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10 Reasons SEO Is Harder for Small Businesses

Author: Elisa Gabbert
Last Updated: November 19, 2021 | SEO

“Why is SEO harder for small businesses?” This question has popped up a couple of times in our organic keyword referrers. We’ve been saying for months that SEO is getting harder, and that it’s especially difficult for SMBs to excel at. But why? Why is SEO easier for the big dogs? Make no mistake, it is – even if it’s getting harder for them too.

Here are 10 reasons why smaller businesses struggle to succeed at SEO.

1. You have less money.

This is the #1 reason SEO – and everything else! – is harder for small businesses. It’s an old saw but it’s true: You have to spend money to make money. The reason companies spend money on marketing and advertising is because they deliver ROI, but sometimes there’s a tipping point. For example we’ve seen small businesses that didn’t see ROI from PPC until they raised their daily spend, counter-intuitively. SEO is the same way. If you can devote more money to your search engine optimization efforts, you’ll see better returns. Bigger companies have bigger budgets they can allocate towards hiring more employees, bringing in top-notch consultants, investing in “big content” and great web design, and so on.

2. You have less time.

OK, I lied: This is tied for #1. Time is money, and if you have less money you also have less time. Fewer heads on the marketing team means that everyone is juggling multiple tasks and nobody can focus 100% of their time on SEO. Some businesses are so small they have just one or two people doing EVERYTHING, making SEO exponentially harder. Real SEO takes a lot of time. Creating worthwhile content, optimizing your web pages, promoting your assets and securing links, running A/B tests – none of this is easy. Small businesses end up doing a rush job or neglecting it altogether, resulting in underoptimized sites with poor rankings.

3. Something else always comes first.

When you’re short on resources, SEO-related tasks always seem to get pushed to the bottom of the list. Blogging and other forms of content creation are a prime example – everyone’s got the best of intentions, promises are made (“I’ll get you that blog post by the end of the week!”) but nothing ever really gets written and published. The fact is, if you wait to do SEO until everything else is done, you’ll never do any SEO.  That’s why big companies hire a dedicated SEO – no excuses.

4. It’s harder to keep up with changes.

Again, this is essentially a resource problem. An SEO specialist who lives and breathes search has time (and incentive) to follow industry publications and keep up with the rapidly changing search landscape. They’ll know if Google has released a big algorithm change or other significant update that could affect your rankings and strategy. They’ll hear about new techniques and be better able to judge what’s worth trying and what isn’t. SMB marketers are often too busy trying to keep up with their own industry vertical to spend any time following the twists and turns of SEO. Here at WordStream, we have an advantage because search marketing is what we do – we have to keep up with search. But what if you sell shoes or medical equipment? Your morning reading is going to look very different.

5. Google favors brands.

In SEO we love to whine that Google favors brands, but the truth is, everyone favors brands. All other things being equal, Google ranks big brands higher in the search results because they have user behavior data indicating that people click more often on recognizable brand websites. So if you want to compete on a keyword that bigger brands are also going after, you’ll have to work that much harder to prove your small business marketing blog content is relevant and worth the user’s time. For a lot of branded keywords, you’ll never be able to beat the bigger companies.

6. Bigger businesses have been at it longer.

Big businesses weren’t born that way – they started small and grew. So big companies have generally been around longer. If you’ve been operating as a small business, doing well but staying small, for many years, that’s great – you’ll have an advantage. But lots of small businesses haven’t been around that long, and it’s tougher for them to rank because their younger websites haven’t accrued authority and a great link profile yet. This is why it’s harder for new websites to rank on competitive keywords. Aside from the fact that Google likes older domains, big brands have simply been doing SEO longer, so they’ve more things and they know what works and what doesn’t. They can repeat past successes and repurpose their content assets, rather than starting from scratch all the time.

7. Your website is smaller.

If you’re a small business, chances are your site isn’t just newer, it’s smaller too. You have less content and fewer pages overall, which amounts to fewer keywords you can possibly target and fewer opportunities to rank. Really big websites get more traffic in part because the sea of search queries they have the potential to rank for is so much bigger. And big brands have bigger websites because (you guessed it) they have more resources to funnel toward creating content, and because they offer more products and services. Think of Amazon and all the individual pages they have for each and every product they offer!

8. You have fewer tools and less powerful software.

Your itsy-bitsy marketing budget rears its ugly head again. Enterprises can afford to invest in great software. The in-house SEO at a big company has tools at his disposal that automate away some of the time-consuming tasks involved with search marketing. They can afford to buy up for better analytics, better keyword research, better reporting tools, better conversion optimization tools, etc., etc. Small companies are often stuck with free, which makes it harder to gain a competitive advantage. More manual work also takes more time.

9. You have less clout to leverage for link building and media coverage.

Big sites and brands with great reputations tend to get links without even trying. It also helps to have some weight behind your name when you actively reach out for links. If you’re trying to get media coverage in a big publication, it helps enormously if they’ve already heard of you. Barring that, it’s great to be able to say that your business has been mentioned in other notable venues – it’s like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. But smaller businesses are less likely to have brand recognition on their side.

10. You don’t have a relationship with Google.

Bigger companies tend to have a personal relationship with Google. They may have a dedicated rep. If something goes south (“Holy crap, our rankings fell off a cliff overnight!!”) they can call their contact at Google for help. Small businesses will have a lot more trouble figuring out what to do. It’s a dirty little not-so-secret secret, perhaps – like the fact that it’s much easier to get into an Ivy League school if your family name is on one of the buildings – but big brands spend a lot of money on Google advertising (like $50 million a year). And that means they’ve got connections inside, and Google is invested in keeping them happy.

Is SEO Still Worth the Trouble? In a Word, Yes

Now listen: We’re not saying you should give up on SEO. In fact, you have to do at least the bare minimum SEO if you want to have a reasonably viable presence online. Basically, if you have a website, you want to accomplish three things:

  1. Help potential customers find your site via search.
  2. Make sure your site is easy to navigate once they’ve found it.
  3. Make sure it’s obvious what they should do next, whether that’s calling in or adding something to a shopping cart – and convince them to do it.

These tasks, especially the second two, involve the principles of web design, usability, and conversion rate optimization as much as they do SEO. But to accomplish #1, you’re going to have to think about search engine optimization. Of course, you should have other sources of traffic for your site – PPC/remarketing, social media, email marketing, word of mouth – but if you neglect SEO, you’re leaving a great potential source of brand-new leads untapped.

The trick for small businesses is figuring out what you can accomplish given your limited resources. Also, remember that there may be ways that being small actually helps you! For example, small business are often more agile, and more willing to experiment. So stick with it, cover your basics first, make sure your managers know SEO is important, and investigate new opportunities as you can find the time.

Do you work at a small business? How do you deal with the challenges of SEO? If you don’t, why as your small business turned to advertising?

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Meet The Author

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream’s Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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