It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
You know you’re selling a better product, one which not only performs better but has a genuine story behind it.
You’re also running an ethical business.
You give back to the community and truly care about your customers.
But you still can’t seem to break through the noise created by the name brand competitors.
Their inferior products are filling store shelves and your target market doesn’t even know the grass is greener on the other side.
As a small business, it can be tough to stand out when you’re competing against big brands which have seemingly endless marketing budgets and troves of people whose sole job is to increase sales.
I know it may seem dark right now, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
There is a plan for small businesses to hop into the ring with the juggernauts and hold their own.
And the truth is, there has never been a better time in history for small businesses to carve out their place in the market.
Why do you ask?
Because of two relatively recent marketing channels:
SEO and Social Media.
The playing field may not be “level,” but these channels are slowly tipping the scales towards small businesses.
The amount of attention available to be grabbed in these channels is astounding.
Even a tiny niche market can feel gigantic and generate profitable returns from these channels if you’re savvy enough to take advantage of them.
In this article, I will break down how small businesses can use SEO and social media to compete with the big brands and grab a piece of the market share for themselves.
It may seem like a daunting task right now, but hopefully, after reading this article you’ll have a clear picture of how you can do it too.
Let’s break it down:
Don’t get me wrong, money does play a role in both of these channels.
You can buy your way to a lot of exposure on Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, and other search engines and social platforms.
But paid advertising is only a part of the equation.
A big brand can place their ad in front of anyone on a social platform, but will it be personal?
Will it be empathetic to that customer’s true needs?
Will it feel genuine and authentic?
And does that customer feel a personal bond with the brand?
In terms of SEO, a big name brand can easily rank for competitive keywords, but do they have products which cater to a niche audience?
Can they only serve a general market and thus, not benefit from targeted search phrases?
It’s this space where small businesses can stand out, build a name for themselves, and grow beyond their local market.
Most big brands use social media just like they use radio, television, and print advertisements.
They say “Here’s our product and here’s why you should buy it.”
They don’t say:
Consumers are good at identifying authentic brands from brands who only have a sales agenda.
Social Media has allowed small businesses who genuinely care about their customers and their service to showcase this sentiment and build diehard fans.
All else being equal, many consumers would rather support a business who cares about certain values (such as creating eco-friendly products, sourcing locally grown produce, etc) than a large company who forgoes those values for profit.
Small businesses can’t compete with the advertising reach corporations have in television and print.
But in social media, you can create a Facebook page or Twitter account, put out content, and attract free attention many times more valuable than TV or print.
Here’s how to compete on social media as a small business:
Large companies are slowly catching onto this, but it’s not too late to make it a cornerstone of your business.
Use social media to engage with your audience, one on one, and build personal relationships with them.
This connection is still rare in the digital business-to-consumer world.
So if you respond to a consumer’s comment or question, that’s a big deal to them.
From their perspective, it shows you’re taking time away from “regular business stuff” (sales/marketing) to make sure your audience knows you care.
This type of engagement hasn’t been commoditized yet, and probably won’t be for at least a few years.
Take advantage of it now.
You can’t compete with big brands in the general market, but you can stand out to a niche audience.
And this doesn’t mean your products have to differ greatly from the big brands.
For example, let’s say you sell toothbrushes and you’re competing with a large corporation.
This corporation uses harmful plastic which ends up in landfills, while you use a renewable resource or reclaimed plastic to help reduce landfill waste.
You’re selling the same product, but your niche market is anyone who’s environmentally conscious.
You can stand out on this front by creating content which touches this audience and gets you exposure.
Just because a network is “hot” right now doesn’t mean you should be on it.
You should be wherever your core audience is because that’s where you will reach them best.
If your core audience is on Instagram, and your big brand competitor is spending all of their time/money on Facebook, there’s a huge opportunity for you.
Be aware and try to seek pockets of opportunity like this.
Not all content is created equal on each platform.
A video on Snapchat could seem unprofessional on Instagram or Facebook.
Yet, an Instagram or Facebook video could seem inauthentic on Snapchat.
Create content to fit the platform.
If you don’t know which type of content fits the platform, follow the popular accounts (in and out of your niche) and study what they’re posting.
