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Search Engine Guide : Small Business Search Marketing
Search engine marketing news and information you can use to grow your business.

Search Engine Guide
  • 6 Strategies for Small Businesses to Outrank National Competition in Search Engines

    by Jayson DeMers

    Search engine optimization (SEO) is an effective and cost-efficient strategy, so long as you can get past the biggest obstacle to success: competition.

    Even if you work tirelessly to rank for a valuable keyword, one strong competitor is all it takes to knock you out of the top position and compromise what you've built. Big national companies, which have spent years establishing massive domain authorities and solid positions in their respective industries, are some of the fiercest competitors there are, but there are strategies small businesses can use to remain competitive.

    Top Strategies for Success

    These are some of the most effective ways to remain competitive on a national scale, even with a limited budget:

    1. Highlight your brand's unique advantages.

    As Elorus notes, one of the best ways for small brands to remain competitive with bigger brands is to show off what makes them unique; for example, a small business may get the edge on a national competitor by showing off personalized customer service (such as with a dedicated account representative). You can do this in SEO too; the trick is to select keywords and phrases that reflect those unique advantages. Write pages of content on your site that fully explain and detail those advantages, and optimize accordingly.

    2. Target niche keywords.

    Along similar lines, you can differentiate yourself by choosing more niche target keywords. Instead of optimizing for basic keywords relevant to the entirety of your industry, choose keywords that are only relevant to your specific demographics. For example, you could choose keywords that appeal to an audience segment that you seek, but your national competitors wouldn't. It's a way of taking advantage of audience members that nobody else is pursuing.

    3. Use more long-tail keywords.

    As explained by Moz, another good strategy is to optimize for more long-tail keywords. "Head" keywords are generally short, topic-based keywords like "taco restaurant." These keywords are high in search volume, which makes them generate lots of traffic, but they're also highly competitive. The opposite is to choose long-tail keywords, which contain more words and longer phrases, usually representing longer, more conversational queries, like "where are the spiciest tacos in California." These won't see as much search volume, which gives them less total potential, but at the same time, they'll be far easier to rank for.

    4. Consider local optimization.

    Quick Sprout offers another strategy in the form of pursuing local optimization (local SEO) specifically. Google actually uses two separate algorithms for national search results and local results. For local results, it displays the top three relevant results in a "local 3-pack," where each company's name is presented next to links to a website, phone number, and directions. Optimizing for this isn't much different from national optimization, but will maximize your audience's relevance and weed out some competition. You'll need to optimize for more local-specific keyword terms and phrases and get yourself listed in local directories like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

    5. Rely on third-party references.

    Many SEO strategies have benefits in addition to their ability to increase your search engine rankings, especially when they involve third-party sources. For example, getting guest posts published on external publishers will earn you more inbound traffic from referral links and boost your brand's reputation. The same is true for any local citations you earn with third-party sources. To get an edge over the competition, focus less on the primary goal of earning higher rankings, and diversify your strategy by earning traffic, visibility, and a better reputation with these third-party references.

    6. Seek alternative modes of visibility.

    Finally, remember what the core value of your SEO campaign is in the first place; the quality of your content. If you write great content, you'll be rewarded with higher search rankings, but the power of your content is independently rewarding. Consider using your content to generate alternative modes of visibility; for example, you can promote it more heavily on social media to produce traffic from those channels, or you could specifically produce it to help your current customers with FAQs or tutorials to improve customer retention and visibility among your most loyal users.

    Hedging Your Bets

    For the most part, small businesses can be competitive on a national scale, even with a limited budget. However, some niches are especially tough and some situations make it difficult to see a positive ROI.

    For this reason, it's a good idea to hedge your bets when it comes to online visibility and marketing your business. SEO works best when working in conjunction with other strategies, especially as your reputation grows. Keep a close eye on how your strategies develop and don't be afraid to make cuts and adjustments as necessary.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • 6 Ways to Make Seasonal Content Effective in SEO

    by Jayson DeMers

    In the SEO world, most people pay significant attention to "evergreen" content, which is content that remains relevant no matter what time of the year it is, or even what year it is. It can be repurposed, reposted, re-syndicated, and re-read at any time, and it still retains its value, so most people see it athe smart, long-term investment.

    While this is mostly true, you shouldn't neglect the potential power of its counterpart--seasonal content. Seasonal content is content that's only valuable or relevant during certain times of the year or during certain events; for example, it could be tied to a literal season, a holiday, or a particularly busy time of the year for your business.

    For example, you might write about how to protect your plants from the winter cold, or about your favorite Halloween recipes, or even how to address a boom in real estate spending. But how can you implement this seasonal content effectively?

