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Small Business, SEO, and “Buffy”

October 11th, 2011

small business seo, seo small businessI love “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” And I mean that as both a fan of the television program as well as an SEO analyst and Internet marketer. Here’s what I mean.

Longtime readers will know that I have two websites that I publish as hobbies in addition to my day job: Considerations, a current-events essay website that I write to satisfy my former journalist-self, and this SEO-software portal. Well, a month ago, I created a third: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online.” And the lessons that I have learned in that short amount of time are valuable in any small-business SEO context at a time when some marketers wonder whether large corporations will use their unlimited dollars to dominate their chosen keywords and freeze-out the lesser among us. Let me explain.

As I wrote in prior posts on popular blogs, running blogs, and how to avoid becoming one of the many lost blogs on the Internet, the most-important thing that I can tell any online publisher is to “write quality content on what you know.” In a business context, your company’s blog should aim to be the thought leader in your industry or sector — yes, it should even be the first news read by your competitors each day. In a personal context — assuming that you want to make money online by publishing a website — you need to be the best among the competition by writing what you know (and by creating a website that will “slay” the rest).

And I know “Buffy.” (Well, not personally, since she’s a fictional character, and all — but you get my point. I’d digress into a post on why the Mayor is the best villain in the series, but that’s neither here nor there.) And I know Internet marketing. So, here’s what I did for my next SEO small-business — using my fan hobby to create a website that would earn revenue from affiliate-marketing sales.

First, I did the keyword research. (No surprise there.) And I was surprised at the non-competitiveness in the Google external-keyword tool of many keywords for a topic and television show that has inspired a massive cult following since 1997. Here is a small sample:

small business seo, seo small business

A recap for those who are unaware: Google assigns a general gauge of competitiveness between 0.00 and 1.00 for each keyword in its database. If your keyword, say, has a rank of 0.95 like most things relating to forex and currency trading (the sector in Tel Aviv in which I began much of my SEO career) — well, good luck trying to rank highly in organic search or get a cheap PPC price in Google AdWords! But I was seeing so many other keywords that were ripe for the digital plucking. And most of these terms had average monthly search-volumes of thousands — or even tens of thousands — per month. My SEO brain flashed with the idea that I had seized upon one of the few sectors in Internet marketing that are still not competitive at all.

Second, I created an SEO-friendly website and did a little marketing. As you can see in the left sidebar at my “Buffy” online website, I created a website hierarchy that is logical, intuitive (see a post I wrote for my company on that topic), and one that focuses mainly on the less-competitive keywords. (More on that later.) Then, I added some affiliate advertisements, affiliate text-links, and a “Buffy” blog with two essays, to start, on the various metaphors and themes of the show. And that’s it. Apart from doing a little linkbuilding through my knowledge of linkbuilding strategies, I’ve done little else in the month since I began the website. (The specific strategies, from sitemaps to content to on-page optimization to many other factors, are, well, state secrets — if I told you, I’d have to stake you!) One key, as a colleague wrote in another post for my company, is to focus on SEO before you build your website.

And what have been the results? Well, see this excerpt from my data for yourself:

small business seo, seo small business

The columns, from left to right, are: the average number of global monthly-searches, the keyword, the SERP now in October 2011, and the SERP at the end of September 2012. Not bad for a website that is one-month old, eh?

The Lessons for Small-Business SEO

What does this data mean in practical terms? Simple. Here are the SERPs at the time of writing for “buffy boxset” (the complete DVD set of the series — with 1,900 searches per month) in non-personalized, US-based search in Google:

small business seo, seo small business

After one month, my page targeting that keyword is currently third in the SERPs — right behind Amazon and www.tvshowsondvd.com, even though my “page authority” and “domain authority” are next to nothing since the site is only several weeks old. Now, I write this post not to brag but to prove a point that is relevant to any small-business SEO strategy: You can get similar results, if you know what you are doing. You can even approach the big names, if not even eventually surpass them as well.

The key rests mainly in what is termed a “long-tail keyword strategy” — for example, targeting “autographed baseballs by Babe Ruth” rather than just “autographed baseballs.” The narrower the search, the less the competition and the more conversions that one will have. (In general, not always!) The more specific, the better.

However, there is a caveat: as more Internet marketers understand the benefits of long-tail targeting, the more that all of the niche keywords will become more competitive. So, in the end, it comes down to choosing the keywords that are the least competitive regardless of whether they contain two words or ten words in the phrase. Just like how, for my “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” website, I targeted less-competitive terms regardless of their length. Remember: long-tail search terms do not always have less competition just because they are long-tail. I’ve seen long-tail keywords that have only a few dozens searches per month but garner, say, tens of dollars per click in PPC costs. And that’s not to mention the competitive-factor in organic search specifically.

The takeaway: An article I quoted above raised the following issue in regards to small-business SEO:

As you probably know, Google has long relied on link trust and other link signals as the major factors when ranking web pages. Link trust has been relatively easy to game and also relatively cheap. But SEO may have just got more expensive…(Admittedly SEO, despite being banded about as the ‘free traffic source’, has long been dominated by the contender with the deepest pockets.)

Google is ushering us all into an era of search that’s much more dependent on social and user metrics. This presents numerous challenges for small businesses…

  • Becoming a brand – to survive in the supersized sitelink SERPs and generally brand biased world
  • Generating social signals – not easy for all small businesses, definitely not going to be easy to game BUT big businesses might have an unfair advantage once again since they have cash and awareness to throw at initiatives like competitions, prize giveaways, huge worldwide events (like Smirnoff’s Nightlife Exchange project)
  • Surviving constant algorithm updates/changes – like Panda, which in some cases wiped out quite undeserving smaller websites
  • Keeping up with all the latest protocolsschema.org, rel=author, Google Trusted Stores and so on.

The quoted Skyrocket essay presents many important ideas that are very worthy of consideration and important for every online marketer to read. Here, however, I wanted to address a different point: The importance of targeting and strategy. Big brands want to dominate a market in general — and, hence, they aim to monopolize vague, more-general keywords. An online bookstore may devote all of its resources to gaining search-engine rankings for “online books” while a small site that targets each individual page for “buy a sun also rises ernest hemingway” or “buy paradise lost paperback” will actually have an easier time with hitting the front page of Google for those terms (and see better conversions, to boot) because people searching for those keywords are looking for something very specific. I can vouch for this fact since my new “Buffy” website is most certainly a small business after a few weeks — but the results, I’m pleased to state, have been outstanding.

In sum, small businesses can still use SEO to outflank their major competitors — as long as they target keywords and markets wisely and in ways that are being ignored by the big brands. And they won’t even need a wooden stake to do it!

Related: A post of mine at my company’s blog on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as an example of good branding.

Addendum: Just to drive the stake point home, most of the traffic to this site comes not from the main, targeted keyword (“seo software”) but from the long-tail (high traffic and low competition) keywords targeted in blog posts:

small business seo, seo small business

Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.