There is so much uncertainty in the world today, which is contrary to the most important principles in running a business. Savvy business owners look at accurate, hard facts and historical data to plan out their next steps. We are, however, in a changed world where customer behaviors are drastically evolving. Some are thriving because of it but most are suffering because their business formats are not suited to the emerging new normal.
If there’s one lesson small business owners should learn from the difficult situation the global pandemic has created, it is that adaptation is the key to longevity and survival.
All businesses move on the same medium in online marketing, but the environment works differently for small businesses. For context, look at the market as a 500-piece puzzle. An SME can settle for the pieces in one corner, but a big company will lay claim to the entire thing. The advantage for SMEs is that big companies cannot keep their eye on all 500 pieces at the same time. Unless they are a monopoly, big companies have no exclusive claim over a market.
Still, as a small business owner, you are essentially going up against a mammoth advertiser. You can’t match their money and resources, so you need to adapt and work with what you do have.
This article will not go into detail about strategy, but it will instead highlight four approaches that will serve small businesses well.
Focus On Your Target Market
SEO service can be very broad. If small businesses will emulate the biggest players in their industry, they could end up spending a huge amount of money and getting very little returns.
This is why strategy is important in search engine optimization for small businesses. You can start by asking these questions:
- Who is your target audience (buyer persona)?
- Where are they from (geographic location)?
- Which social media sites or online platforms do they use (Internet habits)?
- What do you want to get from your SEO campaign (SMART goals)?
Notice that these questions focus on your business and customers. Yes, you need to be aware of your status in the industry, who your biggest competitors are, what they are doing, etc., but frankly, strategies that seek to beat the competition use up so much time and resources. You may get better results if you focus on ranking for keywords your target customers actually use (the long-tail keywords with high click-through and conversion rates) than the ones for which your competitors are already on the top spot.
Online domination for small businesses is not always about who’s Number 1. If local customers click on a business regardless of its position on the SERPs, that business will have dominated everyone else.
When you change your perspective from competitor-focused to customer-centric, your strategy will follow. Here’s where Local SEO comes in.
Start with Local SEO
Frankly, it can be difficult for small businesses to rank organically if they belong to industries where there’s a lot of competition and many of whom already have an established strong, online presence. Tenure matters in Internet marketing. Essentially, brands that have been optimizing their websites for years have an advantage over those who are just starting now. But don’t be discouraged if you are the latter.
SEO is an equalizer. Strategy matters more than brand names. If you have a good strategy and don’t violate Google’s guidelines, you can end up right next to the biggest names in your industry.
This is the logic of Local SEO for small businesses. Instead of betting your resources on strategies targeting a broad market, you need to narrow it down to the people with the highest potential of becoming paying customers. Many factors come into play, but for the sake of simplicity, Local SEO uses geo-targeted and intent-focused keywords instead of broad searches. An example would be “24/7 plumber in Spokane” instead of “plumbing services in Washington state.”
Use the Local SEO approach for your paid advertisements (PPC) as well. If you are a CPA offering accounting and tax filing services to solopreneurs and fellow small business owners, and you have no intention of serving clients more than two cities away, there’s no need to advertise to audiences on the east coast when your business is based in San Francisco.
Local SEO is an advantageous move for small businesses:
- Your online marketing goals are realistic and achievable. Not to say that aiming for loftier goals is a long shot, but you need to lay a strong foundation first before you can launch a more ambitious campaign.
- Your resources are better optimized. You don’t battle mindlessly with national brands (and spending more than you need to) when you sell mainly to customers from your local community.
- The leads and traffic you earn are of higher quality. This is the best reward when you rank for narrowed-down, long-tail keywords (e.g., brown sugar boba milk tea for takeout in the Bronx instead of broad search entries. Casual researchers or customers looking for similar products and services in a different city are all filtered out. What’s left are high-quality leads who are interested in what you offer.
Local SEO, therefore, is best for small businesses that want to increase the foot traffic in their stores or receive more email inquiries and calls from potential clients.
Establish Your Authority On and Off the Internet
One of Google’s most important ranking factors is domain authority. It is the perceived authority of a website based on the quality of its inbound links. The more authoritative websites (e.g., known publications and official websites of government offices, schools, universities, hospitals, and research organizations) link back to your site, the more authoritative it appears to the search engine. Establishing authority is, essentially, the main goal of link building.
This technique works slightly differently in Local SEO. For search engines to recognize your site’s authority in your community, you need to earn inbound links from authoritative sites in your area as well.
Earning a backlink from a local government office or your state university, however, is not easy. Since all parties are from the same area and face-to-face interactions are possible, you might be expected to personally reach out as a form of courtesy.
Here are examples of outreach tactics that can increase your website authority:
- Allow your suppliers and business partners to list your business as one of their clients or affiliates.
- Participate in industry events organized by the local government and established organizations.
- Sponsor charities, civic events, and other similar programs.
- Participate in city- or state-wide events, especially if they are organized specifically for your industry.
- Apply for membership in exclusive groups or local civic organizations.
- Get published on highly rated online publications and websites.
In Local SEO, link building often needs more work than writing a compelling outreach email. But you reap what you sow: your active participation in the local community could eventually win you dot-edu or dot-gov backlinks, which are powerful, top-level links and are considered to be the Holy Grail in link building. Just one of these highly coveted backlinks can make a dot-com website soar on the SERPs.
Relevance is also crucial to building authority, so you may get the same link value from a dot-info or dot-biz website, provided they are highly rated and relevant to your industry. So if it gets too difficult to get backlinks from government offices and organizations and educational institutions, you may have a better chance with local newspapers and industry magazines.
Use Insights from Keyword Research
Keyword research is essential in SEO, but it can serve a greater purpose than simply showing what words and phrases to include in your on-page content.
Keyword lists can give you valuable insight into your target audience’s current wants and needs. The information can enrich your business strategy, not just your online marketing.
For example, if you own a cafe, you would assume that customers will use the keywords like “coffee shop”, “cafe,” and “coffee delivery” when they search for nearby establishments. After your SEO team conducts keyword research and gives you the complete keyword list, however, you discover that people are also looking for “free wifi cafe,” “cakes for sale,” and “dalgona coffee.” These keywords have high daily search volumes. Unfortunately, you can’t incorporate them into your on-page SEO because you don’t offer them in your cafe.
What you can do is take this information and run with it. You can study the feasibility of offering free Wi-Fi in your cafe and updating the menu to include cakes, pastries, and new coffee flavors that are popular today. This is just one example of how SEO can help your small business dominate your market — both online and offline.
SEO for small businesses can be challenging, even among the most experienced in the online community. Success also takes time to achieve. But you can get good results faster if you focus on your customers, do local SEO, build valuable business partnerships, and use hard data to refine your online marketing strategy.