How to Use SEO Like a Big Business — On a Small Business Budget The giants in your field likely have correspondingly huge online marketing budgets, but there are proven-effective and low-cost ways a modestly-sized business can still search-rank in the stratosphere.

By Jason Hennessey

Key Takeaways

  • Ranking higher locally, attracting more foot traffic or simply getting more reviews on Google don’t require overly ambitious SEO techniques.
  • Strategic use of both locally-resonant keywords and content placed in the right platform to attract your type of customer are the keys to success.
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Though there's no shortage of guides on "how to do SEO," far too many seem tailored to the needs of large (primarily online) businesses. They will, almost inevitably, emphasize the marketing importance of tons of content, as well as ample link building, but the hitch is that the kind of technical SEO they usually recommend often requires deep pockets.

Small businesses have different priorities and smaller footprints when it comes to needed clicks. Their growth goal might be to rank higher locally, attract more foot traffic or simply get more reviews on Google. None of these require overly ambitious strategies, and rest assured. Just a little more traffic can make a world of difference.

A few conservative yet proven effective SEO strategies:

Drive traffic via geo-specific keywords

As a local retailer, you don't need international reach. In fact, you might be content with ranking high within a specific city, county or state. And that's okay because targeting SEO keywords at a local level is often a far less competitive task than trying to beat out larger companies.

Here's an example: The keyword(s) "women's boots" has millions of searches per month, but a Keyword Difficulty (KD) of 64% (a term defined by Similarweb as "a metric that predicts how challenging it should be to gain a high ranking organically on Google for a specific keyword"). Comparatively, the keyword(s) "shoe stores San Francisco" sports a small fraction of that search count, but a KD of 39%. Not only is the second keyword more relevant to a local shoe shop but it is also far less competitive than trying to rank for "women's shoes," which is no doubt being monopolized by online retailers like DSW, Famous Footwear and Nordstrom.

You can use keyword research tools like SEMrush (the free version is fine for early SEO efforts) to identify keywords that are both related to your products/services and specific to a geographic location. Look for those that carry search volume (100+ searches), but have a medium (50%) to low (under 30%) KD. Then, use these keywords throughout your website on product, service and/or landing pages.

Remember, too, to follow SEO best practices for incorporating keywords into content, such as adding keywords to page titles, page descriptions, headings and body content.

Related: How to Use Keyword Difficulty in Your Content Strategy

Attract local-search customers

Another way to gather more eyes and clicks is to optimize your local directory listings. The most impactful of these include Google Business Profile, Bing Places for Business, Yelp and The Real Yellow Pages. When a user searches for local businesses, products or services, they are most likely to encounter one (if not all) of them.

There are also ways you can improve the rankings of such online listings. One is to ensure that all are frequently updated with the correct business name, category, hours of operation, contact information and website link. Search engine algorithms will see this information as consistent, increasing your chances of ranking well, which makes a business more available to interested buyers.

Positive reviews likewise play a role in local visibility, so ask customers to leave a review on Google after making a purchase. Five-star reviews build trust with prospective buyers and also influence its algorithm.

Related: 5 Ways SEO Can Help Grow a Mom & Pop Business

Host local sales events or pop-ups

A common misconception when it comes to local business marketing is that it's all about attracting the interest of active shoppers, but not all customers start off with the intention of buying. Sometimes, they're simply scrolling online and happen to come across a social media post about your business, a customer review or a recommendation from a friend.

These are what we call "top-of-funnel" customers. To attract them, you must offer the opportunity to first encounter your business, and this is where local events come in.

You can advertise pop-ups, sales events or classes, then market them locally to your social media network, in city-specific Facebook groups, with posters or even with a sandwich board. It's also a great idea to create online momentum for them. For instance, you can target keywords like "pop-ups in [city]" or "winter shopping in [city]" in order for SEO to do its thing and drive local traffic.

Related: Boost Your Website's Traffic With These 10 SEO Strategies

Leverage search-driven social platforms

Google isn't the only platform in town. Social media outlets like LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok and Pinterest also use search algorithms to connect users with businesses.

For example, many users turn to Pinterest for fashion inspiration or to find unique products. Its algorithm learns from users' search histories what types are of interest and from what areas searches are coming. Local retailers can benefit from this by using geo-specific keywords in their Pins, like "New York fashion inspo," "Seattle style," "what to do in Denver, CO," etc.

Similarly, users might use YouTube to discover product reviews, learn about local sites, plan a trip and watch tutorials. Local retailers can drive organic traffic by creating videos related to these searches, such as "X Cute Places to Shop in DC," "Local Stores You Need to See in NYC" or "Don't Skip These Must-See Pop-Ups in Portland." Be sure to research strategies for each platform, as content types and approaches might vary. For example, hashtags work well on Pinterest but are of less application on YouTube. The overarching idea is to create posts, videos or articles that appeal to the interests of local shoppers.

Related: The Best Times, Days and Months To Post on YouTube

SEO at the local level can certainly benefit more modestly-sized retail operations and is often more impactful (and less difficult) than generating national search interest. Just a few more clicks, a bit more foot traffic and a handful of additional website visits can really change things.

This is, to be sure, an ever-evolving field, so make a habit of checking online resources like I Love SEO to stay informed about algorithm updates, industry trends and changes in search engine guidelines.

Jason Hennessey

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Entrepreneur & CEO

Jason Hennessey is an entrepreneur, internationally-recognized SEO expert, author, speaker, podcast host and business coach. Since 2001, Jason has been reverse-engineering the Google algorithm as a self-taught student and practitioner of SEO and search marketing.

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