google smbintermediate

Oooh ... provocative, right?

So I don't think Google really "hates" anyone, but I think over the years they've unintentionally made things a little bit more difficult for small business owners. Not because small business owners aren't good marketers, or don't have good marketers on staff -- but because they have fewer resources and less time than companies with large marketing departments. So while Google has continued to improve upon its user experience, in my opinion, those improvements have also put a lot of small business owners at a disadvantage if they're trying to use Google for marketing.

This isn't to say small businesses should stop focusing on Google as a marketing engine -- it just means they'll have to work a little harder. Here's what I mean when I say Google's makin' it tough for SMBs to succeed there for marketing.

How Google Has Made Marketing Harder for Small Businesses

Now You Kind of Have to Use Google+

Time for a little confession, folks -- every time I write about Google Local versus Google Places, I have to (ironically) Google which one is the current one. I just. Can't. Remember. But more on that later.

What I do remember is that Google+ Local (that's what it is -- Google+ Local replaced Google Places) is now making it so that if you have a local small business, you kind of have to use Google+ if you want an optimized local listing.

But even if you're not too concerned with your business' local listing, Google+ is still weighing very heavily on SERP listings. If you're at all concerned with your company's SEO, you should really be investing time in Google+. That's all well and good for companies with dedicated social media or community managers -- but for many small businesses that have a social media manager who is also playing the role of blogger, site manager, email marketer, and salesperson, adding yet another social network to your repertoire is a much taller order.

Google Reviews Remain a Bit of a Mystery

How do you get them? I thought I had more, did you take them down? Why? Do I have too many, or too few?

These are the questions. And while the answers aren't that hard to find through a simple, well, Google search ... the way they "work" is still kind of mysterious. For example, did you know you also have to use Google+ to get reviews? Yep, they're associated with your Google+ Local account. And did you know that you get a score with kind of vague numerical associations? Yep, here's what the scoring guide looks like:

google reviews scoring guide

That doesn't look like any rating system I'm used to seeing -- as a consumer or a marketer. Why so confusing? Did you also know that sometimes other reviews are pulled into your listing? For example, if you're a restaurant, a searcher might see a Zagat review pulled up. Here, take a look:

eastern standard google review resized 600

This one shows Zagat reviews, and you are prompted to click through to Google reviews. Compare that with this local clothing store, though:

mint julep reviews

Just Google reviews there -- but hey, it could have conceivably pulled in reviews from another site since they're doing it with restaurants. Aaaand just to make this even more confusing, when you search for a Brookline BMW dealership, you see these Google reviews within the SERP listings:

google review score resized 600

So now the Google review score shows up. Why now? Kind of confusing. This is a lot to figure out and keep track of for any marketer -- not to mention consumers.

There are Tons of Algorithm Updates to Keep Up With

Google keeps changing that dang algorithm of theirs. Don't get me wrong -- these updates are awesome, both for marketers and searchers. I think Panda and Penguin make the internet a better place. But they also make SMB marketing much more difficult.

First, there's just a lot to keep up with. In 2012, Google rolled out a ton of updates to its algorithm -- a lot of them are minor tweaks that most marketers don't need to stay on top of, but I'd say around 10 of them were pretty important ones that marketers should understand. Again, for a resource-strapped marketer, that isn't always feasible -- especially if SEO isn't your forte.

Additionally, when those Panda updates first rolled out, it really screwed a lot of people over. Some of them knew very well what they were doing was black-hat SEO, but a lot of it was just marketers who 1) didn't fully understand the concept of "black hat" or 2) outsourced their SEO to people they thought had their ducks in a row. Panda made the SERPs better in the long term, but the short term was really painful for some marketers who didn't stay as up to date on SEO as they might have liked (or needed) to.

Technical SEO Is, Like, Really Hard

A lot of "winning" in the SERPs comes down to something SMB marketers can do really well -- creating amazing content. But there's this other side of it often referred to as technical SEO, and it's about a lot more than content creation and keyword optimization.

For example, do you know how to create site maps? Are your site maps being submitted to Google? Do you know if you're on the right CMS? Does your CMS use too much code on the back end? Is it easy for your pages to be crawled? Are you using too many robot.txt files?

If you don't know the answers to these questions -- or have no idea what I'm even talking about -- you're probably not too comfortable handling your company's technical SEO. But this kind of stuff matters to Google. It's the kind of stuff that either a dedicated SEO hire manages within marketing, or an IT person manages in conjunction with a marketer that's up to date on the best practices. Or, of course, you can outsource it for a pretty penny. These scenarios are usually not too common within a small business.

How Google Has Helped Small Businesses

It's not all bad, though. Google has certainly made some things way easier for small business marketers. I didn't want to end on a doom and gloom note, so here are some reasons why SMB marketers can still be excited about Google despite the difficulties we just talked about.

Google's Still Way Cheaper Than a LOT of Other Stuff

You'll encounter stumbling blocks with Google. You may not be using it to its full potential. You might even outright screw up. But Google is still helping businesses -- yes, small ones, too -- get found easily and for very little monetary investment. And they've made it even better in the past couple of years by integrating social media into search -- another marketing channel that has big results for few (or no) dollars. In fact, take a look at how cost efficient SEO ranked as a lead gen channel in our 2012 State of Inbound Marketing report:

seo lead cost data resized 600

It's no surprise, then, that small businesses were planning to spend 43% of their lead generation budget on inbound marketing this year, compared to just 14% toward those tactics you see in blue and gray in that chart!

You Don't Need AdWords to Win

But Google just wants marketers' money! I mean, sure they do. They're a business. But marketers don't need to spend money on AdWords to win in the SERPs. Google could, if they wanted to, make paid search results way more prominent. They could certainly do some ninja UI work and make it so more people clicked on paid results. But what's getting way more air time is the work they're doing with their organic algorithm updates, because they know it's what keeps searchers coming back.

You'll hear different statistics on this everywhere you go, but the commonly accepted division is about 90% of the time, searchers click on organic search results, and about 10% of the time, searchers click on paid search results. To give you an idea, Search Engine Watch published some eConsultancy data that found that 94% of the clicks went to organic results. SMB marketers can get their name in front of searchers, and get their name clicked on, without spending a boatload of cash on Google.

The Focus Is on Content Quality More Than Volume

I suppose Google's focus on quality content could be perceived as a disadvantage to SMBs. If you or your marketer(s) aren't good writers, creating high-quality content might be a really daunting task. But I think what many SMB marketers forget is that they are extremely knowledgeable about their niche. That means you can write intelligently about what it is your small business does, and win your own niche corner of the SERPs while you do it. It's less important that you spend all day cranking out content to flood Google with -- I think that's the last thing most resource-strapped marketers want to do, anyway. Instead, you can focus on putting your industry smarts on paper at a rate a normal human can keep up with, and still kill it in the SERPs.

What do you love about Google -- or, what frustrates you about Google -- as a small business marketer?

Image credit: DonkeyHotey

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Originally published Nov 28, 2012 9:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016


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