Are you handing too much control over to search engines?

We have to stop thinking of our home pages as the main point of entry to our sites’ contents. That distinction is slowly trending toward the search results pages of major search engines. In his excellent Mine That Data!, Kevin Hillstrom reviews his own site’s traffic statistics, and then poses some questions for your business site:

Assume twenty percent of your traffic arrives via a search engine. You have essentially given control of one-fifth of your business to Google, Yahoo! and MSN. How do you feel about that? … How do you regain control of your business if that percentage significantly increases, or if the search engines decide to use an algorithm that sends less traffic to your site? Online retailers need to think hard about how much control they have ceeded [sic] to search engines. On the surface, the traffic that comes from search engines seems like it is all incremental business. I highly doubt that it is.

His point is excellent. This search traffic should not be perceived as incremental icing on the cake, unless you are quite comfortable with the idea of handing control of these visits completely over to the search engines. If you aren’t being proactive about taking strategic search engine results pages as your own (through search engine optimization), this steady flow of traffic could be diverted tomorrow to your key competitors.

The stakes can be considerable. Since search engine visits have been shown to convert more often to customers, compared to visits from other sources, losing this flow of traffic could be devastating to your business. If you don’t have a search engine optimization plan in place yet, start one now. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll be protected from the caprices of a search engine’s ever-changing algorithms, but it can reduce the risk to your bottom line.

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