This One’s for the Underdogs: The Best Small Business SEO Tips


You’re proud of the fact that you’re a small business. You’re serving a local community, you’re meeting the needs of a particularly niche community, or you’re just getting your start. However, when it comes to getting established in the digital marketing/content world, you might be feeling like underdogs since you may lack the resources or deep SEO knowledge of the Goliaths of your industry.

We know you’re the wearer of many hats. And after this post, you, as SEO underdogs, will be able to add SEO to your extensive hat list.

The SEO Secret Weapon for Small Business Underdogs

In the shadow of the biggest players within your industry, it’s easy to feel like you can’t compete in organic rankings. Well-established companies with deep pockets have the ability to garner high-quality links from reputable sources, as well as a diversity of links, since they have the resources to invest time and money into building their domain authority.

But wait, there’s good news here. As a small, nimble business, you possess a few advantages.

Here’s what you have on your side:

  • Ability to invest quickly. As you well know, trends and patterns in your industry can change in the blink of an eye. The nimbleness of your organization allows you to respond quickly to the market and invest in the areas that matter most. Large companies will have to fight their way past complex hierarchies and managerial processes before getting anything approved.
  • True authenticity, creativity, and voice. Your business grew out of a few passionate people’s desire to answer an important need in the market. That commitment and enthusiasm are still felt deeply throughout your company. You can leverage this voice in your content to truly connect to your audience. Large companies will often find their content watered down by corporate jargon or legalese. Similarly, they have a standard process for representing their company and will be less willing to be creative and try a new approach in reaching their audience.
  • Laser focus. Because you are a smaller organization, you have the opportunity to narrow your focus on a specific subset of a market. Targeting a niche audience allows you to create curated content with depth and research. Again, industry giants must appeal to a wider audience and don’t have this luxury.

So, sure, you might not have the same domain authority, link quality, or resources as your bigger competitors, but recognizing your strengths as a business will empower you to seize opportunities both great and small.

Small Business SEO Tips to Keep Up with the Big Boys

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Okay, let’s get into the meat of the issue: what can you—as a small business—be doing to compete with your most formidable competitors when it comes to search engine marketing?

Moz has a helpful article and “Whiteboard Friday” video on 5 tips for small business SEO. Today, we’ll be drawing upon some of that content.

1. Target keywords that your competitors are unable or unwilling to pursue.

  • Long-tail keywords: Remember when we were talking about how niche you can get as a small business? Here’s your chance. These keywords are highly specific search phrases that relate to your business. Let’s say you’re a small, custom furniture shop and are trying to rank for dining tables. You better believe Room & Board is going after ‘custom dining table,’ but they are unable to target a more specific keyword like, ‘custom dining table black walnut.’ If you’re ready to start your long-tail keyword research, here’s a great post on allowing your keyword research to inspire blog topics.
  • Comparison keywords: Big brands will not try to compete on their competitor’s brand name, nor would they dedicate content to comparing themselves to other brands. But you can absolutely target those keywords by comparing your quality to your competitors’. This strategy can also help position your small business as an educational resource by comparing other services AND build trust with your audience.
  • Ranked brand keywords: Since your big competitors are expansive brands with diverse business relationships, they will often refrain from ranking other products or brands. But as our small furniture store, you can create content around the top 10 most durable fabrics without jeopardizing your business relationships.

2. Pursue authority in your specific niche.

You have the advantage when it comes to focusing on your niche audience with long-tail keywords. If a custom design or locally-sourced wood is what makes your furniture shop unique, then narrow in on those keywords.

The right long-tail keywords will help qualify leads for your business since users who type in these specific search phrases are farther along in the sales cycle. So while long-tailed keywords may bring in fewer leads than more general keywords, they deliver high-quality leads interested in your company’s product or solution. Making you less of underdogs.

3. Aim for content that is too indirect and hard-to-monetize for bigger businesses.

Big brands will focus their content on conversion—getting visitors to buy from their company. This makes them unwilling to create more educational pieces that live farther from the conversion point.

But you, my friend, are building a deep relationship with your specific niche. So go that extra mile to create content that builds trust in your industry even if it takes triple the number of visits before your visitors convert.

4. Ignore scalability.

As with the above tip, your competitors are focused on efficient conversion. Thus, they’re less able to produce content with depth since this is not as scalable.

But as a small business, you can commit to choosing specific content and its associated keywords to create 10x content. This means that you’re putting in 10 times the effort to produce outstanding content on a specific topic. This not only helps you rank for these keywords, but builds deep trust with your audience because you’re providing more value on this subject than your competitors every can. Such content isn’t often feasible on a regular publishing basis, but even a few of these pieces can go a long way: foundational pieces like this can be repurposed again and again to either (a) drive traffic or (b) serve as a gated piece of content used to gather information on your leads.

5. Build 1-on-1 relationships with your customers.

Your big competitors do not have the luxury to invest in personal relationships with their customers—there are too many of them and this personal touch is not scalable. But you can afford that.

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Returning to our furniture shop example, as the store owner, you’ll be in the store, greeting people and discussing their needs and household dreams. This 1-on-1 emphasis is, more likely than not, a tenet of your small business, but these conversations will highlight your authenticity and scale your small business “folksiness” through your social media, website, and personal blog comment responses. Not to mention, you’ll learn a lot about your business in the meantime!

Similarly, take this time to forge relationships with other local businesses. See how our customer Sam, with Dove Way, carefully fostered and leveraged these relationships to boost her content performance and customer conversions for her vacation home in Maine.

You may be small, but you are mighty. If you understand and leverage your assets as a small business, you can create a powerful impact on your SEO strategy. Many of your strengths as a small business are tied to how nimble and creative you can afford to be compared to your larger competitors. So don’t lose hope when it comes to search engine marketing. Every dog will have its day—even you underdogs out there.

Still hungry for more SEO tips for underdogs? Read about how blogging can impact your SEO strategy. Or, see how you’re doing so far on our SEO checklist.


Zoe Treeson

Having started my career in film, storytelling is at my core. That’s why helping Verblio customers tell their most compelling stories is my bread and butter. I seek to make the journey from curious web visitor to loyal customer seamless and delightful. But Hitchcock and the Coen Brothers aren’t the only things that’ll get me chatting. Before being seduced by film, I was on a neuroscience track. So if you’re ever hankering to talk CRISPR updates or the newest RadioLab episode, be assured that you’ll have my attention.

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