This is a scary time for small businesses and nonprofits. It's a scary time for all businesses and nonprofits. Some are more impacted than others (arts and culture and events-based organizations, I'm looking at you), but we're all facing something we've never seen before.
I started doing SEO at the end of 2009, during the financial crisis that seems so quaint in today’s social isolation, econopocalypse world. What was surprising to me was that there was such an enormous need for SEO in a time like that.
For those of you who may be new to SEO, it stands for Search Engine Optimization, the art / science / hackery of making sure your website shows up when someone searches for your brand, services, or products. It’s a complicated dance people like me do with Google (and, to a lesser extent Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo).
During the financial crisis, businesses and nonprofits were scrappy, scrambling to carve out a place online that, to some of them, was a relatively new frontier after operating solid offline businesses and organizations for their entire history. Back then, there were some reliable tricks that people used to rank well, but over time Google (I typically use Google as a stand-in for all search engines, for better or for worse) started catching on to these tricks and made it harder and harder to rank well in search. This became especially true for small businesses and small nonprofits.
We now compete more with Amazon, Walmart, and other gigantic e-commerce retailers and large service-based organizations, not to mention Google’s own tools. While Google used to send 100% of search traffic to websites other than Google (Google was just a directory, more or less, not an actual website unto itself), today less than 50% of Google traffic actually leaves Google. Google has answer boxes and featured snippets that scrape content from websites so you never have to click to find an answer. If small businesses want to do well, reliably, on Google search now, you have to pay Google in the form of search ads. This was probably Google’s plan all along.
With that said, there are still things that you can do to help your website.
You might not ever be number one for some of your products, especially if it’s something that a huge corporation sells (see Amazon for almost all goods), but you can rank for other things that will lead people to your website in order to build trust, brand familiarity, and potentially help you meet your organization’s goals.
Many of these tasks take time to pay off. That’s the secret of SEO; it’s rarely instantaneous and the results of the work you do now may not even show up for three months or more. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, especially if you or your employees and volunteers have more time on your hands right now. SEO is cumulative. It’s something you should always be doing and it’s something that continues to pay off the longer you do it.