Nearly every business in the world has a website today, and that means small businesses have to overcome nearly insurmountable odds to claim one of the few spots on the first pages of search engine results.
Big businesses already have a lock on most of the top slots. They have advantages you can't possibly have, starting with enough content to fill a library and inbound links from every site on the web, from mommy bloggers with an audience of family members to the front page of HuffPo and Forbes.
That's pretty hard to compete with if you have limited resources and you're new to the game.
Unless your product or service is a brand new invention, you're going to need an impressive strategy to cut through the noise.
Here are three tips and tactics to help level the playing field.
1. Own the local market
Some 94% of people with smartphones search for local information on their phones. So, although you may not be able to come up first in a search for gourmet cupcakes, local search means you can claim the top spot for gourmet cupcakes in your area. Walmart might sell tasty cupcakes, but you specialize.
Respect the Pigeon. In 2015, Google started rolling out a new algorithm (Pigeon) that refined local search. Basically, local search is even more local now: Top listings are not just within a city, they are within a neighborhood.
Monitor listings. Dominating the local market requires paying close attention to details. Make sure your listings are detailed and up to date on all local and industry search engines and review sites, such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Trip Advisor.
Be a part of the community. Join and sponsor local events, participate in charity drives, donate branded merchandise for giveaways, and make sure your website is mentioned in the event advertising and print it on your swag. Participating in local events boosts your visibility, gets people talking about your business, and earns organic backlinks from local news outlets, bloggers, and magazines.
2. Be the voice of authority
Why do people search online for businesses? The Web is not merely a telephone book with a handy map attachment, it's a source for information consumers could never access before. The information they find determines whether they can trust you.
Building authority builds trust, and trust is essential to an ongoing customer relationship. Your customers want to know where to turn to for reliable information in your areas of expertise.
Post great content. If you're a local business and you're not providing content, then you're not giving your audience what it's looking for. They want to patronize businesses they know and trust. You can be the business that answers all their questions online, tells them which products are best for their situation and why, and offers tips and reasons why they need to buy.
Make it local. Content is a prime opportunity to bolster local SEO. The aforementioned gourmet cupcake shop could talk about bestselling, local-specific flavors (tell me Key Lime doesn't make you think of Key West), or flavors made with local fruits, for example.
Addressing local issues doesn't apply only to food. Car maintenance is influenced by local road conditions and weather, any business connected to home ownership could talk about the best plants for the area or the challenges of servicing a pool, and a mattress store could tout the benefits of a better night's sleep when you're located in the flight path of an airport or near a busy shopping district.
Almost every business has a local angle it can draw on to build authority. Know your local customers, and you'll know their concerns, then address those concerns.
Connect with local and industry bloggers. No matter where you are, there are influencers out there blogging about your area: what to see and do, where to find the best bargains, how to have the most fun.
Don't just ask them to write about you (how crass!); instead, romance them. Comment and share their blog posts. Offer to host local blogger meetups (if appropriate). Ask if they'd like to partner with you to offer their readers giveaway swag or reader discounts.
Bloggers build their audience on authority and trust. Their endorsements often carry a lot of weight to highly targeted readers.
3. Go mobile
An alarming number of small businesses seem to think they don't need to build a mobile-friendly website. It's something we in the business hear all the time, and it's mind-boggling.
Consider the stats. Google recently changed its search algorithm to exclude sites from mobile searches if the sites are not mobile-friendly. Considering that 60% of all searches are performed on mobile devices, and 40% of customers will go to a competitor site if yours won't load properly, not having a mobile-friendly website is the equivalent of just giving your business away.
Test for mobile-friendliness. Just because your website looks "fine" on your smartphone doesn't mean it's actually mobile friendly in the eyes of Google. To determine whether your website is mobile-friendly, simply use Google's free Mobile-Friendly Test.
Consult with an experienced digital marketing team. There's more than one way to go mobile: you can choose to design a responsive site, a hybrid-responsive site, an adaptive site, or a separate mobile site. There are also all kinds of reasons not to rush into getting your mobile website set up. A full-fledged mobile-friendly website should be built to serve your marketing and sales objectives. Do you want your website to be a lead generation machine? Do you want to encourage visitors to hand over their email address?
There are a lot of factors to consider when going mobile, so be sure your marketing and development teams have a solid strategy in line with your company goals.
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There's no magic formula to get your business to the top of the search page, especially if you're competing with mega-corporations—and almost every business is, these days. Local search narrows the field and gives you a fighting chance to get the attention of consumers in your local area. Your best bet is to focus on one thing at a time and become the only source in your area people turn to for information.