Why Relying on Free Google Traffic is a Road to Oblivion

Road to Oblivion

Image: Joybot via flickr

Along with running my own business ventures I still do some consulting work, primarily with ecommerce site owners.

Doing this gives me access to situations that I normally wouldn’t encounter and recently I’ve been working with a business that is really struggling.

The business in question has been running for around 8 years and had been relatively successful in that time, especially over its early years.

Recently though they have taken a battering from Google in the rankings and have lost over 70% of their Google search traffic.

Its crunch time for the business and the actions and results of the next few weeks will determine whether it has a future and if its employees still have a job.

Figures behind the percentages

If, like me, you read a lot about Internet marketing on the web then you will often see headlines like ‘this simple SEO trick increased traffic by 55% over night’, or ‘we did this and conversion rate increased by 112%’.

It is frustrating to see these percentages banded around because whilst a 55% increase in traffic looks impressive, if a site only has 60 visitors going to it in the first place then this would mean a real jump of just 33 visitors, far less impressive as a headline.

So, when I said the site I’m working with lost over 70% of their organic Google traffic I’m talking about a real world traffic loss of over 15,000 visitors per calendar month.

What was the problem?

Whilst the effect of this traffic decrease is nothing short of devastating for the business, and it would be easy to say this is the cause of the current negative situation, looking back over the years the real reason for the current struggles stem more from the reliance on this ‘free’ traffic source.

Receiving this level of traffic papered over many shortcomings of the website and whilst it is easy in hindsight to think that more should have been done to alleviate any potential loss of traffic, little really was.

It is now clear that the website has woefully underperformed in its job of converting traffic into customers.

2 years ago it was thought that the site ‘probably’ didn’t do as well as it could but the traffic and sales levels made everything seem ‘okay’ when it wasn’t.

If the same amount of effort that is currently been put into the business was applied back when traffic was still plentiful then they wouldn’t be facing business closure right now. Sure, things would still have been tough but the business would be safe.

A different side to the same issue

When I talk to new ecommerce website owners, or people planning to start a site one of my first questions is usually along the lines of ‘where are you going to get visitors from?’, invariably the answer ends up being a mix of Google and social media.

They have the reverse of the problem that has affected my client so badly. They don’t have any Google ‘free’ traffic but are planning on it being a cornerstone of their marketing efforts.

More than ever this is just craziness.

Google have made it difficult for new websites to get established for years now, the old Google ‘sandbox’ was a source of much debate back in 2005 / 2006, basically it was the name for an effect which seemed to limit new websites ranking highly in Google for the first 8 – 9 months after going live.

With the recent changes Google have been putting in place over the past couple of years, they are now making it difficult for established sites to rank well, never mind new ones.

Visitors and traffic in 2013

The long and short of it is that to have a viable web business in 2013 and onwards you should really be able to survive on traffic generated outside of Google’s natural search engine.

Whether you generate this through social media, email marketing, paid search or offline marketing is up to you but Google ‘organic’ traffic should be looked upon as a bonus not as a marketing plan.

Remember that Google is a private company, they have no reason to pass on any traffic to your site and are completely within their rights to cut off any traffic they do send you.

If / when this happens you need to be able to survive it, so if you currently receive Google organic traffic, take a look at your analytics and work out where you would be as a business without the traffic source.

If it disappeared overnight would you be out of business? If so then you need to plan now and work out ways of alleviating this scenario should it come to pass.

If you’re planning a new venture then don’t factor in any Google traffic (outside of PPC) into your plans, is it still a viable proposition?

Don’t put your future in the hands of a publicly listed company, take whatever action you need to do in order to survive in a world with no Google traffic, this is the only logical thing for the majority of small to medium business to do.

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