    Key Considerations

    These are some of the most important things to keep in mind:

    1. Remember the advantages.

    Seasonal content isn't inherently better or worse than evergreen content; instead, it has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, even though it's only effective for part of the year, it also comes with less competition, so you can use it as a way to build a more specific niche readership. It's also useful for targeting specific keywords related to your chosen season and it can build your brand's expertise in that area. Play to those advantages when developing your content.

    2. Headlines are everything.

    The headlines of your articles are the most important feature--with seasonal content as well as evergreen. The headline is the first thing your readers are going to see, and the most important piece to optimize for SEO, so put ample time and energy into creating your seasonal content headlines. Make sure you explicitly include keywords relevant to that season, or your readers may be disappointed when they read it.

    3. Build on your previous efforts.

    Seasonal content may not be relevant for the entire year, but that doesn't mean it can't be reused or built upon. After all, winter comes around every 12 months (whether you like it or not). Instead of launching a new seasonal content strategy every year, or abandoning your efforts at the end of the season, reexamine your strategy to build on your previous year's efforts and keep your momentum going.

    4. Only syndicate your posts when appropriate.

    Hopefully, you've already got a syndication strategy in place, promoting your older content marketing posts on social media and other publication channels on a regular basis. However, you'll want to avoid promoting your seasonal content when it isn't appropriate, or it could appear as though you aren't organized. Instead, keep your evergreen content in regular rotation, and only syndicate your seasonal content when the time is right.

    5. Pay attention to the competition.

    Next, pay close attention to how your competition is using seasonal content. Not every industry benefits from using seasonal content, so think about what your contemporaries are doing. Beyond that, look for key competitive opportunities by considering types of content your competitors aren't writing, and jump on them. If your competitors seem to have a lockdown on a given seasonal niche, it may not be worth the pursuit. One of the greatest advantages of seasonal content is its low competition, so if that advantage is made irrelevant, its power significantly wanes.

    6. Target your keywords carefully.

    Finally, do your keyword research well in advance of creating any content. Seasonal keywords spike in traffic for short periods of time, so it's important to notice patterns in traffic and competition from year to year. Optimize your headlines and body content accordingly.

    Keeping these considerations in mind and adjusting your strategy accordingly will help you develop better seasonal content and make it work better for your brand. Evergreen content, while cost-effective, doesn't have a monopoly on the content marketing world, and doesn't need to be your only developed content. Understand where your business fits in the scope of your industry and balance your content strategy accordingly.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • How to Use Competitors to Your Advantage in SEO

    by Jayson DeMers

    Search engine optimization (SEO) is a powerful strategy, enabling you to get your website in front of thousands of monthly searchers--but it's also a sensitive one. Because users often go with the first thing they see in search engine results pages (SERPs), all it takes is one competitor outranking you to completely stifle your potential.

    But what if you could use your competitors to your advantage, rather than letting them climb over you?

    Competitive Strategies

    There are actually distinct strategies you can use to take advantage of the fact that your competition exists. Rather than serving as an obstacle or an annoyance, these strategies turn your competitors into boosts for your SEO campaign.

    1. Optimize product reviews.

    First, you can work on optimizing product reviews for SEO. Reviews affect SEO in a number of different ways. For example, getting better reviews for your business can help you rank higher in local search results. Earning detailed, positive customer reviews for products can help you rank for target keywords relating to those products. Reviews can even appear in SERPs directly if you use the correct microformatting. Take a look at how your competitors are using reviews in their current SEO campaigns; are there any opportunities for you to one-up them, with more or better reviews for your business or products? Work to outperform your competition here, and you'll easily earn a higher slot.

    2. Optimize for competitors' brand names.

    You could also write articles or optimize specifically for your competitors' brand names, like how Printing Center USA recently wrote about Kinkos pricing. It's unlikely that you'll be able to outrank your competitors for their own brand names, but you could earn a competing spot near the top of the search results. This gives you some degree of control over new users' expectations for that brand. Don't write attack pieces or your own reputation could come into question, but don't be afraid to point out some of their shortcomings; it's a valuable opportunity to improve your visibility and relative reputation.
    3. Write comparison and industry articles.

    You could also write an extended comparison guide or list of companies like yours, like how the Creative Ham publishes a list of advertising agencies. The idea here is to provide valuable information to users who might be looking for companies in your industry--and of course, you can throw your own name into the mix. Write up honest details about each brand, including pros and cons, and let your readers decide for themselves. You'll get tons of new visibility in search engines, so there's no need to be pushy about advertising your own services in the article--you might even turn people away if you do.

