When I first entered the SEO field, I immediately wondered about small businesses’ search engine competitiveness. How, for example, can a small company with a limited or developing market achieve visibility, especially in the shadow of larger competitors? Medium to large firms enjoy more secure market shares, wider access to resources, more clients, and a broader market scope, etc. Small firms, on the other hand, face higher costs, which causes fierce competition with larger peers who can offer often-lower prices. The struggles go on. Indeed online it is difficult for small businesses to achieve search engine competitiveness, because they offer fewer services. A large company that offers a range of products is more likely to have keyword matches, for example. Yet small business SEO exists and thrives. SEO, executed tactfully, has the potential to give prominence to small firms. The degree to which it succeeds has to do with the scale itself of small businesses. Because small firms do not face sweeping market scopes, they can take advantage of specificity. An embrace of the scale and the provision of quality service prove the keys to success.
Small and Strong: distinct advantages come with a small scale
Small businesses must acknowledge that they cannot establish strong footholds or dominance in their market right away. This acceptance adds power in itself, for a firm can then take the time to observe such things as unclaimed niche markets, unique customer preferences, and its own emergent personality. Moreover, taking advantage of time allows the firm to plan more carefully. Developers within the company can create quality website content, for example. This includes providing well-written, concise, and pertinent information, which adds authority to both the website and product. Beyond respectability, quality content more likely leads to gaining quality links. Businesses and influencers who find the firm’s perspective interesting will share the site or link it to theirs, thus increasing the small business’ search engine ranking.
Social Media: friendly finesse
Also important is the social media campaign the firm runs. Most effective is a strong, friendly, but not overbearing social media presence. Provide followers with updates and openness, such as the opportunity to offer feedback. Keeping a blog can help forge a definitive identity for the firm, which in turn contributes to establishment in its specific field (Here is one example of a company that deals specifically with small business marketing that provides some good startup pointers for blogging). SEO is becoming more important even within the Facebook site itself. Facebook is introducing Graph Search, which allows users to use Facebook as a search engine to find local businesses, or people with similar interests, for example. This development means that businesses should optimize even their Facebook pages with keywords, etc., so that they show up ranking high on Graph searches (click here for a more in depth analysis of Graph Search and EO). Social media provide venues to engage with customers and show company responsiveness. Facebook pages, for example, allow followers to feel more of a friendship- an informal, comfortable relationship- with the company, rather than a strictly professional relationship. A welcoming, personal, and more human dimension to companies strengthens customer loyalty.
The Natural Foods Co-op in Middlebury, VT, provides an example of a company that effectively carries out such strategies. The small grocery store in a comparably small town, competing with a Hannaford and a Shaw’s, has created its own identity and tapped in to local market preferences. The MNFC’s Facebook page, reflective of its real-life small scale, gives updates about new products, local happenings, and events that the co-op hosts for the Middlebury community. Its photo section is filled with pictures of people dancing and eating local foods with a live band on the town green at the annual summer kickoff, “Meeting on the Green.” Followers can see pictures of new products and the farmers who produce them, as well as co-op staff dressed up on Halloween. Visitors can “suggest an edit,” producing a sense of accountability and a real interest in customer satisfaction. This Facebook page is welcoming and personal; it gives a more human face to an Internet entity. The Co-op’s website, linked to the Facebook page, further benefits the company’s online image. It features its newsletter, which customers can also pick up in-store; event, department, and local vendor information; and notably, a map with links to the websites of other New England Co-ops. This feature communicates to site visitors the MNFC’s passion for health, sustainability, and community, not simply profits. It also provides a conduit for those interested to better explore the world of local foods.
Notice that Social Media and blogs are most important to small business marketing.
Offline: apply these same principles to offline strategy
Firms can focus on similar goals for their offline presence, as well. Time allows for the development of strategy, relationships, and purpose. Purpose proves perhaps most important, for it determines strategy and indicates where to form relationships. Find something in the your market that you can provide to create a unique image. Differentiation is crucial in competitive markets; it allows for the luxury of attentiveness and expertise. Having laid the foundations of accountability and customer loyalty, take advantage of the relationship network to employ crowdsourcing. Depending on the industry, a business can crowd source specific, specialized tasks, information and criticism (constructive, of course), resources, or references in order to keep building both the network and reach of the business. Quality, more than size or most other factors that help outreach and recognition, can launch a small firm’s competitiveness. All of these tools contribute to growing a small business in size or prestige.
SEO works the same way for both large and small companies; the difference lies in the advantages that each is able to leverage. Large firms enjoy recognition, scale, scope, etc., but, again, small firms can benefit from personality and specificity (Here are three tips for successful small business SEO). Larger businesses can use SEO to maintain their market position; small business can leverage SEO to forge their position.