If you’re a small business and you think you cannot compete with the big corporations in SEO, think again!
The case study below is a project I did for a friend’s company which is a small and local business in a very competitive niche with national and multi-national players. This company is not local to me and I won’t say which market or markets they are in. This is at their request.
The traffic in the screen shot below might not be massive, but this company is up against a Google algorithm specific to high trust and authority (not E-A-T, E-A-T is a concept and not an algorithm with factors and signals).
Each conversion is worth $20,000 to $200,000 in revenue annually, and the users normally stay for multiple years. This makes it high value and really expensive to advertise for.
Needless to say all channels are saturated and there is big money involved making it really hard for small and local businesses to compete.
So how did we beat the big players?
- I scrapped the entire site
- We deleted more than 3,000 pages of copy
- The company used their resources like friends to build trust
- No backlinks were built, we did PR work
- Schema and site structure were added
- We kept each other accountable even when there was no time
So here’s the results YOY for 2019 and 2020. Remember, they are a local company in one or a couple markets and they are competing with the big players. There is also a limited amount of customers and users that exist in each market.
Please note that:
- Only the old lead form path is listed here for conversions.
- There are multiple new lead options based on the theme of the page the incoming traffic hits.
- The bounce rate started lowering later in the year when we upgraded the PHP and speed up the site.
- The pages per session lowering is a good thing. We added in lead forms and CTAs to the more important pages making it easier for leads to contact us. Less searching the site for contact information means easier conversions and more money, even if there are less pageviews.
Step 1 – Scrap the Entire Site
The very first thing I did was delete the entire site (after backing up all of the copy and pages of course). The old site was built with outdated code, it lacked structure and had no solid calls to action. Only a button that leads the visitor to a form and a phone number to call. It also featured giant rotating hero images. This was the first thing to go!
Pro-tip: Giant hero images on the homepage kill conversions and can be incredibly bad for SEO. If you have these on your homepage, category pages or PDP pages, you are killing your conversions and destroying your customers experience on your site for no reason. This does not help branding as it hurts the customer experience, SEO and your company’s revenue. Companies, especially brands, argue this all the time that it helps branding. I have never seen an actual example of it helping once we look at data and I’ve been doing this for roughly 16 or so years.
The new site focuses heavily on the user experience which in turn built a solid foundation for SEO. By making it easier for users to find what they were looking for we also created an experience where journalists and others could give us backlinks (and they did!). This is because we made the site easy to navigate and the most important content that answers questions and supports data easy to find.
The bottom line is that once it is easy for visitors to know what your company does or sells and what you are about, you can more easily help the end user find what they’re looking for. This is one of the reasons why giant hero images and branding messaging as H 1 tags and sales blurbs is bad. It disrupts the user experience and confuses the product or service offering.
By making a user friendly site and incorporating branding after, a customer can more easily find products and checkout. A journalist can find your content and give you a citation or reference link. And search engine spiders can crawl your site with ease to determine which pages are important and what content they should show for specific search queries.
Without the owner sticking by me and trusting me that I’d tie in and add branding later, these results wouldn’t have been possible.
Step 2 – Delete All Thin and Bad Copy
This was the most painful part. I deleted all 3,000+ pages of copy from their site. The team was devastated and tried to find alternatives to deleting it. There weren’t any.
The copy deleted included their product and service pages, blog posts, fun events for the company and irrelevant feel good things like holiday wishes and press releases.
With that said, some of the content was meaningful and helped to build trust with the potential customers, so we added meta robots noindex, follow to these pages and removed them from the sitemaps.
We noindexed them because these pages are not something we want search engines to find over and over. They are also good for the end user, but only after they’ve entered into a content and sales funnel from a different piece of content that does solve a problem someone is searching for.
Pro tip: It is bad to signal to a search engine that this is an important page only to have them find you also don’t want it indexed. That is why we removed the pages from our sitemaps.
The rest of the copy had to go! This included detailed articles about the industry.
