What is better than SEO to increase website traffic? For free?

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not the best way to increase traffic to your website. Especially if you are a small business owner.

Why would you optimize your pages in the first place? To get more traffic, right? But what if I tell you that search engine optimization is not a good long term strategy to increase your visitor count?

Sure, it has its place in the world. There is a whole industry built around it. Lots of well meaning, honest and hard working people earn their living doing SEO.

Then why shouldn't you do what everyone is doing?

There are several reasons for this.

For one, SEO is too difficult for the ordinary webmaster. Search Engines (SEs) keep updating their algorithms (their methods to determine how web pages should rank for a particular search query). It's very hard, if not impossible, for the average webmaster to keep up with all the changing information related to SEO, unless he or she is doing it fulltime. And even then it's really difficult. The search engines never reveal their changing algorithms, and people can only speculate. Since no one knows for sure what's happening, and can only work based on their best guesses, mistakes can be costly. And it takes a hell of a long time to find out if something was a mistake.

But what if you decide to hire an SEO expert instead of doing it yourself? While I agree that it's better to bring in outside expertise whenever necessary, I still feel this is not the best approach here. Many so-called SEO experts are not real experts and can get your site in a jam with the search engines. And the good ones are very expensive to work with. For small business owners, the cost of hiring a good SEO expert may be too high.

Besides, not even the experts know for sure what works and what doesn't, and if something does work, how useful it is, or why, or for how long. It's only speculation and guesswork based on experiments conducted by them. They constantly need to keep experimenting on sites (including yours) and review the results, to determine what seems to be working at the moment.

It's not just that SEO is difficult to perform accurately. Increasing competition is making it increasingly difficult to get high rankings for popular terms. It's becoming more and more costly to rank high on a popular term. The return on investment on SEO is diminishing.

Then what to do?

Where there is a problem, there is a solution too. And in this case, the solution not only works, but it's inexpensive and has long term benefits too.

To find the solution, consider this question for a moment: What do the search engines actually want? Do they want pages that have been artificially optimized, using SEO, to rank higher, or do they want pages that are the most relevant to a particular search query?

If you think about it, you probably will come to the same conclusion that I did. The engines just want to know what pages are the most relevant for a particular query. Why?

Simply because the more relevant the search results are, the more people will keep coming back to that search engine for their queries. That's how Google shot up to the number one position.

Search advertising is a competitive field today, and every search engine wants to keep as many searchers to itself as possible, to increase its ad revenues. So it's in their own interest to deliver the best possible search results. Make sense?

Alright. So?

So coming back to our earlier conclusion that search engines want the most relevant web pages for a particular search query, it makes sense to strive to create pages that are the most relevant for a particular query.

Relevant in the real sense. The search engines, and consequently we, don't want webpages that are just artificially optimized to rank high in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

The search engines are getting smarter and smarter. They can figure out most tricks used by SEO experts today. Tricks make them wary of a page. What they are looking for is relevant content that will appeal to the searchers, not tricks trying to fool them. The engines don't easily get fooled these days.

You and I can figure out whether a website or a webpage is relevant for a particular query by looking at it. And looking at a few such pages or sites, we can determine which of them would be the most relevant, and so on. The search engines are trying to do the same thing.

What this means is that the SEs are trying to emulate reality. They are trying to behave as humans would. And they are getting better and better at it.

What this also means is that it's becoming more and more futile to game the search engines. Just as a human visitor to a website would know when he or she is being fooled, the search engines would know too.

So instead of spending your time, money and other resources on SEO, it's better to keep it real, and produce web pages for human beings. Of course, it's only prudent to leave a few clues for the search engines to help them decide what the page is about, like using relevant keywords in the body text and headline, etc. But for the most part, I advise writing for the humans.

Become the expert

Why do the SEs bring the most traffic to your site? Because people want information, and don't know where it is. So they search. And there are a lot of such people, as we know.

But more and more people are getting "connected" to each other everyday. You have blogs (web logs), online forums, chat rooms, mailing lists, and other communities. You have RSS.

