Is SEO or Networking More Important?

It came as a surprise to me to learn the other day that SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is often considered to be the only way to get noticed online. While it would be wonderful to see your site on Page One of a search engine, I believe that beyond certain limits, SEO is a waste of time and money for most of us. In the mania for SEO, a lot of us are forgetting good old fashioned networking.

In the early days of the internet, before ecommerce became the focus of everyone's efforts, the sharing of information was the primary goal of bloggers and website designers. The first HTML website I created was for a rockclimbing club I belonged to. The site was a phenomenal success, as well as a joy to build and maintain. I didn't know the first thing about SEO at the time. In fact, I'm not sure the term had even been invented. So how was my site so successful?

Looking back, I can see that my accidental success was based on these elements:

  1. Link Building
  2. A Monthly Newsletter
  3. Informative Content
  4. Sharing
  5. Site Layout and Design
  6. Passion

I'm not sure what the order of importance was, but my practical efforts began with the site design. I undertook the task because I wanted to contribute something to the club and had just taught myself HTML and wanted to put my new skill to use. I threw myself into the design and layout of the site and didn't go online until I was satisfied with my results.

Proud of my results, I didn't want my website to sit there in cyberspace unread, so I started sending emails to all of the rockclimbing related organizations and businesses I could find. This list included university clubs and local clubs in climbing areas as well as businesses that sold rockclimbing gear. I left no one, large or small, out of my email "campaign." In other words, I started networking.

Rather than tell them that I'd scratch their backs if they scratched mine, I told them I had already added a link to their site in my links list and would appreciate it if they added our site to theirs. To my recollection, every single one of them obliged, including Petzyl, the rock climbing gear giant.

On the homepage of our website, I gave visitors the opportunity to sign up for our mailing list. What they got in return was a quick summary of what was in our monthly online newsletter and a link to its page plus a link to anything that had been recently added to our "Journal" - a collection of member contributed stories about rockclimbing adventures.  We had nearly a thousand subscribers by the end of the first year. That may not be many by today's standards, but the internet was in its infancy then and every single one of those subscribers was what in today's parlance would be called a "target market."

The end result of my efforts was a quadrupling of our club's membership and even online sales of our rockclimbing guidebooks, which I didn't really even try to sell. At the bottom of the homepage, I just directed them to a page where I listed all of the titles and places where they could buy them. Since many of our readers lived overseas and we had no overseas outlets, they emailed me asking if they could buy them.

Netscape was the search engine of choice back then, I think. I'm sure Google didn't even exist. My little site was always on Page One, right there next to Petzyl and the other big names in rockclimbing. I thought nothing of it.

The reason why I feel compelled to write this today is because I have a client who is passionate about offering investment opportunities to others, who he believes are about to be caught in the impending burst of the Australian housing bubble. He knows his subject well, but believes he needs to spend a fortune on SEO in order to get the word out. This is a fortune he doesn't have. He does have passion, though. As of this writing, he has already compiled a modest newsletter following and arranged lunch with the CEO of a major gold and silver depository in Australia. And he hasn't even launched his website yet!

We'll see what happens, but I believe my client is going to have a very successful site, on a meager budget. What he lacks in money and SEO savvy, he more than makes up for in passion and an intuitive understanding of the value of networking, both online and off.

Rob Schneider has been a freelance writer for most of his professional life. In addition to writing articles for print publications, he has written several websites and writes articles for distribution online. Writing gives Rob the opportunity to do research on a wide variety of topics he may otherwise never have explored. Research and the challenge of writing compelling content are what make his job so enjoyable. Visit his website, Writing Resources for more information and some samples of Rob's work.

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