Over the past couple of years Google has been kind of temperamental. Their search algorithm changes and manual penalties have resulted in massive decreases in traffic for websites and blogs off all kinds. Having diversity in traffic sources has always been desirable, but as the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates have shown many bloggers and website owners, it’s not something to take lightly.
While most of the sites affected have been low-quality sites or those that tried to game the system, some quality websites that weren’t making any glaring mistakes in link building have also been effected. If you want to prevent your own sites from being negatively impacted by future algorithm updates, you should, of course, follow the policies and guidelines that Google has laid out. But perhaps even more importantly, you should take some precautionary steps now to reduce your dependency on Google for traffic.
Here we’ll look at some things you can do so that a decrease in search traffic will not be catastrophic.
1. Focus on Providing Great Content and Establishing a Solid Reputation
Rather than focusing on optimizing your site for search engines or building links to your site, make it your primary focus to produce the highest quality content possible. If you’re providing content that is unique and is genuinely helpful and interesting to readers, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a strong reputation as a go-to-source. As a result you’ll naturally get more links to your site, you’ll get more repeat traffic, and people will come directly to your site when they are looking for something specific.
Sites with great content and reputations can, and usually do, benefit from high search rankings and a lot of traffic from Google. However, more importantly you’ll also be establishing some reliable sources of traffic like click-through visitors that find another site linking to you, direct traffic, opt-ins, etc.
Having a strong reputation can make everything you do more profitable. You’ll get better conversions when you promote an affiliate product, you’ll be able to quickly earn a profit with your own product launches, and visitors may even be more likely to click on ads on your site.
Brainstorm post ideas that will be helpful to your readers and will help you to stand out from other blogs in the niche. Check out this post from Copyblogger if you’re looking for ways to come up with content ideas.
Set a publication schedule so you know how many posts you want to publish per week or per month.
Dedicate plenty of time in your daily/weekly schedule to be able to adequately research, write, and edit the posts to fit within your desired publication schedule.
2. Build a Strong Professional Network
A strong network is beneficial for many different reasons including link building, help with social media promotions, affiliate relationships, getting some friendly advice, and finding new opportunities. If you experience a decrease in traffic (and revenue as a result) you may be able to make up for that with some connections in your network.
Perhaps you know someone who is an SEO expert that can help you to determine the cause of the drop in traffic and put together a plan to fix the issue.
Or maybe you know someone who is going to be launching a new product and you can partner with them to help with the launch as an affiliate.
Maybe you sell your own products and you can partner with some of your contacts to sell your products at their sites or to their email lists.
Regardless of what type of website you run and how you monetize it, building a strong network can help.
Identify influencers in your niche that you would like to add to your network. Don’t target only the most well-known people in the niche. Those who run smaller blogs or are reputable but not as well know are still great to have in your network, and in most cases it’s much more realistic to make connections with them.
Regularly comment on their blog posts so they start to see your name and interact with you.
Follow them on social media sites, and communicate with them through whatever social media sites they use. Share links to their posts, retweet, +1 their posts, and use your social profiles to give them some added exposure.
Introduce yourself to them either through an email, contact form, or a message through a social network. Keep it brief, but let them know that you follow and respect their work and introduce them to your site or blog.
Keep going. Strengthen your existing connects with more interaction and establish new connections as well. In some cases you may want to offer a guest post for their blog or talk about a possible affiliate partnership.
At FindMyBlogWay Matthew Barby has an excellent post on identifying and building relationships with industry influencers that includes advice from several experts.
3. Start Building an Email List, and Be Aggressive
One of the best ways to get visitors to your site is to have an email list. If you have people who have opted in to receive your emails you can send them links to new blog posts, announcements about new products or discounts, and of course, you can promote other people’s products as an affiliate. All of these things can provide some insurance in case you were to experience a drop in search traffic.
