You don’t need a web site any more
These days, everybody needs SEO. Why? Because they need traffic, and the only traffic many business web sites get these days is the traffic that the search engines send to them. And of the search engines sending that traffic, Google sends the most by far. So the thinking is, if you want your web site to work for you, you need to get into Google and get those Google referrals. The businesses have tried that on their own and failed, so now they need a specialist. A “search engine optimizer” or SEO.
That is certainly one way to think. As a consultant providing SEO services to small businesses, I could whole heartedly agree. Hire me. It’ll solve your problems. In fact, everybody should hire me, and then everybody will have the #1 spot on Google, right?
Of course not.
But this sort of hyperbolic thinking can be enlightening. If everyone wants to appear first in Google for a search phrase that matches their target consumer audience (whatever it is, for-profit or not) then really all they seek is an *appearance* at the top of the Google search results (the SERP) for that search query. They don’t seek a web site, but an “ad” at the top of the Google results page. So why do they even have web sites? Conventional thinking is that the “ad” clicks through to a “page” that is on a web site. I honestly believe that the only reason the “sponsored listings” on Google look different from the indexed web pages is because it would be legally questionable for Google to do that right now. If Google could toss aside that constraint, the ads would look exactly like the rest of the web pages listed on the Google results page.
Exaggerating this line of thought further, *if* Google provided a big enough advertisement at the top of the search results, would that replace the need for a separate business web site? Hmm… some have suggested the web has evolved to the point where web pages are ads, and each page serves the business separate from the rest of a web site. Eventually some businesses would want to bring the traffic deep into their complex web sites, sure, but not all businesses. In fact, not *most* businesses. If you look at today’s web, the vast majority of business web sites are not the type that need deep user interaction. They need to extend an invitation to call, write, order, submit, sign up, comment, etc. Some singular action that is ‘the transaction”. And that might be provided by a large Google “ad” at the top of the SERP, if it was big enough and “HTML-y” enough.
Consider Pay Per Click contextual ads. They are placed at the top of the SERP, and induce a call to action. Limited in size to a few lines, they usually link to a web page somewhere because you can’t fit the whole sales pitch and order form into that little PPC ad. Due to the constraints of size, the call to action became “click thru to the rest of the story”. But how many of those businesses spending money every month on PPC ads would be fully served by a single web-page-sized interactive document behind the PPC ad? Hosted by Google? AJAX allows that to happen, doesn’t it? Urchin/Analytics? AdSense/AdWords tracking?
Today’s contextual advertising is expensive. Each click costs money, and there is a strong desire… NEED actually, for those referrals to “convert” to a sale or commerce activity. Some SEOs suggest that every “landing page” needs to be optimized for that singular “call to action” in order to increase “return on advertising spend” and “return on investment”. In other words, to make a profit after accounting for the costs of that web site and all those web pages. So if that is true, and those optimized landing pages result in sales, who needed a whole web site? They needed (and got) a single landing page that closed the deal. Hosted by Google.
BUT, those PPC fees (costs) were supposedly bid up on a market basis. So the costs should be tracking the…. costs, right? I mean, if the plan is to maximize ROI or ROAS, and a significant portion of the costs to be recovered came from producing the web sites and PPC campaigns (including handling the orders etc.) then the market should suggest that PPC bid prices level out right around where the costs are… minus the Google share. And if that were to happen, we competitive webmasters would need to reduce those costs in order to increase our profits (noting we can’t put any pressure on Google to reduce it’s share because, well, Google has a monopoly there). And Google, to increase it’s profits, needs to GROW outwards and consume more of the profits, by adding value… which is the same as reducing expenses on the client side. Are you with me?
So Google should host your landing page, and you may not need a web site at all.
Google has just announced (tomorrow morning, actually) they will provide web site building tools/services for small businesses. I have no further information yet, but the above scenario is interesting to me. What if Google extends the contextual ad business to handle the whole process, from ad serving in-context through conversion on a Google-hosted landing page? Those of you “in the biz” know what I’m talking about…the follow up on Writely, urchin, WHOIS, Toolbar, etc. The Grand Finale. Cyberdyne. Self awareness. Well, maybe not self awareness (yet).
Of course I don’t believe the above scenario, and I hope you don’t. but is should SCARE YOU. In the end, following this sort of “optimization” process, Google would simply assume *all* costs and become Amazon.com…. and you all would be “out of business” as they say. Of course my hyperbolic scenario completely ignores disruptive innovation that even I would be pursuing left and right if the scenario did try and play out. And we all know that Amazon has been around for years, and successful by almost all counts, and yet we still don’t buy everything from Amazon (yet). Why is that? is it possible that we might someday buy everything from Amazoogle? Think seriously about the theoretical consequences of this scenario, and you may realize why many SEOs (myself included) warn web masters very seriously about telling TheGoogle about your web sites and businesses (your stats, your secondary supporting domains, your conversion rates). Why do you share competitive data with a competitor?