Learning to Manage Without Search Engines
Google may be the search engine of choice of nearly every second user1, but its actions aren’t necessarily in the interests of either webmasters or users. Like any other company, it seeks to increase its own profit margins with services like Google Flights2, Google Books, Movies, etc. Therefore, in the future many websites will have to compete with the search engine itself to attract traffic. With such a futile battle ahead, only those websites with strategies to do without SE traffic will survive. But giving up the millions of searches3 isn’t going to be easy.
Unsurprisingly, the best long-term strategy is to focus on the quality of your services and build a reputation of excellence and good customer service. Future clients are more likely to believe your fervent advocates and word of mouth than clever advertising techniques. For example, Hewlett-Packard, Lego, Apple Inc., Samsung, HTC, Volkswagen, etc., all enjoy continued business not because of fantastic SEO, but due to positive word of mouth. The focus should be on developing a mutually beneficial relationship with your clients, subscribers or readers so that they come back and bring friends with them. And if you search these brands, they rank first as well.
Being the best isn’t accomplished in one day, so you should first aim to make yourself indispensable to the client, much like Google has. Aim to create and offer an array of limited content assets, which are crucial, informative, and exclusive only to the users of your site. The content needn’t be paid—it’s better if it isn’t—but it should be unique. This exclusivity will enable you to gather a user community and connect to it via e-mail newsletters, RSS feeds and social media. The sooner you start, the better, and an online community will greatly improve your current standing in the SERPs and traffic.
A complementary tactic is to optimize your website for higher conversion ratios so that your cost to acquire a customer goes down. Assuming that Google will increasingly place importance on its Ads program, online websites should optimize to work under these conditions by making the customer journey shorter, easier and cheaper. Website optimization will increasingly be focused on converting users to customers faster with new page layout, smarter positioning and more enticing offers. Surprisingly, this doesn’t differ from current efforts to reduce the customer lead cost for businesses and improve their call to action.
Believe it or not, Google cannot do everything. It cannot offer flights and show travel destinations at the same time, nor can it judge different reviews. This market gap is perfect for some websites to explore. Consider what information your target audience needs and provide it to them briefly and in one place. For example, users always view product reviews before they go to purchase an item. Alternatively, readers look for different opinions before buying a new book. Securing special deals with relevant service providers—for example, bookshops—will further attract users.
Finally, if these strategies are not fit for your specific case, consider capturing local markets where Google hasn’t stepped. For example, Russia4 and China have their own language-specific search engines with strong market dominance. This tactic is not ideal for everybody as it involves re-writing your on-site web content into another language and learning to use different webmaster tools. In addition to the need for a translator, your website must have a local domain in order to attract local business. However, these emerging markets are high-growth, usually low-competition, and high-margin, so an investment in this type of SEO is well worth the money and will soon pay for itself.