So when I want to know about something, I can just go to an online forum that I frequent and ask if anyone has used product X before, or what they suggest if I want to do Y, etc. And I will trust the answers people give me. Or when I want to know something about SEO, maybe I'll go straight to the SEO Chat site and see if there is an article on the topic I want to learn more about. On the other hand, what can the other sites, even if they rank higher than Matt Cutt's blog on SEO for my query, tell me that Matt can't?

My point is that as I get more and more "connected," I may end up using the search engines less and less. So even if SEO was the best way to bring me to a particular site in theory, it will not do so anymore. I may reach that site because of other reasons. As I come across more and more experts on things I am interested in, I will rely on these experts to provide me information when I need it, not the search engines.

In real life, when you want to buy something, you ask the opinion of your friends. You don't call up an "Ask Me" type of service. As the Internet becomes more and more an extension of your "real" life, this is what you will tend to do too, more and more. You will ask your friends in the forums, or follow other people's blogs, visit the sites on the topic that you or someone you know considers an authority on the matter, etc.

I am not saying this is going to happen anytime soon, or that it will be significant enough to change anyone's strategy in the near future. But if a significant portion of your traffic is non-SE, it's probably because a lot of people consider you an expert on something. Not because of SEO.

Point taken, but so what?

When you are considered an expert on something by people, the SEs will consider you an authority on the subject too. It's just a matter of time.

And as the SEs start favoring you over others on certain queries, more and more people will be exposed to your expertise, thus starting a chain reaction.

At the end of the day, all you want is targeted, motivated traffic to your website. Traffic is the bottom line, isn't it? And I assume you want this traffic by spending the least amount of money, time and energy that you can get away with. And you want a strategy that you can rely on, and that will sustain the traffic.

Coming to the point, finally

This brings me to the point of this article. Great content, and not SEO, is the best way to increase traffic to your website. I have written another article on how to use content to increase website traffic.

It's already getting tougher and tougher to get good rankings because of SEO alone. Not just because the SEs are getting smarter, but because of the competition too. But even if we assume you are way smarter than your competition, you can only optimize so much.

Sure, for plenty of keywords it's still possible to score high because of SEO alone, but for how long? And how many people are searching for these low competition keywords anyway? And if there really are a lot of searches being performed for these keywords, how long will it take for your competition to catch up? What will happen then?

Did you know that there are more new searches performed everyday than the old searches repeated?

Knowing this, what are you going to optimize for? Optimizing a page for a wide variety of keywords or variations of them will only dilute your optimization.

And since new searches keep cropping up everyday, you can't possibly create new pages for each variation, because:

  • You can't keep up with the pace, or if you try to, the expenses will soon overwhelm the returns.
  • Even if you try, you can't maintain good quality.
  • You can't predict exactly what search phrases are going to be used in the future.

If you consider this, you have to focus on getting recognition as an expert on that subject or theme, not just particular keywords. Which again means you can't rely on SEO, if you really want to reach those new searchers joining the internet everyday.

Of course you can choose to ignore new searches and focus entirely on existing and popular keywords. But that's your choice, if you choose to compete where everyone is competing, and spend more money and time than you could get away with.

But my guess is that more and more such popular keywords will join keywords like "business" or "travel" etc. There is simply no value in optimizing for such keywords. Not just because the traffic will be untargeted, but because it's downright impossible to rank high for them.

That's why you focus on a niche. Or the low hanging fruit. But with time, as the competition gets more severe, the low hanging fruit will get out of reach too, don't you think?

Or you can simply bypass this race to the top positions and think long term, focusing on returns on your investments of time, money, and other resources.

Any good marketing person knows that you don't base your marketing on tactics, but on strategies. Focusing on devising new tactics and modifying existing ones eats up a lot of your resources without giving you any long term benefits. As soon as the benefits of the current tactic wear off, you have to devise a new one.

SEO is a bag of search engine marketing tactics that keep changing as the SEs change their algorithms and the competition gets tougher.

Focus on long term strategies that will sustain and build your online business, not on short term tactics. Writing content for your visitors is one such strategy. A lot of good things will happen if you do it.


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