Worried Your Business is Based on an SEO Loophole? You Should Be.

Worried Your Business is Based on an SEO Loophole? You Should Be.

Let’s imagine for a moment a business owner named “Tim”.  Tim owns a construction business and is very good at what he does.

Then one day he learns about the whole internet thing and decides to start writing articles around home improvement, construction, and related topics that he is very knowledgeable about.

He builds an exceptional site that visitors love.  And it turns out that Google loves his site too!  Without building any links and always following 100% “white hat” practices, Google is sending hoardes of free traffic to his site!

Well, then the rosy story turns into a nightmare, Google Panda and Penguin hit, and Tim’s traffic tanks!  He loses 75% of his search engine traffic in just a few short months.

Interesting Story, But…

Sad story right?  Well, turns out its NOT some made up story!

“Tim” is actually Tim Carter the owner of AsktheBuilder.com.  But there’s more.  Google actually loved Tim’s site so much that they featured it 2 different times as an Adsense “case study”.  Once here, showing that he was making $30k per month from his site. And he was also featured on the official Google Adsense blog here.

He never engaged in any linkbuilding, only allowed links to come naturally.  In fact, he even testified in front of Congress in favor of Google when they were coming under anti-trust scrutiny.

Ask the Builder was receiving millions of visitors each month, but after Panda and Penguin, his traffic is down over 75%!  And guess what? He did everything by the book.  So, this is why I am calling SEO a loophole.  No matter what rules you play by (White hat, black hat, grey hat) the traffic is out of your control.  If Google changes, there is not much you can do about it.

I have to tip my hat to James Hussey for revealing this interesting story about Tim Carter.  In fact, you can listen to a full interview James did with Tim right here.

SEO is Not a Business Strategy

One important thing to keep in mind is that SEO should be looked at as a traffic strategy not a business strategy.  Now of course there ARE lots of successful businesses based on getting free traffic from Google; for example, Demand Media (owner of eHow.com and other properties), has a very aggressive search engine strategy that is the core of their business.  This has made them a lot of money, but obviously are at risk.

Small niche sites by themselves are at risk as well because they are based solely on search engine traffic.

So, the key to owning an internet business is to diversify your traffic sources as much as possible.  Alternate traffic sources might include: social media traffic, returning visitors, referring sites, email traffic, paid traffic, and others. Fortunately for Tim Carter, he has built a significant email list and his business will still do very well.  However, he is no longer getting the amount of free traffic from Google that he was before.

Does this mean that you should avoid free traffic from search engines at all cost?  Absolutely not!  Quite the opposite.  You should take advantage of as much free traffic as you can possibly get.  But you should also consider other traffic strategies to help further diversify your business if any one traffic source should shut off.  If the “free traffic” loophole goes away, you don’t want to be left without a business.

SEO and Niche Sites

So this brings me to the business model of building niche site.  These small web properties are usually 90%+ reliant (often 100%) on search engine traffic.  I’m aware of this, and you should be too.  As much as I would love to say that I expect to get free traffic from Google for the next decade, I know its not going to happen.  Google will alter their algorithm or a new search engine could be invented that doesn’t rank sites the same way.   A whole host of “black swan” events could occur that could take away that free traffic source.

But as pointed out with Tim Carter with AsktheBuilder.com, the changes will affect big sites just as much (and perhaps more painfully) as it will small sites.  So suddenly shifting your business from building small niche sites based on Google traffic to a large authority site also based on Google traffic, is basically still the same business.  However, if you can capture leads and utilize other traffic sources all together, then you are on more sure footing.

All Businesses Are at Risk

The reality is that even “off-line” businesses are at risk for similar reasons, and always have been.  Imagine a supplier of auto parts that gets 50% of his orders from 1 car company.  If that car company decides to source the auto-parts somewhere else, that supplier just lost 50% of his business.  Should this supplier try to avoid getting such large orders from one customer?  Absolutely not!  They should do all they can to keep the customer, woo the customer, take care of the customer, and hopefully increase the order from that customer!

But they should also work their tails off to find additional customers as well to diversify their risk.

This is exactly the same thing you should be doing with Google.  I won’t stop building niche sites!  In fact, I will build more, give Google what they want, understand the Penguin update, and hope that they send me even more free traffic.  But at the same time I am diversifying into other areas of business like software development and iPhone app development.

