In Defense Of Google Traffic
You might have noticed a trend recently where everyone and their mother/sister/brother/cousin are talking about how you need to diversify away from Google traffic. Some of them go as far as saying they don’t even want to BOTHER with Google anymore and mention things like “How To Beat Penguin” or write articles that explain why other sources of traffic are preferred. This hasn’t been lost on us. We’ve considered this as well and have looked at steps we can take to help diversify our traffic as well as our revenue streams.
That being said, some bloggers and marketers are taking this way too far and taking extremist positions that, we think, are unfounded. Ignoring Google as a traffic source is foolish at best and downright crazy at worst. To put it in perspective, pretend that you’re a t-shirt designer. Would you work your butt off to get your t-shirt line exposure in your local store when you have a letter of interest from Walmart in carrying your brand? Sure, having Walmart take carry your brand may bring all kinds of problems, but recommending to others that they should look primarily to the local store seems flawed to me.
Facts About Google Traffic
- Google Dominates Search Engine Traffic – It’s a little muddy exactly how much as estimates range from more than 66% of US traffic to 92% of worldwide search traffic. Let’s put that in perspective by looking at the distribution worldwide over the last 2 years: (Source)
- There is a TON of core search traffic through the search engines – Really. A shit-ton. ComScore estimates 17.5 Billion core searches in May 2012, of which Google owns nearly 12 Billion of those searches. (“Core searches” refers to searches that are thought to be from humans looking to interact with the results received rather than just bots)
- Google Chrome is now the #1 browser used worldwide (Less than 4 years after launch) – This will become even more critical as the Android OS becomes more and more popular and Chrome for mobile continues to take off. (Source)
- There are alternative search engines – You can optimize for other search engines that, according to the above data, combine for around 8% of the worldwide traffic. That’s cute… 🙂
As you can see from the above, most of the talk surrounding alternative traffic sources appears to be wishful thinking. It’s not that Amazon, Facebook, and Apple don’t have a real shot at knocking Google down a notch or two. They might…but it’s awfully early to be making that argument. Bloggers and technophiles love to be on the cutting edge of these discussions, but us civilians need to keep their cutting edge theories from cutting into our business and profits.
Why The Controversy?
It’s no secret that Panda and Penguin shook things up and some of us took some major hits. So…did Google cut down the number of spots on the first page, leading to a net-loss on first page rankings? No. Are there less searches performed each month? No. (Aside from seasonal traffic swings, search trends are still pointing up) Do they favor larger brands or themselves in their search results? Yes and No. Google’s knowledge graph, (that relies heavily on Wikipedia) affiliate programs, and sponsored listings are taking up more of the Above-The-Fold real estate than before, but with increased search traffic numbers overall this shouldn’t kill us. So…what gives? What’s with all the buzz/hype?
Change creates opportunity. While Tier 1 SEO blogs are digging into the data to try to figure out what all of this will mean for us, Tier 2 blogs and marketers are scrambling to create info products, tools, and “new” services that will capitalize on our fear and get us to turn over our hard-earned money. While Tier 1 exploits the fear and change to garner traffic and build authority, Tier 2 takes an active role and has a monetary stake in promoting the fear to sell you ebooks, video series, and coaching programs that will help you “beat” the search engines.
Pretend for a second that you’re an umbrella vendor. You have a direct financial gain from promoting the fear that it will rain. Taking it even further, let’s say that the market is saturated with “normal” umbrellas. You can now bring out your “new and improved” umbrella that becomes a must-have over the previous version. We’ve seen this all before…this just the latest swing in the cycle. Just take a look at the WSO section of the Warrior Forum when I search for “Penguin” to see what comes up:
I’d add that not everyone is promoting the fear for their own benefit…some just get caught up in it. When you’ve taken a hit with the search engines and everywhere you turn is talking about how horrible Panda/Penguin is, offering solutions, etc. it can weigh on you. We’re definitely culpable to some degree and have probably made statements that perpetuated the fear, however unintentionally. I’m writing this post to, hopefully, dial down some of the fear and to put things into perspective.
The Downside Of Traffic Diversification
Many of the traffic alternatives share an uncanny resemblance to the oft-mentioned “shiny new object” syndrome. Let’s take a look at a few of the top recommendations when it comes to alternative traffic:
Besides mentioning the obvious fact that YouTube is owned by Google, putting together unique, quality video content ain’t easy. It’s both time intensive and requires a skillset that (in my opinion) is much more complicated than simply writing blog posts or pages. The path to success and going viral is littered with the failed videos of those who didn’t make it. For every DollarShaveClub video (really funny stuff!) I can show you thousands of similar videos that just didn’t work. High-level and successful marketing agencies can improve the percentages and chance for success, but this is far from guaranteed.
