• http://twitter.com/tedives Ted Ives

    Interesting point, essentially Google is in effect incenting SMBs to avoid using anyone who uses dubious, complex, unfair-advantage-obtaining practices and to instead employ people who use Google-approved, complex, unfair-advantage-obtaining practices.

    Although this makes Google happy, it doesn’t solve the problem of complexity and unfairness, just perpetuates it in a different way – from the SMB’s perspective I’m sure they don’t feel any better off, they’re just exchanging one sort of complexity for another.

  • Ben McCarty

    Thank you for shining a spotlight on this subject. It’s one of the most important issues in business today because it impacts a huge number of SMBs. With limited resources, they can only afford limited support.

    So much potential benefit exists within organic and paid search marketing, but something truly revolutionary needs to happen to unlock that potential for SMB owners. How can an owner who has no time to DIY and no $$$ to hire an effective expert make it happen on the web?

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Thank you for sharing my passion on this issue, Ben! I have no easy answers, unfortunately, but I think it’s incumbent upon us SEOs/PPCs to make some noise on SMB’s behalf.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.tilma Michael Tilma

    I appreciate the points you put out there, but I notice you don’t mention things like Google Places, or the inclusion of Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts and LinkedIn company pages in search results. It’s not perfect, but certainly shows considerable effort on the part of Google to make these SMBs accessible to local searchers for free.

    And just as a note, while I understand small businesses being too busy and on a tight budget (I have a small business), marketing is part of owning a business. Why are we getting frustrated with Google for something that is the business’s responsibility to ensure is done right? In other words, isn’t figuring out the best way to market yourself just part of making a business successful?

  • https://plus.google.com/117530250543183103093?rel=author Rick Bucich

    While I agree it can be frustrating, one must also be frustrated on behalf of all the SMBs that did not hire the crap SEO firms that spammed links everywhere (which admittedly worked – past tense) but felt the need to do so to compete.

    Fortunately localization and Local takes care of much of this, it is easy to forget that not long ago a local business could not possibly make it to the first page which was entirely made up of paid inclusion directories. (I’ve been in this business a long time)
    I need only type in “pizza” to find local restaurants now, many of whom don’t have a clue about SEO. For many GEO queries, nearly the entire first page is Local results.
    SMBs competing on a national/international state will have a harder time naturally. Time to put on that creative thinking cap.

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.mcguire.1654 Greg McGuire

    Hold on here. While I certainly feel for SMBs who feel lost in an increasingly complex online marketing world, I don’t buy the argument “I don’t have the money” or “I don’t have the time.”

    If you are a small business then more than likely you are targeting long-tail, low-competition keywords in a niche industry (try “architectural rendering company boston”) and therefore some concentrated (and achievable) effort and resources can yield very good results.

    The web is a marketplace, and if you aren’t willing to learn the rules and pay the fees then you shouldn’t be competing here. I agree that snake oil salesmen muddy the waters for novices, and I agree that it’s hard work to rank.

    But if you are a small business and you think it’s just too hard to learn how to market yourself online then don’t invest your time here. Unfortunately for you, someone else will and they will beat you. Let the most motivated business win.

    I don’t buy the argument that complicated stuff like schemas and authorship prevent quality businesses who spend the time and money to market themselves online from succeeding, no matter what their size.

    I think the trap most SMB’s fall into is thinking “Oh, if I have a website then I will make more money for nothing.” Unfortunately that used to be true which only reinforced the myth. Either make a conscious business decision to invest online because it makes sense for your product, your customers, and your goals. Or don’t.

    Just don’t pretend it’s not possible to play the game. And don’t act like it’s not fair because other people are working harder than you and therefore beating you.

  • http://www.windycityparrot.com WindyCityParrot

    I think Google is moving towards more DIY. Adwords is mind numbing. Facebook ads are plug and play – this can’t be lost on Google Granted we have a bunch of good back links on our 10 year old eCommerce site but we’re seeing traction with actions like uploading 60 second product videos and seeing these videos appear organically on page one of Google in 3 days or less. We’ve run through quite a few SEO/SEM firms (15 in 10 years) and not one ever suggested this technique.

    Mercifully the days of the “we’ll get you 5 words on page one of google for $1000/mo” scam are ending. I see both Google and Facebook (as an end-user) moving their algorithms to emphasizing “engaging content” with Facebook emphasizing images and Google videos. The cadres of SEO will have a harder & harder time trying to neutralize the cadres of linguistic PHDs at Google who are focused like lasers at providing the best search experience they can.

  • Jenny Halasz

    Michael,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that google has done an impressive job of improving local listings, but again, it shouldn’t be necessary for a company to create a google plus profile, then a business page listing, then a local listing which has to be verified with a mailed postcard… The hoops that businesses have to jump through are getting more and more excessive. To a certain extent, yes, marketing is part of the job, but marketing should be (IMO) more about defining target markets and channels than coding each individual product with schema tags.

