What makes or breaks the success of an online venture? For small businesses trying to break into lucrative online markets the tipping point is often tied directly to web traffic. However, it’s not all about SEO and attracting customers through search engines. A business still needs to build a loyal customer base.

The Big Picture: More Than Just SEO

Ranking in the search engines requires a certain dedication to an SEO strategy. That dedication can quickly become a double-edged sword for small business owners. In some cases, it can be akin to making a deal with the Devil. You must have a strong SEO strategy to garner the attention of the masses and drive traffic. On the other hand, relying on a single strategy leaves businesses vulnerable to upset should the strategy go awry. Even Google, in their own advice to webmasters, advises that overdone SEO strategies can penalize just as much as they can propel a website.

Case in Point: The Google Panda Changes

In the wake of the recent Google algorithm changes, many popular websites saw their rankings plummet. New CNET analysis of the Google Panda update shows the primary hits were taken by content farms such as eHow and WikiHow; sites whose primary business strategy is SEO. Whether your business model relies on web traffic for retail sales or revenue generated from advertisements, if search engines results are the majority of your customer base, you're in trouble.

SEO Will Not Replace Loyal Customers

Online businesses are told to target keywords and invest heavily in SEO principles for site design and website content. What few experts mention is the need to simultaneously build an organic customer base, independent of any SEO strategy. This ensures that business strategies, not SEO strategies, drive the success of the business.

Naturally, if the majority of your customers are looking for your products or services online, an SEO strategy is an integral part of the overall business strategy. However, when your SEO strategy is so imperative to operations that a simple change in algorithms cripples your business, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

A Good Rule of Thumb

Self-promotion is just as important in finding customers as a high search engine ranking. Your SEO strategy should be flexible enough to accommodate a change in your business strategy. But is your business strategy flexible enough to accommodate a change in your SEO strategy? If not, it might be time to rethink one strategy or the other.

Would love to hear how your company handles SEO. Tell us in the comments section below.