Why Google is a Tactic not a Strategy

Do you live and die by your ranking in Google? If so, you might want to reconsider what you’re doing — and not doing — to promote your website.

If you spend any time on search engine optimization forums like Jill Whalen’s HighRankings.com Forum or the Search Engine Watch Forums, you’ll tend to see a lot of questions from people whose sites have lost ranking in Google. These are people who are often desperate for advice because a lost position in Google means lost revenue for them or their clients. Indeed, I have posted a few of my own questions about why a client’s site is here today and gone tomorrow. As an SEO, it is my job to evaluate and diagnose problems that are hindering my clients’ search engine positioning. However, I also have a lot of experience with online marketing, and lately something in my subconscious keeps jumping up and down trying to get my attention.

Each time I read posts from desperate webmasters, marketers and business owners about how their site has been nailed by Google, resulting in a devastating loss of traffic, leads and/or sales, I have to shake my head and wonder why they are so dependent on Google in the first place.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Google. Let’s be honest here. If it weren’t for Google and the other search engines, I would be in an entirely different line of work. Yet I have always resisted the urge to focus solely on SEO as a Web marketing strategy. Focusing on one tactic such as SEO is bad enough, but focusing on one search engine as the source of your sales-based referrals is suicide for two reasons:

  1. Google could go away tomorrow and then we’ll all be rubbing up against Yahoo or MSN for attention.
  2. Google’s first priority is Google, not your business. Algorithms change, rules change, sites get dropped, people get hurt. It happens, and you should have a backup plan for when it does.

We love buzzwords in this industry, and I’m no exception. Strategy, tactic, SEO, bottom line, ROI…the list is endless. Still, it’s important to differentiate the words ”tactic” and “strategy” so you can stay with me on this one.

  • A strategy is a plan of action which helps you achieve your goals (an example of a goal would be to get more leads).
  • A tactic is a detailed action that you implement as part of your strategy. Most strategies have more than one tactic.

So, for example, your strategy may be to promote your business using the Internet. Tactics that support this strategy could include building a website (duh), getting it listed in search engines, featuring the URL for the site on your offline materials, banner advertising, email sponsorship and direct marketing (e.g, via direct email and snail mail). Notice that Google is not listed as a tactic. This is because Google is lumped in with “getting listed in search engines.”

If your entire e-marketing focus is tied to getting good positioning in Google, then you’re missing out on gaining valuable traffic, leads and sales from other highly successful online marketing tactics. Diversifying your tactics also provides you with more stability. It means that the source of referrals does not go away simply because one company goes out of business (or decides to change their algorithm). Yes, it may hurt you if your ranking is lost overnight, but it won’t kill you.

Traffic is important. Leads are important. Google is a huge source of both traffic and leads, and is thus extremely important. But what about sales? And what about highly specialized industries that don’t lend themselves well to keyword searches? How valuable is Google in the grand scheme of things?

Let’s say you manufacture boiler parts and provide service for extremely high-end, expensive boiler equipment. Your target audience might be engineers who work for companies that maintain these huge boilers. The engineers are responsible for keeping the boilers working and thus ordering parts and service. It is likely that this constituency already has a preferred boiler vendor, perhaps the manufacturer they purchased the boiler from.

In this case, focusing exclusively on SEO and/or Google as a tactic for reaching these people is setting the company up for failure. You just won’t reach these engineers because they aren’t performing keyword searches. Many highly specialized industries are in this same boat. There are simply not enough searchers out there to justify the time and expenditure on SEO. The value isn’t there.

I’m not saying that their corporate websites shouldn’t be search engine friendly. All I’m saying is that a much smaller portion of the overall marketing budget should be allocated to SEO than other tactics such as email marketing, banner advertising on industry-specific websites, and directory placement (which is also industry-specific).

Now let’s look at Google’s value in terms of sales. It’s obviously very high. Many e-commerce sites depend on good rankings in Google to make their monthly sales quota. A drop in Google’s search engine results for their hottest terms is devastating to their bottom line. For these companies, focusing on getting good rankings in Google is very valuable and critical to maintaining their businesses. As such, a larger portion of their marketing budget should be allocated to SEO with an emphasis on SEO time and energy placed on Google optimization. A “larger portion” does not mean the entire budget.

In each of these scenarios, Google is considered from a strategic standpoint. These companies have a couple of things in common. Both of them want to promote their businesses on the Web and both of them are considering SEO as a way to do that. However, time and budget allocation will look very different for each company. If they are wise, neither company will plan to reach their key goals by using just one tactic. This is a dangerous strategy in any situation, but it becomes particularly risky when the tactic is focused on one company (in this case, Google). Even if either or both of these hypothetical companies do well in Google and enjoy success for months or even years, the internal workings of this one search engine have been known to change in a heartbeat. If you don’t have a backup plan, you’re out of business.

The long and short of it, folks, is to plan your online marketing strategy so that no one tactic is responsible for supporting your business. The irony of the Web is that a lot of the tactics that don’t revolve around SEO actually help you with search engine positioning. Link placement, press release writing, content syndication and even offline marketing can all contribute to better placement in search engines. Here are a few examples.

  • If you focus on building up your brand through an offline direct mail campaign, then more people will find your site. They may like it. They may link to it. Even if they don’t link to it, they may buy from you, and isn’t that what counts?
  • If you write meaningful, keyword-rich press releases and submit them to sites like eMediaWire, they will get picked up by Yahoo News, MSN News, Google News and others. So now you have a great press release and more traffic, all without a second glance at Google.
  • If you get your highly specialized industrial website listed in industry-specific directories such as the Thomas Register, you will benefit from the high ranking this type of site enjoys. You’ll also be reaching a more targeted audience of people who go directly to the register and bypass keyword searching altogether.
  • If you update your site’s content and syndicate it (e.g., a site that sells musical instruments may write regular articles about the music industry, for example), then other sites will pick up these articles and link to you. Search engines will pick them up, too, because they love fresh content.

Obviously these are just a few tactics that can be used to help contribute to your bottom line. Slicing up your marketing budget so that it incorporates a variety of tactics will give you an edge over companies who focus on the highly obvious and extremely competitive tactic of getting a top listing in Google. The idea here is to surround yourself with baskets that have a few eggs in each, so that if one basket goes south, the others will crowd in around you and keep you going while you figure out a way to fill in the gap.

There are some great resources out there to help you with your online marketing strategy. Jill Whalen’s MarketingSherpa site is one of my favorites. It contains case studies of actual marketing initiatives and a wealth of free articles about all facets of online marketing. The best way to understand what works is to read the success stories of others. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s website also provides a lot of free information, including case studies, online guides and some great information on how to integrate media so that you reach a wider variety of people. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention SEOchat.com’s own Website Marketing and Website Promotion sections, which contain articles that address a lot of different online marketing tactics, such as blogging and networking.

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