Below is a letter I wrote to a couple of clients who have just launched, or were just about to launch new websites in the summer of 2012. I had been planning to help them get traffic to their sites through a variety of “traditional” SEO techniques. Techniques that, although constantly changing, have worked well over the years.
You probably won’t follow any of the changes going on in the world of search, but if you use Google you may have noticed some differences recently. Over the last 18 months, and specifically over the last 3 months or so, Google have made it very difficult / impossible, to take shortcuts to promote your site. It used to be (and the way I used to do it), that you could simply do a few things over a period of weeks and you would rank nicely in the search engines.
Not any more.
And they are in fact penalising you for trying, so you sink even further.
For the average user of Google, this is great news. For sites like yours, it’s not.
What it means is that “free” traffic, the type it used to be easyish to get, has become a whole lot harder to get.
You now have to treat it like a more traditional marketing plan and invest (expert) time and money into it. And I don’t mean into search engine optimisation (SEO), I mean into creating quality content and a great user experience – more akin to a traditional business than what we could get away with online previously.
Free traffic has gone and is very unlikely to come back.
What is needed now is the ability to generate an audience either by creating fantastic content that people want to consume, share, like,+plus, tweet etc, or for ecommerce sites where content isn’t always applicable, paying for advertising to buy qualified visitors.
The cynics here might suggest that Google are doing this to encourage more people to purchase advertising, which may be true, but they are also tidying up their search garden too – as I say, for the average user this a great thing.
So, what to do for a small ecommerce site?
In the short term the only answer (assuming you want to continue in this area) is to pay for advertising. Now, if you are selling a decent product (which you are right?), this simply becomes a cost of sale, which every other business model has – it just has to be factored in.
Obviously, advertising does not automatically bring sales, but it will bring qualified traffic. It can be measured, tested, and the website adjusted and the budget limited. Hopefully with a great product you will be able to minimise the cost per sale to make a decent profit, but unlike the previous “free” traffic, there will now be a cost to the sale.
Over time, your products will hopefully become the “content” that visitors and customers want to promote on your behalf (through tweets, likes and shares etc), so the reliance on advertising should diminish.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I have been holding off for a few weeks now to see how this will settle, but the signs and Google’s updates are relentlessly going in the same direction, with no sign of them ever coming back to the old ways.