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The Tin Handcuffs of SEO

The internet is a well regulated industry. Google is its regulator. Like Marie Antoinette handing out cake to the peasants, every month Google allots the various web-sites in its index a certain amount of traffic. Certain sites do better than others (Wikipedia, About.com), but for the most part each site takes its monthly Google traffic home and tries to do the best it can with it.

As is the case with any monthly budget, there's only so much you can do with it though. Unless the budget itself increases, there's only so much stretching to be done. And there's only three ways to increase your traffic budget: (1) get more from Google (SEM!), (2) better convert your Google traffic to traffic of your own (and I've said my piece there already) or (3) go find a new source of traffic.

Unless you're in the inner circle (again, Wikipedia, About.com), you can never grow to any significant size site inside the Google regulated industry. The regulator won't let you. Why would they? If they actually make you a big, important site than the balance of power actually starts to tip in your favor. No regulator likes that. Regulators make the rules, not the regulated.

Not so coincidentally, if you actually look at the recent successful sites over the past few years - YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. - none of them got there by Google traffic. They created a product and figured out a way to get mass appeal outside the Google regulatory system. To make a bad analogy, if you were a global leader intent on world domination, would you make a plan to achieve this goal by working with the United Nations? No, you would go out and take what you thought was yours. That's what these big sites did. They flipped the virtual bird to Google and took what was theirs.

So here's where I'm going with this: despite all this, if you actually talk with lots of folks in the media industry, they're paralyzed by the fear of losing their Google traffic. I can't for the life of me figure out why though. Online revenues in media are still really, really small. Let's say you do do something to piss off Google and *poof* somehow lose all your Google traffic and accompanying revenue, then.....well, what? You've really lost nothing.

So it strikes me that the time is right to make some big bets. You can't make those within the system. My advice: start from scratch, take some chances in finding marketing channels outside the Google system. Be bold - make some bets while the upside is still very big and the downside is pretty small.

Cause the Google regulatory system is really a dictatorship - and like any dictatorship, at the end of the day, no matter what they say or do, the one who really owns everything is the dictator.


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Comments (7)


Some very provocative thoughts on SEO!

So, if you were running NYTimes, would you think of removing all your content from Google's index?

Whats the upside?

Why not make the bets within the system? Whats the downside? Why not keep the Google traffic and do whatever you need to do to go outside the Google system?

For e.g. Topix seems to have (cant say for sure) leveraged its SEO traffic to create local communities.

Even facebook was trying to get on the Google game by making thier profile information indexable by Google. This seems to be an example of playing within the Google system and keeping the traffic.

But your posts on SEO/SEM have really got me thinking about the other side of having SEO related traffic.

You may say I'm biased, but I just don't think it's true that whether or not you get traffic from Google depends on whether you "piss them off". It depends on the quality and relevance of your site. You may say that "SEM" is the key to building traffic, but I would say that it is primarily "quality" that builds traffic.

Of course, you might then argue that building a high-quality site is simply the best form of SEM---but then why use the term?

Why does Wikipedia get so much traffic from Google? Your theory is that it's because Google, the benevolent dictator, has chosen to love them? Come on. This is a conspiracy theory up there with "the 16th Amendment was never ratified".

I think the issue is that most webmasters do not have the creativity or investment capital to create something that will grow to be huge outside of Google.

SEO was a key part of digg.com's early success (see http://money.cnn.com/2006/03/24/magazines/business2/diggdemocratizes/index.htm)
though most of the actual traffic came from yahoo.

I'm a little scared of how you position Google. Like spending dollars on ads, businesses have to work at getting natural search traffic and while the "free" perspective of it is addictive, search functions in such a way that it is only "to each his own" That is, sure, you can engage in black hat SEO tactics but for the majority, you can only get as much traffic as is seeking your business. What if every website was effectively optimized and indexed by Google?.... That's where your post makes a great point. Marketers have to return to their traditional jobs of building awareness, advertising engaging opportunities, and attractive traffic. Google is just the channel through which they come; SEO is a requirement, not an addiction, in that businesses have to ensure that channel is open for the traffic they get from advertising. Sure, Google has set themselves up as a gatekeeper but they aren't doing so maliciously. SEO is more akin to keeping the door to your business unlocked so people can get in.

"YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. - none of them got there by Google traffic. They created a product and figured out a way to get mass appeal outside the Google regulatory system."

...so has anyone figured out how to get mass appeal w/o viral marketing? I would generally argue that viral marketing is a tactic that requires a lots of stars to align properly in order to be effective.


"Time is ripe for every ">http://www.broadwayinfotech.com/web_promotion/web_promotion.shtml”>
SEO specialists to start themselves calling as SEM (Search Engine Marketers). Search Engines have already become cauldrons where many things are getting cooked at the same time.

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