Why SEO Is Not Helping The Little Guys

In this post, we’ll examine recent changes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and what these changes mean for digital marketing strategy. TL;DR: Current SEO prioritizes the most prominent brands, making it difficult for smaller brands to achieve high enough organic rankings to drive significant traffic to their sites. Paid search engine advertising is one of the most effective ways that smaller brands can continue to compete.

In 2016 Search Engine Optimization changed dramatically. During SEO’s early years, anyone could boost their site using white, gray, or even black hat tactics. Google's recent changes replaces these onsite tactics with an army of algorithms equipped with machine learning. These algorithms determine a website's organic ranking in search engine results pages. They place a higher priority on a website's standing within the context of the greater internet versus the internal context of the site itself.

When someone searches for a term, Google’s goal is to produce the search result(s) that the user wants. Accordingly, users will continue to use Google for its superior results compared to other search engines. Search Engine Optimization was born to ensure that websites met the criteria that Google used to determine organic search results. SEO enabled a website owner to appropriately present their site to Google's algorithms, so that these formulae would consider the site the optimal result for relevant searches. SEO was traditionally in the hands of the site owner, and optimizations that they made to their site could dramatically improve its position on search results pages.

As the internet and its users became more sophisticated, Google continued to refine its criteria for determining search results. Each iteration of Google's algorithms forced SEO to adapt as practice. Changes to search algorithms in 2016 have eliminated many of the old SEO strategies that used to effectively vault websites to the top of relevant searches. The new criteria fall into two buckets: on-site and off-site quality. Although information architecture and other technical factors still play a role (we'll post about these factors soon), on-site quality is largely determined by the site's quality of content, i.e. copy and media. Nevertheless, off-site factors have eclipsed traditional on-site SEO. Google has shifted how it determines a site’s fitness for relevant searches from the site itself to its position within the greater internet. A website that is heavily trafficked with extensive backlinks from reputable sites indicates to Google’s algorithms that the site is one that users would likely want to appear in their relevant search results.

power-tools-searchFor example, if I search “power tools” on Google, the top search results can be seen to the right. Notice that only the most prominent brands and online stores occupy the top search results. Smaller brands or suppliers that might be relevant to me personally do not appear on the first page.

This strategy makes sense for most consumers: it’s likely that they would purchase power tools from a large online hardware store or Amazon versus a boutique site. This trend extends into all other searches. If you sell a product that Amazon does too, you'll be competing with Amazon for the priority in relevant search results. Given Amazon's prominence as a brand and website, even if your site is beautifully geared for SEO, it's doubtful that you will beat out Amazon for the top organic results.

What does this mean for my digital marketing strategies? If you can’t build the next Amazon and dominate the top search results, you can buy your way there. At the top of all search results, Google lists ads from companies who bid on that search’s keywords. These ads are sneaky little buggers. Only a little yellow box lets users know that they are seeing an ad and not an organic search result. You might protest that everyone know that those are ads masquerading as search results. Regardless, those ads are effective. People tend to click one of the top three links in a search results, even when those links are ads.

Since Google Search awards top organic placements to the most prominent sites and brands, advertising is one of the only ways for smaller sites to insert themselves within the top search results. Accordingly, search advertising ought be a central strategy of any company’s digital marketing.

That’s where agencies like Delegator can help. If you’re interested in learning about beginning or improving your digital advertising, let's talk. We will conduct a free account review and help you determine the best path forward.

Thanks for reading.