    4. Monitor and mimic link building strategies.

    You can also use a tool like Moz's Open Site Explorer to perform a detailed analysis of your competitors' link building strategies. Pay attention to what links they've built, where they've built them, and how they've grown over time. You can adopt this strategy for yourself, mimicking their lines of development and earning similar growth in domain authority and reputation. It's an easy way to catch up to a competitor ahead of you, and spot weaknesses that you can take advantage of with a simple twist to your existing tactics.

    5. Track and differentiate niche keywords.

    Keywords are another key area of SEO where you can easily gain an advantage. Pay attention to what niche keywords and long-tail phrases your competitors are optimizing for, then pick a group of keywords completely unrelated to them for your own strategy. Oftentimes, there's an entire open field of subtopics and keyword phrases that are untapped by the competition. If you swoop in to pick them up, you'll be in the clear to rank without contest.

    6. Work with your competitors directly.

    Finally, don't discount the possibility of working with your competitors directly. In this scenario, you could work together to produce a piece of collaborative content, drawing on both your resources to create something you can both benefit from. Because you'll have similar areas of expertise and a mutual desire to succeed, the power you can draw from this can be extremely beneficial to both of you.

    Finding the Balance

    These strategies can all help you get a competitive edge, outranking your competitors for valuable keywords, but don't forget that your primary goal is to make your end users happy. It's not worth writing a post about a competitor if it's not going to matter to your target demographics, nor will outranking a competitor matter if your content is gimmicky and subpar. Prioritize your user experience first, then work on building a competitive advantage.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • How to Learn SEO When You Know Absolutely Nothing About It

    by Jayson DeMers

    Search engine optimization (SEO) can be intimidating if you're a newbie. Even the concept -- making changes to your website to increase its visibility in search engines for specific keyword searches -- sounds complicated, and once you dig into the technical details, it all seems even harder to grasp.

    But in reality, SEO is much simpler than it appears on the surface. Almost every tactic you need to increase your rankings can be learned in a matter of weeks ... at least enough to get you going.

    All it takes is the certainty that you can learn this, the dedication to follow through, and a good starting point. So I've come up with the following six steps to master SEO even if you know nothing at the start.

    High-Level Basics

    First, keep these key and high-level basics in mind:

    • The learning never stops. As with any entrepreneurial venture, you should recognize that you'll never learn everything. As Sam Ovens comments, you need to commit to an ongoing learning process if you want to keep making progress. SEO changes all the time, thanks to new technologies and search algorithms, so you want to stay on your toes if you hope to prosper.
    • Scale your knowledge gradually. You aren't going to learn everything overnight, no matter how hard you work. So instead of trying to cram as much information into your brain as possible, focus on a small segment of SEO at a time.
    • SEO is an ongoing experiment. Even if you had all the current knowledge in place, there's no guarantee that you'll succeed. You need to measure, analyze, and refine your efforts constantly to improve your approach on an ongoing basis.
    Phases of Learning

    With those precepts in mind, you can start to learn SEO over six key phases:

    1. Get the 10,000-foot view.

    Start with the basics. Before you tackle anything with regard to SEO tactics, you need to grasp the strategy: what it isn't, how it's used, and how it can benefit your firm. Even if you believe you have a good idea, it's wise to check your assumptions: There are a number of misconceptions about SEO that might skew your approach if you start working under those premises. Moz has an excellent Beginner's Guide to SEO that's worth reading, even if you're already familiar with how SEO works.

    2. Learn how Google works.

    Next, you'll want to get a feel for how Google works as a search engine ... but don't worry: you don't have to learn any programming. Instead, you'll want to learn how Google's algorithms evaluate the authority of domains and pages, how keyword contexts are determined, and the various Google updates that have altered the SEO game over the years. (High-level understanding is fine for most of these.) You can go straight to the source for this one: Google has a great interactive feature that explains the long and short of how Google search operates to index sites and calculate rankings.

    3. Study keyword research and strategy.

    After that, you should learn how keyword research is performed -- as well as why it matters. Hummingbird has transformed the function of keywords within Google search over the past three years, but it's still worthwhile to include target keywords as part of your strategy. Backlinko has a detailed guide on this topic if you're completely unfamiliar with it, but try to experiment with lots of keyword research tools before you settle on the best one for your brand.

    4. Understand how to measure and analyze your campaign.

    Before you start experimenting with the tactics that are intended to help you rank higher in searches, you need to know what you're looking for and how to gauge your success. In this phase, you'll become acquainted with the tools that can help you measure your progress, understand your effectiveness, and ultimately improve your results. Google Analytics is a nearly perfect tool for beginners, and Google offers a fantastic help guide that can walk you through it.

