Shaddows - 11:40 am on Dec 2, 2010 (gmt 0)
This thread is great.
Just to refer back to the OP, our site was lauched in 2001. 99% of early growth was Google, and we're now a multi-million pound company. We are now diversified, and have Sales teams and are just beginning to gainfully exploit SM (VERY late to that party). But the fact remains, this small business thrived on Google.
We've watched competitors outgrow us, only to die; others just fall behind in the ranking arms race; others price themselves too low to survive. Our success has been a blend of Business planning, content authoring, and SEO.
Keeping records of competitors (I mean spreadsheets here people), ranking, movements, deep churn, non-related niches, adjacent niches, individual page referrals, sectional ranking changes is a key part of what we do.
Referral logs, visitor behaviour analysis, subtly varied hierachial structure and Title composition. These are the tools we use to make our site 'robust' to intermittant SERP disruption.
It would be hard, if not impossible, for a non-targetted algo change to take out our entire site. But if it did, our direct traffic would just about pay our non-wage outgoings, and our sales people should still be able to turn an operating profit.
Google is not responsible for the economic doldrums. If your neck of the woods is looking messy, most are not. For every bad SERP (and there are plenty), there are 20 or 50 that are good, and 5 or 10 that are great.