A few years ago, I was strung out on SEO. I'm not kidding... the traffic that Google was sending our blog kept me up at night, writing, tweaking, writing, tweaking, writing. I was chasing the algorithm, my competition, and it was driving every decision that I had with the blog. I was able to squeeze more and more visits, incrementally, and I was ranking better and better on broader terms. It was insane.
It was insane because I wasn't paying attention to my growing my audience. Two years ago, I really started to dig deep in my own traffic and found something startling. First, the majority of my traffic wasn't coming from high-ranking keywords, it was coming from highly relevant keywords where I didn't necessarily rank well at all. It got me thinking that everything I was doing was backwards... I was focused on rank and search volume instead of being focused on relevance and my audience needs.
I shifted focus on providing better quality content, increasing the frequency of that content, and ensuring that I owned that traffic. The term owned media sounds a bit narcissistic... I don't exactly own my readers. But it does mean that the audience is there for me to communicate with. They're not going somewhere else to listen to me, they're coming to me. At that point, I started to push our email marketing list so that we could proactively communicate with our audience.
Google has continued adjusting its algorithms. There are more paid search results on search engine result pages... some local SERPS actually have an entire page of paid results on them. For those lucky enough to drive organic traffic, there are less results per page and tweaking and writing isn't good enough. Promotion and recognition by authoritative sources is key to your efforts. This is making content marketing for SEO more complex and more expensive - but it's still a solid investment.
Whenever we push our clients with an SEO strategy, though, we also push them into a conversion strategy... registrations for demos and downloads along with email marketing subscriptions should be prominent. You don't own your organic traffic, Google does. If you're lucky or talented enough to get their traffic to your site - you need to convert them into your traffic.
Facebook recently announced that traffic to your business pages is dropping and they want your business to buy more Facebook Ads. It's pretty simple economics... they own your audience and they don't want to give it to you for free. You need to pay. In my opinion, this is going to become more of the norm. Large social and content networks - especially public ones - are under a lot of pressure to monetize that traffic. They're going to charge you if you want access.
So what are the lessons learned?
- You must invest in a content and conversion strategy that grows your owned media, otherwise you're going to continue to pay - and possibly pay more - for access from third party sites.
- You must invest in an email marketing strategy that grows your base of relevant subscribers that you can push messages to and convert.
- You still have the advantage. While Facebook and Google can boast billions of users, those users aren't going to those destinations to research their next purchase. They are going to there to find where the research is. Make sure the destination site is yours!
I'm not advocating dropping your social efforts (just as I never advocated dropping your SEO efforts). I just mean that you have to get your priorities straight. I've always said that social media is a fantastic promotional channel where your message can be echoed. That's still true today... but you need to look at Google and Facebook (and Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.) as your competitors, not your friends. Your goal should be to steal the portion of their audience that you're after and bring those people to your site, to your newsletter, and to your conversion path!
The end result for our site is that this will have little overall impact. We're not dependent on Facebook traffic - just as we aren't dependent on Google search traffic anymore. I know that if I write well, write more relevant articles, and continue to convert visitors into our owned media audience, we'll continue to grow.