Which Came First, the Traffic or the Search Engine Rankings?

July 3, 2009 - Written by Gyutae Park  

chickenegg“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This is a common expression in philosophy which I’m sure you’ve heard before in one form or another. The phrase essentially describes a situation of circular cause and consequence. Chickens hatch from eggs, but eggs are laid by chickens – so how do you know which originally gave rise to the other?

Similarly, jobs are not readily available to people who have little or no experience in a particular field, yet people can’t get experience without first getting a job. It’s a no win dilemma.

So how does this relate at all to Internet marketing? Well, I’m beginning to see this same trend happening with the search engines when it comes to SEO.

What do I mean? As the search engines (especially Google) get more advanced, they are working hard to improve the quality of their search results and return listings that are sure to be useful to the searcher. In other words, branded and well-known sites that already receive a lot of traffic are promoted to the top of Google search.

Top search engine rankings could potentially result in a large amount of exposure and traffic. But now it’s coming to a point where large amounts of exposure and traffic result in high search engine rankings. Do you see what I’m getting at here? Small sites with limited budgets depend on favorable SEO rankings to get traffic and exposure, but soon they won’t be able to get those rankings unless they already have the traffic and branding in place. The question will then be “which came first, the traffic or the search engine rankings?”

You can see this happening in Google already…

  • Wikipedia and other big informational sites rank #1 for countless general queries
  • Google recently gave a boost to big brands in its search results
  • Google is making an effort to clean up its results – getting rid of thin affiliate pages, discounting obvious paid links, manually editing rankings, etc. There is bound to be some collateral damage – especially for small sites

With the web becoming more mature every day, more links and optimization are required to get ahead of the competition for keyword phrases across the board. Not only that, but it’s not even just about links anymore. As Google adds new capabilities and data points through its vast network of services, the search engine will look at a variety of additional signals of quality (e.g. traffic, user engagement, social factors) and use them to influence its rankings.

For example, Rae Hoffman aka Sugarrae used buzz marketing and pure traffic alone to get a viral site to rank in Google. Check it out, this proves that you don’t need SEO to rank in Google anymore. Seriously.

It’s much harder now to “fake” authority with a small site and work your way up Google’s search rankings. You can’t just start a new site and get links to move up in the rankings and build traffic. Those days are over. Soon enough you’ll need traffic and exposure, the very things that you’re looking to get, in order to rank at all.

If you’re a small publisher, how do you get that traffic without first being included in the rankings? Sure you can buy some traffic, engage in social media, and employ guerilla marketing techniques, but it will all be much more difficult and expensive 5 years down the line.

It’s not my intention to scare anyone, but this is exactly what I meant when I said that the window of opportunity for independent webmasters is quickly closing. Search is a HUGE part of the web, and the big players are now being solidified for long term placement.

Don’t miss the boat. There’s still time for you to build up your sites and use SEO tactics like on-page optimization and link building to greatly improve your search rankings. However, the key is to build your brand in the process and prove to everyone (including Google) that you have a site that deserves its high rankings. Once the shift occurs, you’ll have the audience and numbers to back you up.

Conclusion? In the near future, you’ll need traffic already in place to rank in the search engines, so you might as well utilize the search engines to build your traffic and exposure while you still can. For more specific strategies on how you can do this, download my free e-book, The Winning Way, and sign up for my membership site, Winners Circle, for exclusive Internet marketing case studies.

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40 Responses to “Which Came First, the Traffic or the Search Engine Rankings?”

Mike Huang on July 4th, 2009

The SE traffic for Google is so weird and sneaky at times. You can rank one place today and a different place tomorrow…

Richael | Domain Marvelous on July 4th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

The ranking according to “brand” is really devastating to small setups on the internet; as “branding” holds more prominence than quality links, aging, etc. This is purely my own opinion, but this move could be done in order for Google to secure its already flourishing Adwords program. When small online setups fail to make headway into getting a good “free” rank on the Search Engine, they will opt to buy in Google traffic.

I still think, though, that quality of links holds an important place in SERP but Google might look out for links coming from mainstream media and those brandable sites. So if you are mentioned in Techcrunch, or New York Times website, then maybe you are heading towards building your brand name and ultimately, increase your ranking. But then, how can small businesses, like mine feature in these high profile sites?