I hope the SEO “loophole” lasts forever and I will ABSOLUTELY be taking advantage of it for as long as possible, but I am concerned enough that I know an entire business should have diversity.

I wish all the best to Tim Carter, and in fact know (as mentioned in the interview linked to above) that he is already shifting his focus more his own product at StainSolver.com.  He also has a great blog post about the future of free high-quality content.

Plans Going Forward

I’m in an interesting situation right now because 100% of my business about a year ago used to be based on search engine traffic.  However, now a good portion of my income comes from products I have created on my own.  I’ve been diversifying for over a year now.

So, I actually will be diving into building more niche sites a bit more aggressively.  I haven’t done much since my Adsense account was banned and the Penguin update hit.  But now I’m comfortable with my business and can afford to take on some more risk.  (And you do know that higher risk usually means higher potential reward right?).

In addition to building more niche sites, I will potentially be working on a couple of iPhone app ideas.  I am also working on building a large authority site that I plan on talking quite a bit more about in the future.  This site will get as much search engine traffic as it can, but ideally it will have repeat visitors, email subscribers, and good amount of social traffic.

So, what are your thoughts on the subject and your future plans?  I would love to hear your questions or comments below.

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63 Comments for this entry

  1. Tim says:

    Hi Spencer,

    Great post…I think it brings up bigger-picture concern that people should think about before quitting their jobs and doing this full time, even after several months of making money. I’m not yet in this position but I’m sure like most people reading this, I dream to eventually be able to quit my day job and do this full time.

    Obviously diversifying as well as creating an email list is the way to go, but that’s much easier said than done. My plan was to initially be like you and quickly create a large portfolio of small niche sites, but I’ve switched to a more slower and natural way and am aiming to create semi-authoritative and Google friendly niche sites using ethical link building. Hopefully someone builds a tool for that in the future ha!

    -Tim

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Tim – I agree. Authoritative sites tend to get more diversified traffic; however, you can also build lots of small niche sites and diversify in other ways (like building iphone apps, creating other products, etc).

  2. Drew says:

    Google apparently loves big business. That’s fine. There are tons of other traffic sources.

    Drive traffic. Have quality content. Build a list. Build a relationship with that list. Give away 10X the content you sell.

    That is the recipe for long term success.

    I am letting 90% of my niche sites die when the domain expires, and focuing on a few large niche communities where I will be on building long term relationships with my list.

    I have also created a product, am in the middle of another, have an iPad, iPhone and Adriod app in the works as well as continuity sites.

    Glad to hear everything is working out for you, Spencer.

  3. Terry says:

    Good post but surely Tim must have fallen foul of some of the Google guidelines?
    Otherwise we are involved in a complete irrational crap shoot which is not a great way to build or run a business..

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Terry, according to Tim (and from reading his history) his site was all whitehat. But perhaps something was afoul, who knows.

      Also, relying on search engine traffic CAN be a bit of a “crap shoot”, because its out of your hands. Which again is why traffic diversification is important.

  4. Brendan says:

    Wow I really feel for Tim. I’m glad he started a list otherwise that could have ruined him.

  5. Btbuzz says:

    There’s more hidden agendas then google inmho
    Though google is worth big bucks, there’s company’s
    that are worth more that are probably pushing google’s buttons to reform , Thats sucks on the Tim story, big hit.
    But he sounds like a go getter and will bounce back.
    Yes keeping all your eggs in one basket is not a good idea.
    I’m involved in construction also a songwriter and my im biz,
    thank god for smart phones lol. I take my work ethic from construction and my songwriting talents and weave them in my niche biz. I like the the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare ”
    though in my younger days i would have bet on the Hare.

  6. Don says:

    My understanding is that Google wants to deliver the best results possible for the searcher… so it makes these algo changes in an attempt to accomplish this.

    Clearly (in my opinion) panda/penguin has NOT accomplished this.

    Tim’s site is a great example of what I’m trying to point out.

    Tim’s site (askthebuilder.com) deserves to be on Google’s first page for who knows how many home improvement keyword phrases. If your the searcher would you be disappointed? Not likely.

