Scientists at Cornell University have a lot to answer for. Back in 2006 they studied the click through rates according to the position of a website in the Google Search results page after you have typed in a keyword. Their research showed that pretty much no-one was interested in your website if it was listed below the fifth position on Google. Subsequent, more recent studies, have largely confirmed these findings by Cornell, though the precise figures vary. Overall, the evidence points to the fact that unless your website is in the Top 5 on Google, you are nowhere.
So, up has sprung a massive industry for Search Engine Optimization, helping you get your website into that elusive Top 5 position. Indeed, if you search for the term “SEO” on Google you will find over 130m pages on the topic, which rather dwarfs the mere 90m you will find for “CEO”. Almost half as many pages again – yet the subject is considerably younger than the topic of Chief Executives. Has the world gone SEO mad? It seems so – after all, any business owner you ask these days will say they are trying hard to get a better Google ranking.
But an intriguing couple of graphs from Hitwise suggest we may all be barking up the wrong tree altogether. What Hitwise noticed was a sudden and almost exponential increase in traffic for The Physio Room. It transpires that almost all of this extra traffic was coming from one source – the Telegraph Fantasy Football site. It seems that The Physio Room was publishing a list of Premiership players who are out because of injury. That is useful content to any Fantasy Football participant and hence the increase in traffic.
All fair enough. But the two graphs from Hitwise tell another story. As the proportion of page hits from Google went down the readership went up. In other words, the site achieved significantly MORE readers when it had LESS referrals from Google. Even though you might expect the Telegraph traffic to raise the readership of The Physio Room, the increase was massive – overcoming the reduction in traffic inevitably brought about by almost a 50% decline in Google derived visitors. Even if the Google traffic remained the same (possible as the graphs are about proportions, not actual numbers) then the massive rise in visitors from The Telegraph is still significant.
Simply by providing useful content, The Physio Room has demonstrated that it does not really need Google that much. Neither do you – if you provide content that people really want. Sure they have got to find it, which is why people spend so much time trying to get Google to rank them highly. But The Physio Room story tells us something else too. Rather than having to spend weeks trying to improve their Google ranking, they allowed their Google traffic proportion to fall and saw an exponential rise in readership immediately they started to provide their content on another site.
In other words, if you provide useful content and make it available in places where people already visit, you will get much more traffic – and you won’t have needed to bother with all that SEO stuff.
True, SEO is potentially valuable and you should not ignore the people it will bring you. But focusing on Google may be bringing you fewer extra visitors than you could achieve than if you provided good content in other places around the web. That is much more likely to bring you the return you need. What The Physio Room example demonstrates is that considerably more readers arrive on your website if you provide content, than if you work at SEO. Being top of Google does not equate to having the traffic you want.
It all points to the fact that SEO should be much lower in your website priority than you might have it at the moment.