Can Small Businesses Compete in SEO?

It seems to me that large corporations have a decided edge in optimizing their Web sites for search engines over small business in general and solo practitioners in particular.

Reason: SEO is a complicated process with many different time-consuming and labor-intensive tasks, from keyword research to optimizing press releases.

A bigger company can afford to dedicate one or more employees full-time to each of these major tasks. For instance, I know a company with a full-time staff person who does nothing but seek incoming links, one of the steps in SEO.

By comparison, if you are a solo entrepreneur or an understaffed SOHO, no one in your office may be able to spare more than a few MINUTES each week securing incoming links to your Web site.

Is there any way a solo or SOHO entrepreneur can compete with medium or large companies in the SEO game … any tricks or shortcuts you know to level the playing field?


47 thoughts on “Can Small Businesses Compete in SEO?

  • When little guys try to compete with the big guys, the little guys usually lose. The trick (in my silly opinion) is to find a niche that the big guys aren’t competing in. Let them have the 99%, and go for the .1% that will pay the mortgage very nicely.

  • That’s the problem, the while thing is a game, and there has been a (correct) sense that you can game the system. SEO spending or company size aren’t prerequisites for success though – notice that blog pages figure so prominently in search results now.

    Search engines have too much at stake; people will reject their search engine if they fall for malarkey. So google has been rewarding linkage and relevant content. But these things too are an approximation of something real, and so, like Stephen points out, these too can be gamed.

    Seems to me that, in a very short time, actual involvement in relevant communities that have bone fide physical or information transactions with you will probably be a prerequisite for a good web ranking. Because these things are real, are probably measurable, and search engines or other web tools can make a lot of money by not falling for malarkey.

  • I think companies and individuals must come to terms and understand that the front page of major search engines is valuable real estate, equivalent to prime time TV commercials: No small (or local) business would dream to go to a national network and ask for a run of (prime time) commercials – it just wouldn’t make any sense.

    Same goes with the Search Engines.

    Now having said that there is certainly room for the small guy to make his way in the online world in a reasonable manner.

    I don’t buy the business that the small company doesn’t have the TIME to dedicate to this activity – the small business must understand that online is strategic (or will become so) in the very near future and will determine survival.

    It’s a matter viewing the web as an integral part of your business – not just a toy or a PR initiative that drains energy from the enterprise.

  • Sante: I have a small online business with one part-time employee who has to do EVERYTHING. One of my larger competitors has a big operation with one of his employees not just dedicated to SEO, but specifically, dedicated just to getting inbound links. How can I compete with that? We simply have other things to do and cannot devote the time to links or any other single aspect of SEO they can.

  • Hey Bob,

    I think that we do see SOHO and small business competing in Google all the time. Now, if you are selling a new word processing package, chances are Microsoft Word will figure higher in any search engine page ranks. But that is true in the “analogue” world as well — some companies like Microsoft can afford Superbowl advertising, while SOHOs likely cannot.

    Any company that has more employees will (or at least should…!) be able to get more accomplished. Rather than look at it as a “gross” comparison of hours spent in SEO vs. results, why not look at the “net”? Do you have enough business from your SEO efforts? If no, would it pay to hire or sub-contract someone to spend more time with it?

    You can outsource just about anything these days. So even “small” businesses can access services like link building, general SEO, or anything that will help you. And if a full-time link-chaser like the big boys have will increase your business that much, then it’s time to expand!


  • One way to compete with the big boys is to use relevant keywords that people are searching on but where the supply (web pages) for those keywords is low. You build helpful content around these keywords that drives traffic to your site. I’ve gotten pages in the top five on Google this way. There’s a little more to it than this, but it’s possible and not that difficult or time consuming once you get the hang of it.


  • Interesting post. The idea that small businesses can’t compete with the big companies re: SEO is bogus. I run a web development company and we have a small handful of SEO clients who have seen tremendous success (Top 10, Top 5) using our SEO services (and no, we don’t charge thousands for it).

    The problem I see, more often than not, is that people try to “game” the system and/or try to optimize for as many keywords as possible. Both are approaches that will only bring disappointment instead of results. SEO isn’t rocket science, but there are some key things that can make it challenging, especially as you get into more competitive markets.

    I’m surprised only one person has mentioned outsourcing. Further, instead of outsourcing someone to build links, why not hire a web development company with SEO expertise, or an SEO specialist?

  • Piggy-backing on what Joel said earlier, in order to capture a piece of the market, you will have to carve out a very specialized niche that will speak to your target audience in a more focused and narrow way that the big guys do.

    Higher rankings can be also be achieved by focusing on a geographic area, where keyword competition is lower, so your chances of ranking higher are much better. You won’t pull in as much as the big guys do, but as Joel said, you don’t need as much as they do either.

  • Bob, I don’t know if it helps, but I found your sites because of your books and because other sites about copywriting resources call you one of the greats.

  • SEO for the small business isn’t unreachable, but it does require some research.

    I recently developed an info product for small-biz folks on unraveling the SEO mystery, so they at least know what to ask their web designers.

    The SEO expert I interviewed for this does keyword research for clients and packages it affordably, but we structured the interview to answer a lot of questions for people who are new to it and might not have the budget for optimization.

    If you think it could help someone, check it out on my website:

    All the best…

    Apryl Parcher

  • Hi, Bob,

    You raise a good point. Small businesses simply don’t have the cash (or resources) to throw at a huge SEM campaign. At the same time, I’ve seen many a big business throw lots of cash at a flailing search marketing effort – and their small businesses competitors still out-position them.

    I wrote an article about this called “Yes, Small Businesses Can Kick SEO Butt” that goes into this a little more.

    No matter what, a small business would have to spend some money (and/or time) to compete effectively – just like they’d have to do with any marketing channel. But yes, it can certainly be done.


  • I hope it’s not true that the little guy can’t successfully do SEO. If so I would have to give most of my revenue for the last four years back to whoever I would give it back to if it were true.

    Never underestimate the power of a lone practitioner, especially one who is borderline obsessive compulsive.

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  • Optimize your HTML and not just your text. Search engines don’t see the pages the same way human users do, so just because it looks good on the outside doesn’t mean it’ll get ranked highly. For example, using an tag is a better choice than increasing the font size with the tag, since now the search engine will realize that text is a header.

  • Be varied in the page titles of your site, but not too lengthy. Targeting over 70 characters will begin to diminish the weight of the page or site. Keep the titles condensed and intersperse a wide variety of your keywords and phrases amongst them. Each individual page will add its own weight to the overall search.

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