Some point out that putting out as many low-quality videos as possible can earn you enough traffic to make it valuable. We’ve tried this and it simply isn’t worth the traffic. Too much effort with not enough value. (For local businesses, there’s the additional benefit of having YouTube as a web reference, but that’s an outlier example in the local search space and outside the scope of this post)
Using a micro-niche example, a site like blueskiboots dot net is probably not going to have a wildly popular Twitter account, but let’s back out to a more general niche and talk about a “ski apparel” site. If you’re witty and creative, you could probably build quite a nice little following in this niche, but a large majority of us would not have the skills or capability to drive a large amount of targeted, engaged followers. Engagement is the key…sure we can all play the game of getting 10K+ followers, but how many of those will pay any attention to you?
Ok, so let’s look at some of the more spammy ways to use Twitter. You can build large networks of Twitter accounts using hidden IP’s, automation, etc. You can then use those hundreds (thousands?) of accounts to drive non-targeted traffic to your site. Conversion rates? Bleh…not so hot. I’d also mention that if you run AdSense sites, this is a REALLY bad idea. Even if you’ve built up a huge network and are driving a ton of traffic, it’s very likely non-targeted and, even if they’re clicking on your ads it’s unlikely they’re going to convert for your AdSense advertisers. That’s the problem. I’ve come across those selling “earning” sites on the Warrior Forum that caused dozens of people’s AdSense accounts to get banned and they’re forced to look for AdSense alternatives. There are sellers on Flippa that have used this method of traffic too…most of them end up banned a few months later.
Ditto (I’ll mention briefly that I’ve read some interesting ideas and uses for paid FB traffic, but my experience here is pretty limited and I couldn’t delve into this intelligently at this point. If you have any great examples of how to use paid FB traffic for niche sites, we’d definitely like to hear about it!)
Unless you’re in a niche that has a higher chance of going viral through real-world shares, this type of traffic is not terribly valuable. Some of the tools and programs are somewhat interesting and complex. (i.e. SocialAdr is something we’ve signed up for and have been playing with) Networking and sharing bookmarks may work for a site like AdSenseFlippers, but a “ski apparel” site isn’t likely to get as much value out of this.
Joe and I have used Craigslist pretty heavily in the past and one of the things we noticed is that they got awfully good at “ghosting” posts on the site. They (rightly) had a fairly militant userbase that would flag posts that seemed too commercial, were repetitively posted, etc. We played the game for a while, but ultimately realized our ROI had dropped to a point where it was no longer worthwhile. (Sites like Reddit, Digg, etc. are similar)
Building an authority site in your niche that people refer to and visit again and again is appealing. There are plenty of people that tell you to “follow your passion” and write amazing content that will get people back to your site. What’s wrong with that, right? Well let’s take a look at a 30 day period from Pat Flynn’s Security Guard Training site: (taken from SmartPassiveIncome.com)
Around 26% of the traffic came directly, (likely from repeat visits) but that’s largely dominated by the nearly 65% of search engine traffic. And the truth is…that’s likely as good as it’s going to get. When it comes to niche sites, Pat’s site is at the upper-end of the spectrum when it comes to these types of sites and providing value. It’s not that this isn’t worth targeting…1,400+ visits a month is going to make you some money…but I’ll refer you back to the Local Shop Vs. Walmart example. How much more traffic might the site get if those resources were focused more on additional content and search engine traffic?
Benefits Of Google Traffic
Considering the fact that we rarely optimize our content on AdSenseFlippers for search engine keywords and traffic (a notable exception would be our discount on Long Tail Pro and our AdSense Alternatives post!) let’s take a look at how the search engine traffic to our site stacks up:
Google dominates. I would say that some of our niche sites get a higher percentage of traffic from search engines like Yahoo and Bing due to great rankings for a particular keyword, but looking at the complete picture these numbers wouldn’t be too far off. Let’s go over some of the other benefits of Google traffic:
Written Content Is Easier (And Cheaper) To Produce
Comparing apples to apples, I’m much more likely to get a quality piece of content for $20 than I am to get a quality video, ebook, podcast, or bookmarking campaign at that price.
When looking at content for AdSense Flippers, our most downloaded podcast was created 8 months ago and has just over 6,800 downloads. With our (limited) experience on YouTube, our most viewed video brought in just over 2,000 views in around 10 weeks. Our most viewed page on AdSenseFlippers? 22,481 views in 5 months. (Jan – May 2012) I think it’s also important to note that the views on the content are on our own platform, where many of the podcast downloads and video views were through mobile phones, ipods, YouTube, etc…not as ideal.
