Search engine optimization (SEO) has become an integral part of business marketing in recent years. As consumers increasingly toss phone books aside in favor of searching via computers and mobile devices, small business owners are realizing the importance of search engine placement. Appearing below competitors in search engine results will keep you from acquiring new customers and potentially hamper your long-term success.
In the battle to nab the top spot in Google search engine results, many businesses have learned to “work the system.” This includes carefully-strategized keyword placement and external linking techniques. Search engine marketing experts have found new careers in helping businesses gain maximum exposure in the new search engine-driven world. But, like anything else, SEO has its dark side. “Black hat” SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing (jamming as many keywords as possible into content) and backlinking (excessive linking to your site from a large number of other sites) are in clear violation of Google’s terms of service, but that didn’t stop people for trying.
So Google cracked down on SEO, tightening its algorithms to maintain the integrity of its search results. Google Penguin, as this update was called, has had a few repercussions for small businesses legitimately marketing their services. Recently, Seattle marketing company Portent recently released a report titled A Changing Standard for SEO Spam: Google Penguin, Link Penalties, and Declining Leniency, which details the results of a study into 500,000 Internet links. These links were taken from Portent’s own library of sites that have been penalized by Google.
From its studies, Portent determined that Google has increased its restrictions in recent months. Where the company once penalized sites that had manipulative links totaling 80 percent or more, the bar seems to have lowered to 50 percent. So a site with links where one of every two of those links is manipulative will likely be slapped with major penalties in search rankings.
How does your small business avoid these penalties? Portent has a few helpful tips:
- Ask questions. If you’re outsourcing your SEO, make sure you’re using a service built around existing strategies. If you use SEO software, make sure you’re paying for results. Portent says SMBs need to start asking their search firms exactly what they’ll get for the money.
- Start marketing. Google’s declining leniency means the days of overnight search success are over. SMBs should stop taking shortcuts and focus on marketing the right way.
- Watch your back. It’s easier than ever for unethical companies to sabotage a competitor’s website and Google rankings by mass-producing bad links to the site. In fact, a business owner may be the victim of a negative SEO attack without even knowing it.
While many small business owners have been using legitimate SEO strategies, ranking high on today’s mobile searches is vital to reaching customers. Small businesses can stay abreast of their own search engine results by regularly searching keywords related to their industry. Don’t forget to check location-based results using your favorite mobile devices. Noting what customers are seeing when they search for keywords near your location is crucial to drawing customers to your business.