I recently read an article on Jitbit Blog that demonstrated that a Google search result page is only 18% organic search results. So many of us are used to filtering out the ads that we really didn’t pay attention to decrease in space allocated to organic search results over the years. The question is, what does this mean for small businesses?
Search engine optimization (SEO) was the one way small businesses could compete with larger corporations that spent huge sums of money on advertising and paid search. In many ways, SEO was the great equalizer because anyone could rank well if they produced content that people wanted to link to, regardless of their size or the amount of money they spent. Even as large corporations were buying ads, there was still a good chunk of space allocated to organic search results that small business has an equal chance at ranking well in. Google’s organic search results were, in fact, over 50% of the page back in the early 2000′s.
Realizing that organic search results only account for 18% of the search results put a lot more pressure on small businesses to rank well in SEO. Unfortunately, as organic search results space has gotten smaller, SEO has gotten more complex, making it ever harder to compete with large websites that can afford to hire content marketers and writers to churn out huge amount of content.
We already know that nearly 70% of users click a link on the first page of search engine results, with the first listing receiving about 40% of the clicks. The second listing receives about 12% of the clicks, and the third listing about 9% of the clicks. The click volume continues to exponentially drop the lower down the page your listing is.
With only 18% of the page devoted to organize search results, that is only about 3 results that show without any scrolling by the user. Since Google doesn’t release actual figures for click-through rates, the numbers are inferred from other factors (some of which are rather dated). No doubt, being in the top three positions of the search engine results page is more important than ever.
To make this even more onerous, the top results are often occupied by authority websites. That is, websites like CNN, Wikipedia, BBC, New York Times, and others that are all but impossible to outrank.
So what is the small business to do?
I have a few recommendations. First, small businesses should go after long tail keywords. They are keywords that have few searches, but they are more targeted. Small businesses should be able to acquire these links without too much competition from the big kids. Primarily, this is because most large businesses are focused on primary keywords rather than long tail keywords. They need higher numbers to justify their costs, whereas the small business doesn’t. This isn’t new advice, but it was worth remembering.
Second, small businesses should look to sources of search traffic other than Google. Bing can be a good source of web traffic. Targeting smaller, yet more niche, search engines like DuckDuckGo, which is good at answering questions, and WolframAlpha, which is good with data and computational information. While these search engines are not a threat to Google’s dominance anytime soon, they are carving out niche groups. Small businesses can more easily create content and target it for these search engines to gain some of the traffic from them.
Third, small businesses should look to social media for traffic. Major search engines use social media signals to rank their results, but more importantly engaging with your prospective customers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other social media networks is not only a great way to build relationships, but also drive traffic to your website. LinkedIn is an especially rich source of traffic for small businesses if used properly.
Finally, small businesses should look to offline sources of traffic. Good old fashion offline networking like conferences, trade events, and personal networking are ways to get people to visit your website. They may not be as efficient as online traffic building, but they are just as effective, if not more so.
Search engine optimization isn’t going away. If anything, it is more important than ever. Small businesses are not only forced to compete with for a high position in organic search rankings, but they are being forced to compete with paid search, far more than ever before. Invest the time in your SEO efforts, but don’t forget social media and other sources of traffic, as well as offline options.