    5. Delve into on-site SEO.

    Once those basics out of the way, you can start to work on the individual tactics and strategies that will make your site rank higher. First, you'll want to look into on-site optimization: all the technical changes, modifications, and best practices that you can apply to your website to make it more visible, better targeted to your demographic pool, and more authoritative. Quick Sprout has a guide with most of the information you'll need to start.

    6. Learn off-site SEO tactics.

    Finally, you'll need to work on the off-site facet of SEO, which includes such tactics as link building and social media marketing. Even though this phase is our final one, it's one of the most powerful phases to master, because of its potential impact on your rank and the risk of costly errors are huge. If you're looking for a good place to start learning, Wordstream has a valuable guide on the subject.

    Once you're gone through these six steps, and learned as much as you can along the way, you should have all you need to start, strategize, and execute an effective SEO campaign.

    Again, there's never going to be an official end to the learning process, so keep reading SEO news sites and don't allow yourself to get too comfortable with any one strategy. The more time you spend in the industry, the stronger grasp you'll have on the ebb and flow of optimization.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • Which Social Media Platforms Should You Use for SEO?

    by Jayson DeMers

    Social media has become a wonderfully diverse field, with dozens of different platforms in all kinds of different niches. While some powerhouses have clearly risen to the top (i.e., Facebook), some platforms offer incredible niche opportunities for businesses trying to get the most out of their campaigns.

    But when it comes to choosing the right platforms to support your SEO campaign, things can get a bit confusing. It's too much effort to pursue a strategy on every single platform you can find, but at the same time you want to make the most of your budget. So which social media platforms work best to support an SEO campaign?

    Why Social Media Matters for SEO

    First, we need to clarify an important misconception: social media doesn't directly affect your search rankings. It may seem like getting more popularity on social media could feasibly improve your rankings, but that's not how Google's algorithm works. So why is social media still important for SEO? Because it has a number of peripheral benefits for your search optimization strategy:

    • Building an audience. Social media makes it easier to build an audience, helping you expand your brand visibility and reputation, which in turn makes it easier to pursue SEO strategies like link building.
    • Promoting your content. Syndicating on the right platforms can also increase the reach of your content.  With more reach, a better reputation, and a bigger audience, you'll also stand to earn more inbound links, which have a powerful effect on your organic search rankings.
    A Look at Each Platform

    Now let's take a look at how each of today's major platforms can help you in this regard:

    1. Instagram.

    First up, we have Instagram, which now stands as the second-most popular social platform in the world (with over 400 million users). Instagram has a huge visibility advantage--if you run a contest here, you could easily attract hundreds of new followers or retain some of your older ones. It doesn't take much effort to manage a branded account, but there's one major disadvantage; you can't include links in your posts. This makes it exceptionally hard to distribute your content and earn more links.

    2. Facebook.

    Facebook remains the king of social media, with more than a billion users worldwide and enough flexible functionality to make even the pickiest marketer happy. You can post links, written content, images, or video, and employ contests, run ads, or join groups and participate in discussions. It's arguably the best platform for content syndication and audience growth due to its universal appeal, but keep in mind that organic reach is slowing down, making it more difficult to scale effectively.

    3. Twitter.

    Twitter is a fast-paced platform that allows you to syndicate links quickly and reach out to new people easily. For these reasons, it's one of the better platforms for quickly building an audience and pushing your content out. However, the main drawback for Twitter is that it's showing signs that it may be past its prime as a social media channel. Many people have predicted the imminent death of Twitter, and its user base doesn't show many signs of a potential recovery.

    4. LinkedIn.

    LinkedIn serves a great niche--professionals, entrepreneurs, and career builders. Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks. LinkedIn caters to individuals, so there aren't as many opportunities for brand pages to get visibility. However, if you're using personal brands as conduits to gain connections, participate in groups, and promote your core brand's content, it can be highly effective.

    5. Pinterest.

    Pinterest's format makes it a make-or-break platform for most brands. If you're interested in promoting image-based content or appeal to its consumer demographics, it can be one of your greatest assets. However, there isn't much range of functionality here, and it's not going to appeal to every business. It also has a comparably smaller user base than the above candidates.

    Though all of these platforms have advantages and disadvantages for SEO, you still need to consider how your specific brand fits into the equation. Different platforms will cater to different individual brands, so it's important you know what your specific business's advantages and disadvantages are. For example, if you're consumer-focused with lots of visual products, Pinterest will work better for you. If you're a business consultant catering to late-career professionals, LinkedIn will be better. Of course, the only way to tell for sure is to try a platform and see how it performs--just don't be afraid to cut the dead weight.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

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