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Using Small Ball SEO to Your Advantage

I know, it’s a little early for baseball and analogies (Hot Stove hasn’t even started yet), while we’re right in the thick of the Super Bowl.

If you’re a baseball aficionado, then you likely know what “small ball” is. If you don’t follow baseball, you might know the term but aren’t sure exactly what it means.

using small ball seo to your advantage
Lenny Randle famously blows a ball over the foul line in 1981. (Photo: Owen Blauman)

Small ball is a deliberate strategy of manufacturing runs without the need of big hits (i.e. doubles, triples, and home runs). The strategy employs aggressive base running (stealing bases to get into scoring position) and hitters making contact with the ball (think base hits, bunts, and sacrifice flies) to advance base runners.

When you don’t have massive firepower (home run hitters) in your line-up, but have speedier people that can make consistent contact, small ball makes sense.

SEO engagements for both enterprise and small business are a lot like playing small ball. And, if you’re going to be successful in the long-run and build a long-term and loyal client list, you can’t rely on huge explosion of progress and growth through (to keep the analogy going) “big innings” to keep them on-board.

You’ve got to be producing wins and results at every turn. It’s progress and growth just the same, just in smaller chunks. So, let’s talk about what a small ball SEO strategy looks like and how integrate it into your engagements.

Setting the Small Ball SEO Expectation

The reality is clients expect huge, game changing, level-up progress all the time. If you read Larry Page’s latest interview in Wired, it’s more than just his particular philosophy; it’s a corporate barometer.

There isn’t a company I’ve worked that doesn’t expect “moon shots” when they hire you to do SEO. Big corporations and small businesses alike have the expectation. And, chances are you didn’t win the business by only promising incremental gains.

Which leaves us in a bit of predicament after the first year or second year. The first years are always filled with explosive progress and gains (no matter the financial or legal limitations placed on you) because you’re working (hopefully) on sustainable, foundational SEO.

It fulfills the moon shot expectation but also sets the precedent that moon shot is the standard. Clearly, it’s the goal, but not the standard. It’s here you have to set the expectation of small ball; we play small and aggressive to manufacture multiple wins that in aggregate lead to bigger overall gains.

The expectation is set through the tasks and not through results. Instead of prefacing future engagements with the client about not expecting to see triple and double-digit gains as they did in the first year or second year (based on budget and how jacked-up the site was to begin with), you shift the conversation to the work itself and what success looks like through that.

What does Small Ball SEO Look Like?

As simple definition of Small Ball SEO, I would offer this: “what you’re doing to manufacture wins, add value, and stimulate growth on a consistent basis through smaller SEO tasks.” Generally speaking, it’s what you’re doing when you’re not hitting homeruns with big inning objectives like: adding a new product line, moving to e-commerce, going international, adding a blog, etc.

It’s the shift in philosophy from trying to generate “big innings” with every single optimization strategy, to advancing runners aggressively every chance you have and consistently scoring runs.

What Small Ball Optimization Is and Isn’t

Don’t mistake the idea of Small Ball SEO for laurel-resting or coasting. It isn’t.

It isn’t about optimizing a single page here or there, writing a couple pages of content, or creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Sure, those are small, individual tasks but they aren’t adding value or gains without a strategy behind it. With Small Ball SEO you’re still creating strategy, still optimizing and operating with precision, but on a smaller task level.

Again, it’s about creating several incremental gains over a period of time that will reproduce those double-gains over the long-run. Here is a small swath of Small Ball SEO examples:

  • Optimize product image naming conventions and alt-text
  • Creating a content strategy around 1 or 2 key business-centric products, optimizing for temporal and semantic mid-tail and long-tail
  • A/B test key conversion landing pages
  • Create a blog content strategy around 1 or 2 topics, again optimizing for temporal and semantic mid-tail and long-tail
  • Optimize product and/or review pages with
  • Optimize pages for Open Graph
  • Link building (Yep. I said it.)

Playing Small Ball SEO for the Long-Run Win

And on and on and on. None of these are “big inning” plays. It’s highly unlikely that a single one of these by itself scores big. But, in combination with each other, they help to clarify and fine-tune signal and lead to overall bigger gains.

Like baseball, the idea behind Small Ball SEO is to score early and often through proactive and aggressive type play producing an avalanche effect. Moreover, what’s stopping your Small Ball SEO strategy and tasks from leading to a “big inning” type play? Have some success at a small level, scale it out and reproduce it at a big level. Fair warning: Small Ball SEO isn’t always the eye-popping, sexy SEO that Homerun Ball SEO is (in keeping with our analogy).

There’s a good bit of grinding it out and waiting and grinding it out some more. It’s not instant-success and results which gets harder and harder in the “moon shot” era, but building for long-run sustainable success.


One Comment

  1. Daniel Law January 25, 2013

    Love the baseball SEO analogy and great post. Completely agree with the line of “Producing wins and results at every turn.”

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