    If

  7. Jack says:

    Spencer,

    This is a good probe on Google’s “organic” traffic and its grey side. Besides this “SEO Loophole” as you called it, I think the biggest risk with your business that is closely associated with Google’s programs like Adsense is that Google could turn its back on you at any time and in any possible ways that you can’t control, even image (predict). As I experienced yesterday, my new Adsense account was disabled again after I just placed their ads a few short days ago (http://i.imgur.com/5xTQm.jpg), and I strongely believe that Google has a blacklist of all “offenders” names (in Google’s term) they disabled Adsense accounts from as well as these Google’s victims’ websites where Adsense ads were taken off. So, Spencer, if what I said here is true, then small niche sites mainly dependent on Google’s Adsense income could be on the rocks one day. You’re right, we should diversify our traffic sources, but maybe more importantly, we should also diversify our online biz models too. Thanks a lot for your help on me!

  8. Mk Akan says:

    This is true Spencer…

    we need to diversify our traffic sources and our business models in general.

  9. Joe says:

    Poor Tim. At least he has the list to sustain him. I never build a list for my sites but am in the process of setting some up.

    Bit later but better late than never.

  10. Edvin says:

    Great post Spencer! Always great content here. I would love to hear more about building your niche sites “aggressively” and how that turns out! One question: Are you still going to use the backlink strategy outlined in your post “the-ultimate-link-building-guide-for-niche-websites”?

    - Edvin

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Edvin – I will indeed be sharing more about my “aggressive” approach. Just means I will be building more sites that I have in the past few months :) . But I also plan on changing my linkbuilding strategy a bit. After penguin, link building needs to be done a bit differently. I’m still working on a solid plan that hopefully I can share in a while.

  11. Spencer, looking at the way google is evolving and trying to take over the internet, you’ve said it right. Business owners (online) should have other means of gwttings traffic other than relying on google alone.

    I know G thinks they are doing the best but this is gonna kill business for them as many millions of online biz owners will stop bothering about google traffic and go to the paid means, email list and fb ads to mention a few.

    Luckily for me, it didn’t affect my main blog as traffic increased but my online biz was affected.

    Sheyi

  12. Mohit says:

    I’ve read about Tim’s success stories and studied the layout changes on his blog over the time.

    So this news comes as a shocker. I’ve no words to express my disappointment.

  13. bill says:

    Yep it’s total crap what happened to his site. But having a business is about trying to minimize risk as much as possible. You’re going to take hits but you have to make sure there isn’t one giant hit that can take you out completely. Diversify as much as possible and roll with the waves.

  14. Tim, sorry to hear your traffic hit. I’d suggest you to build a strong FB fans community and build up that traffic. I know ppl love your site and content. (You may get more social signals and let Google love you again.)

    Thankful that you have a list and you could get some repeat visitor traffic.

    Spencer, I totally agree with you about getting free traffic from Google, at the same time, capture other traffic and diversify your business… Software and iPhone app dev are way to go.

    I really admire Chris Guthrie’s business growth as he made his first fortunate from Amazon niche, then could reinvest by buying sites and building software products which is much more scaleable.

    I’m struggling to make couple hundreds a month. :) I’m building up my next big winner and scaling it up.

    2012 is half-way though, keep it up!

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Kent – I think Tim could build up his social traffic, and can see on his site that he is working on that.

      Chris has done well building products to help diversify his income for sure! Best of luck with your ventures…

  15. Tyler Herman says:

    I think the builder guy is getting more publicity from this than any thing else he’s ever done. Articles about this story everywhere, in the SEO world at least.

  16. Matt says:

    I used to rely exclusively on free Google traffic to all of my websites, but when Panda hit one of my biggest (and site I had not built any links to) sites I decided to look at other options more seriously.

    I was already building a list, but have now gotten even more aggressive in just trying to generate leads and make sales via that medium.

    I consider any free traffic I get from Google now simply as a bonus, and am putting my efforts into more predictable, scalable solutions.

  17. If you are forced to play by Google’s rules (as they dominate the search engine market), you have to adapt. Otherwise you do something else. This actually reminds me of my favorite quote by Leonardo da Vinci:

    “Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.”

    People who are successfull never stop doing, never stop trying thing out. And that’s where diversification comes from.

