Small Business SEO: How To Compete With The Big Dogs

Last week, I was speaking to a potential client who had a very negative view of Small Business SEO. Her concern was that it required too much money and effort, and that she could never compete with the “big dogs,” as she called them. She is unwilling to take a leap of faith that won’t pay off for several months. And she is disillusioned that “cheaters” are still ranking ahead of her.

This quote says it all: “I am too busy running a real business to waste time chasing my tail.”

Those are completely valid concerns. We discussed this for over an hour, and I asked her many pointed questions. It became clear to me that:

  1. She had never truly taken SEO seriously in the past
  2. Her opinion was highly influenced by a “friend” whose website had been penalized by Google Penguin
  3. My prospect knew nearly nothing about Small Business SEO or Local SEO

After a lengthy Q&A, I took five minutes to explain how this all really works. The three discoveries above were very enlightening. So I walked her through the thought process behind Local SEO, and how it can level the playing field somewhat. By the end, she was not only convinced, but anxious to sign on with our team.

Small Business SEO: Raising Visibility for SMBs

Interested in learning more about what convinced her? Here are some of the high points of the discussion.

Get the On-page SEO Right

No matter how dedicated you are to driving organic traffic, your efforts will be much more lucrative if you start by optimizing the on-page content and meta fields properly.

Assuming you are not a keyword research expert, bring in an SEO to do it for you. Have them advise on where to put the keywords, how to structure the pages, and what to say in your meta descriptions.

While they are at it, have them set up an XML sitemap and submit to Google so you can get the site crawled regularly. If this is all you do, you will rank better than if you ignore SEO altogether.

Don’t Overlook Mobile

We hear a lot of talk about mobile marketing today, but very few small businesses have figured out how to target smart phones and tablets properly. Fortunately, with today’s more advanced content management systems, mobile is easier to target than you might think.

WordPress, the most widely used CMS among SMB’s, is a great way to do this. Ideally, you will adopt or build your theme to be responsive, i.e. to modify the layout dynamically according to the resolution of the screen loading the website. Alternatively, you can build a separate mobile site, or even manage it with a plugin such as WPtouch or WordPress Mobile Pack.

If I were building my own site, I’d opt for a responsive design and call it a day. Return On Now is fully responsive. Play around with your browser window or load on a mobile device to see how it reacts to changes in screen size.

Take Advantage of Local SEO

Local SEO is a very simple concept. A typical small business does not have the time or resources to compete on a national scale for most competitive keywords. However, if you target a local market, you can reduce competition by optimizing to be found locally.

This is done in multiple ways.

Local SEO On-Site

When optimizing your site for local, be sure your address appears in a notable location. At a minimum, get it on your “Contact” or “Locations” page. Many companies add it to persistent content, such as the footer or sidebar. This will make it abundantly clear to the search engines that you are in a specific locale.

You should also include location-focused modifiers on your target keywords. For example, if you are looking to rank for “best donut shop” in Atlanta, Georgia, add “Atlanta” to the keyword when optimizing the on-page: “best donut shop atlanta” or “best atlanta donut shop” or “atlanta best donut shop”. By doing this, you can rank for nearly any keyword, but only for queries in your particular city or area.

Local SEO Directory and Social Profiles

Another way search engines identify location is by web citations. Be sure to claim your Google Places page, sign up for Bing Places and Yahoo Local Listings,  and set up profiles on the leading reputable local directories, such as SuperPages, Manta, and Yext. Consistency is key, so use the exact same address and phone number on every single profile.

Many of these services also provide customers with a way to review your business. Be sure to monitor those reviews.

For the good ones, you have the right to post on your own site and link to the original reviews. For the bad feedback, get on the website and address the concerns proactively.

Remember, the conversation is happening, and it’s up to you to influence the direction that conversation goes. Ignoring it just shows you are not paying attention to customer needs and complaints.

Get Creative With Content Generation

Content is the biggest concern for nearly every client. This is especially true for very small businesses where the owner already wears a number of hats (sales, finance, marketing, etc.).

Bigger companies can throw budget or headcount at content. They can generate multiple pieces of content each day if they desire. Most SMBs simply cannot.

So take a different approach to content.

What can you do to have users generate content about your business?

Maybe you run a one month contest where users write a story or film a short video to highlight a great time they had with your products.

How can you use customer quotes or testimonials to generate content?

If customers are already giving you good feedback, don’t just sit on it. This is one of the most important areas of content generation at your disposal.

Is there any way to make your customers look good online?

People like to share content that is favorable to them and their reputation.

What is a quick way for you to share nuggets of your expertise without giving away too much?

Blogging? “How-to” website content? Short homemade videos showing how to do it? We have seen local businesses drive a good amount of traffic with similar content.

You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars or several days to generating content that will rank and engage your target audience. Get creative with it. Test different mediums and formats. When you find something that works, start doing it regularly, even if just once each month.

Build Links At Your Own Pace

Link Building is the other major concern for SMBs. Forget about the Black Hat ways of the past. There are no more shortcuts.

Does that mean you should ignore link building altogether? Absolutely not. Just go about it at your own pace. Focus on guest posting and guest article contribution on sites in your industry or local market. I write actively for CMSwire.com and Search Engine Journal, for example.

Guest posting is rather easy, assuming you can cobble together a decent 500-1,000 word article in your niche. If you don’t have time to write it yourself, there are ample resources online where you can hire ghost writers at favorable prices. One good example is blogging.org, which was started by my colleague John Rampton.

Figure out what frequency of contribution works for you. You don’t have to sign up for a monthly or weekly post. Aim for quarterly, or even once every six months. If you stick with it over time, your site will benefit from the increased domain authority. It is also excellent for brand building and growing your online reputation as a whole.

Summary

Don’t be afraid of Small Business SEO because you can’t take on the Big Dogs. Many victories on a smaller level can add up to more business value than being a blip in a huge competitive niche.

Need help managing Small Business SEO for your own company? Contact Return On Now today to see how we can help put you on the map.