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Is It Realistic To Base A Business Around Free SERPs?
blaze

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 12:40 am on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Pretty much what the title says.

On one hand, you can never be sure your website isn't going to get booted by the SERPs. On the other hand, Google is almost necessary to get any significant traffic.

Is the compromise that you have to split up your website into many to ensure that you don't lose traffic? Or do you try to build a business that doesn't depend on Google SERPs?

 

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 3:10 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think it depends on the type of business. For an information site, the question might be "Is it realistic not to base a business around free SERPs?" The most obvious alternative to search--PPC advertising--just isn't cost-effective for most media sites.

On the brighter side, legitimate media or information sites are more likely to get inbound links from schools, libraries, and other media sites than e-commerce or pure affiliate sites are, so search (while important) isn't the only way to acquire first-time visitors without paying for traffic. As a bonus, such quality links may help to protect a site against collateral damage from Google's spam-fighting efforts. ("If it doesn't look like a duck, it probably isn't a duck.")

I do think that editorial diversity goes a long way toward reducing the effects of changes in search rankings. Too many Web businesses ignore the "long tail of search" at their peril.

[edited by: europeforvisitors at 3:16 pm (utc) on Aug. 23, 2006]

netmeg

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 3:11 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Can you build a business around free SERPS? Sure. Should you? I don't think so.

To my mind, if you are trying to build a stable income source, and your business is dependent on traffic from the organic search results (and by dependent I mean that you would be in a serious hurt if suddenly you dropped down to page 10 after some random algo tweak) then you should either find another source for leads/traffic, or find another business.

That's not to say that the businesses who do rely on the SERPS are not legitimate - but they have to realize that theirs is a short term plan at best. And maybe that's what they want.

I don't think some of the analogies listed here are exactly spot on. It's not like the Yellow Pages - you pay for that, and it's there 12 mos a year. Once your ad goes in, whatever size/placement you paid for is going to stay there for at least a year, it can't be suddenly yanked away.

The fishing analogy is a little closer, but still not quite right - if you are fishing in a particular spot, you usually are there because experience or referral has told you that there's a good chance of making a catch, and even if you don't get any today, you'll likely get some tomorrow or the next day as long as the supply holds out; there are considerably fewer chances of all the fish suddenly disappearing, and even if they do, there's usually some warning - an event that causes it.

I think free search engine traffic should always be treated as incremental income - great if it comes in, but if worst comes to worst, be prepared to live without it.

We've run a web design/hosting/marketing firm for almost ten years now with a website so woefully out of date that it hasn't been touched in probably six, because we're too busy to work on our own stuff. We do get some business from the web, because we've been around long enough to rank well (or so I'm told, I haven't even looked) but most of our business comes from other sources.

I'm trying to think - out of maybe 200 clients, I can't think of one that relies totally on organic search engine traffic for its existence. They all have other marketing resources going on, from catalogs to yellow pages to tv and radio to listings in buyer's guides, and so forth.

Why don't we start listing here things that we can do to get traffic from other source except search engines. How to maximize non-serach-engine traffic, without advertising. I mean in the long run.

That's a good idea, but maybe you should start another item, so it doesn't drift the discussion in this one.

hughie

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 3:28 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

googles algo changes have forced me to shift my position from

"i'm going to build a site that sits at the top of the serps"

to

"i'm going to build the best site i can, that hopefully people will link to, and then maybe it will go up the serps"

Along with this thinking shift goes a change in business logic, it is now dangerous to start a site that's going to be "pure" serps driven, as those once obtainable rankings are far more difficult to get.

KenB

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 3:37 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

The fishing analogy is a little closer, but still not quite right - if you are fishing in a particular spot, you usually are there because experience or referral has told you that there's a good chance of making a catch, and even if you don't get any today, you'll likely get some tomorrow or the next day as long as the supply holds out; there are considerably fewer chances of all the fish suddenly disappearing, and even if they do, there's usually some warning - an event that causes it.

