Why These SMBs Say No To SEO - InformationWeek
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Why These SMBs Say No To SEO

Is search engine optimization a holy grail or fool's gold? These small businesses say it's the latter, and explain why they no longer bother with it.

Perhaps more importantly, the volume and relative secrecy of those changes make it difficult for the typical small business to keep up. (SEOmoz publishes a running timeline of Google's algorithm changes for those keeping score at home.) Some small companies that once invested heavily in their search rankings are now simply walking away and redirecting their marketing efforts toward social media, partnerships, and--wait for it--actually speaking to other people.

"We've given up on Google," said Eric Shannon, co-owner of Oh My Dog Supplies, in a phone interview. Shannon said he and his partner "knew nothing" about SEO when they started Oh My Dog in 2006. But SEO's appeal was clear--and common among small online retailers: It was cheap, compared to other channels such as pay-per-click advertising.

"It is very difficult for us to make money on AdWords or any other paid media," Shannon said. A keyword buy on AdWords has typically cost Oh My Dog anywhere between 30% and 50% of the total sale, according to Shannon. The problem: Their break-even point is around 32% of the sale price.

SEO paid off for Oh My Dog. The online store did $2 million in sales in 2010, 70% of which Shannon attributed to organic search results on Google. But revenue plummeted to $1.1 million in 2011 following Google's Panda update, which knocked Oh My Dog out of the top spot for keywords like "dog bowls," "dog beds," "dog clothes," and "dog collars." According to Shannon, large retail chains like Petsmart, Petco, and Overstock.com took their place. Oh My Dog's problems earned it marquee billing in a May Wall Street Journal story on the adverse affects the Penguin update had on some small businesses.

Things haven't improved since. "We'll be lucky to do $500,000 this year," Shannon told InformationWeek.com. Oh My Dog has been sent to Google's equivalent of ice hockey's penalty box. Today, almost none of the site's visitors are referred there by Google--unheard of for most online businesses.

"We don't even rank for our own name anymore," Shannon said. Indeed, a recent search for "Oh My Dog Supplies" produced only a paid ad for the company's homepage. The natural results included the retailer's pages on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube (apparently, Google exile has its limits), the Better Business Bureau, and Retailmenot, in that order--but no homepage. The next-to-last link on page one? A page on the portfolio site for John Garland that says he worked with Oh My Dog from 2009-2012. "Using skills and tactics I’ve learned over the years from working with Eric and following SEO trends, I’ve helped keep OMDS at the top of the SERPs for some very competitive keywords," the page reads.

Shannon confirmed that Garland was on the Oh My Dog payroll through the end of last year. "It is definitely possible that the work he did resulted in the penalty, but it wouldn't have been his fault," Shannon said. "Most of the link building strategy was designed by me personally." Much of that strategy was built around syndicating content--with links back to Oh My Dog--to sites like Hubpages, Squidoo, and Ezinearticles. A key part of Google's recent updates has been to reduce the value of "low-quality sites" in its search results.

"I still don't think we did anything too crazy," Shannon said. "We weren't doing anything black hat, like renting text links or spamming blog comments."

According to Shannon, Google has rejected two requests for reconsideration. He characterized the company's response as a form letter that said only that Oh My Dog is in violation of the search engine's rules, but did not specify which rules Oh My Dog was violating. Shannon assumes it's either content on the Oh My Dog website or the links to it from elsewhere on the Internet. But he's no longer trying to figure it out--he's simply packing up and moving on.

The online store will soon abandon its prior address and re-launch with a slightly different domain name: OhMyDogSupply.com. It has no plans to do any intentional SEO, but instead will focus its marketing efforts on social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

"It's going to be a much more social approach than we've ever done before," Shannon said. He also knows that approach will require much more patience. The person who searches "dog bowl" on Google probably wants to buy a dog bowl. The person who clicks on a dog photo on Facebook might just think it's cute. "It's a much longer-term strategy," he said. "We're just trying to scrape by until we get something working."

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
7/13/2012 | 7:50:58 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
I donG«÷t know why companies would think that SEO is worthless. I am pretty sure that most people who Google search usually select 1 of the top choices on the first page that is displayed. I do not understand that if your company appears in those top results you will be the most likely choice for them to pick. To me that sounds like a very good investment towards building a small business into a large business. You cannot put a price on business growth. It makes sense if people think that they are worthless, because the company they chose to promote their company did not hold up their end of the deal by optimizing the companies Google search results.
I personally use an OSE service provided to me free of charge because of the university I attend. I find it very useful and beneficial to me when seeking employment.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2012 | 8:39:57 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
Articles like this one are way more worth than a link on Google. I got to know way more about the companies reading this article.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 2:32:47 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
What an ignorant article. What's more scary is that such a well-respected online medium would publish such nonsense.

