Search engine optimization (SEO) is an effective and cost-efficient strategy, so long as you can get past the biggest obstacle to success: competition.
Even if you work tirelessly to rank for a valuable keyword, one strong competitor is all it takes to knock you out of the top position and compromise what you've built. Big national companies, which have spent years establishing massive domain authorities and solid positions in their respective industries, are some of the fiercest competitors there are, but there are strategies small businesses can use to remain competitive
.Top Strategies for Success
These are some of the most effective ways to remain competitive on a national scale, even with a limited budget:1. Highlight your brand's unique advantages.As Elorus notes
, one of the best ways for small brands to remain competitive with bigger brands is to show off what makes them unique; for example, a small business may get the edge on a national competitor by showing off personalized customer service (such as with a dedicated account representative). You can do this in SEO too; the trick is to select keywords and phrases that reflect those unique advantages. Write pages of content on your site that fully explain and detail those advantages, and optimize accordingly.2. Target niche keywords.
Along similar lines, you can differentiate yourself by choosing more niche target keywords. Instead of optimizing for basic keywords relevant to the entirety of your industry, choose keywords that are only relevant to your specific demographics. For example, you could choose keywords that appeal to an audience segment that you seek, but your national competitors wouldn't. It's a way of taking advantage of audience members that nobody else is pursuing.3. Use more long-tail keywords.As explained by Moz
, another good strategy is to optimize for more long-tail keywords. "Head" keywords are generally short, topic-based keywords like "taco restaurant." These keywords are high in search volume, which makes them generate lots of traffic, but they're also highly competitive. The opposite is to choose long-tail keywords, which contain more words and longer phrases, usually representing longer, more conversational queries, like "where are the spiciest tacos in California." These won't see as much search volume, which gives them less total potential, but at the same time, they'll be far easier to rank for.4. Consider local optimization.Quick Sprout
offers another strategy in the form of pursuing local optimization (local SEO) specifically. Google actually uses two separate algorithms for national search results and local results. For local results, it displays the top three relevant results in a "local 3-pack," where each company's name is presented next to links to a website, phone number, and directions. Optimizing for this isn't much different from national optimization, but will maximize your audience's relevance and weed out some competition. You'll need to optimize for more local-specific keyword terms and phrases and get yourself listed in local directories like Yelp or TripAdvisor.5. Rely on third-party references.
Many SEO strategies have benefits in addition to their ability to increase your search engine rankings, especially when they involve third-party sources. For example, getting guest posts published on external publishers will earn you more inbound traffic from referral links and boost your brand's reputation. The same is true for any local citations you earn with third-party sources. To get an edge over the competition, focus less on the primary goal of earning higher rankings, and diversify your strategy by earning traffic, visibility, and a better reputation with these third-party references.6. Seek alternative modes of visibility.
Finally, remember what the core value of your SEO campaign is in the first place; the quality of your content. If you write great content, you'll be rewarded with higher search rankings, but the power of your content is independently rewarding. Consider using your content to generate alternative modes of visibility; for example, you can promote it more heavily on social media to produce traffic from those channels, or you could specifically produce it to help your current customers with FAQs or tutorials to improve customer retention and visibility among your most loyal users.Hedging Your Bets
For the most part, small businesses can be competitive on a national scale, even with a limited budget
. However, some niches are especially tough and some situations make it difficult to see a positive ROI.
For this reason, it's a good idea to hedge your bets when it comes to online visibility and marketing your business. SEO works best when working in conjunction with other strategies, especially as your reputation grows. Keep a close eye on how your strategies develop and don't be afraid to make cuts and adjustments as necessary.
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.