to “give the customers what they want” and SEO risks diverting us from this goal.
Indeed, the irony is that Google was right all along. Google had been telling us for a long time that we need to give users high quality, relevant information and if you look at the top sites on the web, genuine Authority Sites like WebMD, Huffington Post, TechCrunch or the BBC they are there due to their quality and brand – not because they organize their business around high rankings. They get visitors because they are great sites not because they have manipulated the search engines.
It helps to understand this when you stop thinking like an internet marketing practitioner and start thinking like a strategic entrepreneur. Many site owners, web masters and SEO professionals restrict their thinking to tactics for getting high rankings, increasing traffic and converting more traffic to customers. They lose sight of the bigger picture, and confuse the means with the end.
The strategic entrepreneur, on the other hand, concentrates on getting the strategy right. This means they start with the end in mind, and build a long-term strategy that will consistently deliver value to customers. It also means designing the website with the user in mind, and creating a superb customer experience.
My main goal is to move the debate beyond SEO, Google and search rankings and this means that I do not even want to use the term content marketing as I do not want to position it as a replacement for SEO or as SEO 2.0 . No, I want to transcend internet marketing and advocate a far more inspiring vision for your website.
I have developed the concept of a Bright Authority as my vision for the future of websites. A Bright Authority website has two defining characteristics
1) It is Bright. It provides Bright ideas, Bright Content and a Bright Style. By bright I mean positive, engaging, open and inspiring. The content is fresh, stimulating and exciting. You just naturally want to share the articles and blog posts, and refer the site to your friends because it so entertaining and memorable
2) It is an Authority Site that delivers high quality, relevant and credible information. When you go to an Authority site like National Geographic or the Mayo Clinic you are are guaranteed to get trustworthy information that you can act on.
You need both characteristics as a bright site without authority can be amusing but has little value, while an Authority site that is not bright can be dull, boring and unmemorable. I believe that Style and Substance are the most important keywords in the post-SEO era, and I have created Bright Authority to give users the knowledge, the skills and the strategies to become Bright Authorities themselves. Then we can give Google what they want, our users what they want and our business what it needs.
Over the next few weeks I will be writing more about the Bright Authority concept and philosophy, and I welcome your comments and views. If you enteryour email in the box at the top right of the screen you will be able to watch a video I made called the “Death of SEO” when I go into these issues in more depth.
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