As marketers we’ve become used to thinking of Google as a kind of machine that spits out customers. “Optimize” your site and make Google happy, and if you’re very good and very lucky you’ll start generating clicks and traffic that make sales for you.
But thinking of Google as a resource which serves your business’ needs is something of a mistake. While Google certainly offers a wealth of resources for marketing your business it is nevertheless important to recognize that your interests do not align with Google’s, and they never have.
In fact, some websites now find themselves competing with Google for those clicks. Given Google is essentially the biggest, most important, and most popular website in the world, that can be a problem.
Understand what Google is doing, and why.
Why would I now go so far as to call Google your website’s “competition?”
First of all, you have to think about all the ways that Google is trying to keep people on Google’s website. The “Knowledge Graph,” (which is the large infobox that occasionally appears to the right of search results) aims to give people the information they’re looking for quickly, without forcing them to leave Google’s website.
The Google+ Local Carousel for hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues is similar. Now you get photos of all these businesses at a glance, along with star ratings. Click on any of them and you get a knowledge graph entry with just about all of the information you could possibly want to know about any of them.
Why does Google want you to stay on Google instead of clicking on any of the Search Engine Results entries? Janet Driscoll Miller explained it best in a recent Search Engine Land column:
Why does Google care about the time-on-site statistic? The faster you find an answer in organic results, the less likely you will be to click on an ad in paid search results. Google AdWords is the financial engine that keeps Google alive. In Google’s 3Q2013 SEC filing, Google AdWords accounted for 93% of the company’s total revenue.
But what if Google could provide the information you search for—your answer—directly on Google.com? Would it mean you would stay on Google.com longer? Would you use Google as your “information resource” vs. clicking to another site? Knowledge Graph accomplishes this goal.
Remember, Google is a business based primarily on a website, (Google.com), even if that website is really big, really impressive, and really pervasive. Remembering this will help you keep Google in perspective, and will help you understand that forwarding your ambitions is not at the forefront of Google’s strategy.
Optimize away from direct competition with Google.
If you try to compete directly with Google you are obviously going to place yourself at an incredible disadvantage.
Instead, you need to optimize where Google isn’t trying to be. The knowledge graph doesn’t pick up long-tail keywords for example, or any kind of content that can’t be quickly explained in a little box. This means that the longer keywords that Hummingbird also favors are more important than ever.
You can also slip into a more cooperative role with Google by working with the Knowledge Graph instead of against them. Moving with the tide of Google’s desires has always been a good strategy to begin with.
For example, the crew at SMX East suggested that image optimization could offer a lot of benefits if Google starts pulling images from sources other than Google.com or Wikipedia. This is about more than keywords: you’ll need to use the right type of mark-up as well. However, the option is there.
SEO should not be your only traffic strategy.
It has never been a good idea to rely on SEO alone for all of your traffic. Good internet marketing requires you to use a mix of a bunch of different strategies, including PPC (again working with Google’s needs instead of against them), video marketing, social media marketing and guest blogging. Even offline marketing strategies need to continue to play a role in the mix of techniques that you use to put the word out about your business.
You have to work to put yourself out in front of people manually. You have to work to build a following that comes back to you, specifically. Yes, search accounts for a lot of business and a lot of traffic. You can never ignore SEO entirely. But relying on it puts too much power into the hands of a single business. Keep diversifying. Google is a partner for many businesses, but it’s an unstable, unpredictable partner with its own agenda—and that’s all it will ever be.