How can mom-and-pop shops compete against large companies that will always rank higher in Google search?
Very often my firm gets asked by small companies how they can compete with the "big boys," who think globally but act locally. For example, my sister runs the Western Massachusetts Penny Saver. If you don't know what a Penny Saver is, it's a local buy/sell/trade magazine that typically features ads about local real estate, automobiles (cars and motorcycles), garage sales, help wanted, estate sales, etc. As its name implies, her paper serves Western Massachusetts.
When I was young, I remember thumbing through similar papers every week. There was an exciting rush to get to the next page and see if you could find a hidden gem waiting for you buried deep in the pages of the classifieds. Local businesses would also run ads that included dates for events coming up. The Penny Saver was a great resource to find out when the carnival was coming to town, when the "Taste of..." event downtown was happening, etc.
But in modern times, many people just want to type "Help wanted Pittsfield, MA" into Google instead of looking through these types of papers. While papers like my sister's have created digital presences, they are now in direct competition with sites like Craigslist, which Google will always rank above a small, regionally-focused website, making it extremely difficult to compete on a local level.
How can mom-and-pop shops like this compete? The first obvious answer is for them to hire an SEO person. But there are so many charlatans claiming to be SEO experts (especially on the lower levels that small local companies can afford) that it is very difficult to find good SEO folks who'll work on that scale.
The second answer concerns localized advertising and social media. Certainly, advertising on Google for local keywords would help, as would advertising on Facebook to local people. Those cost money, however, and small shops are not always able to commit to the kind of marketing budgets that would really make a dent in traffic.
Developing a voice and point-of-view is also a good general strategy in cases like these. That's how I would advise a company looking to differentiate themselves in a global marketplace. Just being "another site that does X" is not interesting. But if your site has a clear voice, point-of-view, or style, it would make it stand out from the rest of the competition.
Having said that, my company focuses on multichannel user experience and loyalty for really large companies. Building traffic for small mom-and-pop shops is just not one of the things we have to worry about.
In the comments below, let me know your suggestions. I'd love to follow up this column with a case study (hopefully a success story) that would help other small companies compete the way the Western Mass Penny Saver needs to compete if they want to survive in the local marketplace against major national players.
Until next time...
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Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.
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