Should Site Traffic be the Ultimate Goal?
Ranking is dead,” says Bruce, recalling his words from his presentation. Going forward, he says you’re going to have to look at analytics, measure traffic, bounce rates, action, etc. SEOs will have to ask themselves questions like: – Did I get the conversion I was after? – Did I really deliver on the promise of SEO? Bruce thinks that in the first six months of 2009, we’re going to see a lot more implementation of behavior and intent-based search leading to a mindset of ranking is dead, and traffic is all that matters.
I wrote about this topic in early September this year, and it seems to be finally making it’s way to the mainstream. Do I think that Bruce has got it right? Yes, Bruce got it right: search engine position and rank is dead. However, where I think Bruce is leading SEOs astray is claiming traffic is the new “Google #1″. It most certainly is not.
In Terms of Small Business SEO:
Personalized search (behavior-based search) based of your IP Address, or Google tracking you through your Google Account, is going to make search engine rankings quite irrelevant. Because results will be based on several new factors, not automatically taken into account now: geo-location, types of searches, and previously visited pages, results will now be somewhat tailored to fit those factors.
Will this affect small business SEO? Inherently, yes. A majority of small business owners have trained themselves in the belief that being “#1 in Google” is the only goal that matters. With personalized search, “being #1″ may or may not help; for example:
If a user, let’s say this user is a dentist, and does dental searches all day for information on x-wing bites, a common dental x-ray technique, but is a Star Wars buff. Our dentist can’t remember the name of the rotund guy who flies the x-wing in the original Star Wars. So the dentist types in “fat guy x-wing”. Personalized search is, in all probability, not going to be able to distinguish between a “work” search and “Star Wars” search. Thus, giving the dentist work-related results. (By the way, the fat guy was Porkins).
Trying to explain why being #1 in Google may be irrelevant to small business owners, will not be easy. For years this is all they heard, this is all they know.
A Point of Contention With Bruce Clay
Do I think that Bruce was wrong to say that traffic is the new goal? Absolutely. Traffic, of course is a must have, but should it be the singular goal of the SEO? Absolutely not.
In fact, it’s definitely not the most important benchmark for success. It’s simply a byproduct of success. What is the real measure of success on a website? Goal Conversion. It’s where all SEOs should be focusing themselves. Goal Conversion.
In my opinion traffic is akin to pageviews. You can have a lot of both, but if you aren’t making money, then does anyone really care that you bring in 10,000 unique visitors a day, who view 1,000,000 pages? Definitely not.
We have established, albeit painfully, that the CPM-model for site revenue is non-sustaining. Use the latest tragedy of CPM-Model driven revenue: Boomertowne. A spectacular disaster; simply an awe-inspiring bomb sure to make every not-so-net-savvy entrepreneur think twice before getting on the CPM Train.
This is all to say: traffic, like pageviews, is of a bygone era. The focus has to be on goal conversion: funneling consumers/users to make the purchase, inquire for more information, or contact you.
How To Function As An SEO in the New Personalized Search
1) An SEO must still do the basics:
- Tedious KW research, tedious client research, and tedious competition research.
- Solid Meta-Data (Page Titles, Description, and, yes, a couple of keywords too)
- Site and Page Usability Methodology
Why do all this if Google is going to throw traditional search out the window? Because people are people. Because users have a sixth-sense if a site is spam or not. Because users still read search engine results pages. And, most importantly, Google will not remove these factors from the algorithm. It’s built an empire from making these, and link calculation methods, how relevance is calculated and then displayed.
2) Focus on Goal Conversion
That’s the bottom line: are users converting on the site? Considering the economic disaster at-hand, small business owners probably care less about high traffic numbers, if they’re not making any money. As an SEO, you are not only the traffic bringer’, you’re also the goal conversion expert. (At least you should be. And if you’re not, you need to start learning quickly)
That’s where SEO and SEM are headed: Goal Conversion. It’s more important ever to be cognizant of goal conversion as the goal of SEO.
