I’ve seen it first hand: whole industries shattered by so called Google updates and shortly after Google introducing the exact same offer as the now dwarfed competition. In the UK shortly before Google pushed its Shopping search the Panda update killed off almost all shopping search engines and price comparison sites. Only one site survived: it had lots of high quality content Google required from then on.
Google Shopping does not have any content whatsoever but who cares? After all it’s a Google service and thus gets shown above other results independent of organic rankings. Now that Google Shopping is a paid service for publishers it’s clear why other shopping search engines have been singled out. I could tell you similar stories about the travel sector. There are many more in other niches I don’t even have dived in yet. For example over night image search traffic dropped by 3/4 on most sites after Google started displaying images onsite.
Google is not your friend, not a source of “free traffic” or an impartial referee.
Google is your biggest competitor on the Web. In case it isn’t yet, it will be most likely tomorrow. Google doesn’t even have to enter your industry and offer what you sell for free or above all else in the search results. It’s enough that Google shows only ads and paid services for your keywords above the fold that is in the visible area of average screens. Just recently Google introduced a new mobile search results layout, removing the actual search results. Instead you see answers or “choices” within one site, in a way
there is only one result visible and in many cases no need to even click it.
Google gets bolder with time as regulators’ lacking teeth futile attempts to tame the beast and curb its monopolistic powers don’t work. It seems European lawmakers will only be able to impose cosmetic changes to Google policies. Their American counterparts gave up altogether recently.
Small businesses are the corner shops of the Web while Google is the supermarket that will replace them unless they adapt.
Keeping doing business like during the last decade won’t suffice. SEO won’t suffice anymore. Relying on Google, be it SEO, ads or traffic as a whole is a recipe for disaster. SEO is not dead, your business might soon die though.
There is no sign of a rival search engine to compete with Google on a large scale in the near future so you can’t hope for other search rivals solving the problem for you. Even in case Google search would turn completely useless it would take years for people to break their habit using it daily. I think Google won’t be around in a few years but until then you have prepare for it grabbing your market.
First and foremost you need to strive after a healthy traffic sources mix: 1/3 search traffic (Google), 1/3 direct visits (fans) and 1/3 referrals from other sites is best for long term stability. In order to free yourself at least party from Google-dependency you need to become a destination of its own right. Ask yourself these question to find out how:
Who are you?
Becoming a brand is of course the first thing you need to have as a long term goal in case you haven yet. Even in case Google decides to fight Facebook in its search results and push Google+ instead they have to let people who search for [facebook] go there. BTW. [facebook] is the #1 keyword on Google for a few years in a row. Make people remember your name. It’s not done “by making your logo bigger”.
Branding is accomplished by doing memorable things and showing or mentioning your name while at it.
You don’t need to let a man jump from space like Red Bull did or create a sect-like identity like Apple. Make people memorize what you do best and let them spread the word. Let customers remember you for your quality, for your clean web design and friendly customer service.
For a SEO company for example you’d rather take your name, Bruce Clay, than a generic x SEO services description as a business name.
Who are your visitors?
You probably know what CRM as in customer relationship management is. Social CRM is an extension of that concept. You don’t include just your customers these days in your data collection, you remember the people who like you without buying from you (yet). I love to chat with my local corner store shopkeepers. That’s why I prefer buying from them. Of course that’s not always possible but I try to buy from people I know. The same applies to the Web.
The Web is a vast “cyberspace” of unknown sites. Thus Internet users are even more prone to choose what they already know.
So make sure to get to know your most visible fans and customers and remember them. When they forget you make sure to say hello or even send a special offer. You can even approach influencers you don’t know yet using services like Klout. Don’t mistake social CRM for email marketing though. Not only does that not suffice it might even ostracise your fans. Show that you care and people will care for you too.
Where are you?
Bigger is not always better. When competing with Google, Walmart or China consider what it is that makes you unique and what the giants can’t offer. Giants are defined by their sizes. The bigger a giant the slower it moves. Also the harder it becomes for it to move where there is not enough room.
When Google bought advanced Web analytics software vendor Urchin and introduced Googly Analytics later on it was a good day for small webmasters but a bad day for companies offering analytics: I thought that many will go out of business.
When I look at the analytics market today, where Google is of course the dominant player as well, even with Fortune 500 corporations, I still see lots of paid analytics solutions that seem to thrive.
Some of them even started after Google Analytics. Indeed I pay myself for two of them, Woopra and Reinvigorate, despite using Piwik as well, a free open source analytics software. All of them offer features or even lack features (and thus are easier to use) Google Analytics doesn’t have or forces us to use. GA is by now bloated and complex. I really prefer using Reinvigorate for a quick overview. In Woopra I can search and follow individual users to find out what real people read on site. Piwik displays al sites at once on the frontpage right away.
Make sure to be the best solution for your niche audience not the one size fits all one for everybody. The mainstream can be served by a giant. Individuals with special interests can not.
Why are you here?
Cheaper is not always better either. That’s why we still have car brands like Rolls Royce or Jaguar. Yes, there is a Chinese version of Rolls Royce but until now it’s more of a copy. Even when Google starts to offer the same services for free that you require your customers to pay for doesn’t mean you have to despair. Just look at email providers.
You’d think after GMail nobody else would pay for email would you? Not everybody wants to see ads while reading email and let a giant corporation that also controls search, analytics etc. to have access to their correspondence.
You don’t need to read George Orwell a lot to care at least a bit for your privacy.
Now that Google is most likely your competition you do not want to give away your trade sectors either, do you? You’re at a loss when competing by price with a humongous corporation. They will be always able to sell cheaper than you.
That’s even the strategy of Google’s “free” products. They enter a market, offer something for free others have to get paid for and when everybody else goes bankrupt they can dictate prices. Focus on the quality instead. Make sure to keep your most faithful customers and attract similar ones by word of mouth.
Competing with Google for Free Traffic
By asking yourself the above questions and then acting accordingly you will be able not only to prepare for competing with Google you will also be creating a stable foundation for your business independently of Google. Right now we have the bizarre situation that most business owners who are by now actually Google’s competitors have to pay Google to say visible on the Web. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?
Wasn’t that Google traffic meant to be free? Allowing a gatekeeper to keep people from arriving at your store is not a god idea even in case you don’t yet compete with Google. You might end up doing sooner that you think so get prepared or face the consequences shortly after the conquer your industry.
* You are selling vacuum cleaners? You compete with Google too. Search result from Google.co.uk in April 2013.