Extremely Targeted Traffic
As an AdSense publisher, it’s extremely important that the visitors that click through our ads “perform” or purchase from our advertisers at a reasonable rate. This is extremely likely, considering the highly-targeted niches we build sites around. This is not a light consideration. Take into account the banned AdSense accounts and Flippa accounts we mentioned above…we think the likely reason for this is that these social media visits were not targeted and were not performing for the advertisers. The only strategy that will make any sense with AdSense must include a Win-Win-Win-Win philosophy, Value to the searchers, us, Google, and Google’s advertisers.
Maybe you don’t use AdSense…does this still apply? Absolutely! If I sell website design services and happen to have an image on my site that goes “viral” through social media. (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc.) That’s good, right? Well…not necessarily. Let’s say it was a funny The Oatmeal-type cartoon. VERY few of those visitors are likely to order from my design services and will have an extremely high bounce rate and no interest in my site, generally. “But what if I got 100,000 visits from it and sold even 1% of them?” you might ask. The problem is this: there are numbers lower than 1%.
The work required to get organic traffic from Google is often front-loaded, but the benefit is that you’ll continue to reap the rewards for a long time to come. (Note: The same could be argued for podcasts, videos, and emails in a follow-up sequence.) This simply isn’t the case with traffic from Twitter, Facebook, forum posts, etc. I’m pretty active for us on Twitter and it leads to quite a few visits, but I have to admit that if we’re looking for traffic we get a much better ROI from writing more blog posts and getting found on Google. Not to mention the fact that Twitter is often “preaching to the choir” so to speak where search engine traffic often brings us readers completely new to our brand and expands our reader base.
Higher Sales Value
While the networked social media accounts I mentioned above have been the cause of (AdSense/Flippa) account bans, there are more legitimate ways to build traffic of course. You can use paid traffic to your site. The problem here is that organic/natural traffic is considered at a premium when selling a website and your value/multiple diminishes when you cut into your margins with paid traffic.
One could point to referral traffic (paid placement, guest posts, article marketing, etc.) as a legitimate source of traffic, (it’s true) but it doesn’t completely replace any concerns about that traffic when compared to natural/organic visits. How long will those paid links remain? What if the links (that are not under the buyer’s control) are changed or deleted? These questions can lower the buyer’s estimation on the value of the site if not reasonably answered.
Reliable Measurement Of Search Volume
It’s fair to say that your position in the search engines has become less reliable as of late, but my point here is that you have fairly reliable data as to the number of searches performed on Google each month. How many searches does “X” get in iTunes each month? How about Amazon? Limiting your variables allows you to focus on what you can control. Not knowing what to target with other sources puts you at a disadvantage right from the start.
Some of these points are probably a bit controversial and, in reading them over, I thought I should address some of the more obvious questions or arguments.
“Panda/Penguin Concerns And Issues Are Real”
I’m definitely not denying or trying to diminish the effects of Panda or Penguin on Internet Marketing. (We felt some pain here as well) They’ve definitely made an impact that has been painful and costly in many instances. I’m just trying to point out that the extreme attention lately pointed towards alternative traffic sources may be overkill and, in some cases, a poor diversification of resources.
“Paid Resources That Help With Panda/Penguin Are Valuable”
I’m sure that there are plenty of instances where this is true. However, if you’re at all familiar with the trickle-down/dilution effect in this industry you’ll know that for every useful resource, there are another 10 diluted resources pitched and sold (still some value)…and another 100 resources that are further diluted, pitched, and sold. (very little value) Not even a judgement here…it just is what it is.
“You Mentioned Google’s Share of Search Engine Traffic, But What About Alternative Search Volume?”
This is a fair point, I think, but in researching I found it much more difficult to quantify the amount of searches performed through non-traditional search engines. It would be even more difficult, I think, to determine which keywords on which platforms to target, as I mentioned in our point above, “Reliable Measurement Of Search Volume”.
“What About Alternative Traffic Methods X, Y, and Z That You Didn’t Mention?”
I tried to cover some of the more well-known or discussed strategies, but I’m sure there are some that I’ve left out. If you know or have tested any that you’ve found to be useful, we’d love to hear about it. Feel free to post a comment or a blog post laying out your strategy or tactic and we’d love to discuss it!
Wrapping It Up
Wow, this was a long post! I didn’t intend to write this much on the subject, honestly, but with all of the buzz on getting away from Google traffic, I thought it was important to cut through some of the hysteria and look at the facts. I certainly don’t mean to say that we should ignore other potential traffic sources, but I do think it silly to spend so much effort and energy focused on these alternatives without at least mentioning the elephant in the room.
Do you agree that organic Google traffic might not be as bad as it’s being made out to be, or do you feel this is a a naive position to take? Really interested to hear your comments below! Or…if you’d like, use SpeakPipe to record a message and we’ll get back to you!