The Shrinking Window of Opportunity for Independent Webmasters – Get In Before It’s Too Late

May 15, 2008 - Written by Gyutae Park  

window of opportunityLast week I talked about how SEO as an industry is changing but is certainly not dying. This time around I’m going to describe SEO from the perspective of an independent webmaster publishing new sites for profit – much like me and many of you here. How does the changing search engine landscape affect us? What can we do now to capitalize on these shifts?

As the web matures and Google improves its search results with the most relevant sites, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for small publishers to get ahead. Not only will there be stiffer competition in virtually every niche imaginable, but Google will squash smaller sites and slowly but surely take away many of the most effective tactics in every SEO’s playbook by labeling them as “spam” (widgets, paid links, directories, etc.).

Now don’t get me wrong. There will always be a need for SEO as long as search engines exist and there will always be loopholes in the algorithms to manipulate and take advantage of. However, SEO in general is becoming less and less technical and more like traditional marketing (branding, authority, conversations, etc.) If you’re an independent webmaster using SEO for promotion, this is very bad news. How do you compete with huge corporations with marketing budgets in the millions of dollars?

Before you throw in the towel and give up on your dreams of online success, be sure to read the rest of this article. There is hope for all of us, but it doesn’t get any easier here on out.

seo life cycle

SEO is reaching a stage in its life cycle where the early majority is adopting. It’s essentially the end of the beginning and in the next 5 or so years, the biggest sites with longer histories will dominate the search engines, and thus the web. It’s easy to see this now with Wikipedia. On the other hand, newer sites without large budgets will have an incredibly difficult time breaking through to the masses and search engines will be adamant about keeping their results pure of new and unproven “spam” sites.

You can see this happening already. Websites of huge corporations like HP are awarded for using shady SEO tactics, while smaller sites are wrongfully penalized in rankings because of an algorithmic shift. In the grand scheme of things, Google does not care about you as an independent publisher. They will always get your content regardless of where it’s hosted and will profit whether or not you’re in their index. It’s only the big sites that they’re really worried about because their inclusion makes or breaks the quality of the search results.

So how does a small website publisher combat all of this? What’s the solution?

Easy. Get big and build authority rather than just sites.

Time is running out and the window of opportunity for independent webmasters to come in and build authority sites is shrinking every moment of the day. If you want a sustainable online business that brings you profit 5-10 years from now, you need to adapt with the times and future proof your sites while it’s still easy to effectively use SEO as we know it today.

seo life cycle

How an independent webmaster can prepare for the future

Build authority in your community
Establish yourself as a leading authority in your field. Develop relationships with people and demonstrate your knowledge by being active in the community. Search engine rankings follow people so the more supporters and followers you have the better.

Build a brand, online and off
What differentiates a generic t-shirt vs. a t-shirt from Nike? Brand. The material and the design on both may be exactly the same but the brand name fosters loyalty and a high perception of value. Search engines are less likely to penalize sites with strong brands because if they do, the quality of the search results will suffer. Build your brand, both online and off.

Own an idea
Be the best at something or be the first. If your site is associated with a certain idea (through content or tools) it is less likely to be commoditized with other sites offering the same thing. For example, other scientists have made significant accomplishments in the light bulb industry, but Thomas Edison is usually the one who gets all the credit.

Be irreplaceable
A quality rater document containing guidelines for human editors to use in determining whether or not a site is spam was recently leaked by Google. Study this document and follow it to the T. Make sure you do not give off any signals that would cause a human reviewer to question the validity of your site. Incorporate components that are difficult for competitors to replicate – including a forum or community, a unique product, your specialized services, or branded content.

Don’t rely on one source of traffic
It’s hard to ignore Google when it represents so much of the Internet and a majority of a site’s incoming referrals. However, it’s important to develop other streams of traffic to release yourself from the grip of Google. Build email lists, use social media, and buy advertising – all of these alternative actions will help your site to survive should Google slap you.

Use the SEO tactics while they still work
The most effective SEO tactics come and go like a bunch of fashion fads. Directory links and blog comment spam used to be immensely effective but are now considered useless. Carefully utilize the methods that work while focusing on the above items. This will give you an edge over the competition and will help you to gain market share while you further establish yourself in your field.

Google is starting to kill off small publishers and it’s time to take matters into our own hands by making the search engines need us in their indexes. What are you doing to protect your online business? Get going before it’s too late.

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24 Responses to “The Shrinking Window of Opportunity for Independent Webmasters – Get In Before It’s Too Late”

MarketingDeviant on May 15th, 2008

It is always good to start things early. However, if Google will only rank wiki and huge corporate sites for rank 1-3 in SERP then less people will start to rely on google because more people will just use wiki instead of google.

