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Earlier this week, The New York Times published an article that highlighted the search world: Google Casts a Big Shadow on Smaller Websites. The author highlighted certain companies and organizations that have seen large drop-offs in organic traffic from Google’s ever-changing but secret algorithm. It probably left some people asking "If Google cannot be relied upon as an ‘organic’ traffic source, what other options do businesses have to get traffic?”
Actually, the question businesses should be asking is "What is the definition of organic search?" Organic search is constantly adjusting and molding technical and content strategies to what is believed to align with Google’s algorithms and earn the top rankings and in return gain high-quality traffic.
Best practices of search engine optimization (SEO) change as often as Google itself -- if your business does not have a presence in social and local search (when applicable, of course), your site is not fully optimized to gain organic traffic and rankings for Google’s top above-the-fold spots. Local search strategies can only be applied to businesses that have a physical location for consumers. Google+ Local acts as a local directory to give local users information based on their geographic location. For an example, if a user searches for “Burger Restaurants,” Google provides the closest burger restaurants based on your current location.
This simple idea of generating unique, genuine content across your business’s digital presence means that whether you create content on your website, social channel, or directory pages, there should be a solid content strategy in place that incorporates user-driven data. The challenge for businesses is having an internal resource to create new, relevant content; this is why some companies look to “grey hat,” or ethically questionable, SEO tactics.
But Google has caught on -- grey hat tactics like paid links and duplicate content are obsolete strategies; you’ll start to see a drop in rankings. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume some small businesses with limited resources lean on grey hat tactics to compete with big companies that have a generous amount of backlinks and original, relevant content.
Right now Google is focused on the personalization of search and, as a result, we have seen the integration of social in search engines bridging a relationship between personalization and localization and connecting you with your friends’ local business experiences. This should be exciting for small, local business owners, because Google wants to bring them into the light by providing users with credible local information. Understand that for search success, you have to cope with the idea that we are playing by Google's rules.
My solution for small local businesses is adjust your search strategy to own the local search results and create a call-to-action on those pages that will direct users back to their main website. Simultaneously, you should still aim to have your site rank on first page in the organic listings by building ranking authority/credibility in Google over time, and staying informed of changes in the algorithm.