Alternatives to SEO

Again with the anti-SEO

When I first started on the Internet, I assumed that if I put a website up and offered a service of unique value the traffic would come. The build it and they will come mentality. Of course I soon learned how the error of my ways, and I asked around in webmaster forums. The answer presented to me in one unified voice was search engine optimization. Search engines are gods of traffic, it was alleged, and in order to get my fair share I had to conduct a series of rituals to appease the gods.

At that time I opted to hire an SEO professional. The cost was $3,000+, and the benefit was zilch. In fact, that particular SEO did nothing more than insert the keywords into the page titles, meta description and meta keywords of each page. I think there was also paid submission to AltaVista included. Whatever he did, the net effect was a noteworthy jump in traffic from 10 unique visitors a day to 11 unique visitors a day.

After that particular fiasco I set out to learn Google’s algorithm myself. I spent months trying different search terms and analyzing Google’s cache, backlink data, ETC, and came to the conclusion that anchor text was the bomb, so to speak.

With my new found discovery in hand, I set out to rank for all the keywords I wanted. And I did get rankings. All the rankings I wanted. It was like Christmas back then, and Google was Santa Claus. In those days effective SEO was nothing more than Google bombing. And because the mainstream SEO community at that time was still obsessed with on-page SEO, there wasn’t any serious competition.

So with all those top rankings, you’d think mine was the highest trafficked website in the industry, right? And of course I was making bank like no other. Um, no. Not by a long shot. I sat there with my top rankings and got the snot beaten out of me traffic-wise and profitability-wise by competitors who had blown their wad on brand building activities.

I made more money selling the site to the industry leader than I ever made – grand total – running the site.

The lesson I learned here is that it is a mistake to focus on search engine traffic and search engine optimization as a means of traffic generation. Search engine referrals constitute a tiny percentage of total referrals for any moderately successful site, so why the obsession with them?

Now you may be saying, John you bastard, you’ve written about this before!. And you would be correct. I did make a similar point in What SEO Isn’t and in The Failure of SEO.

Today instead of talking about what SEO isn’t, I want to talk about the alternative to search engine optimization and search engine traffic.

Activity is Key

Record Traffic With PR0

Back in 2002 I created a Webmaster-Forum.net. For some odd reason I have yet to understand, it was an immediate success and one of the more active webmaster forums on the Internet at the time. We bought some advertising here and there, not much really, and the forums had PR7 and several very nice SE rankings within a matter of months.

(Those forums were archived quite a bit ago, and the current forums are here.)

However, on March 8th of 2003, Google introduced a new filter, the Expired Domain filter. Webmaster-Forum.net was hit with PR0 and didn’t show up in the SERPs for anything. Google referrals were zilch, zero, nada and non-existent.

Afraid for the continued success of the forum, I committed myself to being more active in the webmaster community. More participation on other webmaster forums answering questions, writing articles and cultivating relationships with others in the webmaster community.

That month that webmaster-forum.net was PR0 was a month of record traffic. No man is an island on the Internet, and by implementing a network marketing strategy the forums realized record growth, traffic and activity.

Guy Kawasaki’s Blog

Guy Kawasaki’s website, GuyKawasaki.com, has been up for close to two years now but traffic was flat until recently. Today he has an Alexa rank of 11,020. What happened?

He started blogging. Simple as that. Guy Kawasaki became active in the Internet community. He now reports almost 9,000 unique visitors a day to his blog and growing.

And you don’t have to be Guy Kawasaki to benefit from a blog. My Internet Marketing Blog which I just recently started posting to has earned a several unsolicited links and has become a top referral for V7N.

So are we back to build it and they will come? No. There has to be some initial promotion or visibility. But if what you say is controversial, highly insightful, entertaining or otherwise noteworthy, you can expect the Internet community to do your marketing for you.

Or you can just be liked by everybody and get charity linkage.

Activity in Ecommerce

This same principle of traffic by activity applies to ecommerce sites as well. If you look at the traffic of websites like LunarPages (Alexa Rank today: 1,561) and iPowerWeb (Alexa Rank today: 810) you’ll see that they generate massive linkage and traffic from simply being the market leaders.

Another web host, CIHost, has generated some impressive linkage by suing, well, pretty much everybody. Microsoft, AOL, EV1 and allegedly even former customers who gave bad reviews. CIHost also generated some linkage and traffic when they paid a man to travel Europe and America with “CIHost – Managed Web Hosting” tattooed on his head. Probably not the best quality, highly converting traffic there.

Yet another web host, 1and1.com, generated quite the buzz and thousands of links by offering free hosting and domain.

It’s activity like this that puts an e-business on the map and keeps them on the map. Once you have a branded web presence, you don’t really need search engine rankings. So stop obsessing over Google. Be noteworthy. The traffic will follow.

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