Of all the online marketing strategies available today, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the one most familiar to small business owners. It’s definitely the marketing strategy I’m asked about most commonly when people enquire about the services I provide at WordPress Warrior Australia.

However, before I agree to provide SEO services to a client, I first evaluate whether or not such an approach has the potential to produce a worthwhile result. You may be somewhat surprised to hear that in most cases, I find that paying for SEO is not in the best interests of the client, and I strongly urge them to consider a different approach. In fact, I only end up providing specific SEO services to one in five clients that come to me asking for them. So, why is this the case?

From a upaid search engine listings perspective, if you don’t already have a high page one listing in the SERPs, and if you operate in a highly competitive industry, then you stand little to no chance of acquiring sufficient customer traffic from this source throughout 2016 and beyond. And even if you are prepared to throw a great deal of time, money and effort into improving the search engine ranking of your business, I would see this as a very poor course of action simply because the probability of the costs involved outweighing the benefits achieved is high. There are a number of reason I say this.

Firstly, even if you do secure a top three position in the Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), you need to be aware that the majority of people will be searching for you using their smart phones. This means that they are exposed to up to three (3) Google AdWords ads and three (3) Google MyBusiness listings before they get to see any of the top organic listings. In other words, paid ads and local business ads the smart phone screens of users long the organic listings are actually reached. The image below demonstrates what I mean.

In the example above, I conducted a Google search for the keyword ‘building inspections perth’ using an iPhone 6 Plus that has the generous 5.5-inch (13.9cm) screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (401 ppi). As you can see, the initial screen is filled exclusively with paid Google Ads and the second screen is comprised of another paid Google ad and then three Google local MyBusiness listings. It was only on the third full screen that I scrolled to that the first of the organic listings became visible.

My point here is that there are many enticing click opportunities presented to smart phone searchers long before the organic listings come into view. And the evidence clearly suggests that these non-organic opportunities are indeed stealing a huge portion of searchers’ clicks before the organic results ever appear.

In a late 2014 study conducted by search engine optimisation company SEOClarity, and reported on by the company’s product manager Ryan Heuser, it was found that organic CTRs on mobile came in at 27.7 per cent for the first SERP position, followed by 9.2% for position two, and only 3.9% for position three; a huge drop-off indeed. (Heuser, 2014). As for the remaining first page organic positions, these only accounted for 10 per cent of the clicks collectively, yielding only two or one percent CTRs in each case.

This study tells us two very important things about CTRs for mobile search results. Firstly, that paid ads and Google MyBusiness listings were taking half of all clicks made before the organic results were reached. The second is that, of the organic listings displayed for a mobile search, well over half of the remaining clicks available were going to the first position, with all remaining positions receiving CTRs that could only be described as paltry.

These findings certainly justify the title chosen for the study which was ‘If you don’t rank first in mobile, you may as well be on the 2nd page. Here’s why’. And with Google announcing in May 2015 that the number of searches performed on mobile devices had surpassed those performed on the desktop (Barr, 2015), the inescapable truth is that if your business is not already in the first position of the Google, then things look grim.

In fact, if you aren’t even within striking distance (position two or three) of the first position in the Google SERPs for the industry keywords you’re chasing, then pinning your customer acquisition strategy on organic search in 2016 and beyond is a severely flawed idea. I’d even go so far as to say that if your current Google SERP listing is on page two or lower, or even towards the bottom of page one at present, then the amount of traffic you’re likely to acquire from organic search ranges from between miniscule to none from this point forward.

Secondly, if you’re thinking about pouring a tonne of time and money into search engine optimisation in the hopes of fixing this problem if it applies to your business, then think again, because in all likelihood it won’t! This is because once a competitor has secured the first position in the Google SERPs for your industry’s keyword space, it’s virtually impossible to take it away from them.

The reason for this is based on a fundamental principle known as the Network Effect, the action of which ensures that any business holding the number one position in the Google SERPs for a particular keyword keeps that position, and keeps it quite easily.

The Network Effect states that the value of a network is equal to the number of members squared. In a business context, the Network Effect applies to the coming together of sellers seeking buyers, and buyers seeking those sellers. When applied, this principle suggests that a business holding position one in the Google SERPs for a particular keyword is much, much more powerfully entrenched in that position than the business holding position two or lower.

To illustrate the Network Effect in action, let’s take the example of a keyword that is being searched for 1,000 times each day on mobile devices in a particular city. Knowing that position one gets 27.7 per cent of the clicks according to the SEOClarity study mentioned earlier (Heuser, 2014), the business holding position one for this keyword would have a Network Effect value of 76,729 (2772). On the other hand, knowing that the business holding position two attracts only 9.2 per cent of mobile search clicks (Heuser, 2014), its network value would only be 8,464 (922).

All up, this means that the business holding position one is 806 per cent (8 times) more powerfully entrenched in that position than the business holding the second position is in its. And it is this massive disparity in entrenched power between the first and second position of the Google SERPs as created by the Network Effect that ensures, as observed by Perry Marshall (Marshall et all, 2014) “the nearly effortless dominance of the #1 player over all others; the other players are at their mercy”.

Therefore, when taking into account that;

  1. over half of all Google searches are conducted on mobile devices, a statistic that is constantly increasing year-over-year,
  2. half of the clicks on mobile search results go to paid ads and MyBusiness listings,
  3. position one of the organic search results attracts more than half (27.7%) of the remaining clicks available, and
  4. due to the action of the Network Effect, this position one holder is never likely to be shifted from that spot,

then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that throwing money into SEO represents a very poor investment for any business that does not already rank in the top three of the Google SERPs for the industry keyword space within which it operates. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that even being in position three invalidates such an investment, especially in highly competitive industries.

So if not SEO, then what?

If having read my thesis, you’ve come to the conclusion that SEO is not the marketing panacea that you hoped it might be for your business, then what are the alternatives. The answer is – heaps. There are in fact dozens of alternative ways to market your business effectively, some of which are paid, but most of which are free apart from the modest investment of time and effort required to set them up and use then each day. Further, my business marketing portfolio is comprised of a balanced combination of both online and offline strategies. That’s right, you can still bring in a lot of new business using a number of tried-and-true methods that existed long before the internet came into being.

In my next few posts, I’ll start to outline a number of my most favoured online and offline business marketing methods, and how I have applied them to bring in new business on a consistent basis.

Carpe diem…

References

Barr, A. (2015). Google Rolls Out New Ads as Mobile Searches Top PCs in 10 Countries. Wall Street Journal. Available at http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/05/05/google-rolls-out-new-ads-as-mobile-searches-top-pcs-in-10-countries/

Heuser, R. (2014). If you don’t rank first in mobile, you may as well be on the 2nd page. Here’s why. SEOClarity. Available at http://www.seoclarity.net/mobile-desktop-ctr-study-11302/#gs.Mv1bVk8

Marshall, P., Todd, B., & Rhodes, M. (2014). Ultimate Guide to Google Adwords : How to Access 1 Billion People in 10 Minutes. Entrepreneur Press. Irvine, United States.

Do you have any great tips, tricks or methods for keeping your business going during hard economic times? If you do, then share them with other small business readers in the comments area below.