Diary of a Google Gazumpee

Back in November, when the Google Dance began, Barry Lloyd of makemetop.co.uk wrote an article entitled "Been Gazumped by Google?" GAZUMPED! What a wonderfully descriptive term. In fact, it succinctly describes what happened to us when our website went from #1 to oblivion a few months ago.

We were gazumped, swindled, cheated out of what was rightfully ours. Okay, who's to say what search engine position rightfully belongs to anyone. I mean, let's face it, getting to the top of the search engines for coveted keywords is really just a crap shoot, isn't it?

Or is it?

The SEO Cycle...

We've been at this internet game for a long time, a decade, in fact. Dinosaur days! We don't pretend to be search engine experts, it's not our forte. Nevertheless, we have been around long enough to see some patterns emerge.

Here's a recurring pattern we've observed in Search Engine Optimization:

1) The SEO experts research and make claims of what works to get a website to the top of the search engines.

2) It works for a time, and websites implementing their tactics move up the ranks.

3) Eventually, the algorithms change, and websites gain or lose rankings.

4) SEO experts make adjustments, then back to step one in the cycle again.

Around and around we go like mice on the optimization exercise wheel. Furthermore, we do not foresee any chance of stepping off of the optimization wheel for years to come. From our experience, as long as search engines exist, the algorithms will always change, and the SEO experts will always have a job.

But, is Search Engine Optimization really necessary?

To Optimize or Not...

If you've set up a flow of traffic to your website outside of search engines, there really is no need to optimize. However, if you want search engine traffic, you'll need to step onto the wheel. Furthermore, you need to know there's some pretty fierce competition riding the same wheel. But, be forewarned. Once you step onto the wheel, it will become part of your regular marketing exercise.

Is search engine traffic worth stepping onto the endless wheel?

Marketing experts tell us all the reasons why search engine traffic is targeted. But, let's put that aside for a moment and talk about real-world experience for a minute. In the past 10 years, our websites have received traffic from every imaginable source. But, you want to know about search engine traffic, right? We'll give it to you straight.

Search engines have sent us some of our best customers. A significant number have stayed with us for years, and a surprising number have made purchases on their first visit - direct from the search engines.

Now, with this is mind, perhaps you can understand why we have felt gazumped after losing a significant amount of search engine traffic.

So, what exactly happened to us?

Dancing With Google...

For years, we have been building a professional community where home-based entrepreneurs can network with one another and find the resources they need. As a clearinghouse of information, it has been a real task to organize the thousands of pages of information and make it user-friendly.

We had been #1 on Google for years for the coveted term "home business," among other terms. As such, we enjoyed traffic that brought us a significant number of customers and subscribers. Traffic and sales grew consistently for those years. Our Alexa rating showed the continued growth by going from a ranking of 30,000 to almost 15,000 in a year.

Enter the 'Florida' Update.

In November, we were still #1 on Google. Traffic and sales were good.

In December, it appeared the Update was good for us. We remained #1 and sales were at an all-time high. "We're getting through this just fine," we gloated. Nothing to worry about.

But, then things began to change - drastically!

- Gazump #1

Around January 3rd, our traffic plummeted to an all-time, two-year low

( http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?q=&url=http://www.homebusinessonline .com/ ).

After a quick perusal of our traffic logs, it became obvious Google was playing with our rankings. You know, playing the dance floor. Google may have come to the dance with us as her date, but she left with a different partner.

A little research confirmed that not only had we dropped in our rankings for our coveted search term, but we were nowhere to be found in even the top 1,000. What? From #1 to oblivion? How could that be? The date was over... Gazumped by Google!

- Gazump #2

Some weeks later, typing 'link:www.ourURL' in the Google toolbar brought another startling revelation. While our inbound links before the dance were around 800

(http://www.linkpopularity.com/linkpop.cgi?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.homebusinessonline.com),

Google now listed only 69. Now, that doesn't even make sense after almost a decade online, especially when typing in our URL returns 2,620 links

(http://www.google.com/search?q=%22homebusinessonline.com%22).

Gazumped by Google!

- Gazump #3

But, why stop there? Let's add a little salt to the wound, shall we? It also appeared that Google was only spidering a few, select parts of our website. No more deep crawls where all the meaty content can be found. Gazumped by Google!

So, where from here?

Lessons Learned...

After two months of a substantial drop in traffic and sales, we are not out of business. Why not? For one, we have not counted on Google as our sole source of traffic. We are still receiving decent traffic, but we could be doing better. I'm afraid we had been gliding on the coattails of Google for too long. Sometimes you just need a good kick in the pants. This wake-up call has been good for us. Like multiple streams of income, we will up the anti on multiple streams of traffic. That way, when one traffic source dries up, it will not effect us significantly.

It's time to make some well-needed changes to our website. It could be better. A lot better. We're going to stop talking about them, hunker down, and make those changes.

We believe this dance is not over yet and Google may decide to return to the dance floor. Considering 'Gazump #2' above, it only makes sense that there are still plenty of bugs to be ironed out.

We'll get our traffic back and in a big way. If not through Google, certainly through other traffic sources. There's more than one way to reach the summit.

The Very Best Strategy...

The fact is you could spend hours upon hours in search engine optimization, and while we believe that optimizing your website is important, it shouldn't be the main focus. We're of the opinion that websites should first be built for customers and prospective customers, and second for search engines. Take a look at your website from your customer's perspective. Does it do what you want it to do?

Go ahead and hop on the optimization wheel. Get it turning, but don't become obsessed with it. If you have the resources for it, consider hiring an SEO specialist to help. Be sure you have plenty of traffic sources, don't rely on just one or two.

Finally, anything online, including the search engines, are driven by the market's opinion. When the dance is over, if Google doesn't provide the very best search results, the market will go elsewhere. For this reason, no matter what might happen to us personally through the Google Dance, the end result will be better search results - if not Google, then another search engine.

Either way, the market will determine who wins in the end.

Copyright 2004 Heidi Perry

About The Author

Seasoned entrepreneurs, Dave and Heidi Perry have developed half a dozen businesses and are founders of HomeBusinessOnline.com and PrettyGreat.com. Known for their unique insights and straight-shooter style, Heidi and Dave are editors of HomeBizBytes. Receive a free issue at http://www.HomeBusinessOnline.com/nsl.htm?sya

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