Will small businesses survive the future of SEO?

We are entering a new era of SEO. Are small businesses really going to be able to maintain a presence in the search results what with Google’s brand bias and the need for social signals? Where does that leave a small business?

Will the future of SEO be cruel to the small business? Yes and no.

Businesses that are prepared to adapt to the new landscape will thrive, those that don’t will go the way of the dodo.

This isn’t intended to be one of those posts that shouts about “traditional SEO being dead…you have to change now…or you’ll disappear tomorrow“. I am saying however that SEO as we know it, is DYING, so preparations should be made with the future in mind.

What’s the problem then?

As you probably know, Google has long relied on link trust and other link signals as the major factors when ranking web pages. Link trust has been relatively easy to game and also relatively cheap. But SEO may have just got more expensive…(Admittedly SEO, despite being banded about as the ‘free traffic source’, has long been dominated by the contender with the deepest pockets.)

Google is ushering us all into an era of search that’s much more dependent on social and user metrics. This presents numerous challenges for small businesses…

  • Becoming a brand – to survive in the supersized sitelink SERPs and generally brand biased world
  • Generating social signals – not easy for all small businesses, definitely not going to be easy to game BUT big businesses might have an unfair advantage once again since they have cash and awareness to throw at initiatives like competitions, prize giveaways, huge worldwide events (like Smirnoff’s Nightlife Exchange project)
  • Surviving constant algorithm updates/changes – like Panda, which in some cases wiped out quite undeserving smaller websites
  • Keeping up with all the latest protocolsschema.org, rel=author, Google Trusted Stores and so on.

On the face of it, the future looks like it is going to be very cruel for small businesses. Many of these challenges look complex and expensive – and in a world economy where cash is in short supply, particularly to the average small business owner, “complex and expensive” are not exactly two words we want to see.

The good news is that there is a way the small business can survive and thrive in the world that lies ahead…

Storytelling as an SEO strategy

Small businesses have attributes their bigger competitors can’t even buy – an authentic, endearing story that reads better than a big brand’s “100 years of world domination”. As small business owners, we need to leverage this and put it to work for us.

Story

Even adults love a story and if you tell it right, people can’t help but warm to you. Every business has a story – you just need to tease yours out.

For example, Cake Chester has a story…Blueball Brewery has a story…Jimmy’s Farm has a story – so does your business, granted it might not be as romantic as these but even B2B businesses have stories, just look at Distilled.

It doesn’t have to be a timeline or detailed history – your story is an authentic tale of how and why you and your business got to where it is today.

Determine values

Demonstrate these at every opportunity. More than just writing them down or having them on your website.

Create content that delivers value, tells your story & broadcasts your values

What small businesses lack in cash, we need to make up for in ingenuity, creativity and by leveraging some of that underdog charm we have which big businesses will never have.

The free resources that Stuart at Accountancy Extra produces broadcasts the companies values. Both companies that are delivering value (albeit on different scales) in the form of content to their audience.

Above and beyond is one of our core principles here at Skyrocket SEO and one of the reasons Skyrocket SEO was founded (our story). We strive to ensure every blog post, guest post and guide we produce goes way beyond the expectations of the reader delivering unrivalled value – sometimes we achieve this, sometimes we don’t but its what we aim for.

Form a bond & create a following

Through content, we can form a bond with our audience. In many ways, valuable content not only communicates our core values but it will also forge a kind of emotional contract that your reader feels they ‘owe’ you for the value you have provided and will usually pay in loyalty and brand advocacy.

Establish thought leadership

You have a captive audience, so the next step is to ensure the content you are producing signals thought leadership. As a small business, we all need to own a small part of our market. Becoming the go-to for that particular niche.

Nurture your community

In my opinion, the best ways to nurture a community are:

  • Continuing to produce top-notch content
  • Regular contact and staying visible
  • Gamification – deploying game mechanics as a way of increasing engagement and strengthening your community usually through a virtual currency or points system which is driven by desirable actions from users (like commenting). Points usually mean badges, leaderboard positions and in some cases prizes. We are currently working on gamifying an internal project website and will update you all on progress at some point in the future. Read BigDoor’s Gamification 101 for more about the concept.

You’ve got yourself a brand, you’re transmitting all the right social signals and user feedback metrics to Google. You’ve also got a loyal community around you (who WOULD care if you disappeared from the results) and if you were to disappear well they’re still there for you, which means you’ve mitigated some business risks associated with being dependent on Google.

It is often forgotten that SEO is a marketing channel, so it pays to sometimes think like a traditional marketer…in the same way marketing folks are trying to encourage individuals up the loyalty ladder (suspect > prospect >customer > supporter > advocate). As SEOs we need to be converting casual clickers into browsers then regular readers and eventually active social sharers.

A brand doesn’t have to be a big company. Granted, you won’t have the same budget or exposure that some of the big brands out there have on tap but you have something special. You have a niche, a great product or service and a story to tell the world. Startups that disrupt industries. Small business owners with passion that surpasses anything the corporate market could muster up

Rand Fishkin said that thought leadership is the greatest SEO strategy and I would add that storytelling is a part of this. Get people onside with you not only being an expert but also being a brand, a business they can relate to and have a connection with. Be the brand people think of when they think about your core keywords.

That covers the first three problems discussed at the start of this post but what about the fourth challenge (keeping up with the latest search/online business protocols), sadly there is no shortcut – my best advice is to stay on top of the latest trends in SEO and implement them only when you are certain they aren’t just ‘guru fads’. The best way to do this is to subscribe to a couple of decent SEO blogs – Skyrocket SEO being one of them :-) – as well as SEOmoz, David Naylor and SEOgadget.

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