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Are Search Engines Relevant Any More?

November 7th, 2007 · 23 Comments

I’m currently putting together a series of posts looking back on some of the website traffic tips I’ve written about in the past. As a result I’ve been spending a lot of time wading through my Analytics data and going cross eyed playing around in Excel.

One of the things I’ve picked up on is that there seems to be a natural process involved in the organic growth of either a website or a blog. The longer your site is online, the less reliant you are on search engine traffic to power your site.

I’m not saying that search engines are dead but the question I have is are they as relevant as they once were?

A few years ago it would have been laughable to even ask the question but with the increase in popularity of blogs, user generated content and the explosion in social media, is heading to a search engine the first step for the web savvy user?

I mentioned a couple of months back that I was starting to use social bookmarking as my method of cataloguing useful information. I’m still adding old favourites as we speak but already I’ve built up quite a nice library of information. If I’m researching a new article it makes more sense to me to go through my trusted sources via del.icio.us than it does typing in a query on Google. I’ve already vouched for the information by bookmarking it so why wade through pages of potentially useless articles?

I am a big fan of StumbleUpon. It’s a great way to find new information that has been recommended by your online friends. It’s also one of the biggest providers of traffic to this site. Stumblers tend to stay on the site longer and they tend to read more content. I’ve also seen an increase in RSS subscriptions since I started getting traffic from StumbleUpon so why not focus on writing for the Stumblers rather than worrying about making sure my meta tags are correct or I’ve H1′d my titles?

Of course I still use search engines to find new information. As someone who has been online for the last ten years or so it’s something that has been built into me. Need to find something? Look on the search engines. However I’m starting to change the way I do things online so what about the person that’s just starting out? I’m not talking about the casual surfer, I’m talking about the person who is going to start up their own website or blog. It won’t take them long to discover and embrace social media.

The new generation of web savvy users won’t be as reliant on search engines as I was when I started out.

So what does this all mean? The search engines are going to say “it was a good run whilst it lasted”, pack up and go home? No, of course it doesn’t. The big three – Google, Yahoo and Microsoft – are already changing the way they operate and they will continue to do so in order to get more eyeballs on their ads. However I do have to question whether or not webmasters and bloggers are going to be quite as focused on building their sites with the search engines in mind as they used to be. Why bother if you can get the majority of your traffic through word of mouth, backlinks and social bookmarking?

Could your website survive without search engine traffic?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few weeks. It started when David Airey found himself dumped from the SERPs and continued with the whole PageRank debacle. Obviously it wouldn’t be nice to be dropped from the Google index but would it necessarily spell the end of this site? For some of my other sites it most certainly would. They rely almost exclusively on getting traffic from the Big 3. Without that traffic they would curl up and die.

Or would they?

I once suggested that one of my old clients would not be able to attract visitors to his carpet cleaning site by utilising social media. Within less than an hour Michael Gray managed to prove me wrong. Interestingly enough he’s recently posted a similar example of how to linkbait boring subjects so maybe I would just need to adopt a new method for getting traffic to those sites. Rand at SEOmoz was spot on earlier this year when he said every site is linkbait and linkerati worthy.

Seth Godin recently compiled a list of over 950 Web 2.0 sites that you could leverage for traffic. Jack Humphrey reveals how to utilise social media in his excellent ebook Authority Black Book. Likewise Yaro Starak covers marketing blogs through social media in his free ebook Blog Profits Blueprint. There are over 40 niche sites to submit your blog to at Top Secret Blogger.

With the increase in use of social media sites, the dependency on search engine traffic becomes less and less. Graywolf highlights how StumbleUpon have stolen a march on the Big 3 by integrating social media into the SERPs themselves. Which link would you click on? The #1 ranked result as decided by Google or the #9 ranked result as recommended by one of your StumbleUpon friends?

I’ve started to use Sphinn a lot more to find interesting articles about search marketing. In my opinion a click from Sphinn is worth a lot more than a click from Google. Why? Because the person clicking on the link from Sphinn is likely to be more interested in what I have to say, more likely to read more of my content and, crucially, more likely to link to me in the future. Forget the SEO reasons why linking is important, the link from someone in my niche is likely to drive more targeted traffic to my site than search engine traffic.