With sport fishing you might be right, but commercial fishing is a perfect analogy. Even well managed fisheries are a hit and miss proposition and many fisheries have really draconian fishing regulations and extremely short seasons. In some cases you have a matter of hours on only one day to make your annual income due to how short the season is. Bad seas/weather can capsize your boat and fisheries can collapse "overnight". Regulations can change at the last minute, or a natural/man made disaster (e.g. hurricane or oil spill) can "instantly" wipe out a fishery for years.

Web publishing and depending upon free search results is no more risky (and in fact can have a lower risk) than many other "sound" business models. At least we don't need $1.5 million tied up in a boat and we don't risk losing our lives in a bad squall.

the_nerd

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 3:50 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

there are considerably fewer chances of all the fish suddenly disappearing, and even if they do, there's usually some warning - an event that causes it.

There are. Like in our lake pollution went down. No pollution means less food for fish means fewer fish. Every year a little bit, but it's going down. Plenty of time to look around and find new opportunities. But guess what? The fishermen don't look around. The want nets with smaller meshes so they can increase their income by going after the smaller fish.

In this perspective a sudden drop might be better than endless lingering or as we say: lieber ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende.

Anybody heard of the experiment where they threw a living frog into boiling water? He tried to jump out, of course. But then they put another frog into cold water and then slowly increased the temperature. He got cooked alive. No attempt to get out.

nerd.

netmeg

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 3:53 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Even well managed fisheries are a hit and miss proposition and many fisheries have really draconian fishing regulations and extremely short seasons.

If that's the case, I wouldn't consider it a viable longterm business either.

moftary

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 4:48 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Well I would say that if your business (website) is informations related, then the only realistic way to make a success is utilizing free SERPs. Think about.com!

Otherwise, in regards to products/services websites I would stick with online advertisements, PPCs, etc.. but no I wouldnt mind free SE referrals too :)

TravelMan

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 5:09 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Base a business around free serps?

Absolutely not.

What maybe there tommorrow may not necessarily be there the day after.

Free serps are great for established brands who people EXPECT to see in the serps, and are of course great for practically anybody else who is monetising whatever it is they do on the web.

But in terms of basing a business around them, I'd have to fall on the don't be a loon side of the fence.

Its like building a house on a dried up river bed. Sooner or later the rains are going to come and just wash it all away.

KenB

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 5:10 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Well I would say that if your business (website) is informations related, then the only realistic way to make a success is utilizing free SERPs. Think about.com!

Otherwise, in regards to products/services websites I would stick with online advertisements, PPCs, etc.. but no I wouldnt mind free SE referrals too happy!

I think this is spot on. I really just don't see how the average web publisher producing an informational content site could make a profit with paid advertising. At the same time I think paid advertising for a product/services website makes total sense.

BigDave

WebmasterWorld Senior Member bigdave us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 5:11 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Yes, it is absolutely realistic to base *A Business* around free SERPs. But it is not realistic to base *every* type of business around free SERPs.

If it is a retiree's home based business of writing travel articles, and she doesn't rely on that income for basic living expenses, then yes, it is completely realistic to base that business on free SERPs. And before anyone says anything, that IS a real business if it is run as a business.

On the other hand, if you are manufacturing and selling hard goods, or you are buying and warehousing stock for your online store, life could be very, very hard if you were basing your pricing on having free traffic and that traffic disappears one day.

It all depends on what your business is and how easily you can survive those lean months/years.

Of course, there is always the business plan of enjoying the good years and getting out as soon as the free traffic disappears. It isn't a long term plan, but that doesn't make it a bad plan.

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 5:48 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Well I would say that if your business (website) is informations related, then the only realistic way to make a success is utilizing free SERPs. Think about.com!

It also helps to build a site that profits from internal referrals and attracts repeat visitors. When I lost 70-90% of my Google traffic for two months last year (apparently because of "canonical" problems), my income dropped, but it wasn't hit nearly as much as it would have been if I'd depended entirely on one-page, first-time visits by searchers.

