Google any of the following phrases: real estate, home loan, insurance, handyman, donation, hosting, lawyer, credit. Imagine you offer one of these services.
Recognized names often dominate search results. Service consolidators, companies with many physical locations and firms with magnificent ad budgets can leave smaller brands wondering whether competition is even feasible.
A business owner might take this on as search engine optimization, and go looking for an SEO geek to fight his battles. Yet, facing the giants with the slingshot of SEO could be a mistake. You beef up your website and lob over endless bags of cash, but the impact is absorbed in the endless algorithmic folds of the merciless beast. Search is shrugging off all attempts at bribery or force, and the big guys just stay bigger.
So, let them. Since search has tightened up, small brands actually have a great shot at it. To reach for the new tools, though, requires letting go of your rocks. Search has three stout defenses against abuse, but those also provide three opportunities for any business wanting more search relevance.
First, search engines now penalize for over-optimizing a website, and much more severely than a brand stands to lose from under-optimizing. Google tends to be a self-correcting environment; if you omit some information, it fills in the blanks. So, it's not so much about the technical platform. An initial optimization when the site is built, and a bit of training for the bloggers is about all a brand needs. The rest is mostly window dressing.
Instead of concentrating so much on the site, focus on ongoing content, where you can think big and maneuver small. One of the most powerful arrows in the small business quiver is video. It costs little or nothing to launch a video series on Youtube, and the search potential is outstanding. Videos often hit the first page quickly. Brands that want to be seen, do something valuable we can actually see.
Second, if you can create a social conversation around one unique value proposition of your brand, your efforts can have more value than any technical fix or even a big ad budget. Google uses social signals to rank brands now. It's all about getting real with an audience, and making a genuine connection. It can't be programmed, faked or built in. It has to be an ongoing practice of building your tribe. Followers, per se, don't count; interactions do.
Heart, and a sensitivity to what keeps any community engaged, are far more potent than a big budget and technical firepower. The brand's blog and social channels are the venue. Google now treats mentions of your brand as implied links. That evens the playing field. So while giant corporations are busy buying placements, you can create ubiquity for your brand organically. Brands that want to be talked about are good at conversations, not just talking.
Third, if you're willing to challenge the way business is traditionally done in your field, some do-it-yourself PR can generate brand mentions that leap over competitors' ability to engage the market. Change some fundamental process in how your industry functions. Make it tangible and specific, client-centered, and genuinely different than previous experience.
Raise the bar in your industry, and then it's all about having the conversation. You can do that by producing an ever growing body of content about how things could be different and what needs to change. Seed the world with your vision for a better brand. Create the expectation of a stellar client experience and, when you deliver, ask for honest online reviews. Brands that want cheerleaders give them something awesome to cheer about.
The field of search is now littered with intrepid businesses trying to follow in the footsteps of early search heroes who rose to fame overnight. Their names and brands are practically dead, and their coffins are nailed shut by Google algorithm updates. Most are literally "buried" somewhere around page 17 of the search results. But resurrection is possible.
The most devastating tool dominant brands have had at their disposal isn't budget or size, but an army of geeks who could game the system. They're actually outnumbered now, because search has evolved to compensate. The geeks are less relevant, and small brands are experiencing a renaissance. There's a veritable democratization of search marketing, and search is open for a new kind of hero: companies willing to focus more on the audience than the toolset. Giants beware!
Daniel DiGriz is a marketing strategist and external marketing director for a number of companies and organizations. He has a Masters Degree in Education and a background in digital publication, B2B sales, and corporate training for Fortune 500 brands. Daniel owns MadPipe, which provides marketing consulting and leadership to small businesses. He is author of "The Blogging Playbook for Small Businesses" and "All Marketing is Dead: Killing the Zombies in Your Digital Strategy." Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.