New social media sites are popping up every day and they’re getting more and more focused on very specific niches in the market place. Take a trip over to 901am and have a look through some of the new site launches they’re announced over the last few weeks.

Search engines aren’t going to disappear overnight but as more of these highly targeted social media sites appear, the less relevant the search engines become.

UPDATE: Here’s a list of 24 social media sites that actually send traffic to your website. How did I find it? By using my del.icio.us bookmarks ;)

UPDATE 2: If you’re still not convinced that social media is the way forward, read this excellent article over at Dosh Dosh – The Importance of Social Media Marketing.


Tags: Search Marketing

23 responses so far ↓

  • David Airey // Nov 8, 2007 at 9:46 am

    Hi Mike,

    A nice run-down there, with some links I can check out later. Cheers.

    I think you’re right in saying that the longer a site is online, the less it relies on SEs (if they’ve been using social media sites), although with the social traffic, comes a snowball of SE traffic over the duration.

    At present, around 30% of my traffic is from Google, and whilst I could survive without it, I’d be dropping my #2 method of attracting new clients (#1 = word of mouth).

    You make a good point about the usage of search engines. Those ‘in the know’ would probably head to a blogsearch tool, or one of the other sites you mention.

    However, the huge majority of people aren’t in the know, and can barely use a search engine properly. So for me, search engines are very relevant, because average Joe wouldn’t know where to start without them.

    Thanks for the mention by the way. ;)

  • Mike // Nov 8, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    I agree that the majority of folks aren’t in the know at the moment so will turn to the search engines. I guess what I was trying to get at is that this is changing and newer users are more aware of alternatives to Google or traditional search.

    A great point you make in your comment is that the social media sites get a lot of love from the search engines so, indirectly, that is spread to your sites.

    In theory you could have a site that is banned by Google that is still getting heaps of traffic via the social media listing. Sure it’s an extra click for the user but it’s still footfall.

  • Dan Anton // Nov 8, 2007 at 9:32 pm

    Great post, as a webmaster I started off completely focused on SEO, but now I realize it’s more about the end user and possibly social bookmarking…I’m holding off on bookmarking till the site is redone but I love how it’s a search with a user feedback attached, i.e. a digg or a stumble, or a sphinn like you stated…Good read and brings up some serious issues

  • Rachel Goldstein // Nov 8, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Great article. I still receive most of my traffic from Google, but I continuously see more and more traffic coming from social bookmarking sites. I even find myself doing my research from de.licio.us instead of from Google…and I love Google. And personally, I was very upset when David Airey was dropped from SERPs, it doesn’t seem fair.

    Thank you for the great article.
    Rachel

  • Mike // Nov 9, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Dan – I definitely think a site like yours lends itself to social media. The fact that you’re building a community of like minded individuals should make it easier too. I’ve not had a lot of success with Digg myself but I would imagine that it could work for you.

    The great thing you’ve got is that your users that run their own blogs within your site will also be Stumbling, Digging and such like. However the potential downside is that they might over egg it.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. I’d be interested to hear how you’re getting on with the social side of things.

    Rachel – Thanks for dropping by too. I think search engine traffic is still going to form a part of the ongoing strategy for any blog or website but it’s whether or not it will remain the primary focus for webmasters and bloggers in the future.

    In my opinion Google screwed up dropping David from the SERPs for very specific terms that related to his industry. Likewise when John Chow couldn’t even rank for his own name. Their heavy handed approach actually made the SERPs less relevant.

  • James - DigitalKeyToInfo // Nov 9, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    Mike, I hope you are right.
    I think we need to work on alternatives to Google.
    One of my main money making sites gets 90% of it’s traffic from Google. While it is nice to do well on some keywords, I would much rather have steady return traffic to rely on along with social traffic.
    It is scary to think what can happen if Google just decides to drop my site for some reason.

  • Mike // Nov 10, 2007 at 2:50 am

    Love your article on Google, James. You’re spot on with what you’re saying there.

    Relying on any one single source whether it be traffic or monetization is a dangerous game so finding alternatives is a must for anyone in today’s market.