KenB made a good point earlier in this thread about the even worse risks faced by offline businesses. If you've got a shop and the city tears up your street for the season, you may have trouble meeting expenses, never mind earning a profit--especially if you're paying thousands of dollars, euros, or pounds a month for retail space as opposed to a modest hosting fee. If you own a restaurant or deli and one little error leads to an e. coli or salmonella outbreak, there's a good chance that you'll be put out of business. If you're a guidebook publisher and Barnes & Noble or Borders stops carrying your line, you may need to rethink next year's editions.

Also:

- Some types of sites run a greater risk of being whacked by the search engines than others do. If your keyword-driven widgets affiliate business depends on staying one step ahead of Matt Cutts & Co., you're probably at greater risk than somebody who publishes a site about great racehorses in history and who never heard of SEO.

- Relying on one type of revenue (whether it's affiliate sales, AdSense, or selling widgets in competition with Amazon) may be just as risky as relying on organic search for traffic.

tedster

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 5:55 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Why don't we start listing here things that we can do to get traffic from other source except search engines.

Brett published a great artice on the topic back in 2002

Mostly Viral Top Traffic Alternatives to Search Engines [webmasterworld.com].

sobole

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 6:03 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Here's the funny thing. Free serp listings used to be a great way to go. Google is buying up all of the smaller companies which now makes it difficult to count on the listings. If they haven't bought the smaller ones, then the smaller ones use google as their serch. If you don't have a good google listing then good luck.
Sobole

Jane_Doe

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jane_doe us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 6:51 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Basing a business on free serps can be very lucrative as your expenses can be close to zero. As previously stated, as long as you don't have high fixed costs such as permanent employees with salaries that depend on variable income sources (subject to the whims of the search engine algos), don't live paycheck to paycheck, and have savings or other sources of income to get you through downturns, there is no reason not to base a business on free serps.

You also have to go into this with your eyes wide open and have a plan for what you would do when your free traffic dries up which it, it eventually will for many sites. For most keywords the serps just don't stay the same year after year, especially in competitive areas.

The posts that bug me the most around here are the ones where people rant that the serps changed and now they have to lay off 10 employees and it is all Google's fault. The reality is they were operating under a flawed and risky business model that simply was not sustainable over the long term.

tedster

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 7:12 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

While I do understand the "flawed business model" criticism, the situation -- especially in needing to lay people off -- is not that simple. If you begin an online business and succeed wildly with Google traffic, you'd be a fool NOT to scale up your operation via hiring and training to meet that new demand. And if your search engine success continues for a few years, then your employees and you have become used to the situation.

Now if search traffic takes a tumble -- well, you probably must lay off some folks. Just as it happens in any business when new orders stop coming in, because of some external factor or other. And I've been there in offline retail to see it happen and cope with it. And even though we had seen the possibility -- 40% of profit was coming through one very popular brand name for 30 years -- when that brand took a tumble, we had layoffs. Lots of them.

If you're very sharp, you will be taking steps all along to bolster your position as much as possible. But search engine traffic can be a BIG bunch of income to have vanish, no matter how you try to insure things. And especially if you are only operating an online business, then layoffs are always a real possibity. The big complaints comes from those who don't understanding the playing field all along, and feel like that traffic is a given.

egurr

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 7:56 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Well I think the obvious retort is, why would you?
There are so many other marketing avenues not related to the web.

Oliver Henniges

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 7:57 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Great posts all over the place here. I think most of us would spontaneously answer the initial question with 'NO', but what is the alternative?

1) build some other websites additionally
2) build alterntive streams of traffic
3) absolutely satisfy the needs of your visitors, in order to make sure they add your site to their favourites and will thus find their way back without the help of a search engine in the future.

As for 1) I like very much what dataguy said:

The idea of splitting a website to spread out the risk has been around for a long time. In my opinion, that idea has run its' course as it will make you more likely to be seen as black hat, or at the minimum dilute the popularity of your main site, subtracting from its position of authority.

If you want to spread out the risks, it is much better to have multiple unrelated websites, but it is hard for one person to manage more than one really good web site. Again, just my opinion...