  18. Doctor Stock says:

    Thanks… as someone who is relatively new to the SEO world and just trying to put together some authentic helps on the web, you’re thoughts are helpful.

    By the way, when you get your iPhone apps launched, feel free to submit them to our new website for some free advertising. We’re just getting started but want to provide others with a way to get reviews of their apps without paying for expensive services. You can find it at http://www.freeiphonefun.com

    Cheers

  19. Bryan says:

    I find some of the comments funny stating that Google has an Agenda and no one has cared to give specific insight on maybe why Tim’s site had dropped.

    Google’s main agenda and goal in the end is to provide user’s of their search engine with sites that provide the best overall experience, which includes relevance and number of things. They obvious want to achieve this so people will return and use it for their business depends on it, for more ads will be displayed and clicked, which will make them money.

    Remember, G. uses an algorythm for most searches I don’t believe that they beat down his site on purpose but are simply taking in consideration their guidelines and Onsite SEO.

    After looking at Tim’s site I agree it is a great site and it does deserve to be at the very top of Google SERP’s in regards to quality content and overall site. But ,after analyzing the home page, source code, checking the rank of some inner pages and SEO of those pages as well — I can see quite a few glaring issues, why his home page and posts are not being ranked.

    I’m not talking about keyword density or emphasis of keywords, which are arbitrary and not a main onsite concern going forward. There are some other factors that I see would make a big difference in ranking.

    Well, if it has a lot of room for improvement we need to ask why his site ranked better before the those algo. updates and why they impacted it so negatively.

    First, I believe that his site ranked so well because of the real loophole that many depended on for so long which was quality backlinks, and backlinks that contained rich keyword anchor text about the posts and the home page.

    Now, that Google is not rewarding sites as much for links and especially keyword related anchor text, this could be one factor. So, now much of the factor remaining and relying to rank his site and posts are the On site factors, which I saw could be improved on homepage and posts.

    In addition, Google appears to be more stringent on their guidelines as well and more than ever, they’re showing zero tolerance.

    I won’t get into all of the improvements that I think are needed for his site here but I’ll point out the the main issues I see why the site isn’t doing well since last algorythms:

    1. Hidden text (site wide) – Secondary Navigation

    2. Backlinks not providing the push they use to.

    3. Home Page has very little text and it doesn’t look like Tim has included some of the main keywords for this niche. Doing proper keyword research and then keeping in mind while writing for the visitors could help. Google would not consider the home page rich in content, and it’s surprising that the page got a ton of organic search before. That in itself proves the real loophole was backlinks to the site.

    4. Overall, key on-site SEO factors is virtually non-existant except for quality content. When I say that I’m also taking into consideration less keyword optimization for post Panda and Penguin. The home doesn’t really provide any keywords and related content to help Google along. I don’t even think their are 30 words in total on the home page.

    The meta Description isn’t on the home page, and on other pages it doesn’t include rich keywords when comparing the keywords he put in the meta keyword section. Meta keywords are pretty useless these days, but the description does provide SEO value.

    The Titles, including the home page as well could be improved for SEO benefit.

    This just a start, but taking action on the above can help improve his rankings.

    Bryan

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Great comments Bryan. I think we can all learn that there are probably things we could do to improve our own sites and make them more Google “friendly”.

    • Clayton says:

      Bryan, give me a break. Google’s number one priority is not giving users the best search engine experience, that is a load of crap people have been trying to sell for too long. When you really boil it down and take all fluffy junk off the top, their number one priority is to make their advertisers happy so they will continue to get money from them. It’s all about revenue and pleasing the shareholders.They are a business and they are in it to make a profit.

      • Bryan says:

        Clayton,

        “They are a business and they are in it to make a profit.”

        Yes, I agree they are in it to profit, but they can’t just demand profit when you have other big competitors. They have to deliver the goods. They have to keep their users happy.

        How in the world do you think they can keep their Advertisers happy if they can’t first look after making the users happy and keep then returning, which is how they make money in the end!

        Users search, and click on Ads, which make money — not the Advertisers. Not sure if you realizes this but Advertisers have been pissed off by G.’s Adwords slaps throughout the years, so NO, they are not trying to make Advertisers happy. Yes, there running a business, and that business would never have gotten as big as it has without delivering the best search results for their users.