Become A Complete Marketer for Search 4.0
This post stems from something SlightlyShady mentioned in his post about Where SEO and Google Will Be in the Next 5 Years“. (On a side note: SlightlyShady has his finger on the pulse and tends to very straightforward, frank conversations about the Search Marketing Industry. Moreover, I’d just like to give him a quick shout-out, say “thanks” and keep the veritas coming.)
So here’s what struck my attention in the post:
The only way to get above the map results(definitely a click killer) is to…..pay for a PPC listing. Now, SEOs are not PPC experts(largely).
It’s not far from the truth. SEOs are not PPC experts, but they should be and they could be. And, to be frank, it’s the only sure-fire way to build solid goal conversions for clients:
SEO in combination with PPC
- SEO is (in most cases) for the long-haul. Most clients come to us without optimization, without knowing what it is or how it’s done. While the rules of SEO have changed in the past 2 years (thanks to the advent of social networks and media sites), the standards remain the same:
- On-site optimization of as much content as you can effect.
- Off-site link building campaigns: Paid, Free, Corporate Partners
- New ways to generate fresh, engaging content on the website
- PPC is, in my estimation, an excellent and reliable quick strike tool. It’s for the instant impact clients’ need to have to build brand awareness and site traffic while the SEO portion builds solid content and backlinks.
- It’s my opinion that PPC spends should increase after 3 months. By that time, SEO efforts should be bearing fruit in organically, and you’ll have plenty of data to weed out the non-performers and boost the high CTR and conversion-producers. Why increase?
- Because if you do a good job on-site for your best converting keywords and long-tails, you’ll increase your Google Quality Score and be able to achieve the same position at a lower cost.
Will This Technique Matter in 3 Years?
The question is, do I really believe this is going to work anymore? For the time being, yes, I do. I think SEOs and Search Marketers have about 2 and half to 3 years before the shift happens. Danny Sullivan wrote a very extensive and informative post on SEL about Search 4.0. I think we’ve got just about that timeframe before personalized search turns SERPs and SEO on it’s head.
How To Compete After Google RE-Invents Search
And, I guess, to echo the sentiment, I think SEO will survive that semi-apocalypse. Because, as we all know, there are companies and sites that really need help, even with the basics. However, I believe it will become about each engine’s proprietary/purchased applications. For Google: FeedBurner, Local Business Center, AdWords, Reader, Base, YouTube, FriendFeed (not exactly owned by Google, but probably will be), FriendConnect, etc. I don’t expect Google’s numbers in search domination to drop anytime in the near future, more than likely never. Just look at the latest numbers (thanks to SEL)
I think the only way for Yahoo to survive is to team-up (read “be bought in a hostile takeover”) with Microsoft. And, let’s face it, Microsoft needs help with search and Paid Ads solutions. They’ve always been a “Johnny-Come-Lately” with every application (yes, even Webmaster Center and Local Live). And, while Yahoo also isn’t up to snuff on the Paid Ads, their search capability and seeming transparency (Search commands: there is a reason that we all use Yahoo! to find the true number of anything on the web) is something Microsoft needs to latch on to in order to have a snowball’s chance in hell against Google.
Right now, I’m advising my whole team to get familiar with every application Google has to offer. Know the ins and outs of each application. And as for AdWords, well, it’s taking over. My prediction is that before the year’s end, Yahoo will be delivering over 25% of Google Ads. And, two years from now, if they haven’t teamed up with Microsoft, they’ll be over 75% Google Ads. And in 3 years, Sponsored Search/Panama will be nothing but a sad memory, a failed experiment swallowed by Google.
The new way to compete, and I hate to admit it, will be GRAY SEO. Personalized search is going to force everyone to find the shadow-advantages to be the MOST RELEVANT web page in a particular niche. So that, the woman in New Mexico and the guy in Montana both see your client as the one of the most relevant pages for the search they’re conducting. To compete, Search Marketers will have to be savvy in all things, not simply SEO, because SEO as we know it today just won’t exist. It’s going to be a hybrid, a chimera of each engines’ applications.