  • Jenny Halasz

    I agree Google is improving the user experience. My concern is that they’re not doing enough to improve the results; instead putting the onus on SEOs.

  • http://www.manual-submissions.com/ Michiel Van Kets

    well, google got better at filtering out cheap crap and dirty tricks, and on-page finally seemed to have some actually weight in the rankings

    then again; there’s no site ranking on page 1 for a commercial term without seo, that’s just not possible anymore

    what we do is what you might call grey hat; we use white hat tactics, but it still us doing it for the client with seo purpose and whatever is there that makes the link profile looks natural is there because we want the profile to look natural for seo purposes; point being; there’s no escaping seo

    but here the good news; seo-the-basics for on-page are just 2 pages, it’s not that hard at all

    if you just focus on quality you already have 95-98% of your seo done

    to do your own on-page seo is rather simple, it’s the link building that you should outsource

    and there’s no need to pay $2.500-$5.000 for that; they will pass on the link building work to a company like mine anyway

  • Jenny Halasz

    Greg,

    I’m a 12 yr SEO veteran, so I’m definitely not speaking of my own business here, but I hear from at least 2-3 small businesses a week who used to rank on the basis of great content and solid links that are now being outdone by sites that in my opinion are of far lower quality. And it’s the tricks that are making it happen. The schema tags, the 60 second video tricks, the exact match file names. It’s really sad to speak to someone who’s had a business for 20 yrs who suddenly can’t get ranked on Google through no fault of their own. And I agree that it’s a marketplace, and there are always going to be competitors who will steal your spot at a moment’s notice, but the problem I have is that the search engines are making it too easy to buy your way in.

  • Jenny Halasz

    Rick,

    Definitely it’s easier for local business, but it’s still true that to get premium position in Google for local, you need a bunch of positive Google plus reviews. I’m working with a plastic surgeon in the southwest right now who’s easily the highest ranked surgeon in his geographic area based on a number of industry specific review sites, but he’s being beaten out on Google by a kid who just started practicing a year ago and has more Gplus reviews (which we suspect he paid for). Just an example.

  • Arvin Buising

    Outsourcing can be something that SMBs can look at. There are quality SEOs out there. The hard part, really, is finding them.

  • robthespy

    It all evens out. Sites come and go, but if you build technically sound, content VALUABLE sites, you will succeed.

    Yes, some cookie cutter, low quality sites may rank above yours. So your goal should be not to lose business to these sites. If they rank well and make their customers happy, then they deserve to be there.

    Google is just like every other large company, they need to make money and they need to keep their customers, vendors and partners satisfied.

    Google frustrates the hell out of me on a daily basis…but I deal,with it and deliver results for those who have entrusted me to guide them.

    I think there are a bunch of brilliant people at Google sincere intentions-
    http://www.google.com/about/company/facts/management/#section-leadership

  • https://plus.google.com/117530250543183103093?rel=author Rick Bucich

    You got that right, there is plenty of gaming. Google determined that a huge percentage of reviews in the retail auto industry were purchased/contrived and wiped them all out. Some businesses lost 90% of their reviews. Unfortunately it is easier to tackle in specific verticals where patterns are easier to identify via algorithm. Another very spammy area is legal and of course the infamous lock smiths. I once saw a single law firm take up the entire first page because every attorney optimized their personal Local page for the trophy term for the firm pushing out all competition.

    It isn’t just quantity of reviews however, who leaves a review can theoretically make a big impact if Google can attribute it to a real trustworthy person.

    I also understand that a reciprocal link from a website back to the Google Local page can help as well since it reinforces authenticity/trust. Unfortunately I can’t validate that personally.

  • http://twitter.com/hyderali_ Hyderali Shaikh

    Hi Jenny,

    IMHO, i think the only thing google wants from SMBs is to go for adwords ads & therefore they are inventing new ways on how to catch them by introducing panda, penguin & emd updates which will confused them & they’ll go to some crap SEO firm or agency who will spam their site & they will left with no choice but to opt for adwords. We’ll definitely see a Google SERPs full of adwords ads in near future.

  • Kerry Dye

    Since users use search engines, designing for search engines always encompasses the user. But regarding SMBs I think they do have a really hard time of it deciding to do SEO and then choosing who to use.