        Not sure if you saw that I said this:

        “They obvious want to achieve this so people will return and use it for their business depends on it, for more ads will be displayed and clicked, which will make them money.”

        What you may not be realizing because you may be fuming about how it effected your sites — their business will die… yes less profits if their SERP’s return mediocre sites, that give their visitors less than desirable experience.

        Let’s face it, people bounce on a lot of those mediocre affilate driven sites or will never come back to them.

        Think about the bum marketing era, there was so much fluffy and lame articles from EA or other directories and Squidoo showing up with the only aim, and that was to push affiliate offers. The aim was not to provide epic content that provided solutions for users.

        I could be bitter and act like G. owes me something, but I realize that even though one of my sites that was on track to make around $1500/mth got hit that I don’t agree with — It’s not all about me. Yep, it sucks big time, but it was good in a way, because it has refined my online business strategy.

        I’m no longer going to depend or expect Google to send me traffic. It woke me up and I’m going to focus even more on providing my visitors with a much better user experience.

        It will start with focusing on projects that I’m more passionate about and where I can help people at a greater level, and this will be better for my business. Now days, just about any site can be monetized, and authority sites with epic content that build fans – that in turn share their experience with friends is the better way to go for a sustainable business.

        Think about your favorite businesses that have provided you a service or you bought products from, whether off-line or on-line. You probably continue doing business with them because you have a good experience with them or you’d go to the next guy. Right?

        Do you think if they continued to let some of the lame affiliate sites rank that were mainly gaming SEO with their ugly fresh out of the box Wp themes, and 5 pages of “quality content” and gave visitors to come back or like the site? I see less of those sites, when I use the Google search and I think that’s a good thing as a search user.

        I don’t know about you but I prefer Using Google over any search engine, and although I feel some of my sites were unfairly affected — I don’t think they are playing favorites, even though they still have more work ahead of them to improve the algorythm.

        It’s time that affiliates build REAL businesses, instead of just trying to ‘make money’ off a loop-hole.

        Sorry for another long post, Spencer. :)

      • Tom J Ripley says:

        I could not agree with Bryan more. Thanks for taking the time to write this all up.

        TO many folks think its all big bad Google and donot take responsibility for gaming the system and then getting it.

        Ive had sites hit. When i look at them i agree with the algo they should not have ranked for top 3 positions. Im upset as they were making seriously large amounts of money. So guess s what. I don’t cry about it but rebuild the sites to comply with the rules.

        Clayton – et al – Your so far from the truth its sad.. – Google has not changed the rules!! they have simply enforced the webmaster guidelines.

        I guess your empire got destroyed and instead of fixing it up your crowing with the rest of the folks.

        GUYS the site TIM had is not great quality etc. It needs work. If it was really an Algo error he would have simply requested a reconsideration and gained it.

        What i DONT like in teh sers is blogspot getting high rankings and also to many site with 0 backlinks and crap content as the old sites that occupied tp ten got penalised. the net result for searchers has been a partial reduction in ranking.

        Be business people. find those niches (tere are tens of thousands of them) and build great new sites that have great content and very few backlinks. Make money and move forward STOP CRYING.

        Spencer this is you blog – BUT DUDE – why diversify – its the call of the failure. Real business like Ford, Virgin, Coke, Bank of america, New york times etc etc did not diversify!! Until they were very well established and making huge profits then they REINVETSED.

        Diversifying because yor business is failing or failed or worse still built on sand is not diversification its dealing with a bad business.

        I build niche web sites as you use to. I monetise 100% with Adsense (its the ONLY way to make money with niche sites) and i get failures. However as with adsense flippers if you look at my average net gain per month at over $8K im more than happy. Ive been hit sure “when the going gets tough the tough get going and teh rest cry about it”

        Diversify, bad google – yer right.

