Can small businesses compete with large brands in SEO?

Cheryl Luzet - 29 November 2016

At Wagada our team are experts at working with small businesses. We’re passionate about helping them to build their brand and increase their website traffic through high quality search engine optimisation. However, one question that we often get asked by small companies is “how on earth can my SEO compete with the big brands?”. Of course at first glance a local hairdresser may appear to have little chance of competing with a national brand such as Toni and Guy, and a small fabric shop may wonder how they can ever have an advantage over a company such as John Lewis when it comes to SEO!

It is true that big sites do have a number of advantages when it comes to SEO and you would often expect a popular brand to benefit from the additional finances that they have to plough into their website optimisation. They are often working with digital marketing budgets that stretch into millions of pounds which would be unheard of for smaller businesses. This large budget also means they have the ability to invest in their website as a priority when it is required such as at the run up to Christmas or if another new big competitor comes onto the market.

Another benefit for large brands is that their website often has a very high domain authority. This can be due to a range of factors. Firstly they are likely to have a high number of good quality links coming into their website and bringing them the all-important ‘link juice’. These links will often come from a diverse range of trusted websites, all of which will influence the search engines to rank them higher than a much smaller or newer site. Large brands are also seen as trustworthy by online customers. It is often the case that they have built up their brand and reputation over a long period of time and therefore consumers have faith in their products and services. A smaller business still has to work very hard to build up their authority within their market and to gain the trust and loyalty of their customers.

So, whist the big brands may seem to hold all the cards when it comes to SEO, don’t worry just yet – we’re here to show you that in fact there are many benefits to being a small business that can help your website to appear higher in the search engine rankings. In fact, there are a number of ways that you actually have an advantage over the more established names within your industry.

How small sites can have an SEO advantage

1. Flexibility and creativity

Large companies mean large teams and this can often lead to a long-winded decision-making process about digital marketing campaigns that may involve a large number of people. This means that any changes to their SEO can take time to make, and then they still need to be approved and communicated to separate web design, marketing and PR teams. But, with a small business you don’t have any of this to worry about! Instead the small size of your team means that you can be extremely reactive to changes, both in the business and online world. If a new Google algorithm comes out in the morning, you can start to make the relevant changes to your site that very same day. Lack of bureaucracy means that small businesses are perfectly placed to get things done, whilst larger brands are still discussing them in the boardroom.

The same rationale applies to creativity. Long approval processes in big brands can stifle the intuitive creativity that often needs to be applied to your website SEO. In a small business you have the luxury of breaking boundaries – and you can quickly turn your blue sky thinking into tangible results.

2. An authentic voice

When you run your own company, you become the voice and face of your business. This means that you can often be far more authentic with your digital marketing and social media than a larger brand. Big companies often appear ‘faceless’ to their customers and you can capitalise on this by showing your potential clients that you’re a real person. Write about your own personal experiences and show them you are there to help. Answer them directly on social media and let them get to know you as a person.

3. Working in a niche

Large brands often have to be all things to all people and it can be difficult finding a voice through their advertising that hits all of their target demographics. Getting their marketing wrong can mean that they alienate a segment of their clients and they often struggle to appeal to everyone. This is where small businesses can really come into their own. You can pick a very specific target market that you know and understand. You can really work to build up their trust in your company so that you become the go-to business for that particular group of customers.

Our top 3 ideas to help small firms compete with larger brands

Hopefully after reading about all the advantages that you have as a small company you’re now feeling a lot more positive about how you can gain a competitive advantage. At Wagada we know that there are a number of ways to help you compete and here are our top 3!

1. Choose your niche and build positive relationships with your target audience

Earlier in this article we looked at how building a very specific niche was a key advantage for a small business. Therefore, it’s vital to spend time considering your target customers, so that you can start to really understand what they respond to and what they want from your business. You could run some focus groups to discover what your potential clients want and you should think about what you can offer them that larger brands can’t. For example, a small fabric shop may not be able to offer the range of products that a competitor such as John Lewis can, but they could offer more unusual brands or focus on Fairtrade material. They could also offer clinics to give advice to people about sewing and dress patterns.

Small companies can also reach out to online influencers and build personal relationships that can’t be replicated by corporate PR teams. These strong relationships with bloggers, local business communities and the local press can help build trust in your brand and will also see your social media and blog content shared more frequently.

2. Make sure your website content provides value and don’t be afraid to pursue harder-to-monetise content

A small business can often put much more time and effort into one piece of content than a larger brand may be able to. Because you really understand your niche and the keywords that they will be searching for, you can focus on creating content that meets this need. This in-depth content will also help to build authority for your website in your target market and help you gain trust and loyalty from your clients. Whereas, large websites are often looking for a quick route to monetisation, you can focus on creating relationships and providing content that keeps customers coming back to your website.

3. Focus on keywords that larger companies won’t be using

Keywords are obviously vital for successful SEO. Big brands will often choose specific keywords to focus on but there will also be a large number of keywords that they will not target as well – and that’s where a small business can find success. High profile companies will often target shorter and more popular keywords so you could focus instead on the more specific long-tail keywords that your clients could be using. For example John Lewis may use ‘beautiful fabrics’ as a keyword but a small fabric shop could target the phrase ‘best place to buy ethically produced fabrics in Hertfordshire’.

You will also find that large companies won’t often attempt to compare themselves to another large brand, but as a small company you can do this and make the most of using comparison keywords. This is also the case with editorial keywords. A small business can find these keywords very powerful and they are not constrained by the business relationships that a larger brand may have. Therefore they can definitively recommend one supplier over another due to their personal experience.

As you can see, small businesses can actually benefit from many advantages when it comes to SEO, compared with the larger brands. You have the freedom to focus on what you need to do, when you need to do it, without facing complicated approvals processes. You can really capitalise on the creativity of your team and build up a niche audience where you can develop trust, authority and positive relationships. Remember to focus on the keywords that large companies choose not to use and really invest in high quality, in-depth content that your target customers will love.