You’re a small business owner and your marketing budget is, well, minuscule. And yet, you know that riches await…if you can get your business to show up on the first page of relevant Google searches. So how exactly do you manage that feat without paying crazy money to get there?
Google certainly isn’t making it any easier for small businesses, according to Brian Greenberg, a Phoenix-based marketing expert who has been using Google Search to market his businesses online since 2010.
“Google is running into all sorts of antitrust trouble on Capitol Hill,” Greenberg says. “The way they favor the big guys is just no joke.”
In the past, businesses could use pay-per-click to buy ads on Google searches and thus attract new prospects. Today, Greenberg points out, the cost of Google Ads for many consumer categories has gone out of sight.
“In fields like insurance, medicine, law, or related areas,” Greenberg says, “big companies have been consolidating the field and swallowing up smaller firms. As a result, you could be spending sixty dollars or more for a single click. That’s just impossible for most small businesses. They aren’t even trying to make a profit. They’re just trying to increase their sales, so they can increase their multiple when they sell the company.”
Greenberg also believes that Google is deliberately burying ads from small businesses for liability reasons.
“Let’s say you have a medical condition or you want to buy life insurance,” Greenberg says. “So you find a vendor on Google, but things don’t work out right, and you sue. Google does not want to be at risk for getting in the crossfire of those lawsuits.
What’s worse, Greenberg adds, the whole look of a search result has changed.
“In the past,” he says, “you would see three ads, and then the natural listings. Today, however, you are likely to see four ads and then a Q&A section, and then natural listings buried beneath the Q&A. So it’s harder and harder to stay on the first page of results.”
So what’s a small business to do?
Greenberg recommends three steps you can take right now that will enhance your page rank on Google (and, in some ways, on Bing and Yahoo for that matter).
1. First, Greenberg says, make sure that your mobile site is completely up to date.
“More people view the web on phones than they do on laptops or desktops,” Greenberg argues. “As a result, Google now uses ‘mobile-first indexing.’ This means that even if your website is not mobile-friendly, it will suffer when Google is examining it for ranking purposes.”
Most mobile sites have photos or contact information at the top, Greenberg notes. The smart thing to do is to place text as high up as possible on the mobile-friendly version of your website. This maximizes the chances that Google will recognize the authoritative nature of your content and boost your ranking.
2. The second thing you can do, Greenberg suggests, is focus on getting reviews from happy customers.
“The more your customers interact with the Google ecosystem,” he says, “the better your listings will be. It matters a lot to Google that a business has tons of great Google reviews from customers. Your prospects are looking at those reviews — and equally importantly, so is Google.
3. The third thing you can do is be aware of what’s called “rich snippets” or “brilliant snippets.”
This is a recent addition to Google listings. Google will now lift Q&A, or other valuable content, directly from websites, and put that information above natural SEO on listings pages.
“You can see to what extent your site is going to benefit from this feature,” Greenberg says, “by using a free measuring tool, which can be found at search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool.
“If you go there, you can even find ways to alert Google directly to the fact that you’ve got great Q&A or other material that Google can copy and place high up on its search results.”
“At the end of the day,” Greenberg sighs, “it’s Google’s world. The rest of us just play in it. So the important thing is to know the constantly changing rules of the game.”
The bottom line: There is still no more cost-effective, successful way to market a business than with free natural SEO. But since Google is always changing the rules, it’s up to every small business owner to know what works and to comply.