        • Spencer Haws says:

          Tom: I still build micro niche sites. Perhaps you missed the part of this post where I said I was going to start building more aggressively. Also, “diversify” does not mean stop doing something. The examples of businesses that you said did not diversify like Ford, Virgin, etc – shows that you are not understanding. Ford DOES diversify! Each new model of car they build is diversification. They could have stuck with the “safe” Model T Ford, but they took risks and tried to generate revenue with other models like the Mustang. And don’t even get started with Virgin – they have businesses in EVERYTHING…music, phones, finance, travel, you name it. Apple diversifies with other products (iphone, ipod, ipdad didn’t exist a decade or so ago). You could also look more deeply at where their sales are coming from (retail, direct sales, online sales, etc) and this would be a better comparison of diversifying your traffic source. Ford diversifies where their “traffic” is coming from by doing TV ads, internet ads, having dealerships, and much more.

          My point was not to stop building micro niche sites, but simply to look at where your traffic source is coming from. If its 100% from Google, you are more exposed than if your traffic was coming from lots of different sources. I personally have calculated the risks and will still build micro niche sites reliant on Google traffic. But I’m also aware enough to reinvest part of the profits in more sites and part in other projects.

          Hope that makes sense.

        • Clayton says:

          Nobody is saying “oh poor me here”, but you are giving an incomplete picture and propping up Google to much (my opinion). So you have found some success with your method…congrats on that. Google as a company has far to go to represent both publishers and advertisers fairly. I am a user of Google search engine but what is disturbing is when I search for something and get a piece of crap squidoo lens ranked at number one and a hubpages hub at number two with complete junk information this reinforces my opinion that there number one priority is user results. They are a company and they WILL be in it to make money number one.

    • Brett says:

      Tim is popular, but I’ll also ask has anyone *really* looked at his site? I looked at his site and this is the sort of thin content that Google has been warning against for some time now… http://www.askthebuilder.com/bathroom-updated/

      50 words of content? 4 ad blocks? Why should this deserve to rank well? In the UK at least diy.com belongs at #1, not least because they actually SELL the products they write about.

  20. Bryan says:

    Here’s the hidden text I was referring to in the source code: Secondary Navigation

  21. Hey Spencer,

    It’s very unfortunate that people like Time get hit with these Google updates unfairly. Things like that are always likely to happen as computers can never have perfect judgement.

    However it is a good lesson for all the online entrepreneurs out there that if you want to have a REAL business, you can’t be relying on just one or even a few people for your income. If you haven’t read “The Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco, I highly suggest doing so. He gives a list of “fastlane commandments” that you can use to judge how good your business model is. One of those commandments is the “commandment of control” where he talks about just this – not relying on any one (or few) people for your income.

    If you think about it – relying on SEO is like relying on a job for income. Whether you are fired or not is more or less out of your control just like whether Google “fires” your website or not.

    I definitely think you are doing the right thing by exploring software products, iPhone apps, WordPress themes, etc. There are still a lot of IMers out there who aren’t doing this and are going to have a rude awakening when 99% of their income is gone overnight.

    Thomas

  22. Amir Najmi says:

    Yes, definitely. I don’t see SEO as a sustainable business model. It’s just part of the marketing strategy for a business. For a website, I think the best thing is to go after a brand instead of micro sites. This is obviously going to take longer, but it’s much better long term.

    I’m done with niche sites and I’m in other ventures now but if I go back to making sites, I wouldn’t rely on SEO, but focus on building a brand and following. SEO traffic would be just a portion.

    Amir

  23. Rob Cubbon says:

    Great synopsis, Spencer, and a bit of common sense spoken about SEO and the recent updates for a change.

    I’ve been concentrating more on Twitter, FB and guest posting recently and it’s made me realise that Google organic traffic isn’t actually that good compared with targeted social traffic – less signups, less conversions, etc.

  24. James Hussey says:

    Spencer –

    Thanks a ton for linking to the post. Tim’s story is something we need to keep in mind, and you analyze it well here. SEO isn’t dead, but it is evolving and emerging technologies will continue to force changes if Google wants to remain on top (hence their move with Android).

    If you look at their history, they operate very intelligently: assimilating their competitors and emerging platforms, analyzing traffic patterns, then competing in verticals (hotels, travel, flight, product comparison engines, ads). You can’t compete against them…

    I’ve been wondering about your AdSense acct getting shut down. I still can’t figure out why they do that to successful publishers – you’d imagine your success was a sign it was working, but you got shut down??

