Has Google made SEO impossible for small business?

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Jay Dillon

Director of Strategy and Creative at Inbound Experts
Jay is a digital marketer and producer whose creative and technical skills have developed digital brand strategies and sales campaigns using a range of complex internet applications from stand-alone websites through to Facebook API integrations.
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In the past the SEO playing field was reasonably even. There were plenty of options for small business owners to participate, with SEO packages starting from around $250 per month (less if you hired an overseas SEO firm). However, in the past couple of years Google has progressively updated its algorithm to discount (and even penalise) many of the methods these SEO firms had managed to turn into a systematic process.

What works now takes a lot of hard work by talented, knowledgeable, local people and unfortunately the cheap, small-business packages are simply uneconomical.

So, does this mean small-business is locked out of the search engine ranking party?

How SEO used to work

Before the most recent updates to the Google algorithm, SEO companies did a fine job of building links for their small business clients. The SEO firm would regularly write short articles centred around the target keywords and then publish links to these articles from a large amount of external websites.

It was all very cost-effective too. The article was outsourced to India or Pakistan and was really only designed for the Googlebots to analyse.  It certainly didn’t need to be particularly well-written. The main aim was simply for the article to include the client’s campaign keywords in all the right places. And as for the links, well most of the SEO firms had access to a huge amount of directory websites that were utilised for building links for all their clients.

How SEO works now

Slowly Google has smartened up to the point where it is now able to tell the difference between a well-crafted and engaging piece of content written specifically for the client’s target audience as opposed to a production-line filler. It also now looks for signals on social media and understands the level of trust and authority of linking websites. SEO experts have been left with no choice but to provide Google with what it wants.

Quality  SEO Content

Google now looks for content that attracts genuine readers who then share it with others on social media or from links from their own website. For this to happen the content needs to appeal to real people, not robots. It needs to entertain, educate, surprise and delight. It needs to be insightful, current and be the sort of thing that people want to share with others.

This type of content can only be produced by writers, illustrators, videographers who have a genuine understanding of the client’s industry and the audience to which they want to communicate. They need to have a strong understanding of the end-readers aspirations, desires, frustrations and dislikes. They should also be mindful of their objections to the client’s product or service, and the category generally.

They need to be familiar with the client’s industry; where it is headed, the opportunities, the challenges it faces, who are the established  and the young guns coming through (and where the clients sits amongst all this).

On top of all this, they must understand the cultural and societal norms of the audience that will consume the content.

Then to help the content spread it requires someone with an innate knowledge of social media amplification and viral marketing and they must have strong relationships with key bloggers, journalists and editors within the clients industry. They are basically highly-technical PR people (a rare breed, I can assure you).

I am sure there are many freelance content producers in Asia capable of producing and promoting content to this standard (especially those who have spent time living/studying in the same country that the client operates), however the huge pool of low-level contractors that local SEO firms once accessed has, in many way,s become redundant.

Where now for small business?

We are already seeing the emergence of content marketing and inbound marketing companies  into the space as a direct response to the big changes in the search ranking landscape. I doubt any are able to do their client’s justice with packages for anything less than $2,000 per month. For some small business owners this would be equivalent to the rent of their office and an unrealistic marketing expense.

Instead, the opportunity is for small-business owners to think about the advantages they have over the bigger companies and their team of hired content producers. Often small-business owners have often been working in their industry for a very long time. They  have personal connections with their customers that can stretch back years. They have the opportunity to provide insight into the workings of their business and the industry generally, in ways that could not be attained anywhere else (certainly not from the big corporates). Their voice is bound to be infinitely more authentic and real because they are at the coal face day-to-day.

Add to this a focus on local link building and finding ways to connect with local bloggers and journalists and you have a recipe for building an engaged audience and search engine ranking that the large corporates would be spending tens of thousands for.

It’s the perfect one door closing another opening scenario and the winners are those willing to be the first through.

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