You Don’t Need SEO to Rank in Google

I'm sure you've no doubt heard that getting indexed and ranked well in Google is all about “Pagerank and links.”

While Google search engineer Matt Cutts may have confirmed that statement almost three years ago, it doesn't mean things never change and/or that Pagerank and on page signals (aka SEO) are the only factors that matter when it comes to ranking in today's search engines – especially Google.

It's not all about SEO anymore. SEO is simply the process of optimizing your site to get the most benefit out of the rankings you earn via marketing and traffic development and is not necessarily required to achieve the rankings themselves. SEO is still valuable. SEO is still important. But it doesn't run the show.

A look at what pure traffic can do

A few weeks back we launched a little site called Tweetwasters. It wasn't a “serious effort” or anything we planned to monetize. It was a quick dip into the world of Twitter applications. But it also gave me some actual hard data back up what I had known in my gut to be true for a long while… traffic can have a direct impact on your indexing and rankings.

How can I be so sure? Because within a matter of two hours, Tweetwasters had achieved the following:

  • the homepage was indexed
  • while considered a misspelling, Tweetwasters ranked #1 for the term “Tweetwasters” – over my blog, which is pretty strong

However, what was interesting was what happened over the next two hours (so, within four hours of launch):

  • the site had over 300 pages indexed
  • the word Tweetwasters was no longer a “misspelling” as far as Google was concerned

Within 24 hours the site had managed to hit the Alexa “what's hot on the web now” list, though it only remained there for an hour or two. The site's growth and strength in Google continued to get stronger:

  • the site had over 600 pages indexed
  • the user profile pages began ranking top ten for folks without a lot of competition for their name and top 100 for those who did
  • the site was now ranking #1 for the word “tweetwasters” above many other sites discussing it, and not only my own

Nearly 48 hours after launch, TechCrunch gave us a mention and over 20,000 profiles had been checked at least once in the system. The site had over 1000 profile pages indexed and had received over 10,000 links (also proving that there is no “getting links too fast” issue PROVIDING YOU HAVE THE TRAFFIC PATTERNS TO MATCH YOUR LINK GROWTH).

Several weeks later, our fifteen minutes of fame are up, and the massive traffic on the site has become a trickle.

While we still rank number one for “tweetwasters”, the number of pages the site has indexed has dropped to less than five hundred, and my profile page no longer ranks top 100 for “sugarrae.” It isn't even indexed anymore at the moment, even with a range of site link from my sidebar – if you're smart, you'll take something home from that too.

What this says to me is that while you can use your looks (in this case traffic) to open doors, you need to be able to back it up with some substance (keep people engaged, keep them coming back, keep them passing along your links) if you expect to last.

This implication has long been apparent to me when sites with some of the most horrid architecture and on-page SEO I've ever seen can rank and rank well for highly competitive core terms. Watching Tweetwasters go from zero to sixty regarding both traffic and the search engines simply allowed us to document an extreme case from beginning to end.

Could a talented SEO double the traffic Perez Hilton receives? They sure could – easily. But the lack of a competent SEO has not stopped their “SEO-ignorant” marketing machine from obtaining rankings for all of their core terms.

Learn to major in marketing and minor in SEO

Three years ago, I did a post at WebmasterWorld on how I saw the tides changing:

“Stop aiming for the engines and aim for real, live human beings. Aim for obtaining traffic and not backlinks. Aim for obtaining attention and not pagerank. Stop aiming for the affections of a mathematical computation and aim for commendations from breathing individuals.”

Good core marketing and the occasional yet regular viral success (it doesn't need to be large scale, especially if your industry isn't). Both of which amount to driving traffic at the end of the day and can get you good rankings with or without SEO.

Mimicking valuable links with bullshit links obtained merely to game the engines won't have a lasting effect. My nofollowed link from Twitter is more valuable to me than my dofollow link from TechCrunch because it sends me traffic on a regular basis that sends the right signals to Google while bringing actual human beings to my site.

SEO simply helps you leverage them to their fullest potential. SEO is no longer the sole key to good search engine rankings. Adapt and survive or deny and die. Remain a small component of an online marketing campaign or learn to run one. It's your choice. 2009 will be the year of sharing tactics to market and brand websites from blogs to affiliate sites to regular business websites here at Sugarrae.

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Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is a veteran digital marketer and SEO consultant. She is also a serial entrepreneur. You can find out more about her entrepreneurial efforts here. Rae is most active on Twitter.


  1. Ngan Tengyuen on December 9, 2012 at 9:19 am

    pre-panda I’ll disagree but after post-panda, seo is as good as dead. It is not as important as it used to be.

    my philosophy is to write quality article and let the magic of social media do the work – share.

  2. Ferdinand Tan on December 17, 2012 at 10:31 am

    I truly agree that today you can no longer rank for a certain targeted keyword based on the number of links you acquire. But its now more on how you make use of content, videos, and images to make it viral that will eventually lead to people naturally linking to your website. But as far as Google is concerned, there’s still a need to develop backlinks in order for a new site to get indexed.

  3. Robin Scott on January 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Landed here searching for something slightly different, but an interesting article. It’s always interesting to see how new products / websites perform and what this indicates in terms of where search is heading.

    However, I’m not sure you can extrapolate that “traffic” is the cause of your initial search success with this example. It mimmicks the profile on client sites we’ve launched in the past few months insofar as Google gives the new domain/content enhanced rankings while they are still fresh, before reducing the ranking as time passes – including de-indexing content which isn’t performing at all in search.

    So, yes, traffic is important, but not as important as how the traffic stemming from Google behaves – i.e. a visit from google stays 2 minutes and loads another page up = good signal; a visit from Google hits “back” in 5 seconds = bad signal. Google uses these (type of) metrics to determine search engine relevance in real terms, as far as we can tell, more than how much traffic your website receives from other sources (something Google may not be able to determine in all cases).

    But you are absolutely right – focusing on the user is the way ahead: if people like / enjoy / engage with your website, Google will seek to connect people with it in order to remain the search engine of choice!

    Any time spent on SEO above and beyond creating valuable content would appear to be wasted time. Marketing, on the other hand, is vital. In my opinion!

  4. TJ on February 6, 2013 at 9:57 pm


    I always wanted to use that name/term (sugar) and NOT get slapped in the face “-)

    I loved this post primarily because it helps ‘citizens of the internet’ (myself included) to let go of the always changing and forever difficult strategy of seo!

    Hell, we’re marketers and you summed it up best with the statement
    “Learn to major in marketing and minor in SEO”

    Thanks for the jolt,


  5. George on February 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Interesting post Sugarrae, especially since it was written fours years ago, I would say it simply lends to your insight considering todays landscape.

    Well done!

  6. Jack on April 29, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Interesting post, be it a few years ago. It applies to today’s search landscape more than ever. With G Authorship it’s becoming more and more easier to rank without SEO. Just good domain authority and content.