Why Small Businesses Can Now Outrank Major Websites

Search volume for local businesses has always tended to be on the small side.

Why?

Because you are limited to searches with geographical intent.

Quite literally, if you sold wedding dresses your website would have been focused on phrases such as 'Wedding Dresses in Staffordshire'. 

This was because a broad phrase such as 'wedding dresses' would always bring back the big players such as huge brands and e-commerce sites.

Maybe if you were lucky, you might have been featured in the map listings. 

Well this article is going to show you how Google has turned this on it's head with SERP results that not only go against the 'normal rules' of SEO but give local businesses a chance to gain a slice of much higher search rankings.

I am calling this the David V's Goliath Update, because small businesses now have the chance to gain traffic from the big players.

Ready to learn more?

Let's do this.

Key Takeaways

Don't have time to read? This list will tell you what you need to know.

Pros

  • If you are losing traffic but don't see a drop in rankings, this could be why.  
  • If you are an e-commerce store and losing business this could be the reason.
  • Up to as much as 50% of Page 1 could feature local businesses for broad terms.
  • For Local businesses this is huge as they can now compete with huge sites and sell online as well.
  • SEO for SME'S became more important.
  • Small businesses can now gain even more traffic.

Cons

  • Keyword research for local businesses changed
  • SEO for local businesses has also become more powerful.
  • This could be a test from Google and short lived.
  • SME'S will have to spend more on SEO to stay competitive locally or risk a local business suddenly gaining more custom.
  • Big e-commerce sites will now have to spend more on ads.
  • We don't know how wide this goes.....does it also apply to content marketing?

If You Can Buy It Locally You Can Now Rank For It Locally

I am sure you will agree, businesses are at the mercy of Google.

This is one of the major factors why high street stores and small businesses blame e-commerce stores for the decline in sales.

But this appears to have now changed.

Because Google is now letting local businesses rank on the first page of Google....even when their metrics are weak when compared with sites below them.

But first let me show you a real life example happening now.....because I rank on page 1 of Google for the term SEO.

This is actually how I first noticed this.

I was using Ahrefs rank tracker and they offered me to add the term SEO and monitored it for my county.

So, not thinking for a second I would rank for that term I decided to add it.

But suddenly it had me on page 1 and tells me that the search gets 55,000 searches per month (I know this is off but I have recently noticed an unexplained traffic increase)

And right in the middle of the search results you have 5 local businesses, all outranking some major terms.

But what about some other terms.

Let's look at the search term Plumbing supplies.

If we wanted to target the UK with this search term we would head over to a tool like Ahrefs and see what the SERP results were and also the backlinks and SEO metrics of the ranking sites.

As you can see, according to Ahrefs this keyword has a difficulty of 26 and in the UK has around 22,000 searches.

But what do the page 1 rankings look like?

Click to enlarge

The results according to Ahrefs are pretty standard apart from the 2 very low authority sites ranking.

So, how does this compare to the actual search results themselves?

If we break these results down from the top.

Immediately on loading we don't have an advert, instead this goes straight to the map listings and then just as Ahrefs stated, Screwfix are ranking at position 1 organically. 

But what comes next?

As we can see the listings feature 2 results for 1 business that is local to my area.

So, this result is very specific to myself. 

So, what does the rest of the page 1 results look like?

As you can see, we have some large e-commerce pages before we hit the 'people also ask' section.

But wait.....we aren't finished yet.

We have a nice 'discover more places' feature and even searches related to plumbing supplies that have my local area featured.

So how accurate was the Ahrefs data?

Around 50 % give or take. 

This clearly paints a new picture around SEO.

But what about other industries and keywords?

What can we see?

The page shows up with the map listings and the knowledge panel before we get large wedding dress sites which is to be expected, and then local businesses feature heavily on the SERPS.

When I started to look at even more phrases I saw the same thing appear.

If I could buy the product or service locally then there were numerous local businesses appearing.

The thing is.......the big e commerce websites that traditionally dominate these keywords will have no idea this is happening.

Blind SEO: The New Skill That SEO's Will Need

If you are an SEO, be it an agency, freelancer or a in-house manager, you will be using tools to check, track and monitor your results.

These tools such as SEM Rush, MOZ and Ahrefs have one fatal flaw.

They don't know what YOU search for. 

And by you I mean you as an individual, because your results are now super related to your personal location and browsing habits.

What you are getting with the SEO tools is the search results as if no one was logged into their browsers........which is rare.

In the modern world our phones track everything we do and the places we go to, apps listen to what we are saying and Googles own devices record us.

And this presents a problem for businesses and that problem is tracking.

