You may be the best in your business or practice but, without search engine optimization, you’re either average or a nobody in your field.
As digital marketing consultant Alex Chris writes, “Search engine optimization or SEO is a set of rules for website (or blog) owners to follow for the proper optimization of their websites to improve their search engine rankings.” He also added that “millions of users per day are using the internet to look for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.”
With a proper SEO guide, any website and business can grow into one of the most trusted brands on the internet.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with SEO that you should know about before you hire an expert. In Bob Sakayama’s article “When SEO Failure Results in Google Penalties or Rank Suppression,” he pointed out that the professionals are the ones who often trigger most of the severe Google penalties. In short, these “experts” who were hired to prevent such problems from happening in the first place are the ones who really trigger the penalties. If that is the case, why should we even consider the idea of hiring an SEO expert? In my years of experience in the search engine optimization industry, there are many factors that can trigger penalties due to the constant changes in rules. Whether you’re an optimizer or a website owner, you should know the factors that can cause serious problems in the long run.
We can live with owner-triggered rank issues because they won’t affect your established traffic, rankings and profit the way penalties would. On the other hand, Google penalties can ruin your business. There are many different types of penalties; you could get a penalty for unnatural (spam) links to your site or an over optimization anchor text penalty from using a piece of software to build links. You could also be penalized for using the same exact content from another website or using a keyword too many times on a page, which is known as “keyword stuffing.”
Penalties are also due to the constant changes in the rules. With the rapid changes, most SEO agencies can’t keep up with the latest improvements. Most optimizers are passive which is bad because you can’t make proper adjustments in time. Here are some tips for beginners and old professionals on what to look out for to avoid a penalty from Google.
Unnatural Links To And From Your Website
If we take a look at the link schemes section of Google’s Quality Guidelines, we’ll find out that any links made by an SEO with the intention to manipulate a website’s ranking are clear violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. In short, unnatural links to your site can get your website in trouble.
Google also warns about unnatural links from your site. Google is now capable of determining natural links from unnatural links. It focuses on links that act as editorial votes for a site. If you somehow manipulate links from your site, there’s a high chance you’ll receive a penalty. My firm recently helped water filtration company AquaOx (which I am a partner in) recover from a major Google penalty. The previous SEO company used a link-building software to create unnatural links from the website. Unfortunately, the company got caught and the site was pushed far down in the search engines to page 10. We had to go through a list of links, tag the ones that were really bad and disavow those links in Google Webmaster tools. Our next move was to build high-quality links from the site. Once Google noticed our cleanup operation, the search engine made some adjustments in the search rankings. Although penalty recovery is not a quick process by any means, the accomplishment is rewarding.
Publishing Keyword-Heavy Content
Spamming keywords into compelling content is an old trick that used to work for many SEO agencies. Unfortunately, Google made the competition tougher with its frequent changes. My personal belief is that the search engine prefers a website with about 2% of the content being keywords. If it is annoying for users to read unnatural keywords in a website’s content, the same thing is true with the search engine. Website owners or SEO companies should keep track of their keyword count by using keyword counting tools. In my practice and belief, high-quality content does not need many keywords to rank higher in Google. Avoid many of the top 10 Google penalties by investing in other tactics like proper keyword research and keyword placement instead of spamming with keywords.
Spammy Structured Data Markup
Although schema markup (structured data markup) can boost your search engine content discovery and make other improvements, this strategy can get you slammed by Google. A spammy structured data markup can potentially hurt your site as you will receive penalties from the search engine. The best way to avoid structured data markup penalties is by following the rules set by Google. You can either adhere to the guidelines of the search engine or use a structured data testing tool. Either one is better than getting into serious trouble.
Deliberately Cloaking Web Pages For SEO Or CTR Purposes
Cloaking web pages for your personal interest is a big crime against Google. Cloaking is where one version of the site is shown to search engine spiders and a different version is shown to the user viewing the site. Once caught, your site will face serious challenges and issues. The search engine discourages any form of manipulation to level up the game and keep the credibility of websites on the search result.
