Small businesses may not have the same budget, staff and influence of a large enterprise, but there are still plenty of opportunities for a creative company. And while it may seem like these big companies dominate the online market, that isn’t necessarily the truth. There are some advantages to being a small business in this competition because you can actually do a lot of things the big guys can’t.
The simple truth is that you don’t have to outspend a global corporation to succeed in business. While it’s true that online marketing isn’t free, it’s also true that the biggest spender is not the automatic winner. In fact, depending on how the money is spent, it may even be detrimental to their efforts. (There have been several large companies who learned this the hard way during the last few years.)
You business may be small, but that just means you can be fast and agile. The online world changes fast, and if you can evolve to keep up, you might be able to do things that massive enterprises can’t.
The Online Business Environment
There are several online marketing channels that can help your company build better revenues and continue to grow. Using these tools and platforms will help you reach your customers, but only if you are constantly working on them and tweaking your campaign to keep up with the trends.
Your strategies could include everything from paid advertisements to an extensive email campaign. All of these could produce results, but if you’re looking for real, long-term success, you need to make sure your company shows up in the search engine results for the right queries.
Search engine optimization (SEO) has changed a lot in the last few years, though. The techniques that once produced results may not be as effective anymore (and, in the worst cases, may actually be detrimental). As a small business you can quickly roll with the changes to take advantage of the changing environment and position your company’s listing in front of customers who are ready to make a purchase.
An SEO Overview
The most important thing to understand about modern SEO is that it does not exist in a vacuum. The old strategies that were focused on formulas and automated activities simply don’t work anymore. Search engine optimization is a combination of content marketing, social media and on-site/off-site elements that communicate the value of your website.
It all boils down to providing value to real customers. The changes that you make to your website, the blogs you produce every week or every day, the way you interact with customers online – it all has to revolve around creating value. [pullquote]The moment you do something because “it makes the search engines think you should rank higher,” you have already done something wrong.[/pullquote]
SEO doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, so even small companies can succeed in this area, but it will take a lot of work and even more time. The search engines are a suspicious bunch, and they want to make sure everything is on the up and up before they start to reward your site with better rankings.
As a small business, there are some things you can do to make your website more appealing to both real visitors and the search engines. It all starts with the things you can do on your website.
On-Page Optimization – Do you feel like your website is subject to the whims and desires of the search engines, getting tossed around on the winds of constant updates? This probably means you have built your site on current trends instead of a more solid foundation. Take some time and get the elements of your website just right. This includes:
- Site navigation
- Quality content
- Internal linking structure
- Page structure
- Load times
- Mobile compatibility
Off-Page Optimization – There was a time when off-page SEO referred almost exclusively to “link building.” This is no longer the case, and that sort of behavior can cause more trouble than it’s worth.
The goal of off-page optimization is to find ways to guide new people to your site. This can be done by building relationships with other websites so they will naturally link to you and send visitors your way, or by creating some valuable content that fills a real need.
The goal is the same as anything else in the SEO world – to provide value for everyone who is interested in your products or services.
As a small business, your target audience is a little different from what a large enterprise might go after. It isn’t always about aiming for the world – not when there are paying customers right in your own neighborhood. And chances are they’re using their computers, phones and tablets to find someone nearby who offers the products and services they need.
Local SEO addresses the needs of these customers and helps small businesses gain a lot of exposure within their geographical area. While a lot of the same principles apply (a strong off-page and on-page strategy that are focused on providing real value), there are a few extra components of a local campaign that must be included.
- Mobile readiness – There’s a really good chance that if someone is looking for a local business where they can make a purchase, they’re doing it on their phone. They have an immediate need that can be solved by asking a smartphone where the nearest solution is located. If your site is mobile ready, it will look more attractive to those customers and encourage the search engines to display your listing.
- Google Places for Business – Make sure all your information is available to search engine users by submitting your business listing to this directory. This will help you get listed in Google Maps, Google Earth, and, of course, Google Search.
- Local Citations – Links are only part of the story in local SEO. Sometimes a simple citation might be enough to encourage the search engines to pay attention to you. A citation is nothing more than a mention of your company on a website (preferably with your logo and contact information). You can get these by sponsoring important activities or getting listed on member pages of the local chamber of commerce or online phone directories. Citations are important because they show the search engines that other people and businesses are talking about you.
Taking the Plunge: Businesses that Have Succeeded with SEO
Still not convinced that online marketing is for you? Here are some examples of real businesses that have made SEO work and work well:
- Rotten Tomatoes – Sure, the site is a huge player in the movie reviews business now, but back in 1998 it was little more than a hobby for its founders. They analyzed search behavior to understand what keywords people used when looking for reviews and honed in to on-page optimization to get visitors to their site.
- DollarDays – DollarDays is a leading online wholesaler helping small businesses to compete against larger stores. They took advantage of video and site quality to boost their rankings.
- Hapari – This is small swimsuit retailer used smart content marketing to reach the top of the search results and increase its revenue nearly 600%.
The secret to these businesses’ success is good marketing vision, follow-through and consistency. SEO is a long-term game—you need to stay with it for a good six months to a year or longer to see real benefits.
A Good First Step
Search engine optimization is an effective way to start building an online presence and help your company grow in the long term, but it isn’t the only channel for modern marketing. In order to get the most value from your online marketing efforts, you need to include a variety of strategies. This might include: pay-per click, email marketing, social media campaigns, content marketing and more.
Just like SEO, these marketing activities don’t have to cost a lot of money to generate success. They will take time, dedication and no small amount of creativity, but they are well-suited to helping a small business connect with customers and continue to grow.
Author: Mark Cerminaro is the chief revenue officer at RapidAdvance, a leader in alternative financing. Mark has spent his career advising business owners on investments and helping them access the capital they need to grow. Check out RapidAdvance’s small business funding solutions to help grow your small business.