Big Brands With Big Budgets—How Do Small Businesses Compete?

As a small business, it’s easy to be intimidated by competitors that have bigger budgets, more established brands, and bigger teams. Though larger brands will likely always be able to outspend you, there are ways to increase visibility for a smaller company with smaller budgets. While you can be outspent in TV, radio and billboard advertising, the Internet offers multiple possibilities for out-smarting your competitors and growing your market share. Here are seven digital marketing tactics you can start using today as you take on your competitors.

Build Your Strategy Around Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords are very specific phrases that you can target and are cost efficient for both organic and paid search. The more specific the search, and the more specific your response, the more likely a consumer is to buy. Also, while broad terms can be very expensive to rank for organically, or bid on for paid search, long tail terms tend to be less competitive, and therefore less expensive.  In the example below, we can see a more specific query has significantly less search volume, but also a lower bid cost and a higher chance for conversion because of how specific the search is. how to use long tail search in ad words

Symptom and Cure Searches

It’s likely that the products and or services you sell are searched for in two ways: someone directly looking for the solution, and the second being someone searching by the problems they are having without knowing the name of the solution. Let’s say you’re a chiropractor.

“What’s causing my back pain?”

This is a search for a problem, which is likely to have higher volume and lower competition.

“Chiropractor in Chicago”

This is a search for a solution, which is likely to have lower volume and higher competition.

If the big brands in your space are focusing on the solution only, you can start by choosing your keywords carefully, then target your audience through blogging and content marketing by answering the questions they ask. When you answer your clients’ questions, you are also building trust and credibility while presenting the solution.

Use Your Size to Your Advantage

One of the biggest benefits of being a small company is that you are more agile and able to make decisions more quickly without rounds of review across multiple departments. Use tools like Google Trends and the Keyword Planner to constantly be developing new keywords and content that addresses your client needs. Add content and make changes to your website and/or paid search strategies based on the data you collect.

Demonstrate Your Expertise Through Content Marketing

The bigger your competition, the more likely they are to have content produced by marketing departments or outsourced teams. Anytime a business owner creates content, it has an authority and credibility that both other sites and Google love. Sharing your insights and expertise through onsite content can allow you to get more traffic to your site, as well as market it out to other sites such as news sources, partner websites and industry publications to earn high-value links and increased visibility.

Bid on Their Brand

While you can’t use your competitors’ names in your advertising, you can bid on their brand name in your pay-per-click marketing. While this strategy is not right for everyone, with some compelling ad copy, you may be able to pull some consumers unfamiliar with your brand to your site. In the example below, we have two large brands involved (and some grammatical issues!), but an interesting example of bidding on your competitors to capture more traffic.

how to bid on a competitors brand Well played, Samsung


Promote Your Differentiators in Ad Copy & Meta Descriptions

If you are going to be sharing real estate online with larger brands, highlight what makes your company the better choice in your ad copy and meta descriptions. Do you offer better pricing? A higher quality? Talk to your current clients about why they chose you over the big brands, and emphasize these differentiators as much as possible.

Use a Defined Local Strategy

Last but not least, if your business has a local focus, having a clearly defined local SEO strategy can help you make big inroads against your larger competitors. If you’re in Chicago, check out the Ultimate Chicago List of Citation and Link Sources below!

Download the Ultimate Chicago List of Citation and Link Sources!

How Your Small Business Website Can Rank Better

The world of SEO can be a bit daunting—most of my family, friends and dates give me blank stares when I describe to them what I do here at Digital Third Coast. That’s because there are approximately 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm for organic search, and the weight of these factors is changing all the time. What works for one company doesn’t work for another. It’s never a straightforward process and results are never linear. Owners of small and medium sized businesses, in particular, wear almost every hat—from the business function itself to making sure payroll is administered, hiring new employees, managing the office, etc.

To add the confusing world that is digital marketing on top of all of that, well, it can be frustrating. Where do you start? What do you do? And is SEO worth your time? Even if you’re a smaller business, you can still compete in organic search listings with little SEO knowledge to ultimately attract new customers through your website.

Learn To Crawl like Google

Before we walk, run and get grown-up jobs; we start our lives crawling. And in the same way, this is square one for SEO success.

“Crawling” in this context is defined as Google’s process of sending a robot to “crawl” i.e. read and analyze your website and the pages within and then index those results so they can be displayed in organic search listings.

search engine 

Before we get into all the “fun” parts of marketing—creating awesome content, showing off your expertise, etc.—we need to make sure that search engines have the ability to index that stuff and deliver it to the right people. We generally cover this in our website audit, and fortunately for you, I wrote an article on how to do your own basic SEO Audit. When it comes to making sure your website is crawlable and things are indexing correctly, here are the key items to complete:

Install Google Search Console:

This great free tool from Google is simple to install on your website (just needs a line of code). Google Search Console shows you how Google is crawling and indexing your site, from the pages being indexed to how it views your sitemaps. Visit to get started!