Being penalized isn’t the end of the world for website owners, though. There are ways to get your website back on track. As a professional SEO, my first recommendation would be to look for the right people for the job.
Plenty of small business marketers have embraced social media, but many are neglecting SEO, or search engine optimization.
It’s a challenge to stay afloat as a small business today. Budgets are stretched and competition is stiff. Customers expect more and more.
So why not embrace one of the most effective ways to grow your business? Why not gain an edge by using a marketing tactic so many of your peers have overlooked?
Why not invest in search engine optimization?
Plenty of small business marketers have embraced social media. However, only 28 percent of the small business owners we surveyed for WASP Barcode Technologies’ “2017 “State of Small Business Report” said they use search engine optimization (SEO). And the smaller a company is, the less likely they are to use it. Only 25 percent – one in four – of companies with five to 10 employees are doing SEO.
Yet, SEO is the most effective marketing tactics available to small businesses. BrightLocal’s 2015 survey of small businesses found that SEO came in second place (only after word of mouth) as the most effective internet marketing tactic.
So why the disconnect? Well, if you look closer, there are a number of reasons why:
Almost every business owner has heard horror stories of a company that hired a shady SEO company and then either lost most of their rankings or was outright banned by Google. Another common anecdote is a small business that has spent lots of money on SEO only to get poor results or no results.
SEO is complex – there’s no way around it. That complexity makes it hard for the average small business owner to tell whether or not a hired SEO is telling them the truth. And even if the small business owner asks a business friend if they know of an SEO company that’s good, that referral may be based on limited information.
When you factor in the typical two to three-month delay in seeing results from SEO efforts, it’s no wonder why it’s hard to find a reliable SEO. (Though there is a very good list here.)
Complexity is an issue for all business owners who would prefer to do SEO themselves. Unfortunately, SEO is not something you can learn and master in a couple of hours. And given that most small businesses don’t outsource their marketing, that means going outside to hire an SEO firm (or any marketing vendor) is something they’re not used to doing.
Small business marketing budgets tend to be tight. Good SEO tends to be expensive. It’s not a great combination.
But many small companies try to save money. They use inexpensive SEO firms that employ shady tactics to get their pages ranked. At first, everything seems fine, but then Google releases another update and the rankings tank. The SEO firm pleads, “This is just what happens.”
Now the small company is not only out of all that budget they’ve spent – they’ve also lost those search rankings and all the traffic to their website those rankings were generating. That can cause a major disruption in a business. Just ask anyone who’s ever been badly burned by an algorithm update. It can take months to recover. No wonder small businesses are leery of SEO.
Patience is hard to come by. But SEO rewards patience in spades.
It takes time to build good rankings – sometimes months or even years. And there’s often a gap of several months between trying a new SEO tactic (like blogging, for example) and seeing results.
Compare that to advertising, where results are almost immediate, or a direct mail campaign, an email blast or almost other kinds of promotion.
Of course, this isn’t a problem just because small business owners are impatient. Many owners have patience galore. What they don’t have is an unlimited amount of cash. The pressures of cash flow are always on their mind.
What can you do about all this?
Should we just give up and not even try SEO for our businesses? Of course not. We just need to take the long view. That’s what SEO requires more than almost any other marketing tactic (except maybe content marketing, which is practically a sister to SEO).
There are three basic rules to apply to SEO for small businesses. They counteract all the issues mentioned above:
- Learn the basics. You may not have days to learn SEO, but there are some good basic tutorials that can help a lot. If nothing else, they’ll educate you enough to hire a quality SEO firm and not get burned by somebody promising to “Get your site to the top of the search results.”
- Stay patient. Good SEO takes time.
- Invest wisely. Good SEO costs money.
While it’s disappointing to see so many small businesses missing out on the benefits of SEO, there could be a silver lining to it for you.
If you’re among the minority who can commit to this tactic, who can invest in it (if only a little) for the long term, you’ll have a major advantage over your peers. And once you start seeing results, you’ll have a free stream of traffic going to your site. That SEO traffic will also be more likely to convert and more likely to come back.
What do you think?
Are you doing any search engine optimization for your small business? Is it working? Which optimization tactics have worked best? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.