Search engine optimization (SEO) is more popular than ever as a marketing strategy these days, and one of the biggest reasons for its mass appeal is its scale and sheer potential. There are billions of searches per day
, performed by people all over the world, so optimizing your site to rank higher for these searches has practically unlimited potential. But can small businesses hope to capitalize on this potential
when there are so many big businesses competing with them? Popularity and Time
There are two problems with this "infinite potential" model. First, SEO has become incredibly popular--most businesses now have an online presence, and the vast majority of them are actively competing for more visibility online. Second, SEO has been around since the dawn of the Internet, and major corporations who have been pouring millions of dollars into their online strategies are pretty much untouchable in terms of rankings
These two issues make it seem practically impossible to many small business owners--with limited resources and little existing domain authority--to break onto the scene. But it is possible for small and local businesses to gain an edge with these six strategies:1. Zero in on a specific niche.
Your first job is to cut down the competition. Not all search terms get the same amount of search volume, and not all terms carry the same amount of competition. If you're worried about squaring off against major national competitors, refine your target market to a more specific niche. This will cut down the amount of competition you face, and increase your relevance for that specific niche--you'll be working with lower search volume, but you'll rank faster and become more relevant for your audience
. For example, you could focus on one specific demographic, or target a specific point in the buying cycle.2. Target overlooked long-tail keywords.
There are two main "types" of keywords, with a bit of gray area in between. "Head" keywords are short, like "bike tire," and feature high volume and high competition. "Long-tail" keywords are long, often using conversational sentence structures like "how do I change a flat bike tire," and feature lower search volume but correspondingly lower competition. You can rank for these search terms easily because of how specific they are. Refine your keyword targeting strategy to focus on more long-tail keyword terms.3. Prioritize local optimization.
Local search results rely on a different algorithm
than Google's national search framework. You may notice when you perform a local search that the top three relevant brands for your search appear in a box (with links to a website, directions, and a prompt to call on mobile devices) above typical organic search results. It's possible to optimize your site to appear for these local searches; not only will you get a "free pass" by getting featured above the typical national search results, but you'll face far less competition in the process. As an added bonus, you'll get more locally relevant traffic for your site.4. Use the power of personal brands.
Personal brands have a number of advantages over corporate brands. They're instantly more trustworthy, they have a higher likelihood of being featured in offsite publishers, and if used independently from your local business, they'll provide an additional potential route of traffic and visibility for your corporate brand. Start developing your key leadership and personnel through content and social media, and tie those personal brands back to your core corporate brand.5. Work with local publishers.
Major corporations will have more power and resources to force an increase in their content's visibility (through things like paid advertising), but as a small business owner, you'll have more relevance in local publications
, like local newspapers, blogs, and forums. Work with those publishers to build more of a reputation for yourself, and get involved in more local projects and volunteer opportunities to help your community impact grow. The more connected you are, the more potential search visibility you're going to receive.6. Build up a reputation with reviews and social media.
A big part of local SEO depends on the quality and quantity of the reviews you receive, but you can also generate independent buzz by cultivating more reviews (especially on offsite directories and social media). Work with your existing clients and regular customers to start developing better reviews and more visibility for your business. In turn, you'll get more visibility and more peripheral traffic (bypassing and complementing the organic search route), but you'll also get more inbound links and more "real estate" throughout the web, which can increase your overall organic search visibility.
The truth is, small businesses can be just as competitive as big businesses when it comes to SEO. They aren't able to reach the same number of people, but they can receive huge increases in visibility, reputation, traffic, and eventually sales.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a small enterprise means avoiding competing in areas where you're outclassed, and instead focusing on where you can make the biggest impact.
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.