Of the many divisions among those in the SEO world, one major segmentation I see everyday is enterprise-level vs small business. I’ll refer to the enterprise level as businesses which have been around before the web, and merely create a web presence to support their previously “analog” operations. Small businesses on the web are those that are brand spanking new, and rely on their sites as a primary avenue for customers. In some cases, the small business has also been around before the web, and just resides in somewhat specific niche or are restricted to a given locality. In most cases, a small business’ site is just as old as the business itself. For whatever reason, Google treats these two segments differently.
In order for a website to be successful, they are all bound by a common set of rules. Diverse anchor text for external links, logical URL structures, content with relevant keywords, etc. Within the advent of Panda and Penguin, there now exists a set of criteria which can actually count against you. For example site-wide links, spammy and exact match anchor text from low quality sites, and over-the-top keyword saturation in content and metadata.
Now, both sets of includes and excludes apply to both big brands and small/new sites, that is without a doubt. However, where these “classes” of sites differ is in the degree to which the criterion matter. A huge, multinational corporation (Let’s say Walmart for example, since I despise their business practices) might have inconsistent code, more URL parameters than you could shake a keyboard at, no sitemap.xml, no robots.txt, canonical problems, layers and layers of redirects, a host of other common SEO issues, and still rank number 1 for highly competitive terms. Meanwhile, a local company selling the same items as Walmart has a picture perfect (unsolicited) link profile, all the essential page and site elements, and not even make it to the 3rd page. What gives?
I realized the situation was very similar to the college application process. Almost 10 years ago to the date, my high school peers and I were fretting over report cards and making weekly appointments with guidance counselors to determine which schools were worth applying to. (As if Mr. Mackey had any sway whatsoever on our acceptance, or even had any idea what he was talking about, mmmkay?)
When it comes to the big brands getting onto the first page, or what I’ll call Google University, it’s just a matter of filling out the application. Like the students who were lucky enough to be born to doctors, lawyers, and rocket surgeons, their acceptance seemed to hinge on whether or not they had a pulse. Ivy League parents made regular donations to their adwords accounts, no waitt, alumni associations and that was that. For big brands, the equivalent is a mere web presence, no matter the quality. Walmart can set up a website, and they’ll be on the first page in a week. (Of course, any good SEO will tell you rankings do not equal traffic).
The flip side of this of course, is the small businesses and new sites with little clout. The middle class students try their hardest to study for the SATs, managed to get into AP classes, and strived for a perfect attendance record. Come time for college applications, they’re all pretty much equal in the eyes of Google University’s admissions department. The student’s GPA is average, the site’s links are nothing special, the student stayed up for days writing their application essay, the site’s content seems like it was written …by a high school student. What is going to differentiate these middle-of-the-road sites from the rest?
At this point the future might seem bleek for small sites, but you have to start somewhere. What chance to they have to rank highly for competitive terms? Sure, their webmasters might lose some sleep about why they can’t improve rankings, and wonder why no one shares their content. But, the grass is always greener. In this post-Penguin world, negative SEO (yes, it exists) is now a concern for virtually every website which garners any significant amount of traffic. Small sites have the advantage here in that huge brands tend to collect links with little or no effort from both desirable and undesirable sources. Small sites need to put forth a lot of time and effort to gain links at all. Granted, negative SEO can affect sites large and small, but small businesses have little to worry about since most fly under the radar. Unless of course, a competitor in the next town over has a nephew with a Fiverr account.
I’ve worked on sites large and small, ranging from 7 visitors daily to 7 million. Each has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and for that I enjoy them equally. From what I’ve experienced so far, each has the same prerequisites for acceptance into the prestigious Google University, in different magnitudes. Whether you’re working on a large site or a brand new one, my advice is to do as many extra-curricular activities (read: authority building) as you can.