This post has been written by Paddy Moogan, an SEO Consultant at Distilled and author of The Link Building Book.
It isn’t a great idea to rely on another company for your own business to survive, you’re taking a bit of a gamble and if the other company messes up somehow, you’re in trouble. The scenario I want to explore with this post is how many online businesses rely on Google for 90%+ of their traffic and therefore, their revenue. Whilst it isn’t a good idea to be in this position, it is a common position and far too easy to get yourself into. Google presents a huge opportunity to grow your business, but if your core business relies upon it, you need to be very careful not to lose the traffic that Google sends you:
Instead of preaching about the best way of doing this is to play by the rules, I wanted to take a different approach to overcoming this problem – building assets that are independent of Google and therefore, can’t be taken away by them. After all, how do we know that the rules won’t change and cause us problems in the future? At one time, Google advised website owners to submit their websites to web directories and it wouldn’t get you into big trouble. But that all changed and now SEOs are scrambling to undo work that previously, was to some extent, acceptable.
So the question is, what assets can you build that Google can’t take away from you?
This is the time that some of you may switch off because I’m going to talk about building a community. The reason many people will switch off is, in my opinion, two fold:
The thing is, why wouldn’t you want to build a community around your company and the products it offers? Taking business principles back to a time before the internet, one of the best ways for a business to survive was to build a loyal customer base who became your evangelists and marketed your company on your behalf. Why would it be any different now when we have more tools at our disposal to build a community?
I wanted to start with the idea of building a community because the rest of the idea in this post fit within this overarching idea, but they are a bit more practical and I can give examples of each one.
I’ve seen the power of email lists first hand and can see how powerful they can be for driving business. There seems to be a common belief that in the age of social, email marketing isn’t as useful as it used to be. To some extent, I can understand this because personally, I’m not a fan of email newsletters because my inbox is busy enough as it is. But having someone opt-in to hearing from you via email is actually a statement of intent that they like your brand and are more likely to engage with you in the future.
Once you have this opt-in, it is yours to lose. You need to make sure that you are engaging with them and that your emails are being well received. Keeping an eye on your email analytics is that first step towards doing this.
Code Academy do a great job with their email marketing and have a great way to make it feel more personalised – they send you emails that are relevant to the stage you’re at with your course. This really helps keep you motivated and for those of us who like collecting points and badges, you are motivated to keep moving towards the next badge.
Even their generic emails are well put together and get your attention because they tap into the mind of their audience:
Yes, I want to build a Twitter app! It sparks my interest and I’ll click through to see what’s involved.
Quora send a weekly digest email which lists a number of active questions that fit with my interests and my connections:
There are also random questions in there which are very interesting such as this one:
No idea how this ended up in my email but I couldn’t help but click on it!
SEOmoz send out their Moz Top 10 email twice a month which is a great roundup of online marketing posts, they really do a great curation job here because there are always a few links that interest me that I may not have already seen:
The beauty of these emails is that Quora and SEOmoz are not actually doing much in the way of content creation, they are simply curating content that will keep their users subscribed to their email list.
The bar to entry with this type of email is very low and certainly something that is possible in most industries.
I’m sure that you’ve heard the expression “build relationships, not links” which to some extent, I agree with. Whilst it can certainly help from a link building point of view, I feel like the biggest reason to focus on building relationships is to help your business survive. Having friends around the world within your industry can be a massive help when it comes to helping your company market itself.
Importantly, Google can’t take away good relationships you have with business contacts, bloggers, speakers, evangelists etc.
Again, going back to a time before the internet, many businesses and individuals survived on their little black book or the number of contacts they had in their rolodex:
The power of these could make or break someone’s career. In fact, in some sales positions a person could be hired based on the number of existing relationships they had and therefore how much business they could bring with them.
Fast forward to today, we have tools such as Raven and BuzzStream that act like CRM systems but with online marketing features that make managing relationships a little more scalable and easier to maintain.
The great thing about this kind of thing is that it applies to any industry. Even smaller industries have passionate people in them who would happily be part of a group that helped each other out from time to time on promoting content or giving feedback.
A quick test for you to run past your next piece of content: would your audience bookmark it?
It’s a tough one, but if the answer is no, you should be asking yourself why.
Yes content is important and all that, you’ve heard all that before and I won’t harp on too much about that. But I do want to emphasise the point that creating content that is in line with your target audience is one of the best things you can do right now. It sounds obvious though doesn’t it:
“create content that your audience can relate to and engage with”
A content marketer will say, “well duh, of course”.
But we’re SEOs, we are often more concerned about links and social shares because that is what we’ve been trained to think about. I’ve made this mistake myself and often just come up with content ideas that I think will get links, not necessarily ones that make sense for the client’s audience.
There is another problem with this in that ideas that focus on links may not be very evergreen and therefore, you’ll see a spike of links when the piece is launched but then it will die down when your outreach stops. At this point, you have to come up with a new content idea and the cycle starts all over again and you find yourself building big pieces of content each and every month and having to outreach every time. This isn’t a terrible solution and it can work well, but I don’t think it is always optimal.
A slightly better approach for me is to try to build some content that you can outreach six months from now and still get interest. The natural consequence here is that you’re more likely to create genuinely sticky content because it is always relevant, not just relevant for a few days or weeks after launch. Therefore you’re more likely to create the type of content that your audience will bookmark.
This is key – them bookmarking your content and becoming familiar with it means they are not relying on Google to find you. They will keep coming back of their own accord.
I wanted to end on this one as I don’t think I need to sell it too much! I’m sure you can see the value of building up an audience on social platforms.
The key here for me is to focus on the right platforms that fit with your audience. It can be tempting to just setup social network accounts because everyone else is going it and you think you should too. But the fact is that some networks just don’t lend themselves very well to certain industries.
Pinterest has emerged as a great network if your audience is mainly female and you have visual content that is easily shared. Twitter has become huge for the marketing industry with it almost becoming some people’s replacement for RSS feeds.
Social is sending a lot of traffic to businesses and whilst some of them (Pinterest) don’t always send the best converting traffic, there is value in that traffic if you are able to convert it or leverage the traffic for other purposes that are valuable to you.
In light of Google getting far more aggressive with their web spam cleanups, as well as the increasing competitive landscape, I think it’s only prudent for businesses to start diversifying and becoming less reliant on a single source of traffic. Yes it isn’t easy because of the huge firehose of traffic that Google has grown into, but it can be done.