If you run a website (and even if you don’t) you probably get email messages guaranteeing that some company can get you to the top of Google, implying this is going to make you rich. Search engine optimization (SEO) companies insist that what they do works. In fact, I had one person tell me to do a Google search for “credit cards”. The first result on Google is not Visa, but “creditcards.com”. See, SEO work they insist!

Well of course the search term credit cards returns creditcards.com first; after all that is the name of their site. If I do a search for “walmart”, I would expect walmart.com to be listed first. That is the name of their website. Any time the search term matches the website name, it is most likely to come up number one (that by the way is a major hint when selecting domain names).

In fact, the number one search term for people going to most websites is the company or domain name. For example, most of the search results taking people to Amazon.com come from people typing in “amazon” in the Google search box. I consider this a “non-search” but it makes search engines look good. In the case of Amazon, even the word “books” isn’t a very good search term. “Harry Potter and the deathly hallows” is a valid search, but Amazon is not number one for this term. So why don’t we just go to the address bar and type in where we want to go instead of using Google to do a search? Perhaps it is laziness, habit, not knowing any better, or the fact that Google forces you to their search box instead of the address bar in order to make it look like more people are using search and they are driving traffic to your site. But many people do continue to use the address bar.

Here is the simple truth that search marketing “experts” don’t want you to know: only about 25% of traffic to most websites comes from search engines (yes, Google does control 80% of that 25%). This is true even for companies like Amazon and IBM – only 25% of their web traffic comes from search engines. The other 75% of traffic comes from either direct entry, such as using the address bar, or from links. Links typically account for more traffic than the search engines do! And it is the number and quality of links that determines your search engine rankings in the first place.

My advice then is simple: concentrate on building quality one-way links to your website. This will improve your traffic. The side-effect is that this will also improve your search engine rankings for the keywords used in the link (i.e., “Harry Potter and the deathly hallows”). As long as this text link points to a page that is actually about Harry Potter, you have done more to improve your place on the internet than any SEO company can do for you. In other words, work on the other 75% of where your traffic is coming from, and the search engines will take care of themselves.