We all know that the power of Google is omnipresent, right? That's a given. Zillions of people search Google.com googillions of times a day, creating search engine-driven traffic to sites and blogs the world over. That many millions of dollars exchange hands due to these actions, via Google Adwords and Adsense and advertising on referral websites, is a mysterious thing and a fountain of wealth for those who get it right.
People find websites in many other ways, of course. The best ways for publishers include being popular and well thought of enough that large numbers of regular visitors know a URL by heart, have a site bookmarked and visit it often, or are subscribed to one or more site RSS feeds.
TechCrunch, through its CrunchNotes site, has provided an unusual level of detail as to how people wound up at the popular site during December, 20006.
Traffic from the Google universe dominates, which is normally something of a given but striking in that we see that even for a well known site with thousands of devoted regular readers looking for news, reviews, and analysis of the tech and Internet industries, Google search and related products still sit in the number one and four positions. (There is an interesting discussion in the comments area about what the difference is between "Google – Organic" and "Google.com – Referral," with ideas floated about Google.com search traffic, Google Reader, and paid AdWords placement.)
In a way it's a little disheartening to know that even a broadly popular site like TechCrunch receives a significant percentage of its traffic through search engine referrals. It's enough to make you think that it's possible to hang up your blogging hat to craft perfect search engine friendly titles (Google's Sex Scandal Causes Paris Hilton to Leave Iraq), write some gobblygook, and reap the search engine-derived rewards. In fact, this is pretty much what sploggers attempt to do, causing Google and other search engines to crush the page rank (or relative position within its search rankings, some call this Google Juice) of any site that smells of non-legitimacy.
For real websites trying to get real traffic – and not tempted to join the dark forces of cyber crime as I am – getting hammered by Google is a very real and frightening concern. In essence it's like being a supplier of goods that is wholly dependent on Wal Mart for business survival. No matter how good or bad the quality of goods being produced, Wal Mart can always move onto another supplier, and then you're shut out of the largest marketplace with no recourse.
Of course, many will argue that if you create great and consistent content, if you network and market your site effectively, then readers will come and stay. And this may be true to a certain extent. But the truth is that the true and truly consistent traffic numbers flow from Google (and other search engines but a far lesser extent). High quality links and regular readers can help to increase your visibility and page rank within Google's search algorithm, but in the end the equation is the same.
So what are ambitious bloggers to do, those who want to write about things they're passionate about and attract lots of repeat visitors at the same time? The simple answer is stick to the basics: find an area of expertise, write about it consistently, market and network the best you can, and then hope that the Google Love in the end outweighs the Google Evil.
One growing area for consistent traffic may come in the form of social news referrals. Digg and Reddit sit at number three and number nine on TechCrunch's list, respectively. Social news referrals are essentially a result of an algorithm driven – in theory – by site visitors themselves. Get enough votes or diggs and you hit the jackpot of getting your story placed on the front page, where a story will reap the benefits of potential thousands of site visits.
Social news sites have their own issues, but it will be interesting to see if, as they continue to grow, they may begin to rival search engines in driving traffic to particular kinds of sites.