What is the objective of small business SEO? If you are a small business in a local service industry, your SEO objectives are distinctly different from the objectives of a large company. You are not a product manufacturer or retailer like, for example, Amazon, JC Penny, or 3M. You are not a content producer who earns advertising revenue, like the online portals of Reuters, Ask.com or Facebook. You have a local focus and specific core competency. Adjust your content strategy accordingly.
Small business SEO objectives
Why is SEO different for small businesses? If you’re a small business owner, you’re probably a specialist. You’re a professional. Whether you’re an accountant, dentist, lawyer, home renovation contractor, architect, engineer, surveyor, health care provider, aesthetician, or whatever it is that you do, your business focus is your professional specialty.
The long tail does not work for you
If you’re a service business with a local focus, you can’t expect your website to receive a high volume of traffic. There are a limited number of prospects in your area, because there’s a limited population in your area and only a small subset of that population would conceivably be prospects for your small business.
You may offer several related services; yet your core competency revolves around your specialty. And when people search for a business like yours on the internet, your specialty is the term you want to be found for, possibly with a modifier related to your geographic location. This considerably limits the focus of your SEO campaign. If you have a limited target market, then trying to attract traffic by way of the “long tail” will not benefit you greatly. On the contrary, the “long tail” will probably bring you irrelevant website traffic, dropping your conversion rates and costing you money.
This means that the objectives of your successful SEO campaign will be focused on a relatively small number of specific terms; and your competition will probably be focusing on the same terms.
There’s a problem with this, though: sites that over-optimize for a single term may face a penalty from the search engines, which have grown so wary of search spam that they now aggressively penalize legitimate websites.
It’s different for large retailers.
Large companies want to be found for a large number of terms. The “long tail” benefits a large website more because the sheer volume of traffic will likely lead to more sale conversions. Larger websites don’t have a narrowly focused target market: any consumer in any geographical region is a prospect. This is especially true of websites that generate revenue by showing advertisements. For those websites, any and all eyeballs on the screen instantly translate to dollar signs! For those companies, the “long tail” is a good thing.
Large websites want to attract geographically diverse clients. A large website is not focused on trying to attract visitors who live within convenient driving distance of a storefront location. A large company wants to attract prospects from across the country, or even from around the world. There is no need for them to focus on location as a modifier.
Large companies can throw boatloads of money at the problem. This may be one of the critical points. A large company can afford to hire an entire full-time team of SEO professionals, including content authors, on-page SEOs, off-page SEOs, and social media representatives.
Large companies have a website with more than 10,000 pages. On the internet, size matters. Large sites consistently outrank small sites. If you have a six-page website, even if you also have a blog that you post to maybe once a month or so, you simply have no hope of outranking a large website for competitive keywords. Of course, large websites are much more expensive to build and maintain, which is why so many small businesses have small websites.
Content strategy is not one-size-fits-all
So, you’re a local small business, not a large corporation. Then why do you employ a content strategy that’s tailored to the large corporations? Well, it’s what we hear. This is what everyone seems to be saying you should do. When you surf the Internet, looking for SEO advice, you find all these articles, blog posts & discussion forum threads, advising you how to look like one of the big boys: cultivate personal relationships with the webmasters of big sites in hopes they’ll link to you; and write, write, write, write, write that content. The problem is, there’s only so much time in a day, and only so much money you can afford to throw at the problem right now. What can you do instead?
Get on Google Places
If you’re not currently listed in Google Places, and you have a storefront location, then getting listed in Places should be your number one priority. This is the most important first step you should take in your small business SEO campaign. Google Places results often trump organic listings, so getting listed in Places may be your shortcut to the top. (However, if you have more than ten nearby competitors, then a whole new battle begins.) It’s easy and free, so if you’re not yet listed, I suggest creating a listing soon.
Get in other directories
As I griped at length in my kvetch about Google’s search algorithm, directories consistently outrank the websites of local small businesses. That’s because directories generally have more than 10,000 pages, and local small business websites usually have less than 20 pages. As I said before, size matters on the Internet. You’re unlikely to beat the directories to the top of the search engine results; so you may as well be sure that you’re listed in those directories when they come up. Plus, the inbound links from the directories back to your own website can’t hurt your site’s position in the search results.
Get on social media
Yes, it can be time-consuming, and the payoff is not always clear. However, it seems almost certain that the search engines consider your social media profile’s reputation when they generate the results page. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a profile, or if your profile doesn’t have any friends/followers/circles/likes/whatever, then this won’t immediately be much of a benefit to you. So that means you have to build an audience; which in turn takes time and money.
Get inside your users’ heads
What are your most likely customers looking for, when they search for a business like yours? Google Trends is a useful keyword research tool. However, keep in mind that the most popular query terms may not necessarily be the terms that your most likely customers are using. Analyze your traffic logs, talk to your customers, and do your best to try to think like them. This will help you to predict what types of search queries they are more likely to use. You can even use a PPC advertising campaign as a convenient A/B testing ground, to benchmark the relative clickthrough rates of different search terms.
It ain’t easy
There is no easy way to win. Small business SEO requires a different content strategy than SEO for major websites. Focus on a smaller subset of keywords. Get listed in directories, especially Google Places. Get involved in social media. And do your best to think like a customer. After all, that’s what marketing is all about.