Organic search traffic from Google is so valuable that many businesses come to rely on it as their primary source of income.
And while it may seem that the sun will never set on high converting organic traffic from the search giant, you might want to think about what would happen to your enterprise if the flow dried up.
I've experienced both the frustration and despair of losing Google traffic to an unknown and unexplained penalty (only large, important businesses get the information they need to recover in a matter of days or weeks), but have also seen how other companies have thrived without Google entirely.
This is what a penalty from Google looks like in analytics:
In fact, that graph shows the second of two successive 75% hits, dropping daily organic traffic from around 2000 to under 100. Ouch!
At any rate, I thought I would share some lessons I've learned about how one of my startups (RT500 Enterprise) has done well without Google traffic, while another (SME Pals) has been hit hard by losing it.
1. Build a good mailing list, fast
Email marketing is an extremely valuable channel for generating leads and conversions. If you haven't already, get on this as a priority. Learn more at our email marketing how-to.
There's a saying, "the money's in the list". And it's very true. The faster a company can build a good, opt-in list, the more stable the revenue stream will be.
One of the mistakes I made (which I won't make again) is being tardy about setting up email marketing for SME Pals while traffic volumes were high. If I had done so, the drop in revenue from organic traffic would not have been as harmful because the site would still have had weekly access to a sizeable mailing list.
By contrast, RankTracer is a subscription based service that offers weekly and monthly reporting for free as part of the service. This means that email access to customers is not only assured, it's demanded.
2. Turn customers into marketers
Every new customers has relationships with tens, possibly hundreds of other customers. This makes them far more value than the revenue you derive from them.
Make a huge effort to ensure that customers and clients are ecstatic with the value you offer and let them know how they can continue to support you (by sharing their experiences on social media, writing reviews, recommending friends and colleagues, etc).
RankTracer has customers that have been with us for over 5 years, and this makes them absolutely invaluable because, over time, they evangelize the service in the course of using it.
Because SME Pals started with an affiliate model (before it became feasible to offer professional services) it had no customers. So, when traffic dried up, no-one stuck around.
3. Use good old fashioned networking
Don't focus your growth and marketing strategy online to the exclusion of other strategies that are arguably more important - especially in the startup phase.
A lot of companies look to search traffic, social media, email marketing, and other online activities, without spending enough time focusing on networking with the people around them.
It's amazing what valuable connections are waiting to be made locally - no matter how small your town is.
There is absolutely no substitute for face-to-face relationships. Contacts you have met (and gotten on well with) are far more likely to go to bat for you than a social media contact.
4. Don't ignore Google entirely
Structuring your business so that it doesn't become dependent on Google is not the same as ignoring it entirely.
It is still absolutely vital to have the following (click on any option to learn more):
- High quality website
- Lots of great content
- Analytics & Webmaster tools
- Places for business listing
The fact of the matter is this: Google accounts for about 40% of all Internet traffic. It's nonsensical not to put some effort into keeping them happy, and leveraging the excellent suite of tools and technologies they make freely available.
About 20% of all new business that comes to RankTracer is from organic traffic from Google. It's like the icing on the cake, but it won't kill things if it dries up.
5. Work on B2B relationships
Even if your business markets directly to consumers, there is great value in collaborating or partnering with other enterprises.
A sudden dip in organic search traffic might kill the flow of new drop-in customers, but a relationship with another organization that gives access to thousands of their clients can more than make up for this loss.
SME Pals was only just starting to build working relationships like this when the hammer fell. But, despite that, a high percentage of those partnerships still drive revenue.
6. Build a social media following
While having great content that ranks well in Google should bring in sustained organic search traffic over a long period is great, social media traffic can be a lot more exciting. Having an engaged and active following means that your content has its very own army of word-of-mouth marketers who are ready to spread the word.
Think of your social network like a seed that can germinate into a huge torrent of Web traffic that grows quickly as your content is shared by your followers.
Sure, social media traffic tends to be short lived. Traffic will spike as interest grows, and fall off just as quickly as the next big thing comes along. But, with a strong enough following, you are able to gain visibility and exposure to new people and sustain growth.
7. Connect with influencers
This final point really highlights the thread that is common to the other points, and one that any good organization is built on anyway:
Business is built on relationships with other people.
I am a huge fan of organic search traffic. It is targeted, relevant, easy to convert, long-lived, and all sorts of other wonderful things. But, it's primary weakness is that it isn't built on personal relationships.
This is why it can be so devastating to lose organic search traffic if it is the only source of revenue - there is no residual benefit in terms of human relationships. In essence, it is your ability to get people to trust your brand that will equip you to handle the ups and downs of Google's mood swings.
By becoming friends with influential people, your site stands a far greater chance of maintaining decent levels of interest and buzz in a sustainable way (because people who other people listen to - i.e. influencers - are talking about it)
So those are my tips for keeping your venture thriving without getting any love from Google.
Incidentally, you might be wondering why I have written an article about how to survive without Google on a blog that has been penalized and lost all it's search traffic. The answer is that, we have done everything possible to fix potential problems. There is a lot of quality and value on this site, and the rest is just faith.
What other strategies would you suggest successfully without relying on Google? Share your thoughts in the comments.