Gyutae Park on May 17th, 2008

This is not necessarily true. Universal search in Google is incorporating many informational aspects into the search results pages (such as stock quotes, videos, images, etc.) The SERP’s in themselves are becoming destinations – which is why people will use search more than anything else.

PowerTools on May 15th, 2008

When webmasters talk about SEO, I seldom see them mentioned the “age” factor.

I have a site that I last updated in 2007 and all these while having a PR0. When the site crosses its’ first anniversary in early May this year, it suddenly jump to PR3. Surprise surprise!

While SEO and PR may not entirely related, it does show that being early counts.

Gyutae Park on May 17th, 2008

The search engines, particularly Google, tend to emphasize domain age in its algorithm. What I usually do is this – if I have a site idea, I immediately research and buy a domain, add some content, then let it sit for a while to accumulate some PR and ranking power. Once I get to really focusing on the site, it will do much better quicker.

Irish on May 15th, 2008

I like your point about “Own an idea”. Creativity will differentiate us from other and I think fresh idea make us irreplaceable too.

Gyutae Park on May 17th, 2008

Yep, that’s an important aspect of a site that will differentiate it from the competition. However, it’s definitely easier said than done. Pick an idea and stick to it.

Irish on May 19th, 2008

However, it’s definitely easier said than done…

Definitely yes :)…To be creative is such kind a talent.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
Jordan McClements on May 16th, 2008

“We’re all DOOMED!” (Said with Scottish Accent)..

Good article.

I agree that being early definitely does count.

I am also glad that Google is killing off bloody annoying directory sites.

I also think there will always be room for niche sites.

Amazon is never going to be able to sell EVERY product that has ever been invented.

Like on the high street, a lot of shops have been killed by the big supermarkets in the UK, but there are still some really good shops that serve a niche and serve it extremely well, and hence manage to thrive!

Gyutae Park on May 17th, 2008

You’re right – there will always be an opportunity for smaller players to focus on a niche and do a better job than most superpowers like Amazon. However, like I said the window of opportunity is shrinking for independent webmasters. Right now we play on an equal playing field as mutlibillion dollar corporations but this is going to change in the near future.

Web Success Diva on May 18th, 2008

This is an excellent, insightful post — with valuable tips for the little guy. My particular interest is in your statements about building authority — you are right on, on this point.

The little guy has to be especially sensitive to building authority to gain resilience in an industry that is every changing and becoming more and more saturated with so-called experts.

Great post!
Maria Reyes-McDavis

Gyutae Park on May 20th, 2008

Hey Maria,
Thanks for the insightful comment!
Anyone can call themselves an “expert” but it’s the actions that speak louder than words. Totally agree with you there.

Martin Canchola on May 18th, 2008

Very powerful stuff…

Malte Landwehr on May 20th, 2008

I think your graph showing the development of risk and profitability it too focussed on pure SEO.

But most webmasters will not focus all their efforts on SEO, but have knowledge in SEM, affiliate-marketing, social media optimization, webdesign, usability, and some other areas.

And with so many skills at hand, you should be able to make some profit in the future without risking too much.

Gyutae Park on May 20th, 2008

The graph focuses on SEO because I am mainly speaking of the future of SEO. Google owns so much of the Internet that it will become extremely difficult to gain market share without high rankings. Yes, the other areas that you mention are all viable methods of promotion. However, effective SEO with authority sites now will make things 100 times easier in the next 5 years.

Warenwirtschaft on May 24th, 2008

You are right, that size and age gets more important with every update of googles search algorithm. That gives you authority and it becomes harder for newcomers to get successful in an existing field. But there are always new developments and when you are able to invent some new product or idea and get a unique name (brand) for it then you will always get high rankings. How hard would it be to rank first in google for the word “gunfaron”? If this is the word for a new idea you can succeed. (No need to google this word now, i just did and it gets 0 results 🙂 )

Gyutae Park on May 26th, 2008

Haha, interesting point. But what are the chances that people will start searching for “gunfaron” without knowing what it is? For large corporations that can spend millions on branding and advertising, this is not a problem. For small publishers, SEO may be all they have. With quality domain names going fast, even sites like may already be taken…

redwall_hp on July 7th, 2009

Funny. When I search, I’m not looking for the big sites. Generally I’m looking for some specific information, so I form a query that I think will pull up a page with the answer. Often this is *not* on all that large of a site.

I don’t necessarily need a search engine to take me to sites I already know about. A domain like that of HP or Apple is absurdly easy to guess at. The only time I expect large site to be returned is with a “naïve query,” such as the name of a company, which would generally be an I’m Feeling Lucky from the Firefox URL bar.

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