The most significant changes Google ever made occurred June 2013. Small businesses have been impacted more heavily than any other size company. Is Google targeting small businesses? That’s one way to look at it.
Fact check, please
Small businesses make up 99.7% of employers (source: IDC).
97% of Americans who use the Internet are looking for local goods and services online (source: Google Official Blog). I need to say that again – LOCAL GOODS AND SERVICES.
There are more than 15 million small businesses, 80.5% of which have a website (source: IDC). And those numbers can only increase. So it stands to reason that a strong majority of businesses online are small businesses.
But Google’s evil now, right?
That will always be up for debate. Let’s start with Google’s mission stated right at the top of their about page. It says: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Facts + Mission x Google Updates = Usefulness
Tie these two concepts together: 97% of Americans search for local goods and services online and Google wants the information accessible and useful.
The root of the issue
Is it all about money? Surely with their billions, Google doesn’t make shifts to its algorithm because it’s strapped for cash. Hardly. Google’s been the biggest advocate against spam and bad SEO practices since it came online in 1998. Google’s a teenager. But in fact, it is the only global giant I can think of that actively wages war against spam and other forms of online fraud. And yes, I say this in face of the NSA scandal (which I do not defend, but that is a separate issue).
Unscrupulous marketing and technical SEO professionals make the jobs of honest marketers harder every day. The “black hats” have only upped the ante, ensuring Google will continue to make radical changes to its system in an effort to get the dickey birds off the backs of searchers who want useful information. It has nothing to do with company size. It has everything to do with the consumer and user experience and the trust signals that you and I take into account.
Why Google makes updates
First and foremost, they want to make using the Internet a great experience. To do this, Google must abolish the root of mistrust – spammers and SEO cheats. Of course their mission is to create a search engine that delivers what individuals want. This may sound obvious, but that doesn’t dismiss the root issue: marketers, and therefore the businesses they represent, have been gaming the system. Google is not a person. It’s a set of complex algorithms. And any system can be cheated if you work hard enough and know where to look. Google the company has hired insanely smart people that pour over untrustworthy results every day. As they close these holes, the system becomes cleaner. And sometimes, this means the changes need to be more profound.
So what signals represent trust and usefulness?
Small ones, and lots of them. It isn’t about the machines, it’s about people. We simply trust a recommendation from people we know 92% of the time (source: Nielsen). Next down the ladder, 70% of us trust consumer opinions posted online. Editorial content and branded websites run about 58%. After that, honestly, it’s all downhill. From emails we sign up for, down to traditional advertising on TV, and out in the wild, it’s not a sliding scale, it’s a swan dive ranging from the low 50s to high 30s. The lowest of the low are: display ads, text ads, and online ads. They all rank in the low 30 percentile. I say all of this to say, again, people trust people.
We love underdogs
About 250 years ago, we had a problem with a large, unseen entity telling us what to do. And we put the kibosh on that bullshit toot-sweet. The little guy, not to put too fine a point on it, has a better crack at not being “too big” in US markets.
We are fiercely independent, even in our sameness. Our individualism is striking compared to other countries. In this light, it makes sense that we have 15 million small businesses. There is a lot of power in the idea of an independent owner. It’s a potent and sacred concept deep in the American psyche.
Small business also has a better crack at keeping their humanity and sharing it with their customers. There’s less to hide behind, and transparency can make or break any brand. In a disconnected world, we all feel better knowing we can be connected to what we like. And as I said, 97% of Americans are looking for local businesses.
Folks vs Corporations
I remember the helpful people at a small hardware shop in my sleepy home town. Rarely were these folks stumped. Their brains were picked constantly by a steady stream of customers. Most purchased from them, but some did not. Regardless of a transaction, the owners were always helpful, freely giving advice to anyone who walked in the door and asked a question. They also supported the community by sponsoring local high school events. When they were acknowledged over the loudspeaker, many in the crowd stood up, turned to look at the owners while they clapped and cheered. That’s love.
And it’s why all these years later, despite the large-brand, deep-discount competitors that came to town, the small little mom and pop shop still thrives today. Decades of free advice, fair prices and quality goods built an affinity. Reaching out to the community and supporting what mattered counted for something.
The community wants to support what it trusts. The community wants to patronize where individuals are cared for, and perhaps even loved. This is the ace up the sleeve of every reputable independent business owner. Outreach and being helpful online just makes this more visible to the entire 97% of searchers. It’s like creating a beautiful picture window into your little shop, and the community you help build every day. The world can glimpse, support and transact. Who wants to be part of a great group of folks? Ninety-freaking-seven percent. And that’s why the big shift in Google’s latest algorithm really doesn’t matter. The tools for real trust signals are getting stronger every day.
Now is the time
It is the best time to engage with online tools available to you – most are free – and can create transparency and care with your customers online (and off, for that matter). Be helpful – write a short article you know customers and non-customers will find useful. Engage online and thank publicly your fans and reviewers for their mentions and kind words. Don’t be shy about asking your long time customers for reviews. These are small, easy steps that will signal a trust level that Google will associate with your business. There are no cheats or shortcuts, only one step at a time, and one customer at a time.