Your audience has a limited amount of people/brands they can pay attention to.
You need to be consistent in order to enter and stay in this coveted list.
Consistently put out content, engage with your audience, and promote your products every once in awhile.
By pushing out content and engaging, you will naturally spark curiosity leading to sales.
But you should also do direct promotions to build awareness to your offerings and encourage people to buy.
Small businesses can stand out in a big way by forming real human connections with their customers and scaling it using these platforms.
SEO is a different landscape than social.
It isn’t personal, the most visual aspect are blue links, and you can’t engage with your audience.
But you can still stand out and gain exposure.
Have you ever been in this situation:
You keep finding the perfect keywords to rank for, ones that would send a flurry of buyers your way, but every time you check their results you see 7-10 big-brand websites with impossible levels of authority ranking on the first page?
Here’s the biggest mistake I see small businesses making:
They’re trying to rank for the wrong keywords.
Not only are these keywords hyper-competitive, they also don’t have the right buyer intent for their (most likely, niche) product line.
These keywords are what the industry calls head or core keywords.
They’re one or two words long, and they are typically very competitive terms.
The sites ranking for them have a lot of authority (lots of high-quality backlinks pointing to their website) and are tough for a small business to replicate.
Despite being able to rank for these terms and bringing in a ton of traffic, the big brands can be outranked for another type of search term.
These keywords are called long tail keywords.
They usually get fewer searches per month and have lower traffic potential, but they may actually be more profitable for you to rank for than head keywords.
Because your line of products or services probably fits a narrower, more niche audience.
And this is who uses these long tail search phrases (core term + modifier).
Here’s an example:
The keyword “drink bottles” is a head keyword.
As you can see, large brands are ranking for it:
However, the keyword “environmentally friendly drink bottles” is a long tail keyword, and most of the websites ranking for it are smaller niche brands:
Why does this happen?
Because Google has become good at identifying relevancy.
It can tell how relevant a page is to the target keyword, and how relevant a website is to the searcher’s intent.
So if your business specializes in selling eco-friendly drink bottles, and your pages/backlinks are telling Google this, then you’re more likely to rank for related terms than a large general corporation.
And the other websites ranking for these terms probably have less authority, which means the keyword is easier to rank for.
On top of that, your conversion rate will be higher when ranking for these keywords, because you’re attracting your exact target market.
Not people who are looking for the general version of that product.
If this is happening, you’re in a bit of a bind.
But it’s not a lost cause.
Here’s what you can do:
Big brands usually have a lot of domain authority.
That is, their overall domain has a lot of trust and ranking power in Google.
I like to call it “Google Juice”
However, their individual pages can sometimes lack direct backlinks and, therefore, ranking power.
This is where you can get a leg up.
In the image above, the red rectangles indicate high authority domains with low page-level links.
The blue rectangles indicate lower authority domains with higher page-level links.
These websites are also more relevant to the search term (oriental rugs) than their big brand counterparts, and with some more page authority, they’ll be on their way to knocking them down the search results.
“Relevancy and page authority is how small businesses can compete with authoritative websites on long tail keywords and SEO in general” states Digital Green Tea.
You may not have a lot of money as a small business, but what you do have is time.
You have time to invest in the things which really matter.
In social media, you can devote your spare time to creating content which really touches your audience, engages them, and creates personal relationships.
For SEO, you have time to invest in creating a relevant website with relevant backlinks to specific pages you’re trying to rank.
Big brands don’t have this time (or don’t care for it) so they rely on domain authority alone.
Keep pounding away at it.
It’s always hardest to gain initial exposure.
After a certain point, it snowballs and almost begins to run itself (with monthly maintenance).
Giving up too soon is one of the biggest mistakes I see.
Succeeding in both SEO and Social Media Marketing is about one thing:
Testing, testing, testing.
You need to test different tactics and different ways of gaining exposure in your niche.
Don’t assume something is true simply because a big blog/blogger said so.
See if it truly works for your business and your niche.
Trial and error are how you will really figure out what works and what you can scale to achieve amazing results.
What has your small business been struggling with in regards to SEO and social media marketing?
What are the successes you would like to share which other people might benefit from?
Let me know in the comments below.