  • Justin Sous

    Also, I don’t think we’re at the point yet where people are going to LinkedIn, Facebook , Twitter etc to find small businesses. Facebook has the tools and user base to become an online yellowpages, so I think they will the first to really emerge and be an effective SALES generator for SMBs.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    I agree with you in theory, but my experience advertising in FB has been really hit or miss. It seems to be more effective for a local business to put up a FB page and engage with their visitors than to pay for advertising.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    A lot of people feel that way. Personally I just think that Google has become so insulated from the real world that they don’t realize they’re even doing this to SMBs.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    I agree that their intentions are good for the most part. My concern is that they are getting pretty far away from their stated intention of “create sites primarily for users”.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Interesting perspective, Al. I tend to agree with you in theory, but in practice, it’s somewhat different. And I find it fun that you mention links – in my opinion, linking is one of the most unnatural things out there. People don’t create anchor text links naturally; it’s all SEO. And lowering the value of a reciprocal link just because it’s reciprocal doesn’t make sense either, if they’re in complementary industries or verticals. It’s all awkward and weird to me. But then I don’t offer link building as a service.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’ll see in one of my comments below that link building is not a strong area for me; in fact I avoid it if I can. But you’re right that when it comes to link building, generally a big agency will just outsource it. When I was at a big agency, we used to get asked all the time if we outsourced any of the work. While of course we said no, we were lying through our teeth. ;-)

  • Justin Sous

    It’s definitely hit or miss. User engagement gets really tricky depending on the industry you’re in. If you’re a pest control company for example, I’m not so sure people want to be getting notifications about bugs and rodents etc.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    “the people who fall victim to that spam are the SMBs.”

    I think you are absolutely right. They know they need SEO but don’t know how to go about getting it (and getting it right) so they get the best help they can afford (which might not be very good help in the end). That’s why my company offers full day SEO trainings for SBMs so they can learn the basics, maybe do a little SEO on their own and at least know what to look for when it comes to hiring some help.

  • Christopher Carlson

    I agree wholeheartedly, and I’d like to add another obstacle to the list: with the significant increase in encrypted search, it’s getting more and more difficult to figure out how people are even finding your site in the first place. That affects both SMBs’ and larger companies’ abilities to tailor sites for users.

  • robthespy

    I don’t agree with that. Obviously it’s subjective.

    But over the last 12 months, Google has booted more low quality sites than they seemingly had in the previous 3-5 years combined.

    Yes, there are still major issues w/ SERP quality, but I think they’re actually starting to move in the right direction. 2 months ago…it was an absolute mess.

  • http://greatblogmikewelldone.blogspot.com/ Mike Sobol

    This is a big question that we grapple with in mapping out the long term strategy of our SEO/ content marketing services. We’re all about content, but our clients use us largely for SEO (of course), so should we provide value-added on-page optimization support and keyword strategy? All the content and external links in the world can’t push a badly structured page to the top of search anymore. Local factors sure can help, when location in fact matters to a business, but for most of our clients it doesn’t.

    Even our well-intention developer easily tanked our rankings, just for technical reasons, really. That doesn’t seem fair. But the fairness issue only matters because Google has a near-monopoly on search. All this would be very different if Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc gain some serious market share. No one talks about the fairness of TV advertising and how it takes professionals to produce a worthwhile commercial. The same is true of other marketing channels. In addition to fairness, there’s also no talk about how other marketing channels shouldn’t cost anything. So, should ranking in search really be fair and free?

    We want “honest” search results, but we’re talking about brands. Brands take work to establish. A bad logo and run-down storefront is looked upon poorly, even if the service inside is great. And if the business doesn’t work to market itself, no one is running down the street yelling that it’s not fair there are no customers. “By a number of objective quality measures, this business should be thriving! Why is no one coming in the door!? This business has a right to be top-of-mind to all potential customers.”

    Kind of just exploring a thought here. Is this a false equivalent?

  • http://www.facebook.com/aaroncharliesbt Aaron Charlie

    I know it’s quite far fetched but… what about the possibility that Google doesn’t want sites set up with little money and no time invested to rank? They want to present the crème de la crème of web results. A one person business isn’t going to get a place on Oxford Street in London (or whatever your city’s main shopping street is). Should a one person business online be able to compete with a 10 person business investing 10x the time and money, or a 100 or 1000 person business?

    What I’m asking is… should somebody be able to set up a successful website with little or no knowledge of how to do so? I can’t think of any other business where this is expected, or even possible.

  • cjvannette

    “I think the trap most SMB’s fall into is thinking ‘Oh, if I have a website then I will make more money for nothing.’” I completely agree.

  • http://twitter.com/nabeelbutt87 Nabeel Butt

    You’ve shared some deep insights with us! Though, i would tend to disagree that after the launch of Panda/Penguin most of the SMBs are gutless. They aren’t willing to spend much on their businesses at least that is the case with my clients. I hope someone could tell those non-technical persons how important or devastating it could be to go with the same old-fashioned techniques!

