EditorialGuy - 6:44 pm on Sep 17, 2013 (gmt 0)
It's not so much that the SERPs are shrinking. It's more that there are eleventy schmillion pages for every query and 90% of them will do fine for the typical searcher. It's like trying to be heard in the crowd at a major music festival. You've got to do something to make yourself stand out.
Yes, and better titles and descriptions can help you do that. But another thing you can do is focus less on "user acquisition" (SEO) and more on "user retention" (giving searchers a reason to stay on your site after they've found it).
On our information site, we've pursued what might be called a contrarian content strategy: At a time when most sites (especially for our topics) are cranking out 300- to 500-word posts or trying to attract user-generated content, we've concentrated on in-depth "evergreen" content for people who don't mind reading and are actively researching our topics. My theory is that such readers are better prospects for relevant ads and affiliate links than drive-by users are. (It's also easier to stand out from the crowd with solid, in-depth information that's published at a font size that people of all ages can read and with photos that add value to the information.)
The same approach could work for an e-commerce site, if the site owner has editorial and writing skills or can afford to hire the right kind of freelancers. I can think of any number of successful mail-order businesses that were--and, in some cases, still are--driven as much by content as by merchandise or prices.
Of course, e-commerce sites have another way of attracting traffic that's seldom cost-effective for information sites: Advertising. If you regard advertising as something that Google forces you to do when SEO isn't working, you're probably going to lose out to sellers who treat advertising as an opportunity (and who develop the skills needed to make advertising a cost-effective source of traffic that converts into sales).