Small Business SEO Trends to Keep an Eye On

SEOAs we approach the end of the year it’s obviously a nice time to take stock and make sure all your logistical ducks are in a row, and that’s true of SEO and online marketing as well.

Lots of smart folks have already made some really interesting predictions and talked about key factors to consider in 2013.

I won’t focus on any specific crystal ball work, but I do want to call out five important trends that small businesses will want to keep an eye on in 2013.

1. Link Diversification is Increasingly Important

It’s obviously part of the focus in this post, and indeed it’s a really important SEO issue that’s become incredibly important in 2012 with Google’s Penguin updates, and will likely continue to be important.

From a small businesses perspective the important thing to keep in mind here is that a lot of SEO short cuts (such as spending a couple hundred dollars a month with an overseas SEO firm, or a firm that primarily leverages overseas labor) to get a lot of low-quality links with very aggressive and specific anchor text (meaning if you run Paul’s Plumbing and your company is located in Newton, Massachusetts, you would use “Newton MA plumbing company” to link to your site).

What Does this Mean for Small Businesses?

The important thing to note here is that it’s not “always wrong” to get a link with targeted anchor text, and getting a stray link from a site that’s low quality won’t sink your site, but the links to your site need to be a mix of different qualities, with different linking texts, that don’t look the same as a spammy link profile. Some of the other trends will talk a bit more about how best to get there.

2. Content Thickness & Quality is Increasingly Important

Since a lot of those lower cost, more aggressive tactics no longer work, that means that the tactics that do work are and will likely to continue to be things that require more (or “thicker”) unique content and content of a higher quality. The good news here is that in a lot of ways high quality content works and will continue to work even better, because the lower quality tactics are no longer competing with it in the search results (because that content doesn’t rank).

What Does this Mean for Small Businesses?

The biggest factor here for small businesses is that the outsourced, hands-off link building service will no longer be a viable option for getting quality search traffic. Small businesses will need to start to focus on creating solid content (or having some solid content created for them). In some cases, unfortunately, it’ll become more expensive to maintain the same rankings. The benefits are that this type of content (unlike getting 500 links from forum profiles) can drive referred traffic and have other benefits for your business outside of SEO.

3. Google Authorship May Become Increasingly Important

As Google rapidly updates their algorithm and looks for additional ways to sort signal from noise in search results, one thing to keep an eye on is Google Authorship. For those unfamiliar, this is effectively a means for an author to identify a page or post as his or her work to Google, and those posts are then highlighted in search results with information about the author.

What Does this Mean for Small Businesses?

This is a fairly simple, low-cost opportunity to implement authorship to get some additional “real estate” in search results for your content, and also to build the authority of your Google profile in the event that authorship becomes a more important ranking factor. There is a great list of resources here that should get you or your developer started on implementing and understanding authorship.

4. The “Shrinking Organic Search Result”

There has been a lot of talk about Google’s shrinking SERP and the fact that results from a single domain taking up entire search results are getting more prevalent. This can mean that specific domains may get more of the search engine real estate, and/or it can mean that the search results are simply showing more ads and more Google properties.

What Does this Mean for Small Businesses?

Unfortunately this really means that small businesses need to pay closer attention to alternative means of getting attention and traffic outside of SEO – if Google is “shrinking” the organic SERP by including more ads, it’ll likely become important for your business to understand how to get included in those ad blocks and how to optimize for them, whether they be traditional AdWords, Google Shopping, or otherwise.

5. Increasing Importance of Mobile & Video in SEO

None of this is news, but more and more people are using smartphones and tablets and the technology around consuming video on the Web is consistently making improvements. None of this is likely to be interrupted into 2013, so it’s important to understand how you can be well positioned to show up in various types of mobile and video search results in 2013.

What Does this Mean for Small Businesses?

The first step here is awareness – it’s important to think about how your customers and prospective customers behave when they’re looking for you. Not every small business needs to focus deeply on mobile and video, and of course you have limited resources, so ask yourself questions like:

  • Do my customers / prospects look for services like mine on smartphones and tablets?
  • What sorts of services are they likely to search for my business and businesses like mine on (Yelp, FourSquare, Google? Many of these types of sites and apps outside of Google can become a “search engine” as soon as someone starts querying them for information)?
  • If I create a video is that likely to reach my customers and prospective customers?
  • How much effort will it take to better position myself for exposure through mobile or video search?
  • Is that effort going to be worth it based on how much of my customer and prospective customer base is I’m likely to reach?

The good news is that while there are a lot of mobile-specific search optimization tactics, much of the work you’d typically do around good old fashioned marketing will help you to rank well in mobile searches. Video for small businesses can be a bit trickier, and of course can have a lot more benefits than just SEO. This is a great guide to thinking through a video strategy – just from the length of the post you can see there are several moving pieces to consider.

In general, I think most of the trends we’ve seen in 2012 and are likely to continue to see into 2013 are centered around:

  • Short cuts & lower cost SEO not working
  • Higher quality content and additional work being required to be successful (in some case to maintain or regain the same rankings you’d previously gotten for cheap)
  • The higher barrier to entry being an opportunity for some to get very high return for the additional spend and effort required to create good content
  • Google continuing to move into certain verticals more and more aggressively, so that understanding additional traffic opportunities through paid channels (and channels completely unrelated to search) becomes increasingly important

So small businesses will want to think about how this should impact their overall content strategy, as well as what it means for SEO as part of an overall marketing mix.

SEO Photo via Shutterstock


Tom Demers Tom Demers is a co-founder and managing partner with Measured SEM and Cornerstone Content. Learn more about Tom by following him on Twitter @TomDemers or find him on Google Plus.

