Why is it So Hard to Rank Organically?
If you are a small business owner with an online presence for at least 5 years, you have seen the first page of Google searches change dramatically. The amount of space for SEO or organic search results is rapidly shrinking. What is causing this shift and how can small businesses generate leads on small budgets?
When we opened our doors in 2010, it seemed as though there was plenty of room for anyone who wanted to establish a presence online. 99 Calls began as a team of 4 professionals. We built websites for service area businesses, and within days, our clients would start to receive leads. We earned our first 50 customers by offering a free 30-day trial. Once contractors saw the number of leads they were receiving from their organic presence, most were more than happy to sign on for ongoing services.
It didn’t take much to get pages ranking back then. The main components were well-written content, stating the contractors’ service offerings and the areas served and building listings for online directories such as Google, Bing, Manta and Yelp. Almost all sites ranked highly within a month or two and often much more quickly.
The First Page Begins to Shrink
Although Google claims that they never accept payment from customers to rank well organically, they have shrunk the available playing field, especially for small businesses. The natural, or organic section became less achievable for owner-operated businesses as they made way for large national chains and huge marketing firms.
Beginning in 2013, we began to see major national businesses claiming the first positions on searches. Companies like Yelp, Yellowpages.com, Home Advisor and Service Pro mysteriously showed up at the top of local organic searches all over the country, knocking small owner-operated local businesses down on the list. This marked the beginning of a trend where smaller businesses were struggling to achieve prominent placement on Google search.
Google Ads – A Game Changer
Although Google introduced Adwords in October of 2000, there were very few early adopters. Adwords was their self-serve paid advertising platform, and their first solid step toward monetizing the first page of search. Between its inception and the end of 2012, the playing field on the first page of searche made a significant change.
The playing field was reduced by 30%. Instead of showcasing 10 companies in the organic section, the number shrunk to 7 to make room for 3 prominently placed paid Google Adwords results at the top of each page. An article from wordstream.com explains the changes seen during that time.
Free Organic Placement is Threatened Again by the Emergence of LSA
In 2015, Google introduced its newest venture; Google Guaranteed, also called Google Local Service Ads (LSAs). LSAs were first tested in small markets for a select group of industries. By the end of 2019, many cities across the United States had access to paid Google Guaranteed campaigns in industries such as carpet cleaning, house cleaning, and handyman services.
The image below shows that Google Guaranteed/LSA paid ads are shown at the very top of local searches:
Google’s verification process is more stringent for those who run LSA campaigns than for those running Google Ads. It requires providing documents such as drivers licenses, business licenses (where applicable) and proof of insurance insurance. Background checks are also often run on the company owners and their employees.
Those companies that are able to successfully complete the verification process often reap great rewards. LSA is a pay-per-lead service, as opposed to the pay-per-click platform of Ads. LSA has a bit of a ranking process that makes it more similar to organic than paid Ads as well.
Those companies that are well-established and have lots of 5-star reviews on their Google Business Profiles and/or their LSA Profiles benefit from being shown much more often than other companies. Although LSA has its benefits, it has also contributed to the shrinking space available for organic results.
The image below shows how one business trended downward in placement on the first page of a Google search through the years.
As The Giant Grows, What Happens to the Little Guys?
In 2020, more than 80% of Google’s worldwide revenue came from their Google Ads platform, and that number is still climbing, according to an article posted by CNBC.
The page layout is as follows. When you search for a service in your area, you’ll see three or more Google LSA advertisements, followed by three or more google Ads advertisements, followed by Google Maps with three entries (which they are also beginning to monetize), and finally, a small organic section with three or more results. This is followed by more paid ads.
Where there were 10 opportunities for a small business to be shown on the first page of a local search, there are now just three, and often the first one or two is a large national company.
Although there are usually only up to three organic results showing on the first page of a search, there are also three Google Maps listings, and for now, these are still free. In order to claim a prominent spot with Google Maps, your Google Business Profile must be complete, follow Google’s best practices and have lots of 5-star reviews.
That and a little luck might make your business visible here (outlined in red):
Google has made it all but impossible to be found without investing in one of its paid services. That said, small businesses will no longer be able to build a site or pay for SEO services and expect to receive a sustainable number of inbound leads. You’ve got to pay to play. That isn’t in question.
The key now is to find a way to play with ROI in mind. Online marketing, when done right, isn’t an expense. It’s an investment in your business. Every dollar you invest will ideally result in at least $5 in return. The good news is that there is plenty of return to be had when you use Google’s services. However, if you are unfamiliar with bidding strategies and optimizing campaigns, you’ll want to invest in a business that can deliver profitable results.
What to Look for In a Digital Marketing Company
Given that organic lead generation takes much, much longer to produce and delivers fewer results, and Facebook ADs are a good option for some businesses but not as effective for service contractors, the two best bets for lead generation are the paid lead platforms on search; Google Ads and Google LSA.
If the name of the game is getting found online and getting leads coming in at a cost that will generate revenue for your business, you’ll want to do your research.
Questions to ask potential lead companies so that you can do your due diligence include:
- What are your monthly service fees?
- Do you charge a monthly fee plus each Google Ads or LSA lead I receive or are they included?
- If the company is charging a flat fee for leads plus a management fee, ask, “What is your markup?”.
- What is your conversion rate for my service offerings/industry?
- How many other companies do you work with like mine?
- What kind of reporting do you provide so that I can measure my ROI?
Once you get your answers and compare them, a clear winner will hopefully emerge. Remember, sales reps get a commission when they sell you. If you feel you’ve made a good connection, that’s great, but the sales rep probably isn’t going to be the person who sets up your account or continues to support your business in the future. Try to stick to the facts.
For questions or more information on how to win with Google’s LSA or PPC campaigns, call 800-717-4669 or schedule a free consultation.