Being at the top of Google is something of a modern obsession. In one way, it’s understandable: Google is the gatekeeper to the world’s consumer base – so it’s undeniably important that, when people search, your site can be found.

But this obsession can become myopic, a singular focus to the exclusion of all else. Google is important – it’s by far the most used search engine. But not only is it not the only search engine, it’s far from being the only way in which people can find your site: or it shouldn’t be.

You can create lots of ways to be found on line. Let’s take social networking: currently one of the Internet’s biggest growth areas.

Some businesses ‘get’ social networking and some don’t, even though they may be (to some degree) using it. A cursory glance at Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn has many people scratching their heads. Yes, they can see that lots of people may be using these sites, but they can’t figure out how to engage with them. Surely social networking is just a frivolous waste of time? Those that don’t get it, but want to join in, typically sign up to sites such as LinkedIn – and then forget about them. Or perhaps they organise for their company’s RSS feeds to get pushed out via Twitter – and then forget about it. Tick, job done.

We’ve been helping some clients to make more of social networking: going beyond the lazy one-way push of information into something that is – well, social. Without going into what we’ve been doing, what’s worth focusing on is the results.

Many companies seldom review their website statistics, if at all. Perhaps they check how many visitors they have each month in order to pop the statistics into a board report. Many of those that do, focus on one thing: yes, you guessed it – how much traffic comes from search engines. Indeed, the usual thing is to break traffic down into three pots: search engines paid, search engines organic and ‘the rest’.

It’s when you break down the rest that things can become really interesting.

For those companies who don’t have a social networking strategy, the rest usually is a pretty random hotchpotch. Perhaps a few links from some blogs, some from industry bodies, some from directories – that kind of thing. Nothing to really focus on; little to build a strategy around. Just random noise.

But where a company is engaging with social networking, the picture can be very different. For some of our customers, the inbound traffic coming from social network-based activities, when combined, is starting to get meaningfully close to that of search engines. Yep, you read that right. Done right, a social networking strategy can be as important as a search engine optimisation strategy. 

Of course, if you’re one of the many companies that does nothing on line (or off line) to promote your site, then of course Google is the only way you can be found, so of course you’re going to remain Google-obsessed.

We’re seeing a divide growing between certain types of companies. This divide isn’t between ‘those which are using social networking’ and ‘those which aren’t’ – but more ‘those which understand that marketing is changing (or has changed)’ and ‘those which don’t’. Social networking is just an example: it’s a core part of the ‘new marketing mix’ for some companies, to others it’s just a waste of time; a way for employees to be unproductive.

An obsession with your site being number one in Google to the exclusion of all else belongs to the camp that quite honestly isn’t reading the writing on the wall.

The future about marketing on line isn’t just about being found in Google alone. It’s simply about being found on line. Focusing on Google is very important, I’m not ducking that one – but a Google obsession is, well, there’s an old saying about putting your eggs all in one basket.

Oldthink is: build a website and people will come to you. They will engage with you, under your terms. Newthink is different. You go out to customers and engage with them under their terms, using the tools they choose. Oldthink is: all marketing comes from the marketing department and is highly branded and tightly controlled. Newthink is: marketing comes from anywhere, goes anywhere and is very loosely controlled. You don’t wait for the Web to come to you – you go out and you work the Web.

The really interesting thing is that this additional website traffic is just one by-product of social networking activities: it is not raison d'être using social networking as part of the new marketing mix. 

Which is another thing that the Google-obsessed tend to lose sight of: getting to the top of Google is not the goal. Getting people to come to your site is not the goal. Getting people to engage with you – and ultimately buy from you, is. You are not in business to be at the top of Google, but to make sales.

Google is just one route to achieving this goal. You can create others.