Competing in Google's search engine results can be daunting. As an SEO expert, I have worked with many small and new businesses with limited budgets but big aspirations.
I am always asked, "How can we do small business SEO when competing against a leading competitor?"
A leading competitor is typically a brand with over 20 years of organic SEO growth that dominates a particular industry sector. They exist in nearly every sector; there is often more than one. No small business wishes to compete with a brand with an SEO budget exceeding several figures yearly.
To compete with leading brands' SEO, discover gaps in their SEO strategy and be tactical in gaining market share.
That does not mean that that they cannot be competed with. Doing small business SEO involves selecting tactics to drive your first organic traffic with a limited but well-targeted budget.
Before considering small business SEO as a growth channel for your startup, you must establish market demand in your niche. Billions of searches occurring every day drive search traffic. Calculating how many of these searches are relevant to your small business is the first step you should take.
You will need to:
Understanding where you need to invest resources and where your biggest organic wins will come from will pay off.
Beginning small business SEO is tricky because you likely do not have too much customer data to consider for search ideas and topics. This is why, initially, I would focus on building growth strategies on keywords.
Search intent data has become more trustworthy over the past years. SEO tools like Semrush and Ahrefs are critical in finding search intent topics.
Using these SEO tools, you should be able to leverage data like the following:
Whilst third-party data has inherent limitations, it will allow you to quantify your market more convincingly. I would use as many data points as possible to get a complete picture of your market and the keywords that formulate your search marketing strategy.
Also, do not be afraid to use long-tail keywords. Remember that every SEO expert has access to the same data and attempts to rank for these keywords. Placing a couple together can help rank for both or even a new keyword altogether.
If you do not wish to pay for these SEO tools or are unfamiliar with how to use them, then you can use Google Search Console, Google Keyword Planner, or Google Trends, which are free SEO tools to use.
The labour-intensive part of using free SEO tools is that you will not sift through thousands of potential keywords and remove those you deem useless. To cleanse your data of unwanted keywords, I would do the following:
Alternatively, finding enough search volume keywords and topics can be tough if you are targeting a small country market. So, you may have to consider using your own judgement for possible keywords and actually 'add' some keywords you believe will be searched into your data.
Ultimately, it would help if you ended up with a list of grouped keywords with search volume and traffic potential. Thus, you can focus on categories with the most significant traffic potential without wasting money on content first.
Once you know which categories and subcategories have potential search traffic, you must fill that gap.
The only way to fill this gap is with content writing.
People tend to overcomplicate content marketing, but it is straightforward. Your role is to be at the front of your mind throughout the customer journey.
Depending on your industry, new and small businesses typically do not benefit from any brand presence in the first six to 12 months. This means top-of-funnel traffic will be how you absorb non-brand market share, keywords, and searches that do not contain your company's name and build brand awareness.
Small business SEO (actually all SEO) relies on building both topical authority and topical relevance that, combined together, will strengthen your ability to rank in the results pages. For instance, Google has said it would not trust a website with less than 30 pages because it uses content to understand your brand.
Thus, if you continue consistently producing and distributing high-quality content at scale, Google will have more information to assess your brand and what you are an authority in.
The standard for high-quality content varies for each industry sector. Nevertheless, some similar rules to consider are:
There is no limit on what establishes your small business as an authority within your industry. It will take much patience and the belief that continuing at it is right for your search engines and will eventually pay off.
Typically, most websites should expect at least six months before they see traction. Once this occurs, you will notice an initial uplift in traffic; thus, the compounding effect of SEO begins to play.
As for how much you should write, in my experience, avoid writing short, BuzzFeed-style nonsense of fewer than 1,000 words. Most search engines love around 2,000 words, so aim between those benchmarks for word count.
According to research, the average word count of a Google top 10 result is 1,447 words. Plus, longer-form content attracts more backlinks, known as off-site SEO.
Furthermore, writing four articles a month should be your minimum. (once a week will keep your site fresh with new content at regular intervals).
Google searches are about search intent. Thus Google wants to rank a brand, not a website per se. Brand building is just as important a component of doing small business SEO. Most of us can build and launch a website, but building a brand people recognise and love takes time.
Popularity, multiple traffic sources, word of mouth, referrals and affinity with a product or service make a brand stand out. The easiest way to achieve these is to get your brand mentioned on popular websites and social media.
Business owners tend to overcomplicate this by trying to reinvent the wheel. Keep it straightforward by:
Platforms, including HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and Response Source, allow brands to submit expert commentary, opinions, and studies to journalists. Typically, you will receive three emails daily with journalist requests if you sign up. In the early stages, I would submit to every relevant website.
PR is not only great for brand awareness but also link building. Backlinks are undoubtedly one of the most potent signals Google uses to rank a website. Still, not every link is considered the same in authority.
Powerful, authoritative links have significantly more 'authority weight' than lesser-known websites. For instance, sites like the BBC, CNN and Wikipedia carry more weight and are likely to lead to being linked to more because Google highly values reputable news outlets as trusted sources.
Receiving a backlink from a high-authority website like this is considered an incredibly powerful vote of confidence by Google and other search engines. The more you can do this, the better it will be for your search rankings and organic traffic.
Likewise, backlinks on payday loan websites, directories, weapons, pornography and dubious product websites will not help raise your brand profile and, in Google's eyes, can deem your brand as untrustworthy.
Finally, do not rely entirely on Google for growth. You can repurpose a single piece of content across as many platforms as you like, also known as syndicating content.
Generating traffic from popular websites like Pinterest, Facebook, Reddit, Medium and bug news outlets is one of the most potent ways to supercharge your small business SEO.
Google uses these signals to validate how popular your brand may be. This is not noted anywhere in their official guidelines. Still, over the past decade of ranking websites, referral traffic has tremendously impacted sales and rankings.
For instance, suppose your brand has been mentioned alongside nine other brands in an expert roundup. In that case, this mention will help build more authority over time. The more mentions and backlinks you receive from other relevant websites in your industry, the more potential you have to generate more organic traffic.