Thursday, 20 March 2014

Can small business SEO really make a difference in today’s world of paid advertising?

Several things have happened in the last few months which suggest the only way to get ahead online these days is to buy your way there.  Firstly there was the loss of keyword data in Google analytics last year which means sometime soon there will be a figure of 100% ‘not provided’ in the keyword reporting section of your Google Analytics account.  This move to take keyword data away means online marketers are left in the dark in terms of the specific and long tail phrases that drive traffic towards a site – encouraging more businesses to instead invest in Adwords where specifics would be given.  Secondly, there was the change in Facebook’s algorithm at the end of last year which meant even though people liked your page they might not necessarily see your latest updates in their news feed.

Google and Facebook are clearly both out to make money so where does this leave the smaller organisations who cannot afford to spend thousands on paid advertising?  Does small business SEO still work or will the SME lose out to the big boys with bottomless pockets?

SEO for small businesses

Well the answer is yes and no.  Sorry for not going one way or the other but there are valid arguments on both side of the fence.  Let’s take the pro side of the argument first and say that SEO still has a place in the marketing budget of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).   

Search Engine Optimisation is not so much a luxury as a mandatory part of small business marketing.  There are still slices of the pie to be had provided businesses concentrate on optimising for the specific keywords and phrases that will drive targeted traffic to their website.  There is no point wasting money on the generic, high traffic, ludicrously competitive keywords that the big brands are optimising for – chances are Google will never give the small, local business with the new website any authority around these terms so it is better instead to reach for those specific, local keywords that are actually represented by the content on the website.

Small business SEO can be successful but only when combined with the other elements of online marketing that help to build up an increased presence online.  I refer here to blogging, social media marketing, online PR and email marketing – all of which can be done within a small business budget if you find the right supplier.  By utilising the most important online marketing channels, small businesses can build their brand online so that when potential customers are at the point of making a purchasing decision, they will consider this brand.

So how can this be done successfully?  Well first of all the business needs to move away from reliance on keyword positioning in SERPS – by repeating the mantra that ‘rankings are vanity, traffic is sanity’.  Page one positioning for very niche specific keywords is nice but in reality with only tens of people actually searching online using these terms, these rankings are unlikely to deliver noteworthy traffic.  Instead the business needs to build brand awareness and visibility around a large amount of semantically linked keywords, focusing their efforts on broadening their reach and maximising brand visibility.   They need to ensure their latest news is publicised both online as well as offline by utilising the services of online PR specialists who can ensure the organisation’s latest news is put under the noses of relevant journalists, bloggers, magazine editors and news wires. By taking advantage of social media channels such as the visually engaging Facebook, the news-style feed of Twitter and the all-important Google+ (important because it is owned by Google and thus deemed very worthy), the online marketing strategy really takes on momentum as great content from the client’s blog, website and PR can be broadcast across social channels to further increase brand awareness and encourage engagement.

So SEO for small businesses does work if you can find the right supplier that can cover all the important digital marketing channels effectively and within budget, right?
Well, not always and I’ll give you a very good reason.  Good coverage online now simply cannot be achieved without some degree of paid advertising.  If you want to rise to the top without waiting for decades to build your natural authority you’ll need to pay to get your content, brand and marketing message in front of a receptive audience.  

The powers that be such as Google and Facebook are leaning increasingly towards paid advertising.  Consider that if you have an Adwords campaign you get full data on the exact keywords people have used to find your ad and click through to your site – the same can no longer be said for organic searches.  Consider also that Facebook updates are no longer guaranteed to feature in the news feeds of those who like your page and at some point businesses will need to consider paid advertising to reach their target audience.
Pay Per Click paid advertising

Whilst SEO for small businesses can help improve organic presence, it will not be the only factor in driving targeted traffic to a website and increasing brand awareness.  The internet is simply too big for small businesses to be able to cover all of the bases on a budget of just a few hundred pounds a month.  Therefore, it can be argued that the smaller organisation is being priced out of the market.  Paid advertising through Google Adwords is becoming more expensive with the costs per click of even the more obscure and niche keywords increasing continually so unless businesses can comfortably set aside a four figure sum per month and utilise a PPC expert to fine tune their campaign and eliminate negative keywords, they may eat up all of their budget without getting the return they are looking for.

With paid advertising you have the opportunity to refine marketing strategies to reach a more specific and targeted audience.  For example, with Facebook you are able to choose demographics such as the age range of your audience to focus your message on those who are more likely to be receptive and actually want the products or services you provide.  Adwords too gives users the opportunity to choose their exact keywords and the specific locations or areas that they want to target.  Surely with this level of enhancement the outcome is a better rate of conversion?

Well it all depends – on a lot of things really.  Firstly, on your ability to conduct organic and paid advertising in house or the suitability and quality of the external providers you choose.  Secondly it depends on your budget – if you don’t have enough to commit to full scale SEO and organic content and social marketing you are unlikely to have the budget to put towards a viable paid advertising campaign.  Yes paid advertising is more guaranteed to deliver results but once you commit to it you have to keep up the momentum or the leads, visits and sales will simply dry up.

Finally, as this is often a point that gets overlooked in online marketing strategies – you need to have something worth converting.  If your prices are high, your product inferior or your website poorly constructed and difficult to navigate it doesn’t matter how much you spend on driving traffic and raising brand awareness (whether organic or paid) you will not turn this interest into sales.
Food for thought?  If you want to find out more about paid vs organic online marketing you can visit or if you just like this article and want to share it please feel free to do so.