If you already have a list you can help your cause by increasing the rate at which you’re converting visitors to opt-ins. Be aggressive by offering some valuable incentive that makes people want to subscribe to your list. You can use a free e-book or special report, some sort of training video, access to exclusive content on your blog, an interview of someone influential in your industry, or anything else that your visitors will value. Here at ProfitBlitz I offer a free e-book, Guide to Profitable Blogging, as an incentive to join my email list.
Once you have something of value to offer to subscribers you’ll also want to evaluate how you are promoting it at your site. If you’re a WordPress user there are a number of different plugins that can help to make your offer stand out and will increase your conversion rates. My favorite one is OptinMonster, but others like Popup Domination are also popular.
Add sign up forms to your website or blog. Common locations for forms include blog sidebars, below posts content, Bio or About pages, and sometimes within the main content of a post or page. Whatever company you are using for your mailing list will provide you with the code for an opt in form.
Work on a free resource that you can use to offer as a subscriber bonus. It should be valuable, but it doesn’t need to be anything that will take you months to create. It could be a special report in PDF format that might be a little longer and more in-depth than your typical blog post. It could be a video or audio interview. It could even be a series of posts that are already in your blog archives that you re-package into a PDF as an e-book or special report.
4. Actively Maintain Your Email List
Simply building an email list is not enough. You’ll need to actively maintain it by sending out emails on a regular basis. The frequency of mailings will depend on your strategy and will vary from one situation to the next, but generally you’ll want to email your list at least weekly in order to build a responsive list that looks forward to your emails.
Make sure that your emails are providing some value to subscribers, not just sales pitches for your products or for affiliate products. Link to your site in your emails and highlight recent blog posts whenever possible, which will help to increase your traffic and decrease your reliance on Google.
Set up an autoresponder sequence to send a series of emails at specific intervals after someone subscribes to your list. Use these emails to welcome subscribers, to let them know what to expect from being subscribed to your list, to provide helpful information that will make it possible to gain their trust, and to highlight some of the most important content on your site.
Set a schedule for emailing your list, such as once per week. You can use these emails to drive traffic to your site and to promote relevant products and services while providing useful information to your subscribers.
5. Create Your Own Digital Products to Sell
The strategy that you choose for monetizing your site will impact your level of dependence on Google for search traffic. If your only revenue sources are ad sales and/or AdSense, your income is likely to be seriously impacted if you loose a lot of search engine traffic. Ad sales are generally closely tied to your traffic numbers, and fewer AdSense clicks as a result of lost traffic will decrease your revenue.
One of the best monetization strategies for reducing your dependency on Google search traffic is to sell your own digital products. Of course, if you lose search traffic it can also impact the number of sales that you make, but there are things you can do to offset this. First, if you have your own products you can run limited time sales or promos at any time if you’re in need of a boost to your revenue. Second, you can offer an affiliate program and pay a commission to affiliates for every sale they refer. Your site might experience a drop in search engine traffic, but if you have affiliates that are sending targeted visitors to your site you can still make plenty of sales.
If you’ve taken the advice of point number 3 to build an email list, this will also make it possible to sell more of your own products, especially through product launches or exclusive sales that you promote to your list.
There are all kinds of possibilities when it comes to digital products. You could write and sell an e-book, put together an online course in video or text format, sell premium articles at your blog, create a membership website, or sell any other type of digital and downloadable files.
Observe the types of products that are being sold to your target audience. You can do this by paying attention to banner ads at websites and blogs in the niche, seeing what products are being advertised through AdSense and AdWords, and observing the affiliate programs that are available. Knowing the types of products that are already out there you can brainstorm ideas to find possibilities for your own unique product that will appeal to your target audience.
Survey your audience if you want to get a good feel for the types of products that would interest them, or if you want to find out what challenges they are facing that you could address with your product.
