The Fallacy of the “Don’t Rely on Google” Argument

Every time Google decides to deliver another collective bitch-slap to the SEO industry in the form of an update named after a cute monochrome animal, we see the usual eruptions of debate and arguments among SEOs about the hows and whys of it all.

One argument that is consistently put forth, usually by smug SEOs whose sites have escaped the sledgehammer of Google’s wrath unscathed, is that “no site should be too reliant on Google’s traffic”.

That particular argument grinds my gears to no end. It really does. In my opinion it’s just not a valid argument.

Let’s start with some figures on consumer behaviour:

“83% of UK online shoppers use search engines to research a purchase.”
eMarketer, November 2010

So 4 out of 5 online shoppers rely to some degree on what a search engine tells them about a product or service. That metric is from 2010 and has probably increased since then.

“58% of purchase decisions begin on search engines.”
GroupM, February 2011

“61% of consumers use search engines to help them in their product research decisions leading up to purchase.”
Econsultancy, July 2010

So effectively more than half of all purchases a person makes are influenced by search entine results pages. This applies not just to online purchases, but to offline purchases as well! On top of this, online retail is taking a much larger share of the pie year after year:

“Online retail is growing 6 times faster than high street sales and is predicted to exceed £37 billion by 2014.”
Verdict Research, April 2011

All of the above paints a picture of a consumer base that is increasingly focused on the internet, and predominantly using search engines to make purchase decisions. Knowing this, let’s look at search engine usage statistics for Europe and the UK:

“Google market share in Europe, April 2012: 94.51%
Google market share in the UK, April 2012: 92.17%”

So those 83% of users researching online purchases via search engines, those 58% of all purchase decisions starting on a search engine, and those 61% of all product research decisions, they’re pretty much exclusively handled by Google.

There is no avoiding Google. It dominates the online realm in Europe and the UK. A business that wants to succeed online has no other choice but to find a way to be visible on Google’s search engine results.

It’s all well and good preaching about diversity in customer sources, but when your entire marketplace is owned by Google you sort of have to play along with their game. If you don’t, you’re effectively crippling yourself. As an online business, avoiding Google as a traffic source is akin to running a marathon on one leg. Actually, more like running a marathon on one stump of a leg. You’re going nowhere, fast.

But we all know what Google’s game is: paid search advertising. That’s why they’re bringing down the hammer on SEO again and again, undermining the industry’s credibility and planting seeds of doubts in the minds of business decision makers. All in order to make sure businesses – who have no choice but to deal with Google – choose the easy option: AdWords.

About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.

6 thoughts on “The Fallacy of the “Don’t Rely on Google” Argument

  1. Now off course I HAVE to respond, because I am one of those people saying ‘don’t rely on Google’ 🙂

    I have to make something clear I think: I agree that you cannot ignore Google and built the business without it because its everywhere. There is however a difference between relying on Google and thus focussing on Google or relying on Google but focussing on the client, or the visitor.

    IF you choose to rely on Google and you forget about putting up great content which is a help for the people you are targeting, you will get ‘punished’ by Google for it. If however you will put up great content you won’t get ‘hit’ by any update that easily. 

    I believe that if you have your visitor in mind you are less reliable of Google, because then if Google changes something you won’t get ‘hit’ easily, because you produce great content. 

    So its not just about sources, its also about how you treat your site. And if you focus solely on Google you will get in trouble one way or another.

    A different discussion is on how Google changes the SERPS and sometimes seems to push away all other sites, like what we saw yesterday in the tests we spotted:

    1. Hi Bas. As you’re my editor here and a superb guy as well, I’ll be as nice as I possibly can be. 🙂

      I don’t buy in to the ‘great content’ crap that comes out of Google. Great content alone does not result in rankings, traffic, and conversions. Yes, a good content strategy should be part of your overall SEO approach and tie in to your other digital marketing channels as well. But on its own it’s close to useless.Google has created the entire link ecosystem itself with its link-based search algorithms. Google created this mess. And now it’s trying to fix it – and not being particularly effective at it. While it’s succeeding in filtering some of the crap out of SERPs, there is plenty of collateral damage. Entire online businesses wrecked because they did something – knowingly or otherwise – that rubbed Google the wrong way.And you also pointed out a much more urgent issue: Google actively making entire business models obsolete when it decides to offer its own version and puts it squarely at the top of its SERPs. No matter how much a website stays within Google’s guidelines, the moment Google launches its own version of your business, you’re doomed. End of the line. Say bye bye to any semblance of growth. It’ll be a pure struggle to stay alive from that moment onward.

      The point I try to make in my post – successfully, even if I say so myself – is that there is no escaping Google when it comes to creating a successful business online. And that means that effectively Google decides whether your business is a success or not.

      To me, that is the very definition of a distorted, uncompetitive, malfunctioning marketplace.

      1. Barry, I think if I had to decide whether I agree more with you or Bas, I’d have to waffle a little. But in reality, you two aren’t that far apart.

        I do think we need to try to diversify our IM as much as possible to limit our dependence on Google (or any other single source of traffic) as much as possible. And I agree with you that we have no choice but to heed the potential of Google-driven traffic.

        But I wouldn’t discount the value of good content in driving traffic. If we put up something valuable, it’ll draw links and the traffic they bring, in the short term, at least. The problem there is that “short term” can be measured in hours or days. So I think the key is to do all you can to retain each and every unique visitor with great content. It certainly doesn’t remove G from the equation, but it does help a “little”. It’s just incredibly tough to try to repeat that viral phenomenon.

        As for having a business model that suddenly grabs the interest of the business development crew at the ‘Plex, you’re right – we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, once they set their eyes on a niche.

        I’d liken it to suddenly realizing you’re about to be jumped by 15 gang-bangers in an alley… the best you can do is to try to hurt as many of them as you can and protect your head and crotch in the process. But the outcome is already written. We could overload Disqus, listing past casualties of such contests.

        And please, Barry… stop confusing us by being “nice”! For a moment, I thought your account had been hacked. 😛

  2.  I dont’ believe there is an either satisfy Google OR satisfy
    the user, it’s one and the same thing. Google is no „end-in-itself“.
    Google depends on happy users without people searching and finding
    googd results there is no Google…

    I might be missing the point and I don’t buy that „don’t do evil”
    thing at all but I do believe, that it is in Google’s own best
    interest, to deliver the best search results possible. The user is
    the key. If the user is happy he returns to google search again and
    again and may click some banners along the way and everyone is happy.
    Google has to rely on good sites and good content to fulfill the
    user’s needs.

    So I don’t think there will be anything in
    the algorithm changing that turns down the value of sites that deliver
    good content. They’d be shooting themselves in their feet.

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