How Will Social Signals and Semantics Impact Small Businesses?
Unless you’ve been hidden away on an Internet-free tropical island for the last year or so, you will probably have noticed that there has been a monumental shift in both the make-up of the algorithm and rhetoric from Google. Whilst they’ve always preached about the importance of unique copy, ethical link building and avoiding deliberately spammy practices, now they are actually taking action.
There have been gestures towards a sort of alpha-tested semantic search structure, with Google providing answers rather than keyword-led results. This was taken to a new level by the subtle introduction of the knowledge graph last month. Equally, panda and penguin updates have curtailed many of the practices that were helping blackhats prosper. However, as with most updates, it appears that larger, more established companies are benefiting from the shift towards brand authority. So where do the updates leave small businesses moving forwards?
Well, if your website hasn’t been affected by either the panda update nor the penguin algorithm overhaul, you’re already off to a decent start. Whilst you may not have felt a huge benefit, it is a decent indication that you’re on the right track. The biggest ongoing issue though is finding a way of competing in a world where social signals and semantic-level inspections of content are key to visibility.
Even businesses with a decent cult following of fans on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are going to struggle when it comes to competing with multi-national corporations on social networks. Whilst every message, question and review might mean a lot more to you personally, the sheer scale of mentions others receive provide them with greater authority – theoretically.
With authority becoming the key indicator of quality and determining where a website ranks for particular queries, building a following and getting natural mentions flowing is essential. You can’t rely on a massive network of low-grade links to pull you through any more, with more human factors coming into the mix.
The value of content is also rising at a rate of knots. Suddenly you can create personal profiles and build authority on a particular subject through rel=author tags. This means that you don’t have to waste time with ugly anchor-text filled links in external articles and can create a patchwork of links through content alone. Sharing through social profiles, particularly Google+ will help to build up this affiliation and provide even more strength.
This is what Google are looking for, good content that people will share. A search engine spider can’t read and digest what it is that you’re writing (yet), but it can see who has shared it, linked to it and talked about it. That’s where authority is built and rankings can be made.
Therefore, whilst size is a factor, even the smallest companies can compete on some level purely by building their own legion of interactive followers and developing content that will help to conquer a niche. You can’t expect to outrank huge brands for generic products or keywords (even if these are being phased out by semantic understanding). Focus on local or building loyalty within certain demographics. This is achieved through outreach and regular coverage in the right blogs, magazines and other media.
If you can overcome any fears about outreach, you can succeed. Both you as an individual and the company that you work for can benefit from creating content and sharing it with the world. Increasing the quantity and quality of work will result in better returns, particularly as social signals become more prevalent.