Mistakes Small Businesses Make with SEO

Marketing presents an interesting dilemma for small business owners. There is a tremendous amount of information online to small business owners and managers. But the amount of information can be daunting to absorb and put into practice.

As with the case of SEO, many older, outmoded practices are pitched to small business owners daily, but these practices may have unintended consequences. This article serves as a guide for small businesses to avoid common misconceptions and bad practices.

Search results with flag - Ironpaper illustration by Jonathan Franchell

While a good portion of SEO is trial and error, you can save some time and heartache by avoiding these classic mistakes that small businesses often make.

  1. Focusing on “SEO” without having a content strategy

Too many businesses focus on SEO without having a conversion strategy, which means that any traffic they generate yields next to no business results. A business must have a content strategy to guide visitors through the site once they arrive and convert them as leads and buyers. This doesn’t mean that every website should be stuffed with a random assortment of educational information and resources on each page. Content must help the buyers become inspired, educated, and address their needs–not just pitch the business offering.

  1. Trying blackhat techniques to game the system

For small businesses, SEO can be an intimidating prospect. Many business owners have been burned by outsourced “SEO specialists” where time and money can be invested for months with no visible result, and successes were hard to measure. It’s understandable that some businesses try find a shortcut, but SEO shortcuts are the problem. Blackhat techniques can result in more work for you in the long run, and worse, in some cases, could result in penalties or blacklisting of a website from Google. Cheaply purchased links from spammy websites will catch the attention of search engines sooner or later, and you will have to remove them or risk garnering a severe penalty that is difficult to recover from.

  1. Expecting to be #1 for a list of keywords

Many SEO professionals will tell you they can rank you for any term you want, but certain keywords are naturally going to be more challenging than others. Well established websites with high domain authority, like Wikipedia, have taken years and thousands of pages of unique content to gain their positions in search–making for stiff competition. Business owners and managers must not get swayed by magical promises of instant success. SEO work — like all sales and marketing efforts — takes a significant investment of time, resources, and energy. It’s important to plan for this investment and create a diversity of channels for lead and customer acquisition since SEO takes time. It’s important to develop a marketing plan that puts a thoughtful buyer journey first and considers the needs of a business’s ideal buyer profile first.

  1. Not understanding personalized results

Personalized search has been a game changer for both SEO and user experience. All of the major search engines are now optimizing the user experience by delivering results that are influenced by the individual searcher, such as:

  • Location
  • Search history
  • Social media presence
  • Profile data
  • Use of integrated Google products, like Calendar or Gmail

Personalization has been a double-edged sword for SEO professionals, because of the inevitable privacy concerns that come with corporations having access to the personal data of millions. As a result, search queries that may include personally identifiable data aren’t shared through tools like Google Analytics and other tracking tools.

For example, traffic that travels from Facebook or Google to your website is protected through what is known as a link shim. When a user clicks on an outbound link, the referral path created can include personal data like their name or address. To solve this issue, any traffic leaving these sites is redirected through a temporary intermediate page. This protects the user data, but the end result is less information for the site owner and more guesswork for SEO professionals.

  1. Treating SEO like a one size fits all program

The right approach for each business varies based on the goals they want to meet. Businesses need to focus on the needs of their buyers and their specific areas of specialization. Avoid creating content that stretches outside of an area of specialization where your business offers little insight or helpfulness. Small business marketing must invest wisely in tactics that are appropriate to their type of business and the needs of their buyers’ evaluation process. SEO works exceptionally well with a buyer journey that requires some learning, evaluation, and research.

Companies that rely heavily on local business, like coffee shops, restaurants and beauty salons, need to make a significant effort in local SEO, and in many cases should compliment their organic efforts with SEM PPC campaigns for text and map listings. By contrast, e-commerce businesses with little to no name recognition have no need for local optimization but might need social media marketing to create a buzz and generate sales. A business’s marketing strategy must be appropriate to your buyer’s needs and based on the process of the sale whether it is high-touch or low-touch.

Learn more: Why Do Marketing Plans Fail?

  1. Failure to commit long-term

Content is the critical ingredient for SEO. Too many businesses think only of SEO technical factors when planning their investments. Content must be consistently created, improved, and measured against buyer engagement and needs.  Content creators with passionate followings stick to a schedule, like:

  • Podcasters who release a new episode on the same day of each week, like NPR’s Serial.
  • Blogs that promote a weekly tutorial, like Moz’s Whiteboard Friday.
  • Youtubers who post new videos daily
  • Bloggers that produce X pieces a week or a month

A business must remain consistent with their content production efforts. Too many businesses begin a content marketing effort only to abandon it later because of everyday distractions. Significant gains happen with the investment of time, testing, learning, and responding to buyer needs.

  1. Failing to realize there’s no guarantee of success and it’s a competitive battlefield

The ever-changing nature of SEO means that there is no one way to succeed, and techniques that worked even one or two years ago have become stale. To stay at the top of the heap, you’ve got to stay abreast of what new changes are coming to search and how they will affect user behavior. This allows you to adjust your SEO strategy proactively instead of reactively.

Getting your marketing efforts to be a success can be challenging, but it is a challenge you can meet and overcome with preparation and the right approach. Remember these quick takeaways when planning to use SEO to drive customer acquisition and growth:

  1. Focus on your buyer’s needs. Measure buyer engagement with content to adapt and refine your program.
  2. Don’t expect magical results. No, you will not be an overnight success. Do not expect to be #1 overnight. Outsized expectations can be costly and cause you to take the wrong approach.
  3. Content is key. I know you’ve probably heard this before, but it’s true. Content comes in many shapes and sizes, and you need a robust content strategy that considers how to attract, convert, and close new customer opportunities.
  4. Plan ahead for ongoing investment to make SEO work. This planning does not mean you need a long-term marketing strategy, but you need to expect for an ongoing investment in content creation, iteration, and analytics to make SEO work for your business.



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Ironpaper is a results-driven digital marketing agency. Ironpaper integrates design, technology and marketing for the web to drive meaningful results for clients. We are based in New York City and Charlotte, NC.