SEO is getting harder; and it is especially difficult for small businesses and startups more than the big firms. You have probably noticed that the PPC ad prices have been exponentially increasing and have been occupying more and more of the search engine results page; thereby reducing the limited chance of appearing on the first page. According to research by Moz, clicks on paid search listings outshine organic listings by nearly 64% based on high commercial intent keywords (those keywords the searcher uses when looking to buy something). This means that the stakes have dramatically risen for SEO.
Before we go on, I would like to make it clear that this post is not meant to discourage startup retailers and small business owners about SEO. It is also NOT an attack on SEO. This is just a reality check for startups and small business owners who might not have the time or the money to engage in a full-fledged SEO strategy/campaign.
Here are some of the reasons that make it difficult for startups and small businesses to engage in SEO:
SEO can be expensive, expansive and confusing at the same time. If you think about it, SEO encompasses so many things that if one were to try to concur all; he/she would end up burning out. Today, SEO involves:
Writing SEO-friendly content and marketing
Distributing Twitter cards
Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, StumbleUpon, etc.)
Improving page speed
A thousand and one SEO tools
Staying up-to-date with latest search trends
Analytics and data scrapping
Fixing or avoiding Google penalties
Guest blogging and so on.
The list is quite big and keeps mutating from time to time.
For most entrepreneurs and small business owners, finding time and money to do all the above as well as run the day-to-day activities is next to impossible especially if you run on a shoe string budget. So it is no longer a question of whether you need outside help, but whether you have enough financial muscles to spend on SEO. The big dogs can afford it, but can you? Some of the big firms have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on content development and SEO in general for years. You can’t realistically expect to outrank such, can you?
Google ‘favours’ the big brands
It seems big brands get all the breaks in the world of SEO. There are allegations that Google may be manipulating results to favour big brands over small businesses and startups. But, there is no evidence to suggest that Google prefers big brands in search engine results. However, big brands naturally tend to rank higher in the search engine results purely because users’ behaviour indicate that people prefer to click on big brands compared to unknown small businesses and not because Google manipulates search engine results to favour big brands. So if you want to compete in the SERP, it is advisable not to compete with keywords that big brands are also going after. You will never be able to beat the big dogs when it comes to branded keywords. As such you will have to work extremely hard to prove your small business offers an irresistible value proposition to the customer and that your content is relevant and useful to the customer.
Bigger businesses have been in the game for longer
There is no shortcut to experience. Someone who has had longer experience will almost always have an edge over you in the fiercely competitive online business world. The premium for experience is time. Moreover, Google gives preference to older sites. So if your site is relatively young, you will still not be able to see very encouraging numbers when it comes to SEO metrics. The big businesses you see today started small and grew organically over the years. So the big companies have probably been around for long.
If you are running a small business or a startup, one of the most significant lessons you will have to remember is that with time; you will grow if you continue working hard. Lots of small businesses today haven’t been around that long, and it is difficult for them to rank because their sites don’t have the link profile and authority yet. This is the reason new businesses will find it difficult to rank on competitive keywords. Older businesses have simply been doing SEO for longer and build better brand recognition. They have improved on their products and tweaked their content to stay updated instead of starting from scratch.
Small businesses have limited sources of traffic
Unlike startups, big businesses have multiple sources of traffic such as direct hits, PPC traffic, Social Media and back links. These other sources of traffic could become organic sources later and improve the search rankings of the websites later on. Startups, on the other hand, don’t have the kind of brand awareness, PPC channels, backlinks and social media funds to take advantage of multiple sources of traffic.
Small business websites are smaller than bigger sites
If you own a small business or just starting up, chances are your website is smaller compared to the bigger, older businesses. That means, overall, you will have fewer pages and less content. This amounts to very few keywords that you can possibility target, which means your opportunities are limited. Major search engines do not favour thin content. Big websites like Amazon get more traffic because of the numerous search queries they have accumulated; so the potential to rank higher is bigger than that of smaller websites. Big brands have bigger websites simply because they have more resources, products and services to display.
Small businesses have less clout to leverage for media coverage and link building
When you are a small business, you don’t have a relationship with the media or other influencers. You certainly don’t have a reputation for making any news. No one wants to link back to you and certainly no one even notices you, and even if they do, it will take a lot of time before you begin having some influence. Big brands and sites have reputational assets that they leverage for media coverage and link building. It is difficult to reach out to the media and online influencers when you don’t have some weight behind your name. It helps if the media people, blog owners, and social media influencers have heard of you before. It goes without saying small businesses are not likely to have this kind of advantage.
You have fewer tools, and your software is lousy
The difference between big companies and small businesses that struggle with their SEO efforts is the tools and software they use. Some components of SEO require one to use automated tools to save time. For instance, big businesses can afford to buy premium prices for better analytics, conversion optimisation, keywords research and reporting tools. Small companies have to make do with free, limited and ineffective tools and sometimes have to manually perform some of these tasks. This makes it hard for the small businesses to gain competitive advantage.
So, is SEO still worth the trouble?
As I have already mentioned, this post in no way demonises SEO for small businesses and startups. Instead, it acts as a wakeup call to small business owners and online merchants to be alive to the fact that SEO isn’t easy for small businesses. Instead of giving up on SEO, it is advisable for small businesses to figure out what they can do given their limited resources and learn to be patient. It helps to be creative, agile and more willing to experiment.
Joe Ryan is the Founder & CEO of UK online marketing agency, Digital Search Group, which specialises in smart internet marketing. He is a specialist in online marketing strategy and brand building. When he’s not considering the next best online marketing strategy with his team, he enjoys travel and spending time with his family.