Small Business SEO is almost impossible

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Who’d be a small business website owner?

After the drama with Interflora and their Google punishment for placing dofollow links in advertorials comes Google with a reassurance that you probably won’t be penalised if you’re linked to from a third party that’s had a penalty applied

Given that lots of small businesses still rely on Google for a majority of their traffic, it makes me wonder how website owners can sleep at night with so much to worry about with Google penalties and sudden and massive drops in traffic.  A poor decision made years ago can suddenly materialise one morning with your site firmly dumped down the results.  It’s terrifying!  Even from established SEO experts and bloggers the next Penguin algorithm update is being referred to as “frightening” and “worrying”.  That’s not a good landscape to be working in.

The problem is that small business owners don’t have huge budgets to spend on the best SEO and they don’t have enough time to make sure that any SEO they do in their own time is going to meet the latest Google criteria.   How easy would it be to meet the local newspaper editor and agree to spend a bit of money on a profile in the newspaper and a few sister publications, and then find that you get penalised because you didn’t check that they were making the links nofollow.  Unlikely, but not an impossible scenario.

Or the small business owner that is constantly told that they need to have links to rank and so decide to follow up on one of the many “cheap ethical SEO” emails that gets sent to them every day, only to find that the service they buy results in a penguin penalty and a whole world of trouble and time trying to get the links removed?  Unlikely?  Not at all!

So what is the answer?

Isn’t it funny how Google Adwords seems to be so attractive in light of all of this?  You pay Google directly so don’t need to worry about dodgy suppliers; you don’t need to worry about bad links or random out-of-the-blue penalties and you get guaranteed traffic.  No matter that it’s an easy way to spend a lot of money and you can end up spending money to get an increase in cold callers rather than clients: in the current climate PPC looks much more attractive to small businesses than SEO.

Whereas you used to be able to get SEO for £150 a month, it’s just not really that practical now.  You’ll find people that will do it for you but it’s probably not really worth it.  If you have £150 to spend then spend it on PPC – perhaps get an expert to set it up for you to make sure you get the best ROI on it.  If you want to rank then you’ll need to be spending at least £300 a month with a decent agency, and not be aiming for too many terms.  With care and research, you can get a good return on that budget.

And if you get a penalty, what’s my advice?  Firstly make sure that your website is registered with Google Webmaster Tools as that’s where you’ll get any notification of a manual penalty being applied.  If you see a sudden drop in your rankings but don’t receive a notification then it may be a Penguin or Panda algorithm update that’s hit you.  Regardless, in all of these cases there isn’t really a quick fix and the only sensible option is to get a professional agency in to try to resolve it.  You can try to do it yourself but the time and effort it takes probably isn’t worth it and you might make things worse, as impossible as that may seem!

I’m afraid that it’s not going to be cheap or quick.  You might find it’s easier to start again on a different domain or just do what Google wants and spend on PPC rather than trying to get ranked in the organic results.

What I wouldn’t do is try to pre-empt a penalty.  Have a strategy ready to deal with it when it happens, but don’t play around with the Disavow tool in the hope of fighting off a penalty as you might just end up killing your rankings when you didn’t need to.  Only if you know that you’ve bought loads of dodgy links in the past and it’s only a matter of time before you get penalised, only then should you consider doing something about it and still my advice would be to get a professional to look at your backlink profile and advise you on what to.

* Creative Common image by K Latham