The 5 SEO Mistakes that Hurt Small Businesses

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Most businesses understand the importance of implementing SEO tactics into their overall marketing strategy.  However, many executives still think that there is a one size fits all SEO program, and by simply copying the same methods as their competitors they will see an instant improvement in their companies’ search rankings.

Unfortunately for these misguided professionals, a SEO strategy is highly personal.  Creating a tailored SEO strategy customized for a specific business’s profile, goals, and budget can mean the difference between first page results and search engine oblivion.  This is especially true for small businesses.  With limited time, resources, and specific audiences, small businesses need to be extremely measured in how they implement their SEO program in order to maximize their return on investment.  Yet many small businesses make the same mistakes over and over in their optimization programs.  The following 5 mistakes are the most egregious, and, when fixed, could provide the biggest boost.

Ignoring Local:

An estimated 1 in 3 searches conducted on Google are focused on a place or location.  Mobile search, which has already taken a huge bite out of PC traffic, is increasingly focused on local; local mobile search is now estimated at 27%, according to one recent study.  In order for small businesses to reach their target audiences, which are often geo-specific, they must ensure that they are ranking high in these local searches.  There are several strategies for targeting local search, including:

  • Listing your business in relevant industry and geographical directories/listings
  • Creating keywords that combine your company with your physical location (such as “tour guide” and “Disneyland”)
  • Optimizing your company’s website for mobile

Time and energy spent in optimizing content and increasing visibility in local and mobile searches are resources well spent by small businesses.

Eschewing Social Media:

Small businesses often face time and resource constraints; in order to maximize effectiveness, many choose to ignore social media, thinking it frivolous or too nebulous to properly measure; however, the exact opposite of that is true.  Even worse, small companies will dutifully set up their social media accounts, then promptly ignore them, leaving a trail of empty, outdated profiles.

Those businesses are missing out on prime opportunities to increase their search engine visibility.  Not only are social media channels great opportunities for businesses to put out fresh quality content, but links from social media channels are growing increasingly more important to search engine websites.

Afraid of jumping on the social media bandwagon?  Do a little research.  See where your competitors are online, and more importantly, where your customers are.  Start with just one profile on the channel that is most applicable to your company, such as LinkedIn or Facebook.  Refresh the content often, build quality links, and as you get more comfortable, add on channels as needed.

Posting Duplicate Content on the Company Site

All businesses know that one of the keys to having a great SEO-optimized website is having a large amount of well written, informational content that balances keyword usage with language and user experience.  Smaller businesses that have naturally less-robust or more diminutive websites might see their content quantity as a disadvantage.

For these companies, a good strategy might seem to be duplicating well-written, well-optimized sections of content throughout the entire website, increasing the size of the site and the number of optimized sections.  However, this method is really a glorified version of keyword stuffing, which makes for poor user experience, causing readers to abandon the site.  Furthermore, duplicate content is one of the subjects of Google’s Penguin 2.0 algorithm change, which cracks down on unethical SEO practices and removes offending sites.  Duplicate content might seem like a quick, easy SEO fix, but it causes much more harm than good.

Forgetting to Post New Content

Just as bad as posting multiple copies of the same content is never posting any content at all.  It can be difficult for small businesses to find the time to maintain multiple content platforms, or to find new ways to update their site’s content.  However, consistent, fresh content positively increases organic search rankings as well as user experience, which is increasingly important to search engines’ ranking factors.  There are some low impact ways for smaller businesses to crank out fresh content (in addition to those social media channels):

  • Maintain a blog.  Many companies will start one, but as deadlines and other work crops up, the posting and maintenance will peter out.  Think of your blog as an SEO priority.  Commit to posting content relevant to your industry or company twice a week.  Involve coworkers, interns, and if the budget allows for it, freelance writers to help.
  • Create a news feed on your company website, and update it frequently with events, company milestones, client news, anything that is relevant to your business and industry, and that organically uses your keywords to help boost search rankings.

Thinking that SEO is a Quick, One-Time Job

There is a pattern in the suggestions and strategies in this article; they are all long-term, continuous projects.  That’s because a successful SEO strategy is a commitment – your work is not finished just because you’ve researched keywords and optimized your website.  Those tactics are the best first step to launch a small business’s SEO campaign, but from there, it is a recurrent process to generate content, build links to your content and site, and optimize your customer’s experience with your brand online.  While it might seem daunting, keeping up with your SEO program means your company will have increased visibility, more website traffic – and more customers.

Search engine optimization, like all long-term marketing initiatives, depends upon a solid execution plan, constant tweaks to execution, and measurement and analysis of the results.  Small businesses in particular are vulnerable to stumbling onto SEO pitfalls in an effort to conserve resources.  However, by devising and implementing a solid SEO plan tailored to the company’s goals, small businesses can perform successful SEO tactics that maximize their return on investment.

Photo credit: purchased from on 11/09/13 for commercial use.