Let me just add this: Some people might argue that it is only a question of good software, a good plan, a good CMS to maintain more than one website. However, I strongly believe, that AN INHOMOGENEOUS OVERALL STRUCTURE of your website is a very good protection against filters. And structure covers all aspects: links, syntax, semantic correlations, logical organization and so on. Size is not only a question of the number of pages your scripts will generate, but a question of the number of hours humans spent designing the site, and I believe SEs have means to decide both. Some additional, unexpected pdfs, flash-animations, avis, kmz-files or even a bmp might work wonders. I don't know, if webspiders have feelings of boredom meanwhile, but I regard this issue quite underestimated in the age of scripting.

Personally, I concentrate on 3). We had a considerable breakthrough in our little niche last year, and ecommerce-revenues now amount to almost 50%, google supplying us with 98% of SE-traffic and almost 50% of all traffic. Nevertheless I still view every single visitor from google as a gift. I contiune to work very very hard, because I will not hire an additional employee, before I am sure I will be able to pay him for at least one year, even if I drop off google.

Jane_Doe

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jane_doe us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 9:18 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

If you begin an online business and succeed wildly with Google traffic, you'd be a fool NOT to scale up your operation via hiring and training to meet that new demand.

You can scale up by hiring contract or temporary workers.

Hiring permanent workers based a highly speculative income may be potentially lucrative to site owners, but it isn't fair to the employees with mortgages to pay and kids to feed, unless they clearly understand that their continued employment is tenuous at best. While obviously many businesses to lay people off, most do not lose all of their business overnight based on third party coding changes. A business like a janitorial service may have hundreds of customers, so barring any events like hurricanes or wars, there are not that many reasonably predictable events that would wipe out the business over night. Yet with web sites based on free traffic being wiped out overnight happens all of the time.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 9:24 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

I've been doing it for five years ;)

Ups

and

Downs!

idolw

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 9:48 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

sure. just spend all your money and time on finding out how to get out of that situation. this part does really cost you money!
BTW. some spam activities still work so one can try in short term and see what happens. spamming is short term perspective business anyway ;)

goubarev

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 10:28 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

Base a business on Free SERPs - NO.

I would not do it, unless I'm forced to.
If I absolutely just had to do it, then I would
1. Diversify like crazy - created many different sites all over the world let them compete against each other.
2. Invest really heavy into links - the more the better. All are from different places - all are to the different places.
3. Design my sites differently - different templates, different structure, different keywords -- Basically, the "network of you different sites" will "ride out" the changes in SERPs, much better than a single site...

iblaine

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 10:29 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

A business relying only on organic SERPs is one that has no control over its biggest partner. That's a risky business.

wellzy

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 11:40 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

I have done just that, but I did it with many websites. I have 5 static html websites and generally when traffic is down on one site it is up on another. I built them one at a time and did not link (different subject I know).

My point is that it can be done.

wellzy

iamlost

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 11:40 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)


Is It Realistic To Base A Business Around Free SERPs?

Maybe.
As previous in this thread it depends on your business model.

There are two basic web revenue models:
* e-commerce: basically retail/wholesale on the web.
* ad-wrap: basically content wrapping ads.

e-commerce:
Note: I sold/dropped my e-commerce sites in 1999/2000 so my thoughts are based on clients not recent personal sites.

* Many wholesale (b2b) sites are deliberately hiding from SEs and SERPs. These sites range from less than a thousand to millions of pages and are successful without Google et al. Indeed the very last thing they want is general public traffic.
* It is retail (b2c) ecommerce that 'needs' broad public traffic so looks to SEs, directories, etc. much as B&M stores look to yellow pages and newspaper ads.

Retail e-commerce is inherently expensive requiring some levels of inventory, physical storage and shipping, credit accounts, etc. This added cost structure almost requires a pro-active marketing approach (PPC, affiliate program, etc.) to drive revenue past fluctuating SERPs.

I will mention that building a network of content sites driving prequalified visitors deep to specific product pages within your ecommerce site can over time be a better ROI than a typical affiliate program or even PPC (depending upon click fraud levels). This network may even pay for itself via the ad-wrap revenue model.

ad-wrap content:
A single site (with or without sub-domains) is inherently inexpensive but is otherwise vulnerable to similar SERP problems as an e-commerce site. One is a lonely number.