But wait, shouldn’t a properly written and detailed article about the industry be good? In this case no!
The authors on all of these pieces took information from other sites and sourced it back to them. The amount of information taken vs. what was original and created based on their findings was lacking.
If the author would have taken information from other sites (and sourced it), then took it a step further to create new informative pieces and shared findings by compiling that data, then it would be unique and value adding copy. Sourcing other people’s findings or not creating something new with the data is and always will be thin copy.
Thin copy that does not help a conversion should be deleted. Sourcing other peoples’ work just because it is relevant doesn’t make your copy good. Unless you are using it as a resource to back up your findings, you always need to take the information you are sourcing and creating something new and useful that helps the person looking for information, stats or data.
Before you delete copy, check these things to make an informed decision:
- Is there traffic coming from the search engines and is it good traffic?
- Are there any quality backlinks?
- If yes, should we fix this copy and use internal links to pass authority.
- If yes, should we 301 redirect this page to an updated and relevant page, or more relevant article?
- Do we have any traffic finding this page from other pages and does that traffic stay, engage, or drive business? This is the most important one to consider.
Once you’ve evaluated this, then you’re ready to keep the page, redirect it, fix it up or delete it.
Step 3 – Call In Some Favors
The CEO and the employees at this company are loved in their community, even by their competitors. When I discovered this I redid the content strategy to use their network of professionals.
I outlined the next 20 or so articles and we looked through their database of friends, colleagues and competitors to find subject matter experts (SMEs).
Once we identified the SME for each article we asked them to create the piece. When the SME completed the draft I optimized it so that it would be written to be understandable for the intended audience, uses proper formatting with bullet lists, headers, internal links, etc… and then I sent it back for fact checking and approval.
Once approved we published it on a schedule based on industry trends, consumer demand and a couple months before a journalist or trade publication would be looking for new examples. This way our content could be found as the demand season begins and we can get natural backlinks to our copy.
Step 4 – Building Exposure
A lot of you know I’m a link builder, but links aren’t going to move the needle when you’re up against multi-national companies with tons and tons of money, links and media mentions. So instead I looked at their industry publications, national media sites and local media companies in their markets.
I searched for the topics we are covering on the website and came up with unique spins or follow up topics that the journalists haven’t covered yet. By doing this and using Google news and other content aggregators I was able to create a targeted list of writers that have an interest in their niche.
The next part was easy, I spent a night customizing emails specific to each journalist complimenting them on their content and offering them an interview with the CEO. 3 in 5 agreed to talk to the CEO or Director of Operations including major national media outlets. Many of them followed through and published articles.
This is how we built authority.
We didn’t ask for links and not all websites added them when they picked up the story. But we did get mentions and those mentions built trust and credibility for the company. What is even more important is that as leads came in, some of them mentioned they discovered us in these articles.
When they found our website and realized we were the company mentioned in articles (there’s a long sales process sometimes) while they were researching solutions, this helped drive more conversions than we had seen in previous seasons.
Step 5 – Schema and Structure Were Added
Once we had enough original content and a large enough site, it was time to build structure and add schema.
Site structure is simply a fancy way to say we are trying to guide website visitors and search engines through the website. Site structure includes breadcrumbs, navigation, the sitemap and internal links.
Next I added schema in. Nothing special, just the standard with some extra fields to further define the topics, services and service areas.
Step 6 – Consistency
The most important thing we did was hold each other accountable. There were weeks we had no time to produce content, pitch journalists and update copy as new regulations, features, services and of course pandemic related obstacles came our way. But we did not allow ourselves to make excuses.
Each time one of us would make one, the other team members held the person accountable and we continued pushing through. This was the key to success.
And that’s it!
The new traffic is converting leads and we filled their funnel by beating the national and international brands. Giant companies have to deal with IT teams, branding departments and tons of egos. Small companies can be agile and bypass some of these. This is how small companies like my friend’s business can compete and win.