Robots.txt file:

Your website should have a robots.txt file that, at minimum, includes the address of the sitemap and exclusions for

  • Shopping cart pages
  • Pages behind a contact form (whitepapers, thank you pages, etc.)
  • Development directories
  • Admin/pages behind login walls

XML Sitemap:

Create an XML sitemap (you can use a free generator tool for this—use Google ‘xml sitemap’ generator) and upload it to the directory

Fix 404 Errors

By creating 301 redirects from pages that no longer exist to the equivalent live page on your website.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, so if you want to dive further into indexation, robots and spiders, Adam has a great post about how crawl budgets work and some other more technical components you should address to ensure your website is indexed by Google correctly. At this point in the process it would also be a good idea to do keyword research and figure out which keywords you actually want to be ranking for. You can also check out Lauren’s post on keyword mapping and strategy, for more information.

Give Google Relevent, Targeted, Valuable Content to Index

Now that Google can index our site and deliver our pages to potential customers, let’s give them something of value to index. We’re not going to bring in much traffic if we don’t have anything of value to provide searchers. There’s no shortage of articles about how to create great content, and you as a small business owner are thinking “I don’t have a designer. I don’t know how to talk to journalists. I don’t even know what content is supposed to mean!” Content marketing, when executed properly, is a powerful tool that can help your business. Let’s start with how can you, the small business owner, create content that’s valuable and will help get your business noticed?

Google has a pretty clear set of values as a company. No. 1: Focus on the user and all else will follow.


Replace the word “user” with your target customer, and then content—as well as many of the other things you should be doing with your website—becomes very clear. The content you create on your site should give your customers value. At DTC, the reason we create these blog articles is because we want to provide value to you. We want to help educate people who could be potential customers, and we want to show the world that we are knowledgeable on digital marketing. Take that approach and apply it to your business. Give people something of value. If you’re an HVAC contractor, you should have pages of your site for how to check your furnace filters, how to tell what kind of coolant my air conditioner has, the things I need to know when replacing my furnace. The best way to sell is to help your customer discover the solution that best fits him or her.

Your website is essentially an online salesperson. Is your website the type of sleazy salesperson who tries to trick customers, or the type of salesperson who gets recommended to new clients by existing customers because he or she was so helpful? Create content that helps your customer. It’s not as hard as it sounds. For more details on crafting great landing pages, check out my blog post on Perfect Local Landing Pages. Even if you’re not a local business, most of the same rules apply. Blogging also plays into this. Scope out our explainer video on how blogging helps your SEO efforts.

Use That Content to Build Links

SEO Commandment No. 1: Inbound Links to Your Website is the biggest factor when it comes to your organic performance. The quality and quantity of these inbound links is often the deciding factor between great organic performance and not ranking for much of anything.

Getting quality links is hard. For every client, we have an account manager, an outreach manager, a content manager, a graphic designer, as well as a researcher. It takes a lot of knowledge, experience, time and resources to pull off quality content that publishers want to share. But, we’re a dedicated marketing agency. It’s highly unlikely that a small business has these people on hand—or that they have people with enough time to dedicate to these activities. So, how can small businesses measure and grow their backlink profiles?

1) Start by looking at the links you already have by using a backlink checking program.

Ask yourself, are most of the links in your report sites that you recognize or otherwise seem legitimate (i.e. local news publications, local business organizations, industry-related websites, etc.?) If you see a lot of junk in here, that might be a red flag.

2) After you’ve picked your own profile apart, shift your focus to your competitor’s backlink profile.

What are they doing? Do they generally rank higher or lower than you on targeted terms? Go through three to four major competitors and see what they’re doing. If someone is outranking you, chances are, they’re doing things right. Don’t copy them entirely, but rather, see what they’re doing and find similar approaches that work for your business strategy. If you’re a software consulting company and your main competitor who outranks you is active on software forums and writes articles for an industry organization, it’s time for you to find your own forums and industry publications to contribute to.

As we stated previously, it’s all about providing value whether it be to your potential customers or, in the case of link building, content publishers. One of the best methods for small businesses to achieve linkbuilding results is employing the skyscraper method of local link building—building an authoritative resource on a particular topic. Speaking of local link building, local content publishers are your best friends when it comes to acquiring quality links, and our resident senior outreach manager Matt has the playbook for building relationships with local publications to help you get started. This is perhaps the hardest and most frustrating part of the process, but one of the most critical parts of SEO, so don’t get discouraged, think outside the box, make friends with publishers, and your organic traffic will grow as a result.