Because there are 3 aspects that are now driving search results.

1. The Keyword.

2. Your location.

3. Your browsing history.

Using SEO tools we know what people are searching for.

We can also track our results based on searcher location.

But we can't track or predict what individuals search for because that data is specific for the 5.6 billion searches per day.

So to a degree SEO's need to master what I call 'Blind SEO'.

And this is treating your site as if it could rank for any keyphrase......regardless of what your gut or a tool says, because you are now 'in with a shot' of ranking for more keywords than you could ever know.

And to do this you need to provide your customers with exactly what Google has been saying for years.....a great web experience.

The Google Update That No One Saw Coming

In recent months we have seen a Google update and as usually Google gave it's standard advice that there is nothing that webmasters can do other than make their content and websites high quality. 

And Google even referenced and old article to give people guidelines around their content, and here they are: 

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article.
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

  • I think it is clear, Google want quality content!

    And so the update rolled out and SEO's did what SEO's do, they looked for information when they had none.

    Some said it was poor quality links, others blamed industries.

    And while some of this will be true, Glen Allsopp from Detailed got it right when he stated in his article on the September Update:

    "It may be the case that Google haven’t “devalued” your site, but simply have introduced new elements in search results that have either pushed your rankings down, and / or they’ve resulted in you getting fewer clicks."

    Glen Allsopp


    And it appears that this has happened.

    Why This Is Great For SEO Agencies

    We know that large sites have lost traffic since the September update by Google.

    Some report as large as 40%.

    I have sites that got hit and clients that lost out. 

    This should be bad news for any in house SEO manager or agency.

    But it isn't.....instead it is great news.

    Let me explain.

    I was recently at the Benchmark Search Marketing Conference when one speaker said this:

    "SEO's don't lack the knowledge, they lack the resources"

    And this is true.

    Every week I speak to a marketing manager who is struggling to justify their existence and their belief in SEO to the powers that be.

    I know of multi million pound businesses whose web content is farmed out to the lowest bidder and I also know of huge companies that would rather pay for a magazine or radio advert than invest in SEO.

    And when they do show an interest we always get the dreaded question 'What is the ROI of this'?

    So, why could a loss of traffic be a good thing?

    Because like it or not, if companies want results from SEO they are going to have to invest in SEO.

    This means investing in high quality content, great web design, on page technical SEO and of course content marketing.

    There are always going to be winners and losers in any Google update, but what this Google update has given is opportunity. 

    An opportunity for the local stores with physical locations to rank for broad high volume terms that are searched for by a lot of people.

    And because these are broad terms, they are usually what we call 'top of the funnel' searches.

    They are early in the buyer journey and now your business can get access to the customers local to you that are using these search phrases.

    In many ways, this update has levelled the field for local stores.

    Conclusion

    Any Google update causes alarm for those in the SEO business.

    And there is always a high chance that what we are seeing is a test that could be reversed.

    But I think it is Google trying to be more relevant.

    After all, a great deal of searches are for items that you can buy both online and off, and a lot of stores with physical locations have now invested in online stores.

    For too long a few companies with super large budgets have dominated the web.....this seems to be changing.

    The question is, how far will these changes go?

    Will it soon apply to content marketing?

    Will local businesses be able to rank on page 1 of Google with great content and rank based on things such as their location and number of reviews rather than links?

    Who knows, but head over to Google and start looking at searches and see what is coming up?

    Are local businesses outranking huge websites?

    Comment below and let me know.

    Thanks for reading

    Andrew Holland.


    Note: I would like to thank Adam Bennett marketing manager at Digital ID who helped me to research a large number of SERPS to confirm our findings.


  • Thanks for the article. To be honest, I don’t think this is changing. Still the big sites are appearing and dominating the top searches, unfortunately. They are filled with backlinks and it’s really hard for small sites to appear on top unless they pay for ads or spend years writing articles. Most of the people trying to earn a living online are exhausted after the second year. And who can blame them? It’s hard to keep doing something when you don’t see results.

    I do hope this will change and Google will be more kind to the small sites and businesses.

  • Andrew Holland says:

    I think the latest BERT update will also have an effect but having reviewed it a few time snow I definitely see local business are in the playing field again.

  • Sajan Kota says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Very useful blog post full of useful in sights. I agree with you Google is trying to be more relevant. For website owners it is better to be prepared than repent later. Website owners need to keep Google updates in mind and create website and content which will rank higher in the search engines.

    It is very true that a large amount of big websites have lost a lot traffic because of the September update. This is the right time for the small business owners to capitalize on this opportunity and gain more traffic.

  • >