For small businesses, recent developments in the search engine marketing (SEM) industry have been quite terrifying. Small business owners already live on the edge, often with large debt and little margin for error. The failure rate for small business is high, and growing rapidly since the house market collapse.
These entrepreneurs are seeking stability just like the rest of corporate America. Unfortunately, lately a search for stability on Google has returned few results.
Some high profile Blog networks were de-indexed entirely from the Google database in March, including the now infamous BuildMyRank blog network. After that, a million websites received “unnatural” link warnings.
Meanwhile, a firestorm of industry speculation erupted after Matt Cutts talked about over-optimization. This week, we finally learned about the new Google webspam algorithm, an all-out offensive aimed at detecting spammy tactics such as keyword stuffing, link spam, and spun content.
Small businesses have been riding the Google rollercoaster, trying to figure out the new reality of “how” to market small business to search engines under these new rules. The bar has clearly been raised since last year, when the discussion was all about the Panda update, which targeted machine-generated, machine-altered and extremely low-quality content.
How can small business continue to enjoy the benefits of Google’s massive traffic?
Diversification is Key
The first task for small business is to adopt a diversified approach to search engine marketing. The best analogy here is that of a financial advisor. Similar to putting your entire stock portfolio in a single equity, it isn't advisable to put too much of your SEM in a single basket.
An overemphasis on link building is the first symptom of the need for a wider view. Those foolish enough to be completely reliant on one of the blog networks that Google took down have learned this lesson the hard way via rapidly falling rankings. Then there are those who received an actual warning from Google and now live with the daily fear of being removed entirely from the search engine.
But even those who experienced “unnatural” link building issues, it's time to rethink link building. Reposition your thinking, with a renewed focus on:
- Creating buzz.
- Earning links for content.
Don't neglect the many other avenues for lead-generation that many small businesses have yet to embrace, such as email marketing, social media and customer reviews.
Social media is well established as a legitimate marketing tactic and more customers are going to social media for business validation and customer service issues.
Small business often ignores social media because it is believed that social doesn't contribute directly to search engine rankings. It’s time update this thinking as well.
The same lesson applies for small business owners who aren’t actively involved in associations, writing guest blog posts, and regularly talking in forums with industry experts. Many small businesses still don’t collect customer reviews.
Guess what? All of these activities leave backlink footprints of an undeniably legitimate small businessperson who is really engaged with their community. This is a solid SEM strategy.
This isn’t a new message from Google. But it now has some real teeth for those who don’t listen.
Web content needs to be end-user focused. This means that it is educational or otherwise enhances the end-user experience (such as humor). After all, high-quality content made the Google search engine a powerhouse.
Contribute to this body of information. Every business has valuable information to share.
Plumbers can make a DIY how-to video. Accountants can write about a recent change to the tax code that can save money.
A focus on educating rather than marketing puts a small business on the right side of the search engine optimization (SEO) line. And yes, a backlink in return for a valuable contribution is completely OK.
While it may seem that the prescriptions above are just different words for traditional link building and content marketing, small business must reconsider. Don’t interpret the evolution of SEM as merely an exercise in semantics.
There have always been many shades of gray in SEO, which is why language matters. How small business thinks and talks about SEM guides action.
Google took down a business called “BuildMyRank.” Would Google have taken them down if their name was “BuildMyBuzz” and their product was legitimately focused on quality content, education, how-to videos, and creating buzz for real small businesses? You be the judge.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!