Two recent personal events–somewhat related–just woke me up to what small businesses are missing when it comes to organic search engine ranking.
I saw a lot of offline ads in various places like billboards at the airport, on top of taxi cabs, on the sides of buses, and literature in my hotel room. Just about all of them included a web address as a way to contact them, usually right next to their 1-800 phone number. “Great”, I thought, “the web is here to stay because everyone is putting their domain name in their ad.” As I write this, though, I realize that I cannot remember any of those web addresses. And since I wasn’t online at the time of actually seeing the ad, there wasn’t a good chance that I would actually visit their site. Why is this important? Because I realize now that I will probably never go to any of these websites, especially since I saw them offline.
After talking to a lot of other Search Engine Strategies Conference attendees, I realized that a lot of them worked for small businesses and were there to find out how to get their small business websites at the top of the rankings. What’s most interesting to me is that they all said that they were giving up on organic listings because it’s just “too competitive” or “too hard” to get free listings now.
One thing they all agreed on, though, was that they can’t afford to lose valuable sales leads from web search; so they were “settling for PPC”. That’s fine, but I don’t think the typical small business fully understands how to obtain solid rankings the organic way.
Sitting in my hotel room after a long day of great search engine strategies, I picked up the hotel-room copy of the typical 50-page “what to do while you are visiting this city” hardcover book in every hotel. I found a lot of great restaurants, a lot of ads, and a lot of web addresses in those ads. What the book lacked, though, was good quality content about those businesses that had obviously had paid a lot of money to get in the book. What I really wanted was things like menus for the restaurants, prices, more photos (perhaps photos of the food), reviews, and famous people who have visited.
I realize that there’s only so much you can put in an offline ad, but being able to see good quality content about a place where I will spend a lot of money will help me decide which restaurant to visit. That’s the kind of quality content I’d like to see on a restaurant’s website.
What does a restaurant’s website have to do with search engine rankings? Content. The restaurant’s website may not be getting top search engine rankings because it probably lacks content. A restaurant could post photos and descriptions of all the menu items, as well as the current special. Updating the site daily with the current special would help to keep the site as fresh as the food.
The reason why small businesses are giving up on free, organic listings, is content. Those small businesses that are not getting the search engine rankings that they used to, are because they no longer have enough content on their website to warrant a good search engine ranking. Content is king when it comes to organic search engine listings; and, in my opinion, the search engines love fresh content.
If you found a website that had hundreds of pages of information on the topic you were searching for would you spend some time there, bookmark it, and come back on a regular basis? That’s how the search engines feel these days: they are looking for the site that has more (and recently updated) information about a given topic than the other–and rank sites accordingly.
And that, in a nutshell, is why most small business websites fail when it comes to the free organic search engine listings: they don’t have enough appropriate content that’s unique and updated on a regular basis.
The other personal event that woke me up was a recent vacation. My family recently spent a week in one of America’s first resort towns; we had a condo on the lake for a week. Just before leaving, I did some web searches for the name of the town and browsed some websites. I printed out some information from some and also found that there were a few companies that offered boat tours. I did a search for ([name of city] boat tour) and was shocked at what I found in the search results.
The top 10 search results were mostly made up of articles about a particular boat tour company whose boat sank four years ago during a recent site-seeing adventure! I couldn’t find any links in the top rankings to the actual website of this boat tour service. But, the company is still in business because it’s still one of the most popular attractions in the area (and now it’s probably the safest one around). Do you think this small business could benefit from search engine optimization? You bet!
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Many small businesses still don’t “get” search engine marketing. Sure, it takes time to develop quality content for a website that’s useful to the site’s visitors. But, if done properly in a timely manner and on a regular basis, the search engines will reward those who create useful, timely content: potential customers will find the site, return to it, and eventually become a customer. And by keeping up with your web presence on the search engines, you can avoid potential public relations disasters.
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