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How Small Businesses Compete and Win in the Cutthroat SEO Market

I have always been a champion of small business SEO, and one of the most common questions I hear is, “with my limited budget, how do I rank above the large businesses in my industry?”

Although it seems almost impossible to outrank your ‘big fish’ competitor with a seemingly unlimited budget, there are in fact some SEO strategies you can implement to help give your small business a healthy boost in the cutthroat world of search.

In this blog, I’ve provided some tips and insider secrets to learning how to compete with the top businesses in your industry, and get ranked for the keywords and keyword phrases your prospects are searching for.

Swim Between the Lines

Find out what your competitors are doing, but most importantly find out what your competitors are not doing.  I am always surprised to find out that most large businesses are not effectively sourcing their audience.

A tool that I use is SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer which will quickly show you how your company stacks up against competitors, as well as where they are listed.  I like to focus on where they are not listed, and go for those spots – which typically reach niche audiences.

Here’s another quick tip to finding out where you need to be listed to speak directly to your audience: go to ‘’ and pick a product or service that you offer.  Instead of putting in just the phrase, add a hashtag (#).  This will show you where, online, people are searching for the specific item.

I chose to use #engagementrings, because one of my clients is optimizing for that specific keyword.  Right away I see that people are searching and sharing information on engagement rings on the following sites:  Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.  Along with these popular social sites, I see several blogs who are discussing the topics of engagement rings.

What I have learned is that people are mostly searching for images.  So, on my client’s site, images are a high priority item for me to list, tag, and optimize.  Additionally, I will reach out to get the business listed on these specific blogs.  This is one of the ways I am reaching out to my specific customer before my competition.

Intuitive Site Navigation

One way to compete with large businesses is to build your website in an intuitive manner while also creating content silos, also known as content hubs.  Below you will see an illustration of an effective site structure that is ripe for SEO.

One easy way to begin this process is to write down all your products and services on individual post-it notes. Are there any “like” or similar items?  If so, begin to put these in piles, organized by type of product or service.

Now that you have gathered these, it’s time to bring in your SEO expert.  An SEO expert will analyze your products and services to determine the most searched for phrasing of that product or service – this should become your first tier.

Anything that then fits as a subcategory should be listed as second tier.  Your third tier should then consist of your editorial generated content.  The breadcrumbs you have on site are a reflection of how your site is structured.

Breadcrumb navigation contributes to the overall user experience and should follow the theme of your site, but did you know it also contributes to the SEO rankings of your site?  It’s not just about adding breadcrumbs, it’s about the way in which your content is categorized.

Start by conducting a thorough analysis of how people search for products and information within your industry. Use this information to structure your site – mirroring the keywords and keyword phrases people are using to search for information (products and/or services) you provide.

The illustration above provides insight into how to “silo” content so that you’re building a sound structure to further optimize your site.

Effective link structure for an e-commerce SEO project depends upon information architecture, URL structure, and the manner in which products are categorized and organized in your e-commerce store.

Take a look at your website.  Are the most important products or services listed on the top of your navigation bar?  Are they listed on tier down?  If not, your structure may be poor, with products arranged in a haphazard manner, instead of being in logical categories or sub-topics. Additionally, your link architecture will be ineffective from an SEO standpoint.

Opportunities for Niche Marketing

An insightful way to compete with the ‘big fish’ and get ahead, is to find the niches large companies have simply overlooked.

One of the best examples of this type of work, comes from Diamond Motor Sports, which is a Delaware-based motorcycle and recreational vehicles store. One opportunity, or niche, in which they could really compete, was their line of parts.

Their store offered a wider selection of motorcycle parts online than any other store in the marketplace. They even had more parts than or for specific vehicles. We leveraged this advantage by focusing in on this niche, optimizing key phrases for specific cycles and listing all the parts into content hubs.

As you can see below, this resulted in increased rankings, above the ‘big fish’ competition:


Be a Business that is “Of the People, and For the People.”

As a small business, you have the power to quickly and easily change how the world sees your brand. So, having a new value proposition is going to help you leverage how Google ranks pages.

What is your current value proposition?

Google gives preference to sites who provide authentic, obvious value to consumers, which goes well beyond some type of self-promotional hype.  In order to compete, you want to tell Google right away, on the homepage of your site, why Google should give preference to your small business over your competition.

The entire design of your site should be tailored to who your customer is and what value you offer to make their lives easier. If you have a really great value statement, make it clear and legible right on your homepage, and make sure any services you offer are listed right on that first page.  If you have APPs or offer services for your customer, make sure they are linked right from your homepage.

Also, take advantage of Google’s newly revised search algorithm that looks for key phrases that convey “I am more in tune with the customer of the future than my competition – I go beyond the services or products I sell, to offer what my customers really need.”  After all, Google is searching for semantic phrases, so why not add phrases that distinguish you as one of the good guys?

And most importantly, make sure you have Google Analytics installed to measure the performance of these changes on an ongoing basis. Have your digital team report back on wins and losses with real data, and understand how to respond to that data.

Win Votes

Win votes?  Yes, you can position your business above the competition by showing Google that the public loves you.

How?  Embrace Google+.

Google has been working on Google+ for several years now, and they are rewarding companies who have embraced Google+ and been with them from the beginning.  This means if you have a business and were one of the first to embrace Google+, then you will be rewarded with the top billing on a search for relevant phrases.

How many people do you have in your Google+ circles, your Facebook page, and your Twitter followers? How many people have your site bookmarked? How many people have conducted searches on a mobile phone within the vicinity of your business, and have talked about your business on blogs or shared your posts and products with others online?  These are all “votes,” and in Google’s eyes this means the world is embracing your business and your products, and you deserve top billing.

Still hungry for more SEO tips and strategies? Download our free SEO eBook to learn how to generate more website traffic and outrank your competitors.

All the best,

Susan Connelly

Susan is an SEO Manager at Stream Companies, a Philadelphia area advertising agency.

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