Rethinking SEO for SMBs: Double Down, But Diversify

July 8, 2016 Peter Krasilovsky

We’re increasingly hearing about how difficult it has become for SMBs to use  search engine optimization to win a high ranking  on Google’s “organic” (i.e. free) search pages.

Four basic reasons stand out:

1: a growing number of SMBs have learned how to do the basics of search engine optimization, so there is more competition . 

2: Many multi-location businesses and chains are competing for the same space and can work with more SEO-friendly resources (i.e. reviews, content, video)

3: Google has gotten very good at  marginalizing some of the channels that SMBs have historically used to boost their rankings, rank high, such as content marketing.

4:  Google has cut back on the real estate for organic search by adding more paid options.

How should SMBs deal with these challenges?  Should they start looking beyond SEO (and open their wallets for paid solutions?)   We asked these questions to two SEO experts: Local SEO Guide principal Andrew Shotland, and David Mihm.

The good news is that plenty of SMBs are still being found with SEO practices, says Shotland. “There’s a ton of traffic out there.”   But Shotland also notes that SMBs don’t have many options beyond SEO -- free or paid.  SMBs will face competition, whether they are going for free traffic via SEO, or when they are opening their pocketbooks to buy traffic on Google Adwords or Facebook.

The best way to cut through the clutter is simply to double down,  stay focused and  invest in all the “typical” channels, says Shotland. The number one reason SMBs don’t do well in search rankings is that they under-invest in such basics as content and getting links, he says.

At the same time, SMBs should never rely on a single channel for their traffic, such as Google. They can get a leg up by finding a way to dominate alternative channels, such as Apple Maps and Apple’s search results, he says.  Winning the alternative channels can add up to the same bang for your buck as AdWords.

Mihm notes that while search is still effective,  SMBs also should  build as many direct connections to their customers via email, SMS and direct mail. The key is to make sure they are not “disintermediated” from their customers, says Mihm. 

SMBs should also start thinking more seriously about adding more paid options. They can, for instance, focus on experimenting with “cheap, laser-targeted paid options to bring in customers to their  sweet spot. Instagram ads are the best things going right now,”  Mihm says.


About the Author

Peter Krasilovsky runs Local Onliner, a consulting firm that focuses on how digital channels target local consumers. “Local” has been a focus for him since 1995-96, and the firm's practice now includes search, marketplaces, geotargeting, vertical media and loyalty and promotion services. Peter was Chief Analyst and Vice President for BIA/Kelsey from 2006-2015. He holds an MA from The Annenberg School of Communications at The University of Southern California and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY. He currently resides with his wife Sharon in Ashland, Oregon.

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