First and foremost this is a very poorly researched. Kevin, you make this bold premise, "Why These SMBs Say No To SEO" and then you allow support for this claim to be, "It it pointless" from a husband and wife team? You know what this article proves? How ignorant and short-sighted most small- to medium-sized business owners really are.

Working with several small- to medium-sized businesses over the years, let me point out the 5 biggest mistakes they make when it comes to purchasing or doing SEO.

One, If you deliver a terrible service or created a useless product - DO NOT DO SEO. For that matter, do not waste a single dime on any form of advertising. Go back to the drawing board and create something of value to your customers.

Two, SEO is no different than advertising. Our job is to get people in the door and it's your job to keep them there. Yes, it's annoying that so many "web geeks" got involved with SEO. and that they have failed to realize it is another form of advertising. However, this doesn't excuse the fact you didn't do your homework before opening your wallet.

Third, SEO is only half the battle. What good is getting on the first and second page of Google if no one stays on your site? Your website is just as important as SEO. However, if you hire some designer, who rather create "Picaso" then actually get you sales, what good are they? You better make sure you hire an SEO company, or you'll end up with one expensive "award-winning" website that made you zero dollars.

Fourth, Mike Ragsdale, continue writing "authentic content". But make sure you stay within the theme or niche of whatever you are trying to target. It sounds easy, but it's not as simple as writing about your local Florida event and activities.

Also, I reviewed your site and you're making the biggest mistake of all. You have two sites running simultaneously and therefore, our competing against one another for your content and links. What your "web SEO snake oil salesman geeks" failed to mention is that "www.30a.com" is NOT the same as "30a.com".

Type both of those URLs in your address bar and you'll notice that your site appears. What that means is that half your traffic is going to "WWW.30a.com" and your other half is going to "30a.com". So all your "authentic content" you are writing is being seen as duplicate. All of the links you acquire from Social Media are being split. So of course the SEO company couldn't get you ranking cause Google has no idea which of those URLs you want. Therefore, Google gives authority and credit to both of them, thus diluting your ranking power - I won't even charge you for that "virtual voodoo".

Fifth, out of all the people you questioned Kevin, how many of them would go to a doctor who works in some back alley? The problem here isn't that SEO is no good, it's that there's a huge gaping hole of what exactly SEO is. Because of this, small- to medium-sized business owners do not know what they are paying for. As a result, they nickle and dime the good SEOs and end up with the back alley ones.

It's the old adage, "You get what you pay for this in this world". You want to get a "deal" to do SEO fine. Just realize your "deal" is now going to affect the scope of work being done and the quality delivered.

I find it funny that a few small- to medium-sized business owners want Rolls Royce SEO services for Honda money.

What most don't understand about SEO is that it's a way of organizing your site not only for the search engine spiders but for the user as well. This is actually biological - a person wants to exert the least amount of effort to gain the biggest reward - hence the food chain. It is no different for your site.

You have 8 seconds to capture their attention. Beyond that, you have 8 seconds to capture them with the RIGHT message. So you better make sure your site is structured so that your user can get in and get out as quickly as possible. Not many designers are going to mention that to you in their pitch. Moreover, you better structure your site simply for the search engine spiders or they won't reward you with good rankings.

So next time, you want to write something with such a narrow perspective, at least present a legitimate argument with specific examples that span,

"I wasted way too much time and money dealing with online snake oil salesmen who claimed to 'have a friend who wrote code at Google' or people who promised top-level rankings for certain keywords within six months,"

These "snake oil salesman" are in every business including yours. So please do not give SEOs the "Scarlet Letter" when every other vocation has these same "snakes."
Eric Shannon
Eric Shannon,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 7:15:49 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
Hi Paul, I'm the Eric mentioned on page 2. The article isn't saying that strong Google rankings are worthless. Not at all.. traffic from targeted Google searches is just about the best possible, highest converting traffic you can get.

I'm saying that the amount of uncertainty about how to actually get those rankings now makes the time, effort, and expense to chase those rankings much too expensive and risky. Especially for small businesses that need to see an immediate return on advertising spend.
Jose Capelo
Jose Capelo,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/5/2013 | 5:56:11 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
SEO is important, but it has to be seen as a long-term strategy. Small businesses fail to consider this and they expect results in 24 hours. I feel that SEO is fundamental for small business and if done right it can help them enourmously.
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