Beware The "1,000-Site Webmaster"
Recently, Matt Cutts, a Google engineer who's become well known in the Search Marketing community as a "go to guy" for answers on Google's organic search algorithm, uploaded a series of Q&A videos to the Web. You can see them at: Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO.
Matt's a smart guy with a good sense of humor, and in one of these segments he tells a story about a fellow who buttonholed him at a recent Search Engine Strategies show. This guy wanted to know why some of his sites had low organic visibility in Google's SERPs. When a colleague of Cutts asked this guy how many sites he had, he answered, "a couple of thousand."
Matt Cutts was floored; A couple of thousand sites? Even if this fellow were selling thousands of different products, why would he need a couple of thousand sites? Why not one big site with thousands of pages? Or ten sites with a hundred pages each?
The answer, of course, is that this guy was running an Adsense empire whose revenue model was probably based on PPC ads, affiliate links, or some other means of making money from misguided clicks. Any content on his sites was probably lame, boring, duplicative, or at the very least uninspired. And now, Google's algorithm had caught up with him, decided (rightly) that he really didn't have much to offer to Google's users, and consigned his thousand sites to SERP oblivion. There wasn't much that Matt could do for this guy beyond offering him his condolences.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of guys like Matt Cutts, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of 1000-Site Webmasters out there, and they're hardly an endangered species. Despite Google's recent efforts to crack down on click arbitrageurs by factoring landing page quality into its Adrank algorithm, the sites these guys build are still much in evidence on many SERPs right now. The desire to "get something for nothing" is rooted deep in the human soul, and the tools for creating Thousand Site Empires are cheap and readily available. If history is any guide, the search engines' crackdowns will cause these guys will disappear for awhile, but then they'll pop up again, in the Search Economy's equivalent of a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole.
The resilience of 1,000-Site Webmasters has an important lesson for Search marketers. The fact that they're so hard to suppress means that any strategy relying on organic placements alone always will be risky. You can do everything right in terms of SEO, but you'll still have to compete with these guys for organic position, and you're always going to be outnumbered. This is not to say that you shouldn't do everything in your power to make sure your Web site is as search-engine and user-friendly as it can be. Having a site with great content that's easily navigable by humans and search engines is essential, but it's not sufficient for success. Given how often the engines tweak their algorithms, it's fair to say that the only constant in organic rankings is change. And if you rely exclusively on ever-changing organic rankings as the central pillar of your search strategy you're never going to get as much out of search as you might with a strategy that includes a Paid component.
As I've said before in the pages of DM News, you need world-class SEO and a world-class paid search strategy to succeed. Anything less means lost opportunities, and precious SERP real estate ceded to your competitors. Provided your paid search strategy is sound, you'll be able to insulate yourself from the fickleness of organic rankings and gain some measure of insurance against the Thousand Site Webmasters. To really move the needle, you need a two-front strategy. Think of your Paid strategy as providing a powerful defensive bulwark against the 1,000-Site Webmasters of this world, who, unfortunately, will be with us for the foreseeable future.