Many of us rely on search traffic from Google to our websites but, as a small business, are they really our friend?
The short answer to this is no. It’s not that Google wishes us any ill will, it’s more that the way they work doesn’t favour small local businesses. So what can you do about it?
Search engines (like Google) have to use use some pretty arbitrary methods to decide how to rank websites. It costs too much to have humans review every site and computers can’t ‘understand’ what they’re reading to fully gauge the relevance of a site. As a result search engines have to use the number of links to a site and social media mentions to gauge the ‘popularity’ of a website and from there assume that it is relevant.
They use a lot of complicated methods in their algorithm to rank websites but it is never going to produce 100% accurate results. Google favours ‘fresh’ content so sites that are able to add new content on a daily basis will win out over those that don’t regardless of the quality of the information. It is rarely practical for small business owners to spend all their time updating their website and often there is nothing new they can add. Website owners can use SEO techniques (Search Engine Optimisation) to improve their rankings but that just means that you have to spend more money to get higher.
It is not a level playing ground and you can see this in the search results. Searching locally often produces results for national companies over local ones. Large national directories tend to outrank sites for individual businesses.
Now, the real reason Google is not your friend is that it is not in their best interest to fix this situation. They make their money by selling advertising space. The more frustrated local businesses get the more likely they are to spend money on Google Adwords campaigns to get the exposure they need.
What’s the solution?
Don’t assume that all you have to do is have a website and people will find it via Google and the other engines. They won’t – the deck is stacked against you!
Take advantage of local directories – like 247oaks – who, by having a lot of local information in one place, rank higher than you can. Also they will tend to produce traffic to your site that isn’t reliant on the search engines at all.
Find other local places to mention your website. Local news and press release sites will both allow you to spread the word to real people as well as let you publish your website address to help your search engine visibility.
Finally, don’t forget to claim your Google Places listing. These are special local listings and allow you to add maps, photos, business details and a link to your website. It’s free and appears alongside normal search engine results.