Erin Cushing

Erin Cushing

Content Marketer at The Aberdeen Group
Erin Cushing is a content marketing and social media marketing professional in Boston, MA.
Erin Cushing
Erin Cushing

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  • Great article Erin! I would add one more thing regarding the Local Strategy – it is very important and it must be implemented in the right way, paying attention to each different factor, as minor mistakes can lead to negative results.

  • Ah, Matt Cutts mentioned it’s ok to post content from other sites. As such, would Penguin 2.0 affect us if we did so? Even if we wrong a summary of what we thought?

  • Hi Erin great article! You mentioned that social media is important for SEO rankings. I haven’t been able to find on the web that this is indeed part of Google’s algorithm factors. Is this something that is truly defined now?

    • Hi Anthony,

      There is a strong correlation between social shares and SEO rankings; Sprout Social put out a great infographic that breaks down the ways in which social can help increase ranking in SERPs:

      Additionally, active social media profiles can help you own the first page for branded keywords.

    • There is a strong correlation but no one has proven cause and effect. And Google has categorically denied that G+ is a ranking factor. Mark Traphagen and Eric Enge are both worth following to read about their tests on the topic.

  • I have to disagree with “duplicate content is one of the subjects of Google’s Penguin 2.0 algorithm change” as far as I am aware Penguin has absolutely nothing to do with duplicate content. However I believe Panda does. If I am wrong, I apologise, but I don’t think I am.

    • Good catch Rick! Google has too many animals in its zoo; I typed one when I meant the other. Panda goes after thin content, and Penguin targets link schemes and spammy links. I’ll have to correct that. Thanks!

  • Hi Erin,

    Haha thanks for sharing. Thinking SEO is a one time job. Well written!

    You are correct in the local listing. I have always been wondering the real importance of that even for a small company.

    Appreciate the write!

  • The best point from above article is “Creating keywords that combine your company with your physical location” Helps a lot to get good results.

  • One of the biggest mistake is that people ignore the website loading speed. Search engines gives priorities to the pages with better loading speed. So along with on PAGE and Off PAGE SEO . The designers should also think and design the website in the way so that the loading time will be reduced to an optimum level.

    • If all other factors are equal, the fastest site wins – but site loading is not a major signal.

  • Good Article Erin! I agree with all 5 reasons, however I have a question. Its just me who is feeling that after introducing Google+ and Merging it with Google Local Listing, It becomes very confusing for listing business for local. I mean, I am really not able to understand How can I do Local listing with Google+!! Any Tips or suggestions about this?

    Thank You in Advance.

    • Hi John,

      Google is trying to consolidate and integrate all of its services; it looks like if a business had both a Local Listing and a G+ Business Page, they automatically upgraded the Local Listing to a Verified Business Page, which has all of the features of a Local Listing- it appears on Google Map, customers can leave reviews, as well as the ability to post content to the Posts and Video tabs. Hope this is helpful!

  • Love this. Thanks for the great post Erin. #5 is one of the most difficult points of doing SEO for an SMB as the investment takes a bit of time to pay off and they generally do not have a ton of money to invest in their marketing. I consistently make the same point that it isnt a one off thing and you are golden, it requires consistent work.

  • Hi Erin,

    Terrific Post! I do agree, social media is to much of a powerful tool to ignore for all types of business. Thanks for sharing this wonderful tips! Will start using this tips immediately.

  • I strongly believe SEO has nothing to do with posting new articles. As you will always see a small five pages business website is ranking higher than a blog that is updated everyday.

    SEO is about making the search engines realize that your website/blog is important. And this you can do by constantly promoting it and building new backlinks. Whether it be social media/directory listing/ blog commenting, nofollow or dofollow every single link counts.

  • Great tips Erin…now a days seo work is really important and your tips are great…keywords are more important as writing lengthy blogs…thanks for the help..Informative article..!!!Thanks

  • Great information Erin. When it comes to developing relevant content on a small business website, it’s also very important to have a strategy in mind. There needs to be a structure to the information you’re providing. You also have to concentrate on having not only wideth to you site, but depth as well. The deeper into the website a visitor or search bot goes, the more technical the infomation should get. Target persona types that are likely to do more basic searches at the highest levels of your website, and target the persona types who are more likely to ask direct questions in the deeper level pages of your website.

  • Great Article,

    I always try to get my clients to understand that SEO is a long term process and requires a good strategy, good webdesign structure, and local exposure. Thanks.

    • HI Tino, Thanks! It can definitely be a challenge to explain that it’s a long game, but it’s worth it – managing client expectations can be just as difficult as actually increasing rankings!

  • James Halloran

    Right on it, Erin! SEO is a lot like a workout regimen. If you don’t keep at it, all of your original efforts (like finding the right keywords) go in vain.

  • Thinking that SEO is a Quick, One-Time Job this is the most common of them . I do not know why but it is

  • Spook Seo

    I also agree that the panda target content and penguin target the links while the new update humming bird target the keywords and also impact on both quality content and quality backlinks. You are absolutely right in your research to find out the most common SEO mistakes that impact upon small business performance and I agree with your all mentioned reasons.

  • Great post Erin! This blog is fairly helpful for newbies like me . Thank you for supplying plenty of helpful articles. I will come back for more.