    Putting into place a social media strategy could be the difference in the long run.

    I’m not saying search engines are going to become extinct but what I’m saying is that the new generation of web users is already looking at alternatives to the traditional methods so make the most of being an early adopter.

  • Lord Matt // Nov 10, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Vlad the Affilaite has dropped his site from the Google listings and blocked the googlebot too.

  • Vancouver Island SEO // Nov 10, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    IMO Search Engines will always be both important and irrelevant. Social Media is for the sazzy, but quite frankly there are a lot of people out that who just aren’t up for it. Most people over the age of 40 out there are terrible with Google (yes there are exceptions). Now because of this we get a lot of the long tail phrases out from the uneducated searcher, so we can get a lot of irrelevant traffic. But I think the search engines will both grow in stock price and growth in revue. And you can’t have growth revenue without excessive traffic. Cheers.

  • Vancouver Island SEO // Nov 10, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    I meant savvy :)

  • Mike // Nov 11, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Matt – Hats off to Vlad for taking the plunge. I’m going to be following his progress with great interest.

    Vlad The Affiliate in case anyone else wants to see how he gets on.

    That’s a seriously brave move and I hope it works out for him so we all have a model to follow :D

    VISEO – Shame. Sazzy sounded so much better ;)

    The search engines will continue to evolve over time. They’ll have to in order to make money. However I don’t think the new generation will rely on them as much as I did, for example, when setting out.

  • Tad Chef // Nov 16, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    I have more or less the same amount of visitors from Sphinn and Google search as I’m often on the front page, basically with almost anything lately which surprises me a little. Sphinn is leading as Google also counts my internal searches as traffic it seems (I see it in the referers, sometimes my site:-searches are even counted manifold times…).

    Basically Sphinn is just a multiplicator as the people who come from there are experts like you who then head to StumbleUpon to stumble me and stuff…

    So if I could choose Google or Sphinn I would choose Sphinn as of now.

  • Mike // Nov 17, 2007 at 12:19 am

    One of the reasons you’re on the front page of Sphinn is because you write some great stuff, Tad. You’re also a regular contributor there so the two things go hand in hand. The great thing the success you’re having on Sphinn is that your content is being voted for by your peers and not some impenetrable algorithm.

    By the way you just made me blush. Expert? I wish. A searchspotter, more like :oops:

  • Search Engine Optimization // Sep 12, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    This is a good thought that you have put forward and I think that search engines are relevant.

    It has mainly got to do with how much websites depend on them and how much the common man depend on it. And the dependence level is huge.

  • Intellionics Seo Services // Sep 19, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Though the graph presents a sorry picture for search engines I think that search engines are far from over.

    There are people still vying so badly for that number one spot on search engines and there are still a lot of people who have no idea where to get some information from.

  • Mike // Sep 19, 2008 at 11:00 am

    The point I was making was that search is no longer the only source of traffic to your website.

    Search engines will continue to be the dominant force of referral traffic but not to the same extent as they previously were.

  • Affordable Seo // Sep 22, 2008 at 6:57 am

    I agree with you. There is no need for people to be wart if they do not have good search engine ranking and it really does not matter if they do not have optimized sites.

    Referrals are more effective and also it is quality based so it makes more sense and your readers are more valuable.

  • Webmaster // Sep 27, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    I think they are… I’m not sure how correct the graphs are.

  • Mike // Sep 29, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    The graphs were correct for the 15 month period they referenced at the time of writing this post nearly a year ago. May revise the post in the future to show the current situation.

  • Isabella // Nov 17, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Very revealing statistics and very informative data.. i fully agree with this article and most of the time we dont get relevant data from searches.

  • LOCC - Tha Most Gangsta // Mar 1, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Another problem with tracking the PR of a website is that while it plays some small part in determining your ranking it fails to consider factors such as relevancy and keyword use. A page with a PR of 9 or even 10 will never rank for irrelevant keywords although they may perform extremely well for those keywords that they do target. Improving your PageRank is by no means a guarantee of improving your search engine ranking or, more importantly, the level of traffic you receive from the search engine results.

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