SEO

Do a few companies have a monopoly on the search results?

Online search has become an integral part of our lives. When someone pulls out their phone to do an online search, you want your website to show up first. Because your place in the results can literally mean the difference between hundreds or thousands of dollars. But do you have any chance of showing up as a smaller business? Is it even worth the effort with those big names out there?

If you use online search to get more information on a well-known topic, you will probably have Wikipedia showing up as one of the top results. When you search for ‘new shoes’, chances are you’ll get Nike and other popular brands as your first few results. And looking up a movie or TV series online often gives you IMDB as one of the first results. All these online searches give the impression that your brand has to be well-established to be shown in the search results. So, is that true? Should smaller businesses not even bother? Let’s dive into this question and figure out if SEO is just for the big dogs or not.

To fully understand the situation, we need to give you some context on Google. With a market share of over 90%, Google is by far the most used search engine out there. But Google has its fingers in many other pies as well (think of Ads or the popular mobile operating system Android). In recent years, it has grown into an enormous online force to be reckoned with. Naturally, this has led to concerns about their monopoly on the online landscape.

graph showing most used search engines June 2023
Graph showing Google’s dominance in online search, found on Similarweb

In fact, there’s an ongoing trial between the US Justice Department and Google on this exact topic. In this so-called antitrust trial, Google is accused of taking several underhand actions to secure its position as the most popular search engine. Where Google says to have achieved its success by simply being the best search engine out there, the US Justice Department claims that Google has made multiple deals that gave it an unfair advantage over other competitors. To give an example, Google is accused of paying massive sums to companies like Apple to make it the default search engine on their products.

Why is this relevant for you?

The dominance that Google has in the world of online search and advertising has an impact on what we do. Their monopoly on online search means that one party determines who gets shown in the search results. Who gets the most click-throughs. Who gets the most business through online search. Easily said, Google sets the rules and we all have to play by them.

What does Google want?

So, let’s have a look at this set of rules that Google uses. It’s good to know that most of these apply to other search engines as well. Because the ‘rules’ that Google sets are focused on giving their users the best search experience. They want to make sure that the results they show are what their users are looking for: helpful, reliable and relevant. Simply put, to get the top result in Google you need to be the best result.

What does it mean to be the best result?

There is much to say about Google and its ranking factors. But for the sake of time, let’s look at the main themes to get an idea of what they mean by ‘the best result’. An important factor is search intent, meaning what purpose people have in mind when searching online. Are they just looking for some information on a certain topic or actually looking to buy something right now? This may sound irrelevant, but Google will show different results when someone wants to buy shower steamers or is wondering what they exactly are.

screenshots of online search queries for shower steamers
Screenshots of online searches for shower steamers with a different search intent

Other important things that Google looks at are the relevance of content, the quality of that content, the usability of the page and context. Google explains a bit more about them on this page on how their search results are generated.

But the algorithm can be fickle

Google wants to show quality results, and its ranking factors reflect that. That being said, Google’s algorithm (which determines which results get shown for each search query) is under continuous construction. It’s being improved and tweaked on a daily basis to serve Google’s users an even better search experience. Meaning that the same search query could show different results today than it did yesterday.

This can lead to sudden drops in organic traffic, or for that matter, a sudden rise in organic traffic. A change that has a significantly bigger impact when you’re a small business. Even more so, because smaller companies often have fewer resources devoted to SEO and figuring out how to react to these changes.

That also brings us to the question: is SEO only worth it if you’re a big name?

Is bigger always better?

Is it easier to be the best result when your brand is already established and well-known? Well, yes. One of the things Google looks at when deciding whether you’re a good result is your authoritativeness. It’s actually the third letter in the E-E-A-T acronym, which is an important part of their Quality Raters guidelines. Naturally, well-known brands will have less trouble scoring high on authoritativeness. The same goes for the T in the E-E-A-T acronym, which stands for trustworthiness. Most big brands will probably have a bit of history, lots of customers or fans, and other factors that will increase their trustworthiness. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are now.