42 Reactions
  1. Regarding #4, Google is getting increasingly aggressive with the monetization of SERPs. Getting at least a small AdWords account and bidding on highly qualified phrases (geography + keyword) can be highly beneficial.

    • Thanks Robert – definitely agree that diversifying is becoming increasingly important with all of the recent updates to algorithms and SERP layout.


  2. It’s interesting to see how aggressive Google is getting. Which is all the more reason why my strategy for 2013 includes no SEO at all but more social media and relationship building. I think think this will benefit me much more.


    • Thanks Ti – I think a lot of the work you do on relationship building should benefit SEO anyway. Obviously as an SEO I still think there’s a lot of value in optimizing for search engines, but taking a more integrated approach is definitely getting more and more important.

  3. AdWords and PPC is definitely something everyone should be looking at leveraging instead of simply relying on organic search results these days. Also focusing on other online channels such as image, video and social for traffic generation is key.

  4. I will also comment on #4. The largest factor right now contributing to shrinking SERP’s is the emergence of local results. Just about all mobile devices and even some desktops now utilize local intent with searches. In some cases, this leaves fewer organic spots to compete on.

    With that in mind, small business owners need to get on board with local seo. This can lend a great deal of targeted traffic to your site.

    Another option is to focus your competitive keywords on niche terms that your competitors may have missed or not thought of. This may involve a great deal of time to try and find these terms but if you do, you can pick up traffic. You can also use this same strategy and compete on terms that have not yet been affected by shrinking SERPs (also involves a fair amount of research time). This can involve finding terms that are not yet affected by local results, rich snippets (especially if you do not have optimized images or videos) or do not show a great deal of advertisements.

    Good comment above by Ti. Relationship building will be big in 2013 especially now that SEO can be dealt with offline with citation. You don’t necessarily need links any more as Google is intuitive enough to pick up on non linked name drops and the associated content that are being named with.

    • Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the detailed comment – definitely agree that if you’re in a local query space (which mobile is expanding to several different niches, as you mention) local’s becoming more and more important. Good tip on taking the SERP layout into account as you determine which terms to target as well.

      I do think links are and will continue to be important for search rankings for at least the near future, but definitely agree that things like traditional marketing and PR as well as building a good site that folks engage with will likely become even more important in 2013.

  5. Google is indeed getting aggressive. Always implementing a lot of changes and some of the small scale online businesses is having a hard time keeping up. Thanks for this article.

  6. Nice article, Joel. I agree with almost everything that you have to say here. One other area that small businesses might want to consider is adding intelligent marketing automation to the mix. Increasing conversions and engagement is already a big story and it’s only going to get bigger in 2013.

    • Hi Ben,

      Absolutely getting more out of the traffic / leads you’re already driving is definitely a good opportunity for some of the folks who may find themselves flattening out or losing some SEO traffic in 2013.



  7. Every year, the predictions for SEO shift slightly, but I’m always happy to see that I can continue to do what I’m doing (producing quality content).

    I will check out the Google Authorship bit, though. Thanks!

    • Thanks Susan, and yeah in general if you can create great content and do a good job of promoting it, you’ll still be likely to get a lot of traction with SEO.

  8. Google is definitely getting more aggressive and implementing changes. But I believe that Add Words is something that business owners should consider implementing instead of just counting on organic results.

  9. Arlene Aranzamendez

    Very good SEO information! This is exactly what I’m looking for. Complete and detailed! Thanks Tom!

  10. The SEO trends to look out for in the coming year have been very nicely put by the writer. There is no doubt about the fact that SEO is the key to success for any website. Whether you just have an online business website or an online shopping site, using SEO properly for your benefit is a great way to increase your business in the days to come.

    Regarding the fifth point, I agree with the writer that more and more people are into smartphones. This is why the importance of mobiles and videos in SEO is increasing at a very fast pace.

  11. Don’t forget about Local!

    • Thanks Matt, as the other Matt pointed out above increased mobile adoption will definitely make local an important factor, thanks for the comment!


  12. Quality content is always good. But there is a problem though. Most of the time it is not enough just to create a good piece of content. If that piece of content does not rank on different search engines, people will simply have no way of learning about it. If you don’t share your content with your social circle, you won’t get any social engagement. Again, people will NOT be able to learn about your content. Building great content AND MAKING SURE THAT PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT IT is the way to go. A good piece of article won’t help to rank for a given search query unless your domain and page have high trust and authority.And this comes through links.

    • Hi Alex,

      Yep that’s definitely true – effective promotion is at least as important as creating great content most of the time. Thanks for the comment!


  13. SEO is a small business’s way to getting known and removing the word “small” out of their business. Small businesses must focus on quality links and quality work as SEO has shifted from just spreading the links to placing quality links on authority sites.

  14. I like many points that Tom makes, but think that mobile and local search didn’t get enough focus. With so many searches done on mobile devises and the SERP differences between mobile and desktop results some small businesses could make significant gains if they have responsive/mobile websites.

    Getting into a higher position in the SERP for mobile devices affects current and future revenue. Businesses that are below the top 3 SERP, but in the top 10, who offer a mobile site have a very good chance of taking over a top position or much higher position, which should increase their revenue. This is something to think about for any marketer and is a easy win.

    • Yeah a couple of other folks mentioned this as well – definitely a fair point, mobile and local are likely to continue to play a more and more prominent role in SEO in the coming year.

      Thanks for the feedback!


  15. Having a mobile website is also very important – a website should be developed specifically for smart phones. As I user, I really hate it when websites take a lot of time in loading. Developing a mobile website or not obviously depends on the target market as you said and the nature of the business. But as I see it, in a year or so, having a mobile website would not be an option, it will be a necessity.

  16. Very good SEO information! This is exactly what I’m looking for. Complete and detailed! I agree with almost everything that you have to say here. Thanks Tom!