    Doesn’t make sense…

    Anyhow, rather than contribute to a new wave of belly-aching, you’re right that we need to focus on solutions, while at the same time enjoying the traffic we can get for the time being (I don’t think that will disappear, but it will become more unpredictable: that’s definitely part of the business).

    • James Hussey says:

      I meant to add: looking forward to your linking experiments. :)

      Check out KaisertheSage.com’s articles on scalable link building: (I didn’t link them b/c I don’t want to trip the spam filter)

      kaiserthesage.com/scalable-link-building/
      kaiserthesage.com/iloilo-seo-conference-presentation/

      Jason has some really interesting ideas on SEO and has worked at Traffic Travis/Affiliorama, pretty cool fella.

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Kudos to you James and the great interview you did with Tim! I agree with the sentiment that Google traffic can be hard to harness at times, but I also agree that SEO will be around for a long time and we should do all we can to capture that free Google traffic.

      As far as the Adsense account, I wish I knew the reason myself…

  25. Rose says:

    Regarding the ask the builder guy – this is going to be controversial, but am not sure he’s as innocent as he makes out.

    I recalled the site from last year, because he’s one of those “high profile” people who screamed and shouted and ran about when Panda first hit, and as a result he got discussed at length on Webmasterworld (plus lots of other places), where they did an analysis of his site.

    They said some negative things, and I went and dug them out:

    http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4275672-5-30.htm

    Here’s the pertinent bit:

    “re the builder site..

    “Took him an age ( actually I don’t know if he ever did) to fix his incorrect spelling ( pedistal ) on a page that was mentioned here ..and if that page was anything to go by it was full of inaccuracies as to the technique of installing said “pedistal” basin..and was so obviously just thrown together to get visitors to then inadvertently click on disguised ads ( there were about 12 ads of various sorts on the page , most of which could only be spotted as ads by watching the status bar at the bottom of the browser “on hover” ) ..I would imagine that the advertisers noticed a very high bounce rate from “mistaken” or “tricked” clicks..maybe Goggle got wise .

    “The rest of the site gave me the same impression..put together to get tricked clicks ..and far from expert in the subjects..but if you haven’t built a few houses for yourself ( and worked as a laborer to pay your studies many decades ago ) you’d never know. ;-)

    So – WMW folk thought the content wasn’t all that great, but more importantly they thought he got dinged by Panda because he was running a click trap with 12 ads per page, some of them disguised.

    He’s obviously toned it down now, but he got dinged for a reason, which is that he was hurting his advertisers. The types of people advertising on his site were small businesses, plumbers, joiners, people like that, with tight budgets, willing to advertise, understanding that not everyone who clicks will buy but dismayed to be featured on a click-trap where people were accidentally clicking through and they were being charged.

    Google does make mistakes often, and on the high profile ones, usually corrects them. The other high profile case at the time was cultofmac, which was restored within a few weeks (and Cutts admitted that they were a false positive). Ask the builder however was left in the gutter despite his extremely high profile and the noise he made, which speaks volumes about what google thought about his site.

    Just wanted to point the above out because of the hysteria being generated by that podcast.

    The guy who did the interview should have dug a little in advance and pushed the builder guy in his interview. If podcasts in the IM world are going to graduate from soft rah-rah sales pitches or special pleadings, then the interviewers are going to have to become more objective and push harder, so as to reveal stuff genuinely of value to the listener. As it is, all we got was a one-sided “google is awful” rant, and it happened perhaps because the interviewer wanted to believe that because his own sites got dinged too (from what he’s said on his blog).

    Just my two cents. Hope you publish this comment and it’s not too controversial.

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Rose – I think its a great comment and is a point of view that should be taken into consideration. Its very possible that Tim’s site was indeed involved in practices that caused it to be penalized by Google. And in fact this would make sense. Tim of course says he always practiced “white hat” techniques, but perhaps that was not the case.

      Either way, as I stated I’m still all about getting Google traffic! Ideally you will be diversified in your traffic sources, but by all means people should be doing all they can to rank well in Google and capture that free traffic. As Google makes algorithm changes, we can change with them…

      Thanks for the well thought out comment!