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

Google is a business after all, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they incorporated methods to maximize Adwords revenue. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the organic search results are Google’s “product”. The better they are, the better Google support the paid search side. It’s in Google’s best interests to return relevant results – which is why I believe they are giving preference to brands (i.e. it’s safer).

Shaun Judy on July 5th, 2009

Big Ol’ Google I love Google. So do you think search engine traffic is better than social traffic to help with the future of getting ranked? Or will it really make a difference which one it comes from?


Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

I think that in the future Google will give more preference to established brands and sites. In other words, sites that can stand on their own (without the search traffic) will rise to the top of the search rankings. A classic case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Kahoong Lee on July 5th, 2009

I personally think that branding is more important than the search engine ranking aka traffic. I always think that in order to rank well in Google, SEO including on-page and off-page takes the big portion, but you mentioned above that Sugarrae used buzz marketing to rank well in Google, this is really new to me and I’m going to read more about it. Anyway, I believe that normal traffic may helps in search engine ranking in long term basis, if they like your content.


Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

SEO best practices and links are important and always will be. You shouldn’t forget about these when working on your sites. However, a shift is occurring where SEO by itself won’t rank a site highly. In the near future, you may need other signals of quality such as existing traffic and a strong brand.

Buat Duit Online on July 5th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Interesting article. However I still think that smaller websites can still survive if they find a niche that is not common.

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

Definitely true. It’s not profitable for big companies to tackle niche markets – so there’s opportunity for smaller webmaster and entrepreneurs to fill the void. For example, Engadget covers technology and gadgets in general but a small blogger can cover portable HD camcorders and do well with it.

In this article, I’m mainly talking about competing in industries where there are big players with big brands.

Evan on July 6th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

I wondered about this. Corporates don’t seem terribly smart with blogs but this will probably be what they need to take over the blogosphere.

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

On the flip side, corporates are terribly slow. So fast and nimble bloggers and marketers will always be able to innovate and get ahead on the web.

Donny Gamble on July 6th, 2009

I believe that the search engines come first because they decide if the traffic will come and where it was go. If there was not a place to organize all of the content from everyones web pages, the internet would be in total disarray.

Jared | The Money Cult on July 6th, 2009

Nice post, a little scary but I think it is easiest to start with social media you can quickly build a following you can plug everything in to everything. Work on your brand provide some value(Key). The traffic should come.

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

Good point. Thankfully SEO isn’t the only way to get free traffic anymore. You can build off of social media and viral marketing to build a following and eventually build your search rankings.

D. Amoureuse on July 7th, 2009

Google are making changes in order to clean up their results – its not something unusual. As the search engine improves and changes its formula for ranking the results , the SEO guys are changing their strategy too.
Brand building is a bit hard for a small sites, but i think its not necessary.
For the traffic you are right , but its always been that way – you need more traffic for better search rankings.

B&B Blackpool on July 7th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

At the end of the day there can only be a certain number of results that will be clicked on by potential surfers.
If a small players link is down below 30 then the chances of generic traffic is next to nil.

Google loves relevancy and information sharing and marketers are going to have to get their heads around this.
If for example an outlet is selling a washing machine then google will be looking to see what makes that particular site stand out from the rest.
If it contains the full spec and price then it’s a good start. Bung in a couple or more user reviews and its getting better, then you need to think out of the box what else can you add that will contribute to the searchers experience?

That’s what google are looking for!! The sites that provide information over and above all others. Webmasters that cannot get there heads around this best set up an adwords account cos you are going to need it if you wan to be up the rankings.
And even that is win win for google as more persons bidding on a keyword drives up the revenue it gets.

Brenon MacLaury on July 7th, 2009

Interesting article. I do believe that smaller sites can still make it in the big world of Google, but it is proving to be a lot of work. Hopefully someday it’ll be worth it. 🙂

Brenon MacLaury

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

Small sites can still make it for sure. But it’s a lot harder than it was 5 years ago. And 5 years from now, it’ll be even harder as the web matures and online businesses grow and set up more barriers to entry.

blog bisnis online on July 7th, 2009

Search engine ranking will be follow with traffic, i think. Or if the traffic source from other method not from search engine, it will be different.