  • http://twitter.com/victorpan victorpan

    Hah. Videos for the sake of ranking for universal results. Proper file name types on videos with the right keyword. Yikes Jenny!

    You’re absolutely spot on when I start realizing how many of these practices can easily escape a small business owner.

    We’ll just have to wait for one day where Google will say “we will give less trust to extremely well-defined data on the web”… or schema implementation becomes common best practice.

  • Suzanne Delzio

    I go with Google catching up, but then I have to as I’m a writer of quality content. I have to say though, writing meaningful helpful stuff with keywords and secondary keywords both on the page and in the code seems to get the posts ranked for those LONGTAIL keywords. Maybe that’s the ticket.

  • http://greatblogmikewelldone.blogspot.com/ Mike Sobol

    Very good point – tactics are everything. Anyone can get listed on the first page of Google, so long as they wisely choose which ones!

  • http://greatblogmikewelldone.blogspot.com/ Mike Sobol

    I have to agree. I want search engines to return relevant information, generally. When it comes to businesses, who says a business that doesn’t spend on marketing must be considered just as relevant and important as one that does? That doesn’t hold for any other marketing channel.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that. My results on Google are just as bad/spam ridden as they were 2 months ago.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Yeah, I see schema becoming its own form of spam before too long.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    I agree that’s true, but I also think there are an awful lot of people who already had successful companies, moved onto the web, doubled size, staff, and inventory, and then lost half or more of their search traffic overnight.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    the classic example I’ve always heard is hemorrhoid cream. No one wants that showing up on FB, even if they do use it. ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    I think you guys raise an important point, but the fly by night business isn’t what my article was focused on. Consider a query like “craft beer brewers”. In my results, craftbeer.com holds the top 3 positions. Seems like a top brewer like Boston Beer Co. should be represented somewhere in the top 10, but it’s not. Or a geo-located brewer perhaps. Just because craftbeer.com is an exact match domain that has SEO’d the heck out of their site doesn’t mean they’re the most relevant result.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    interesting. I’m not sure how to answer that question. I don’t think it’s a false equivalent, but I think it simplifies the question a little too much.

  • robthespy

    I’m sure the quality of results vary greatly. For the areas I work with, they are improving.

    And for informational searches, variety is getting better and crap sites are being wiped out.

    I was using Bing for a while. It wasn’t better but at least SERP #1 had more than 3 different sites to chose from. ;)

  • http://greatblogmikewelldone.blogspot.com/ Mike Sobol

    That’s a telling example, for sure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aaroncharliesbt Aaron Charlie

    Ignoring the excessive SEO that’s hardly a bad site though. Good content including interviews, videos, podcasts, guides etc. and a strong social media presence. Clearly a lot of time has been spent creating a good site.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    I took the bing it on challenge and was pleasantly surprised. Their results are actually pretty good. I’ll be excited to see if they start to take more market share. Certainly their partnership with Facebook should be positive for them.

  • James Hobson

    I find it almost laugahable when considering these things all in the same bubble . . .
    - SMB’s hire SEO’s to affect good positioning where their business is relevant – not for pranking search engines by getting irrelevant placements.
    - Search Engines look at results pages and say “oh no, thoise SEO people are manipulating rankins. we need a different mix or results”. Then they change algorithms.
    - SEO’s think, “ok, if this is what you want, then we will change what we do”.
    - Search Engines again look at results and say “the SEO people are doing it again” and the change algorithms to kill off what they previously, albeit passively, encouraged.
    - SMB’s think SEO people are making up the changes in order to increase billing.
    In reality, SEO professionals simply implement what search engines prefer in order to help SMBs grow and thrive. From the SMB perspective, search engines are the adversary. Search engine algorithm changes cause SMBs to redirect a lot of hard earned capital into internet marketing instead of maybe hiring another person or two.
    If we did not have to spend so much time revising technical/code matters, we could instead create rich and informative content. And, if this was reversed, would better serve users.

  • James Hobson

    Many, if not most, SMBs have tight budgets. They need and demand that their money to be applied toward what is proven to work, and not into “fluffy marketing” like social media advertising. I understand inbound marketing and branding but to the average SMB, social media is a frivolous waste of money.

  • James Hobson

    . . . and then complaining about SEO driven reults, lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/vertigonation.dropka VertigoNation Dropka

    Honestly, we are all here to make money and it seems a rather fair way to do that is to work with smaller businesses, raise their profile and bring them in some traffic. Then the economy keeps revolving and the people we’ve helped might be inclined to pay us a little bit more. But, only when these never-ending Google “corrections” take a break and the same nonsensical, non-relevant websites stop being included with their transparent tactics. Not only does it make our industry not able to introduce itself at parties but it utterly defeats our purpose.