  26. Tu says:

    Great post, though a little inconsistent. You sound a warning about the SEO loophole but bring up the story of the website created 100% whitehat. Tim’s AsktheBuilder is the example of Google not really knowing what it does and hurting everyone including excellent webmasters by applying bulk filters. It’s not an example of somebody exploring loopholes to gain unlawful advantage.

    Risks are in every business, but internet marketers and SEOs whose sole goal is to outsmart Google and find weak spots in its algorithms expose themselves to extra risk and have only themselves to blame for failing to look beyond this source of traffic and income.

    I really applaud your efforts to diversify. But, on top of raising the D-word again and again, SEOs and IMs need to talk more about progress in their business models. If we believe that a few static sites with a few 5$ articles are going to make us a living for decades to come, we fool ourselves. And it is testament to our very poor understanding of what business is. It’s moving forward and moving forward fast.

    • Steve Wyman says:

      Hi TU

      I could not have put it better!

      We build micro niche sites and back link at the risk of loosing those at any time.

      For me its a calculated risk. Not playing poker or with fire but i understand Google will continue to tighten its existing rules.

      I do think MicroNiche sites (very highly targeted at long tail keywords) will continue to work for years to come as there are so many niches. The content quality and the length and number will need to increase. Less EM text etc but they will still work and do today.

      However will I make a $1 million from them I doubt it. Arguably I’d be better off with one big site using all that time and effort on it. That way it could be come an authority. The issue there is you have 1 entity to loose.

      regards

    • Spencer Haws says:

      The point was to show that even “whitehat” techniques are risky. Even doing everything by the book does not guarantee that Google will always love you. I’m calling it a “loophole” because the amount of traffic could change from one day to the next (seemingly out of your control). I love SEO and think all businesses should be utilizing it, but 100% of your business should not be reliant on it.

      • Brett says:

        I think many folk are in denial about how good their sites actually are. I know full well that my older sites are pretty poor, but keyword research has bagged decent traffic.

        I’m glad I changed course this year and I’m now running an online store.

  27. Abdul says:

    Hey Spencer. Great case study, man. I’ve also lost a lot of traffic recently from some of my blogs thanks to Google, but partly I believe that it was my fault too. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, I’m a strict believer in that now. :)

  28. Adam says:

    Great post Spencer.

    Being that I run many sites it is tough to get as much traffic without search engines but not impossible. As long as people put in the work they will start to see some traffic.

    For many of my niche sites I have resorted to blog comments, answer sites and article marketing for more traffic and lately it has been working really well.

    Adam

  29. Austin says:

    Hey Spencer, I can totally agree with this. Since November I’ve lost around $30,000 in cumulative monthly revenue due to relying on search traffic too heavily.

    Unlike Tim, although I had built up nice social media presence, I did not have an email list to fall back on. So what did I learn? Utilize an email list, even if you’re against it… it will keep you relatively safe for a period of time if you do happen to lose your main traffic source (as is shown here).

    Since experiencing those traumatic losses over and over I’ve delved quite heavily into paid traffic. I then realized I was focusing the majority of my time on that, so I’ve now stepped back into SEO slightly, and worked on growing a social community as well as email list. Not just that, but BRANDING in general. I was focused too much on my sites previously, not BRANDING my sites. Lesson learned, great post Spencer and I think it hits all too close to home for some of us.

    cheers,

    Austin

  30. To adopt I have been focusing on service businesses such as offering SEO, wordpress services, concentrating on my best sites and creating ebooks to give away for free in exchange for Facebook likes.

  31. Joe Mama says:

    Thanks for the info Spencer!

    Google is crazy righ now. Lots of opportunity if you look around. $$$$$

  32. Rob says:

    My main site was wiped out by penguin and am now looking at different ways to move forward. I haven’t built an email list yet, but a lot of people are advising me too.
    I am also looking at YouTube traffic. Do you work with YouTube much Spencer?

  33. I have made many blogs and ranked them on first page of google without doing any offline seo work. I think basic principles never change. Hence if you really want to attain page one ranking then before doing any link building, you should do well onpage optimization.According to my experience if you have onpage optimized your websites then you do not need to worry about google ranking algorithms. They are just being discovered to end up spamming links like blog networks and seo softwares. Do not rely on them they are just good for a while and once they are known to google, your links have no values.

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