Create your first product. Depending on the type of product that you choose you may need to outsource some of the work. If so, sites like Elance and oDesk can be great resources. If you’re selling a digital product there are a number of ways to set up a simple e-commerce system. WordPress users can install the free plugin Easy Digital Downloads, and systems like DPD can be used with any CMS.
6. Offer a Great Affiliate Program
I mentioned in the previous point that selling your own products and offering an affiliate program can help to provide some stability in case your site experiences a drop in traffic. You’ll have the most success at attracting affiliates and making sales by offering a high percentage commission to your affiliates. The more they will make from each sale the more motivated they will be to promote your product. Take a look at other affiliate programs for products in your industry and make sure that you are offering a commission that is at least competitive, and preferably better than your competitors.
You can also help to make your affiliate program effective by offering things like attractive banners, text for email promotions, tips for promoting your products effectively, and possibly coupon codes that affiliates can use when promoting the products. You can also get some great results, assuming you have a high-quality product, by offering a free review copy to affiliates so they can try it out and promote it more effectively.
Set up your affiliate program. Some e-commerce systems, like E-Junkie, will include built-in functionality for the affiliate program. In other cases you may need a dedicated affiliate platform like iDevAffiliate.
Design banners for your affiliates. If you’re not a designer you may want to hire someone to create the banner ads for you. Services like RightBanners and 20 Dollar Banners are affordable options, or you can find someone at a site like Elance, oDesk, or even Fiverr.
Set up a page on your site to attract affiliates. Include information about the commission that you are offering, payment policies, and any terms or restrictions. Allow people to sign up to the affiliate program, or at least request acceptance to the program, from this page. You can see a good example of an Affiliates page from StudioPress. It includes all of the relevant information that potential affiliates would need, and visitors can apply to the program or find banners here.
Pro-actively recruit affiliates. Reach out to bloggers and website owners that have a target audience matching the target audience of your product. You can also do Google searches for phrases related to your product and contact the sites that are ranking on the first page for these phrases. Additionally, those who have sizeable email lists within your niche would be ideal affiliates. When you’re trying to recruit someone that you think may be able to produce a high volume of affiliate referrals you may want to offer them a higher commission as extra incentive.
7. Focus on Profit, Not Traffic
Another effective way to reduce your dependency on Google is to change your mindset. Rather than placing your emphasis on getting traffic to your site and setting traffic-oriented goals, shift your focus to profit. Through the first few years of working online I was mainly focused on getting traffic to my site and seeing those numbers increase. But after a few years I learned to change my focus to put more emphasis on revenue and profit, and less emphasis on traffic numbers.
Sure, getting more traffic can help you to make more money, but the bottom line is really what matters the most. If you avoid the temptation to obsess over traffic you can turn your attention to improving your site and getting more revenue out of the traffic that you already have.
Think about how you are currently making money with your site and see if there are other sources of revenue that you could pursue. One of my sites did experience a significant drop in traffic at one point and I was able to keep profit steady, and actually increase it, by adding a new source of revenue and by focusing on product sales. If I had still been consumed with traffic numbers the situation would have been pretty stressful, but since I was focused on profit I was able to avoid a major setback.
Set action goals rather than milestone goals. Focus on the steps that you need to take in order to create a profitable website instead of just setting a goal for the number of visitors that you want to receive. For example, set a goal of getting 2 guest posts published this month. Set a goal of completing a special report that you can use as a free bonus for your email subscribers. Or set a goal of completing your first product by a certain date.
Analyze your current monetization methods and see if there are other ways that you could be doing a better job with your existing traffic. Are there products that would help your audience that you could promote as an affiliate? Are there opportunities for you to create your own products to sell? Are there ways you could increase optin rates to your email list? Are there companies that would be interested in advertising on your site, or maybe on specific pages? If you’re already using AdSense or selling ad space, are there other locations or ad sizes that you could use to get more clicks?
What’s Your Experience?
Have you made an effort to diversify your traffic sources and reduce dependency on Google? If so, please feel free to share from your experience in the comments.