Tyrone Shum on July 9th, 2009

90% of all traffics comes first from search engines like Yahoo, Ask, and Google. As you market your ecommerce business, and crawl it to search engines then traffic will come.

Link on July 9th, 2009

This certainly supports the argument for offline marketing strategies for small business looking to build their brand, both on and offline.

Noah on July 9th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Your post sends shivers down my spine. 😉 Guess stuff like link bait on social news sites is going to become even more popular than it already is. Except I suppose its purpose would be to actually bring engaged users instead of just the links you’d get from such a thing. Should be interesting…

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

Social media is a great place to start for smaller webmasters. If content is truly unique and interesting, it brings on users, traffic, and links – just what Google wants to see in sites it ranks highly.

wishlist on July 10th, 2009

I am still so new at this, that just thinking to hard about this makes my head hurt.LOL I guess I believe that the traffic has to come first.
Once you start driving traffic to your site, then the search engines pay attention and your ranking will go up and then your traffic goes up more and search engine ranking goes up more. Just my thoughts/ Thank you for a very thought provoking article.

Haigo Hein on July 11th, 2009

This is like dead end: without traffic, you don’t have search ranking and without ranking you don’t have traffic:S

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

Yeah, that’s the point. The hard part is to get in somehow – to either establish traffic on your own first without the search engines or to work on your SEO (optimizing pages and building links) before they lose their effectiveness on their own.

wishlist on July 11th, 2009

Very interesting article. I do believe the traffic comes before the search engine. If you drive enough traffic to your site the search engines will pay attention and your ranking will go up, and in turn your traffic will increase. There will always be a chance for the little guy if he has something people want.

Todd McCollough on July 14th, 2009

I always enjoy reading your site. Thanks for pointing me to the case study on not needing SEO to rank well in Google. I do think you can still create a lot of buzz and viral traffic if you are a new site and have the right content. The problem is maintaining that traffic and either new great content or some SEO is needed.

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

Thanks Todd. Viral marketing is definitely difficult to maintain, which is why it’s best when it’s used to complement SEO and an overall marketing campaign.

Liane YoungBlogger on July 14th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

You missed the most important element – the searcher! Hahaha. Great post, very intriguing too 😀

Gyutae Park on July 14th, 2009

Yep, the searcher is always the focus. If users aren’t happy, you can forget about rankings and traffic in the long run.

imDavidLee on July 14th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

wikipedia is one of the google like…do u know how get traffics from there? can submit article there>?

Paulo Roldan on July 14th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

I’ve just read your free ebook for the tenth time, it really rocks!

Everything from the book’s graphics, layout to its content is extraordinary! it’s such a professionally crafted product that puts most paid ebooks (and free or paid 6-page crappy ones found on Digital Point, of course) to shame! I can imagine that the quality of your PAID products and services is beyond good!

I only have a suggestion: place hyperlinks on the index of your ebook for quick access to its contents, and you will have one of the best Internet Marketing products EVER!

Thanks for overdelivering, man. I wish you a long, healthy and wealthy life.

Paulo from Mexico.

Nate Holland on July 15th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

That was an interesting article. I still believe in small businesses making it big in the Google ranks one day soon. As long as they work hard and are patient, I’m sure they’ll get there.. Eventually.:)

eCancerAwareness on July 31st, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

I don’t think it’s a matter of which comes first because they’re related, yet different, and somewhat out of your control, IMO. You build your site using SEO techniques, get the word out via backlinks, social networking, viral, etc., and get as much traffic as you can. Of course, not all traffic is equal. As you go, you see your ranking change, you alter your SEO to your benefit, all the while traffic may increase and if mentions of your site go up, so does your ranking, in theory.

Chris Peterson on August 19th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Awesome link, Wonderful article & I really enjoyed your perspective on it as much as facts you mentioned.
Its great effort & indeed a stylish one as well……

SEO Link Company on December 16th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

I’ll follow your advice regarding utilizing the search engines to build traffic and exposure. I’m gonna need that in the future to increase traffic and improve ranking. Well detailed post.

pravakar on February 11th, 2010

I have read so many post but this post is quite different, you have given good explanation of traffic and ranking. Both are necessary,so my point of view is get more traffic you will get immediate result.

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