Search Engine Marketing (SEM) - Houses on Sand

Do you depend on free search engine traffic for your livelihood?

I admit it. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), keyword density, keyword relevance, KEI, incoming links and link text, and where my web site and web pages rank in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) for my targeted keyword phrases.

This afternoon I had a shock. I discovered my main web site was dropped from Yahoo! Not one page could be found in Yahoo, out of hundreds! This was after months of working to completely revamp the site, rebuilding it with a nice content management system and lots of pertinent on-topic content, building links, writing and publishing articles, creating RSS news feeds and publicizing them...

I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It's a clean site - no black-hat SEO techniques, nothing that should get me banned, just good information, the heart and soul of the Web.

I checked my logs, and thought, "Oh my God, it doesn't look like Yahoo has crawled my web site in over a month." This was after getting used to Yahoo's spider crawling my web site daily because of all of the new, pertinent information (and especially because of the RSS news feeds and pinging). But I hadn't noticed because traffic was still high, even increasing.

Frantically I searched the Web for information about Yahoo making changes. Sure enough, I discovered that Yahoo apparently changed their search algorithm around the time Yahoo stopped crawling my web site. What could I do? What if the other Search Engines dropped my web site, after all those months of long nights and long weekends really working to create a quality web site?

In the midst of this chaos, my wife looked me in the eyes and said, "Don't worry about it, you still have traffic. The web site is doing well!"

I replied, "Well, yeah! In fact the web site traffic has doubled since Yahoo apparently dropped the site a month ago!"

Then it struck me. Traffic really had doubled, despite the fact that none of the traffic was coming from Yahoo any more. And I wasn't doing any pay-per-click advertising or any sort of advertising. All of the work I was doing really was paying off - in ways I hadn't really imagined. I just lost all incoming traffic from one of the two or three biggest search engines and yet my traffic doubled!

Have you ever heard the expression, "Don't build your house on sand?"

Or how about, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket?"

There are only about three important search engines at any one time. As I write this, I would say those three are currently Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. The more dependent you are on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and placing high on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) in these few search engines, the more you have built your house on sand or put all of your eggs in one basket. You know that search engines regularly change their algorithms, right? One big change and your web site can disappear or all but disappear from a major search engine. And you won't know if it's temporary or permanent. If you're in this position, you are at the mercy of the search engines.

So what can you do to change this, to ensure that one single algorithm change won't wipe out your business?

One way, perhaps the best way, is to build alternate traffic streams to your web site.

1. First things first: Make sure you have a web site that people would want to visit. Ever visit a web site that was so bad you wondered how they make any money? Guess what, I'll bet they don't. Unless your web site is just a sales page and you direct traffic to it from other web sites or from affiliates, now is a good time to start building some quality content - lots of it, if you don't already have it.

2. Get lots of incoming links... but change the way you look at links. It used to be that links drove the Web. That was how people found your web site - by surfing in from other people's pages. Then something strange happened: search engines. But as the search engines evolved, they started measuring the quality of web sites - and determining your site's position in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) - by how many incoming links you have, and what keywords are in the link text. Then people began to link just for Search Engine Optimization, not for actual traffic from those links. Do you really think people are going to find your web site and surf in from a page of 200 uncategorized links hidden behind a link at the bottom of a page and called "Partners" - in an 8 point font? If you want to get traffic from links again, regardless of what the search engines do, you have to change your links pages and you have to change the type of link partners you link to. There's a very nice free service, Honest Links, that is a grassroots effort by Webmasters to get back to linking for traffic, not SEO. You can learn more at: http://www.honestlinks.net/

3. Write and publish articles related to the theme of your web site. Publish them in the many article directories on the Web, as well as the many mailing lists for authors and publishers. Webmasters and Ezine publishers will pick them up and publish them if they are good. You can get hundreds, even thousands of links into your web site by just including a little "Resource Box" at the end of your article with a link to your web site. (Look at the end of this article for an example of a Resource Box.)

4. Publish a newsletter and start building a list of subscribers. It's one of the best ways to get people returning to your web site, along with the next one...

5. Start a blog on your web site. Post interesting and useful information related to your web site's theme and ping the various blog and news directories after each post. You'll get links from these directories AND you'll build up readers syndicating your posts on their web sites and reading them in news feed readers. Recently people have been gaming this, too. People post and ping just to get noticed by the search engines and get spidered more often. It will do that, but if you don't have quality posts, you will still be at the mercy of the search engines. Create quality content and you will build loyal subscribers as well.

I can't say it doesn't bother me that my web site was dropped from Yahoo. It feels like I must have done something wrong. But I know I have a good site, with great, useful content that is on topic. I know that my site could be back in Yahoo tomorrow, or it could take months. In the meantime, I'll keep building a quality site that people want to visit and doing everything I know I should. Traffic has doubled every month for the last two months. I'll bet it will again next month - with or without Yahoo!

Here's another old saying for you, "Dig your well before you are thirsty." If you're too dependent on search engine traffic now, maybe it's time to start digging that well. The five steps above should get you started.

Copyright 2005 Mike Adams

Mike Adams has been building web sites and playing with Internet marketing since 1996. Looking for an Internet marketing solution? Visit http://www.timberway.com/

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