SEO has changed dramatically in the last few years. With massive algorithmic changes from Google launching each season, it can be tough for small business owners to keep up.
Some small business owners are getting SEO fatigue, opting for marketing that is simpler to understand and less risky. Others refuse to believe the rules have really changed and use outdated SEO tactics on the cheap. This, unfortunately, can lead to catastrophic outcomes as Google continues to hammer link networks.
Does SEO By Itself Still Work?
While demand for SEO services remains healthy, those who integrate their marketing strategies are finding the best results. Thirty-eight percent of companies who say their SEO is "highly effective" have pulled SEO and social media together. But this isn't an easy task. And it's a far cry from the straightforward link building activities of years' past.
The integrated SEO strategy of 2014 requires a renewed emphasis on brand and audience. This does not mean that rankings are no longer important. However, it does imply that priorities need to shift to remain competitive in the current SEO landscape.
Inserting the Small Business Brand into SEO
It used to be possible to do SEO in isolation and never mention or inspect the brand. First with on-site tactics, then blog comments, and finally with widgets, infographics, and article marketing. While the purists will insist this wasn't true, many small businesses forced their way onto Page 1 of search engines with non-branded link building tactics. Most agree that this is no longer effective.
Today's top ranking sites have focused on audience optimization, the idea that the attraction of citations, social shares, and backlinks stems from an intimate understanding of what the audience is looking for. Content marketing is the activity that feeds an eager audience high-quality materials, which is why 93 percent of marketers plan to use content marketing in 2014.
A funny thing happens when small businesses produce high-quality content: They want to put their name on it. Once again, Google is ahead of the masses, understanding that branded mentions (even those that don't accompany a backlink) are a signal of legitimacy. This is perhaps why so many SEO professionals insist that press releases help rankings, despite some data to the contrary.
Be Responsive to the SEO Provider
Despite the need for greater brand and social integration, 50 percent of small business still prefer to outsource SEO. However, the nature and frequency of interactions with the vendor will be vastly different in 2014 than in previous years.
To successfully build stronger content marketing, SEO professionals will need more knowledge of the business and their audience, which requires client contact.
As the SEO firm pushes press release activities, the small business needs to provide newsworthy ideas and approve final copy in a timely fashion to maintain a consistent editorial calendar. Business owners need to accept that branded mentions without backlinks are a good thing. This may sound crazy, but some small business owners don't return phone calls from their SEO firm.
As much as small business owners may miss the simplistic link building days, all data indicates that SEO is now a much more complicated activity. While still strongly profitable, SEO in 2014 is integrated with social and PR in ways never before seen.
This has had a strong impact on the demands the SEO firm must place on the small business owner. And to remain successful in the rankings, small businesses must find the time to participate in the process (or at least return phone calls).