The last couple of years have seen quite a substantial change in how we approach SEO. Google’s war on spam has seen the goalposts move a number of times with a multitude of SERP-shaking algorithm changes. SEO is undoubtedly getting harder, but what impact will this have on small businesses?

How the landscape has changed

I’m not saying anything new or ground breaking here, but the roll out of Penguin and Panda has meant that tactics that worked 2 years ago will not only be unsuccessful now, but also could even harm your site and land you with a penalty.

Google's Panda Algorithm: shaking up the SERPs since 2011

We all knew that a content-based strategy was what we should have been doing, but in reality how practical was this? SEO agencies were going for sure-fire strategies that would deliver results within the constraints of the budget.

The problem that poses

Content-orientated strategies are great but they inevitably take up more time and budget. This makes getting results on smaller budgets much harder and less achievable in shorter time frames.  Any self-respecting agency will hold their reputation in high regard and see these small projects as very high risk.

What this means for small businesses

The reality is that digital agencies are not going to be able to deliver results on a £300 per month budget over a six month period. They will see the project as too much of risk. £1,800 is not worth the damage to their reputation that an unhappy customer could do when they have seen very little impact because the budget was so restrictive.

Not sure if agency sucks or my budget

My fear is that this will force agencies to increase the minimum spend they are prepared to work for on a project, and minimum contract terms will be set for longer durations that protect agency reputations. This could make SEO something that smaller businesses can no longer afford.

What are the alternatives?

There are many pieces on how to do SEO on a shoe string budget, but how many SEO agencies are going to want to take on those clients?

I think a number of smaller businesses will be blinkered by the false promises of less than ethical agencies. They will go for cheaper options, that will produce more of the horror stories we hear day in day out.

Some will turn to PPC. This in turn could drive up click costs (CPC’s) as inexperienced business owners are let loose on an auction for mission critical traffic.

Working together

My thoughts are that agencies can still work with clients on smaller budgets, they just need to re-assess how they spend that budget.

If they were to use that money to educate, train and guide clients, they could subsequently get clients much more involved and doing a lot of the legwork.  Agencies would play more of consultative role acting as strategists, giving the client a list of tasks to perform each month.

It does mean that small business are going to have to have a much more hands on approach but at least it means that they are still able to compete in organic search.  It is obviously not a given that this is how it is all going to pan out, so I would love to get your thoughts on how you see the face of SEO changing for small businesses.