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Does Google Hate Small Businesses?

With another Panda update round the corner and Penguin 4 in the works, it looks like we can expect another round of SEOs hating on Google more than Dog the Bounty Hunter hates scissors near the back of his neck. With the inevitable knock downs and knock outs from SERPs that these updates will bring, the moaning will come thick and fast.

Keeping that in mind, I’m going to go through some of the problems SEOs often complain about with Google and tell you why those reasons are completely, totally and unequivocally wrong. More than that, I’m going to try and explain how you can do things to weather the impending algo-storm as a small business. It’s gonna be fun – I promise.

The Problem: “They Screwed Me With Penguin”

“It’s totally destroyed my strategy” they say. “I’m no Black-hat” they* say. (*fictional SEO who has issues with anything Google) Number 1: If your SEO strategy was built around link schemes and keyword stuffing (the main targets of Penguin) then well, just no… I mean seriously no. It’s 2013. Number 2: If you were doing these things, then you were engaging in Black-hat techniques so stop acting the victim, dust yourself down and start bouncing back by busting out less ethically dubious tactics. What are those less ethically dubious tactics?

The Solution: Follow the Rules

Follow the Webmaster guidelines as closely as possible. It might sound obvious, but it’s almost always the people who break the rules that whine the most. Remember sitemaps, alt-text, H2s – all the basics but essential practice. Aside from those basics, it’s all about quality and relevance. Having relevant links from quality sources and quality content that’s relevant to your customers or audience. Again, it’s not rocket science but the haters and spammers (that never think of themselves in that way) are the exact type to not get these basics down. Don’t be like them – they’re not cool. It is cool to follow the rules (at least in this case).

The Problem: “They Side With Big Business – The Little Guy Has No Chance”

“I can’t rank for the keyword chocolate, it’s so unfair” would be a ridiculous thing to say but not as far-fetched as you might imagine for some SEOs. Many take issue with the fact that when you search for jeans you end up with Asos, Topman and the like rather than ‘John’s Jolly Jeans’. They complain of bias towards the big guys from Google, saying that it takes a marketing team of thousands and a budget of millions to get anywhere near the top for competitive keywords.

The Solution: Focus On Your ‘Smallness’

The reason you’re not ranking for competitive keywords might have something to do with the fact that they are competitive. Remember, Google doesn’t owe you anything, why are they going to pick you over a well-known multinational? I’m not saying abandon all hopes of fighting with the big guns but let’s face it you need to pick your battles. Rather than aiming for generic, ultra-competitive keywords instead target something a bit more specific and (there it is again) relevant. So if you sell independently made jeans, try ranking instead for say ‘vintage’ or ‘handmade jeans’ rather than just ‘jeans’ . Outside the pure search aspect, emphasise your independence and small-size as much as possible on your site – you then open yourself up to a completely different niche to the bigger players. Demonstrating your ‘localness’ is also a great idea if most of your business is from nearby – you might not be able to rank for jeans but you should definitely seek to rank for Jeans in (*insert place name).

The Problem: “They’re Stealing My Referral Data, I Have Nothing to Work With”

The meteoric rise in keyword (not provided) referral data is causing SEOs everywhere to stare blankly at their screens wondering ‘why me?’. With keyword (not provided) making up more than 80% of data from some sources, it’s like working with your arms tied in front of your eyes or something.

The Solution: Make The Most of What You’ve Got

While this data is certainly very useful, especially for smaller-sized companies, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all for data that can be worked with. Kissmetrics have a great guide to using the data that is available to you to piece together what’s now, more often than not, missing and Dan Barker has an excellent piece specifically on how to ‘steal back’ some referrer data. And don’t forget, as Plato once said (probably) ‘Data doesn’t maketh the man’ – data should only be a tool to aid you in your strategy, it shouldn’t be your strategy.

Be Zoo Proof

With the cuddly-named updates on their way, it makes sense that people are worried; after all the original penguin affected over 3% of English queries – a pretty sizeable chunk. The thing is, despite what naysayers will (nay)say, if you’re doing things right, you’ll be alright. If you think there’s even a chance of the updates uncovering some shady SEO tactics that you thought were hidden in your past, it might be worth considering conducting a comprehensive review right about now. Without a doubt, there will be those who still say that they do everything right and still bear the brunt of Google’s wrath – to those people I say nothing, it’s just not worth the effort. It’s pretty simple really – just don’t feed the animals.

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