I honestly wouldn’t know how I would have managed to obtain the knowledge I have the years, and getting answers by a simple query search on Google or Bing. Before the internet had search engines there were lists of web servers that were manually updated and publicised on news like websites. Not too long after search engines began the era of crawling, indexing and sorting out pages according to a users query input (a search). The web expanded with the addition of more users and businesses putting up websites, search engines became an essential to the way we find information.
One of the commonly repeated phrases of Google’s head of spam advertises and explains. The same phrase that even to this day still exists in the documentation: “Does this help my users? would I do this if a search engine didn’t exist?”. It’s incredibly challenging to pretend search engines don’t exist. How would you grow your website, get visitors and make a lot of money? Social networks? Link directories?
Over the past couple of months, I made a couple of sites that had no focus on search engine rankings whatsoever. I didn’t block search bots from indexing the site, but it was optimised for nothing. There was no focus on site link architecture, title tags, meta descriptions, link building, competition analysis. I completely built the websites without any consideration with the words “Search Engine Optimisation”.
I wasn’t interested in methods of search-based marketing by utilising long-tail phrases and placing them on article directories or social networking properties in order for a page to rank and send traffic to the site. That would have involved researching keywords and competitors for the niche. So I did nothing of that sort.
Ultimately, we’re dealing with a situation where the convenience offered by search engines is non-existent. No quick answers to quick questions for anyone. Inclusively! So how are people going to find what they need? How are they going to find my site?
Without search engines, people will do what they’ve been doing for thousands of years. Rely on each other. They rely on their community, on the collection of publications that are usually known in their geographic location or industry. They rely on word of mouth. And they also rely on getting information from common resources like a library, forum, or a marketplace.
Go where people gather and there is where you will be heard. It sounds like some rudimentary marketing but in all honesty, until I’ve tried ignoring search engines and focusing exclusively on gathering points, I didn’t realise how much actual marketing I was NOT doing.
There were far more forums, social networking sites, and blogs that you could ever imagine even for the small niches. And then there are mega-sites like YouTube and Facebook. If I were to put a number on it, I would say I’m missing out on a least a few thousand visitors every day by NOT being active in these online communities. And that doesn’t include offline marketing.
This is a reasonable amount of visitors who are likely to become supporters of your content, clients, or buyers. And the truth is I’ve always made money much faster by going to them instead of waiting for them to come to me. It sure beats the usual plan of waiting for my site to get indexed, rank for long tail phrases and THEN hopefully convert an ad click or sale.
Traffic from these sites can be as targeted as search engine visitors: many are looking for recommendations from peers or actively engaging in specific activity that is relevant to my site. But unlike search visitors, they aren’t coming in blind into your website from a query.
They know more than your page name, URL and meta-description. They know your avatar, they know your history of contributions. They have an estimated idea of who you are. Your words are in their face before they even click over. You’ve already pre-sold them by making yourself familiar.
The most common problem we face is the lack of time. Can we outsource something like forum, blog or social site marketing? Yes, of course. But use people who know what they’re doing or else you’ll be wasting your time. If you’re a one-person operation, it might not be good for your brand to have someone that’s not you out there, even if you have an excellent ghost.
But small businesses, big businesses and multi-author content sites? No problem.
In any case, the whole experience of marketing without search engines is educational. It forced me to go out and represent my brand. This is me, I own this website. Hello, here’s what I do. Take a look. Here’s why this will be interesting.. and so on.
Once again, nothing revolutionary but when you’re not depending on search engines, it is a make-or-break situation. How can I not just get clicks but the most value out of each click? What web page should I link to, who should I target, what content angle to use etc.
It forced me to work and persuade on a social level you don’t really think about because you’re always focused on existing traffic/users or things that will improve a machine’s reading of your site’s worth. Then you realise the value in having a strong brand and reputation.
I would recommend that you try pretending that search engines don’t exist, even just for a week or so. Especially if you’ve got a new website. Search engine traffic is invaluable but there’s a lot of visitors out there just waiting for you to show them your site.
If you’ve already reached a plateau in organic search traffic and it’s not making you as much money as you like, why not focus on promoting your site outside of search engines?
This article was published in May 2010. It has been revised and republished on August 2017.