Something else to consider is that well-known brands often have a marketing team, or even an SEO team, that’s focused on getting quality content out there. So they will already have loads of content that Google has indexed at one point. Google will know these companies and what it can expect from them, which makes the decision to show them in the search results easier.

In addition, when it comes to Google Ads, smaller businesses will struggle to compete with the bigger companies who have deeper pockets to get that first paid position in the search results.

How to make the algorithm work for you

If you’re the owner of a smaller company, and you’re debating whether to start or continue with SEO, this may be a bit demotivating. But don’t click away just yet! It’s not all bad news. There is a way to get your site high up in the search results, it just requires a focused approach. Remember that SEO is still one of the best ways to get noticed online!

Cover your basics

There are a few basics that you can’t ignore if you want your site to show up in the search results. Google won’t take you seriously if your website is really slow or if it’s not suitable for mobile users. It also won’t be your biggest fan if your content isn’t good enough, so you won’t get away with ChatGPT creating all your website content. You can make generative AI part of your content creation process, but be mindful about it.

Be authentic and keep your target audience in mind when creating your website and content. We cover the most important steps in our guide to WordPress SEO.

4 tips on how to get Google’s attention

Consider the basics to be the requirements to get into the club. Now let’s see how we can get Google’s attention to let us into that much sought-after VIP section, the first few search results. There are a few things you can focus on, so let’s start with local SEO.

1. Become a local celebrity!

Local SEO is the practice of optimizing your pages for a specific area, making sure that your website is found by people near you. The benefit of focusing on local SEO is that Google will more likely show your website when someone does a locally focused search near you, as there will be less competition when the search query asks for a local solution.

To give an example, if someone types in ‘buy books London’, Google will show bookstores in London instead of the Amazon website that might show up when someone types in ‘buy books’. Read all the ins and outs in our guide on local SEO. Of course, it depends on your kind of business whether you specifically want to focus on local SEO, but it can be a great start to grow your organic traffic.

2. Be more specific and unique

Another way to get Google’s attention is to write content for your long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are more specific (and longer) than more commonly used keywords. Although these keywords tend to get less traffic, they usually have a higher conversion value as it’s more likely that your content is exactly what the user is looking for. By focusing on long tail keywords, it becomes easier to be one of the top search results for keyphrases that are relevant to your business. Also, make sure to create unique content that’s interesting for your audience, this will help you stand out and become that first result.

3. Structure that data

The third thing to focus on is implementing structured data. This can really give you an edge over your competitors, so bear with me. Structured data is a way of describing your site to make it easier for search engines to understand. Google will be able to grasp all that information instantly and use it to show your content in a rich, more visual way. There are several ways to implement structured data on your website and you can read all about them in our guide on structured data.

A rich result showing ratings, price and other information like delivery time and stock

If you’re not sure what structured data is or how to add it to your pages, we can help you out. Our plugin, Yoast SEO, actually automatically adds structured data to your site. This all happens behind the scenes, but the plugin also gives you options to finetune the settings depending on your type of content.

4. Focus on your brand presence

Lastly, it’s good to know that being present on other platforms also impacts your SEO. Having a social presence, being mentioned on other websites (in a genuine way), showing your expertise by being a guest at someone’s podcast, being there at relevant events, etc. All of it helps you build a strong brand, which will also reflect in the number of people visiting your website.

So show up in relevant places, connect with your audience, become the authority in your field and see your brand grow into one of those top dogs that dominate the search results. It takes time and effort, but it helps you build a sustainable business with customers who will come back to you time and time again.

Conclusion

Yes, it helps to be well-known when it comes to SEO. But that definitely does not mean that SEO is just for those big companies out there. By knowing your strengths (and weaknesses) as a smaller company, you can make the system work for you. Implement structured data, focus on the right keyphrases and build your brand outside of your website. Slow but steady wins the race.

And don’t forget that your size also gives you the opportunity to experiment more. Bigger companies have more ‘to lose’ by changing up their strategy, but when you’re still trying to get your name up there you have more room to get creative. To become that result that wows your audience and Google. The constant changes in Google’s algorithm also allow you to move fast and jump on new developments. Something that’s often not that easy for the big companies out there.

Read more: Holistic SEO: Improve every aspect of your website »

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