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Does Search Engine Traffic Matter?

By Bob McElwain
Posted Monday, March 24, 2003

The short answer is, "Sure." And it likely always will. But the amount of free traffic search engines now deliver to many small online businesses doesn't amount to much. And what there is of it continues to decline in importance. Pay-for-submission models are rapidly eliminating free options.

These trends will continue. And many have been aware of this for years. My own site provides a good example of the results.

A Question Overlooked

A fellow called a while back asking about the services I offer. When he asked how my web pages ranked on the search engines, I said I didn't know, that I had never checked. I guess that wasn't what he wanted to hear, for he hung up.

But it is fact. Why would I care what positions I have? My log files show I'm getting less than 20% of hits from the search engines. Given the competition for keyword phrases such as "site promotion," it is no surprise I don't get more.

Answering The Question

Still, the call triggered action of sorts. I ran Web Position on my major keywords. The results were startling.

I asked the program to go 99 listings deep. It found only 4 pages of over 700 on my site listed for the keywords entered, and none at all above the 50th position. So how am I'm getting hits?

The Mystery Of Search Engines Unanswered

All the above report means is that I am not getting many hits on keywords I felt were appropriated for a particular page. For example, site promotion brought up my Tips page as #86 at AltaVista. And this in itself is startling, for the page changes every week! (It's also entirely in size 1, something some experts believe AltaVista considers spam.)

Web Editorial Service was #73 at Lyris, but the page is not an article I wrote. Web Site Promotion Services was #52 at Google. Site Promotion Services was #6 at http//, but I paid for this position.

In opening STAT, I followed advice that proved to be bad info. I developed a massive set of targeted keywords for the site. Most of the terms I began with have disappeared since exploring with them. And with but few exceptions, I now have only clues as to the keywords on a given page that actually bring a visitor.

Still, the site initially brought pretty good free traffic from search engines. It peaked about the end of 1998 at about 40% of total traffic, and has steadily been declining since.

More Non-Answers From The Horse's Mouth

Given such "spectacular" results as noted above, I was still puzzled, for I was getting hits. Where were they coming from? So I checked out a couple of search engines and, off the top of my head, did some searches.

Things like "site services," "website performance," "site improvement," and so forth. Oddly enough, a few of my pages came up in the first 30. And since I know the content of most pages at the end of the links offered, I could see there was at least some degree of relevancy.

My Conclusion

The search engines algorithms are smarter than we generally acknowledge. They do a pretty good job of sorting out page content. And they're getting better every day.

So I will continue as I have been doing. That is, submit new pages as they are completed. And I'll continue to try to include keywords as possible. But essentially I'm content to let the search engines do whatever.

For one thing, my page views continue to increase. Slowly, that's true. But the key lies in the increase. Thus I'm not drawing too much off-target traffic.

The Best Strategy For You

For some sites, position on the search engines is critical to success. In such a case, my forget-it approach would be totally inadequate. In fact if your site is seriously dependant upon traffic generated by search engines, it may be best to hire a professional service and make sure this task is done right.

This aside, the power of search engines to draw free targeted traffic is weakening. Which means that in setting priorities, most should spend less time in obtaining good positions.

As with my site, the better plan may be to focus promotional efforts on other strategies to generate the targeted traffic you need.

Sure. Submit new pages as completed. Possibly take the time to create search engine friendly content pages. But look elsewhere for traffic.

The ability of search engines to deliver free targeted traffic to your site is diminishing. Some may find the emerging pay-for-submission models profitable. But most will find other avenues more rewarding. And soon enough, you won't be able to count on free search engine traffic to any significant degree.


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