Rebecca Scully, managing director of PR agency Smarts, discusses how changes in SEO mean businesses should be more scrupulous than ever in their online ranking efforts.
In a growing marketplace where it can be difficult to stand out, it is essential that small businesses utilise opportunities to promote themselves. Developing both an online and offline presence is an important element of this, but these kinds of communications activities can be challenging for SME owners as the effort required to run their businesses can be all-consuming.
Many SME owners incorporate business services and opinions that would both interest and engage regional and trade media and in turn, potential customers, but find it difficult to dedicate the time required to develop high quality copy and target journalists.
There is no doubt that investing in marketing therefore represents a serious commitment for SMEs in both time and money terms. As a result, a step-by-step approach would be more palatable from the point of view of allocating time to their wider growth strategies. However, access to communications in this bite-size fashion can be difficult to come by.
Communications services for SMEs should therefore be fully flexible and the level and nature of consultancy should be individually tailored to each business. At its most basic level, these services should cover the development of a specific marketing communications strategy and plan, a bespoke PR toolkit to facilitate the drafting and issuing of press materials and 24/7 access to a senior marketing communications consultant.
However, growing a reputation within traditional print media is only part of the story as online becomes an ever more important avenue for potential customers to identify providers and business partners. Google currently estimates that 57 per cent of SMEs are using the internet as a sales channel to grow their business and, according to the search engine, 81 per cent of SMEs that have used internet marketing have said that it has helped them to increase their customer base, demonstrating the need for an effective online presence.
However, recent changes to search algorithms by Google have seen many SMEs dramatically fall in search engine rankings. Sites which were once high profile, prominent results on page one of Google’s search results have now fallen away to the relative anonymity of pages three and four, as a result of the search engine giant beginning to penalise guerrilla Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tactics in favour of those that provide genuine online engagement.
This criterion is one that many small business owners may be unaware of, so it’s not only important to draw attention to it, but also to outline how it can be realistically addressed. Just part of this approach involves utilising online editorial to engage directly with current and potential customers.
With Google now paying a lot of attention to the ‘quality’ of links when ranking websites, marketing and PR content is more useful than ever in leveraging SEO benefits. Placing content in reputable online publications that provide backlinks is therefore essential in driving web traffic and happily, from a business owner’s perspective, it is also a highly measurable metric.
For example, during a recent client campaign we used the power of quality links in order to grow sales. The success of this tactic resulted in a 6 per cent increase in sales and the generation of 4,000 new sales accounts. The level of genuine online engagement this generates is therefore impossible to ignore.
A number of SME owners are savvy enough to appreciate these dynamics already, but finding time to ensure activity is properly implemented can be more challenging. A bite-sized approach is therefore ideal for bridging the gap between the efforts of individual business owners and a fully fledged PR service. Through utilising a range of cost-effective tools and consultancy, entrepreneurs can be empowered to implement on and offline communications activities quickly and effectively, key watchwords for businesses within the SME sector.