Every site lives by it's traffic. Initially almost 100% of traffic comes from the SEs as no one else knows you exist. There are two types of diversity that can eventually add protection from SERP flux:
* site subject diversification: if your first site is oranges add a site on apples; to protect against fruit collapse add sites on carrots and potatoes, tuna and salmon, etc. Perhaps even copper and tin in case of food/flora/fauna revulsion.
* site revenue diversification: AdSense and CJ may be the 'default' ad/affiliate programs but there are others. Good revenue planning can incorporate 3-or-4 different sources per page fairly easily and six is possible. You must know and stay current with the various T&C and adjust the mixture as necessary but the ROI boost can be substantial.

Once a site gets sufficient traffic it is posssible and profitable to call potential interested parties to sell ad space/programs directly. Remember that agencies and large companies expect to pay high; an offering with too low a price tag will be ignored (weird but true); local/niche directory ad-ons to a site aggressively priced and marketed also add up nicely...

And then there are the links. I buy one to three links for some months to get a site crawled and indexed asap and then let backlinks grow on their own. The problem with many 'link programs' is the emphasis on volume/PR for SERP rather than as a vehicle for bringing pre-qualified traffic. Personal longterm (a year :-)) testing results show organic grown links ROI far exceeding link exchanges, etc. If your experience differs, fine; do what works best for your situation.

My experience is that a niche ad-wrap content network can be:
* strictly organic SERPs and links (other a couple bought to get listed).
* profitable in 6-8 months and livable in 12-14 months.
* that SE traffic can easily be dropped to 80% in 6-months, 60% in a year, and under 50% within 2-years. That there really is more to search than Google.
* that one-half to two-thirds of replacement traffic is via external links with direct url entry/bookmark traffic making up the difference.
* that so far no combination of disasters (G-tweeks, etc) has broken my diversication business model. The biggest drop (Florida) had total revenue down 42% for a few months. Nothing over -10% since.

The trick is research and planning - have a proper business plan that you regularly update, consult, and follow. What works best depends upon the individual's knowledge, experience, and effort.

Know your business model and work to minimise singular bust points.

petehall

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 11:59 pm on Aug 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

My whole business is based around free SERPs.

Actually the last 7-8 years of my life have been based around free SERPs.

Shoot me down...

The end is near etc...

iblaine

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 12:23 am on Aug 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

No question a business can be built around organic SERPs but the idea is not scaleable. A _large_ business(dozens of employees) built around organic SERPs is rare, if not non-existent.

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 12:36 am on Aug 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

No question a business can be built around organic SERPs but the idea is not scaleable. A _large_ business(dozens of employees) built around organic SERPs is rare, if not non-existent.

It may be rare, but I wouldn't call it nonexistent. Still, the original post in this thread wasn't specifically about large businesses, and I suspect that many of us aren't interested in having dozens of employees. I know I don't. They'd never fit into my attic office. :-)

petehall

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 12:38 am on Aug 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

A _large_ business(dozens of employees) built around organic SERPs is rare, if not non-existent.

Ever heard of Amazon?

Wasn't their success down to being top on Google search thanks to switched-on URL writing at a very early stage?

I think many Internet based businesses are a lot larger than you imagine my friend.

Mind you.. once you've 'made it' to that level you probably don't need search anyway.

Business isn't supposed to be easy...

vite_rts

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 12:55 am on Aug 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

unless my memory is failing me, Amazon spent a gi-normous amount off money advertising , especially off line traditional media

cabbagehead

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 12:59 am on Aug 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

> Is It Realistic To Base A Business Around Free SERPs?

It is a fundamentally flawed business model!

1. No diversification

2. Dependent on the whims of a company

3. Very volatile

A business is like any other investment. Ask your broker if he's ever put a majority of your eggs into an ultra consolidated and volatile stock!

gregbo

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3056543 posted 1:15 am on Aug 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think any business (on or offline) needs to convert its initial customers into regular customers, and use those customers to bring in new customers. A business that relies on a single "referral" source is very vulnerable.

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