You own a small business. You’re not happy with your search rankings. In fact, your competitors are much farther up the page than you, and you know they shouldn’t be. You do what they do better, and Google should know that.

You might be asking yourself a few things:

  1. How can I outrank my competitors?!
  2. How can I get people to click their way to my site, and stay there?
  3. How can I do these two things without pouring my entire advertising budget into SEO?

You’ve got a lot on your plate as it is. SEO might not be a huge priority, but you know it matters, and so you want to do as much as you can within reason to boost your visibility on the web – which generally means prioritizing tactics that require less time for better results.

So when someone tells you that content marketing – the process of producing, optimizing, and distributing content for the web – is one of the best strategies out there for improving your SEO, it’s understandable that you might be a little dubious.

Is Content Marketing Really Worth It?

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If you’ve read much about SEO in recent months, you might have seen some discussion about content marketing and why it’s supposedly so superior to other SEO tactics, especially in the face of algorithm updates that threaten to erase months or even years of hard work towards ranking at the top of the page for target keywords. Content may take a while to produce, and you’ll have to keep at it, but eventually you’ll start to see your rankings improve, and it’ll be worth all the hard work.

The problem is, if you’re a small business, that’s not the most helpful thing to hear. You’ve got bigger fish to fry. You’re also probably not thinking about hiring on a content strategist and an additional team of copywriters to regularly produce content for your website.

Even if you plan to outsource your SEO to an agency – as often makes the most sense for small businesses with lots of other priorities on their hands – you want tactics that deliver, and get results without breaking the bank.

So why should a small business owner bother?

The answer, in my view, has two parts: first, that effective content marketing can actually be quite manageable for small businesses; and second, that it’s one of the best ways to attract your target market, increase clickthroughs, and create brand loyalty.

Content Marketing Is Easier Than You Think

Matthew Burby wrote a great post over at the Moz blog about this concept. It’s way too easy to think of content in static terms, and to be limited by your expectations of what’s normally on the web – or what you think your site is missing compared to other sites out there. You get thinking about web content as something new you have to regularly dream up and dedicate time to – something that’s probably near the bottom of your priorities as a local business owner.

It’s this kind of thinking that makes content marketing expensive. If you had to produce new, unique, fascinating content every single time you wanted to add something to your site, not only would it probably drive you crazy, but it would take up time. (And as we all know, time is money… and money’s scarce, and that ain’t funny.)

Instead, you should try to think of content much more openly. One thing we try to encourage clients to do, especially small ones, is to review as much of their offline content as possible. Think about it: if you run a business of any kind, you’ve got to be printing flyers, creating advertising slogans, taking pictures, offering promotions, and telling people about your company. That’s the kind of stuff you should be putting on your website!

It’s tough to contest that we live in a society that produces too much. We love to produce. And the wonderful thing about digital marketing is that, at very least, this production has minimal effect on the environment. (It takes a lot fewer trees to run an AdWords campaign, for an example, than to blast out a whole mess of print ads every month.) But it still costs you time and energy to produce content… unless you are willing to recycle and get creative. It doesn’t mean your website should only be a digital copy of everything else you say about your business, but it does mean you shouldn’t be afraid of putting to use all the hard work you’ve already done to produce content for the real world.

The Content On Your Site Matters For Local Search

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You probably already know that great content can really help your SEO. Google is doing everything they can to promote relevance in results, and that’s what’s made content marketing the new answer in search marketing circles. Spamming link directories won’t cut it anymore. Especially in a world post-Hummingbird, you need to prove to Google that you’re relevant!

Well, what better way to prove you matter for local searches than to show it with content all over your site?

Whether you’re a small business who has only a few locations, or a larger chain with outlets across the country, your ‘local’ status is your friend. You have a brick-and-mortar store in a fixed location that people can be directed to. Use it to your advantage! Talk about it on your website!

You never want to include so many local keywords that users are turned off by how “optimized” a page looks – especially since Google can usually tell, too. But if you’re careful and keep it reasonable, you can use your content to regularly associate your company with those terms.

If you’ve already optimized your individual pages for search, you’re familiar with what this looks like. Title tags and headers are important, and they should include the keywords you want to rank for. But content opens up even more avenues for local keywords, and more importantly, they help create the kind of contextual clues that are driving Hummingbird’s results in this era of search.

The more reason Google has to associate the name of your business with the name of the location you serve, the better you’ll perform for keyword searches with that location – and “new” content is one of the best ways to drive that association.

Unique Content Is A Great Way To Create And Keep Customers

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One of the fascinating things about the web these days is the set of learned behaviors and understandings that nearly every user seems to exhibit or identify with in some ways–especially in search. People skim Google results pages in the same way, they typically click on the sites they know and have seen before (Wikipedia will always be my personal crutch), and they get frustrated by the same things. The sociology behind this is probably even more fascinating, but for our purposes, we can just focus on what it means for sites who want their results to perform well.

What exactly makes a result look relevant to a user is hard to pin down, and it can change a lot depending on the search. But somehow, it seems that nearly everybody can tell the difference between a quality result and a spammy one. It is for this reason that being #1 is not enough.

If you’re like nearly everyone else, and use search on a daily basis (for me, it’s countless times per day), you know why this is. Sure, it helps your odds to rank first. But if that top result isn’t relevant to your search, you’re going to keep looking, at least around the rest of the first page, until you find what you’re looking for.

A high-quality, well-written, and clearly relevant snippet from your website, on the other hand, can go a long way to persuading a user that your site does in fact have the answer you’re looking for.

This is true for most businesses, but it’s especially true for small ones, where a user can choose from Google+ Local results in addition to your competitors’ links. If all your result shows is some promotional details and some thin copy advertising the site, most users won’t click through. On the other hand, if you provide rich, informational content that engages those users, there’s a much better chance you’ll get that user.

The other part of the game, though, is keeping customers. One of the best ways to do this is to continuously provide them with a means of engaging you – to prove that you’re an active presence on the web with real people behind the screen that they can talk to and learn from. It’s one of the main reasons social is such a great marketing tool for local businesses.

The less you have on your site, the less of a connection your users will feel, and, more often than not, the more likely they’ll be to click off the site once they get there. This gets back to that idea of common learned behaviors – somehow, everybody seems to have this collective sense of what a website in 2004 looked like, and what a website in 2013 should be like. Generally, you don’t want to get lumped in with the former.

If you routinely take steps to update what’s on your site, provide new, fresh, interesting content for users to look at and interact with, and use that content to show them just how real and human you are, the chances are that you’ll be in much better shape to earn some long-term customers. People probably shouldn’t care as much about the looks and feel of a website as they do – but that’s the reality of the web, and as any local business knows, the customer always comes first. Show them that with the content you place on your site.

What have your experiences been with content marketing for small businesses? What else have you found is helpful (or more helpful) for SEO? Let us know in the comments!

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