How Google’s Changes Affect Small Businesses, and What They Can Do About It

I’ve spent the past 3 ½ years as the marketing partner for my law firm, and in that time I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to about web marketing and, in particular, how to show up high on the Google search results. 

Simply put, Google has changed commerce in the world.  Gone are geographic boundaries that traditionally defined one’s target market.  In addition, a small business with a sound web marketing strategy can compete on a level with larger competitors.

Recently, however, Google has made some changes to its search algorithm that have adversely affected many small businesses.  Ben Golnik of Golnik Strategies brought this issue to my attention and, since Ben can make the case better than I, I’ve asked him to do a guest post on this subject – and, more importantly, what small business owners can do to make themselves heard before policymakers in this country.  As luck would have it, Minnesota’s two United States Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, sit on a subcommittee looking into these issues, so Minnesota small business owners have no excuse for not speaking up.

Enough from me.  Here’s Ben:

Over the last two decades, the internet has fundamentally changed the way that small businesses operate. Whereas once your physical address and storefront were critical to receiving the foot traffic and visibility necessary to generate customers, today your website has become the new storefront. Potential customers are more and more likely to find your business via an internet search than by walking by your physical location, and that has important ramifications. Small business owners need to be cognizant of their internet presence, whether that means keeping your website up to date or keeping track of what customers are saying about your business on customer review websites. But while many small business owners are aware of the need to maintain an internet presence, fewer are aware of how potential customers find their businesses on the web. It used to be that one could just find a busy intersection to ensure that potential customers would see your shop. Today, however, potential customers often start their search with an internet search engine – and more often than not, that means Google, which controls 72% of all online searches.

Because of Google’s share of the internet search market, it is very important to be aware of the power that Google search results have over your ability to attract potential customers to your website. For example, if a potential customer runs a Google search for a particular product, the top three results receive 88% of the clicks for that search, whereas the 15th-ranked result receives a mere 0.48% of clicks – akin to the difference between a storefront on the corner of the busiest intersection in town and being relegated to the outskirts. If the website is the new storefront, then your position in Google’s search results is the new physical address.

So what does that mean to you, and what can you do about it? As business owners, we’d never leave something so important as physical location to chance, but too many of us are unaware of how we can affect where we end up in Google search results. Many businesses use “Search Engine Optimization” to try to move their websites farther up Google search rankings. But that is not a sure-fire solution because Google often tweaks the way in which it ranks sites which can change where your website ranks – sometimes to your benefit and sometimes to your detriment, but either way, these changes take place without warning, explanation, or ability to appeal. Given the power that Google has over potential customers’ ability to find your business, this phenomenon raises important questions about what can or should be done about it.

This summer, the U.S. Senate’s subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights (which both Senators Franken and Klobuchar are members of) will be holding a hearing on these issues. If you think that these questions are worth asking, contact Senators Klobuchar and Franken (here and here and encourage them to ask about it at the upcoming hearing.