When David Slays Goliath

For many small businesses, one of the biggest concerns is: “Well, the other guys are bigger. They can outspend me. How can I fight that? How is Joe’s Hardware Store in Wicker Park supposed to compete with Home Depot?” The key is to fight smarter. Fight locally. Home Depot is brute-force marketing. However, if you’re crafty, you can exploit its weaknesses and carve out your own niche in the market. Lyndsey has the playbook for how small businesses can compete with larger brands, and it’s fairly straightforward in terms of how you can outfox them:

Symptom and Cure Searches:

Searches for a specific product or very general term such as “hardware store” are going to be insanely competitive and dominated by larger companies. However, searches for a problem the customer is looking to solve, i.e. “why is my water pressure low?” are likely to be less competitive, have higher volume and present an opportunity for you to capture a potential customer.

Utilize Your Expertise:

As anyone who’s been to Home Depot knows, the employees of Home Depot can be generally clueless. You, Joe Hardware Store, actually know what you’re doing, so show it off. Write guides on things like why the water pressure is low, how to change an outlet in your home, etc. That authoritative content will help you rank better and attract potential customers.

Move Faster, Move Smaller:

Big brands typically don’t focus their energy on long-tail keywords or local markets. They’re also very slow to change their strategy since changes need to go through several departments before being implemented. As a small business you can move faster in your strategy, find the niches they don’t target well, and become a local authority.

It is possible to beat the larger brands if you execute well. For many of these brands, they’re not doing “active SEO,” they just have a website and expect people to visit it. If you put effort and energy into your website, in the right areas, there’s a ton of opportunity to steal back some market share.

In Conclusion: Be a Fox

You thought you were going to get out of here without a soccer reference, didn’t you? Too bad. This is the current English Premier League Table: league table You’ve probably heard of Chelsea Football Club, those guys down in 13th right now. They are arguably one of the largest soccer teams in the world and have an annual payroll in the range of 220 million pounds per year, which is the highest expenditure of any Premier League team. They won the league last year. Leicester City has a payroll that’s about one-fifth of Chelsea’s. They were projected to finish last this year. That has not been the case. Leicester City, aka The Foxes, executed well. They found affordable talented players, built a system around them, hired the right manager and played with no ego or expectation. Meanwhile Chelsea rested on their laurels, they did not add any new players, they thought they’d just win again because they spent the most money. Your business can be the Leicester City of your market—a team that surprises everyone and takes down competitors five times the size—if you put in the effort and execute well. In review:

  • Start with the technical basics—make sure robots.txt, sitemaps, etc. are good to go.
  • Create a site with content that provides value to users
  • Engage with local publications and industry publications to gain inbound links
  • Use size as an advantage—you might be smaller, but that means you’re much more nimble and can target niche areas that the larger brands overlook.

What Type of Salesman is Your Website?

How much of your sales process is happening without your sales team? Studies have indicated that up to 70 percent of the buyer’s journey is complete before a potential client even contacts you or engages with your sales team. New studies from Sirius Decisions dispute that, but indicate that 67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally. While B2B decisions are still largely made with extended conversation between the prospect and your sales team, getting into that conversation is a critical first step. And, the best way to do that is to ensure you have a website that is well built and optimized. Your website is your best salesperson, and they will work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, like any salesperson, you need to make sure your website has the information they need to be considered authoritative, credible, and trustworthy.

The Polished Professional

Clean, polished and ready to woo you, Don Draper is the consummate sales professional. With clients, he shows enthusiasm, expertise and interest. He generates interest and a desire to engage from these clients, just as we all want our websites to do. Setting up your website with beautiful design, easy navigation and compelling content will engage your buyers as much as Don Draper would. You have to ignore Don’s private life and persona to understand this comparison, but his presentation is always spot on—just make sure your website doesn’t have a secret dark past!

The Sleazy Salesman

We’ve all met this guy before, and if you’re like most people, you didn’t even make it through the whole video clip.  He’s sloppy, difficult and forceful. In a website, this translates to bad navigation and not enough quality content that answers your buyers’ questions. Like the salesman, if the website doesn’t provide the information a potential buyer needs to make a decision, he or she will leave and go somewhere else (likely your competitors’ sites). Additionally, if the site is not clean and approachable in terms of design, it will scare off visitors, even if it does have the information they need.

The Out-of-Touch, Unstable Salesman

Shelley Levene of Glengarry Glenross embodied the type of salesman who didn’t feel he had the tools to win, and he tried to find easy ways to make money without trying too hard. Once very successful, he’s been in a long slump and desperately needs to close business. Levene is like an old, outdated website, targeting the wrong audience. If your site looks out of date, it tells your buyers that you also are. Levene is set up for failure—just like your website is if it isn’t up-to-date, speaking to your target audience, fully functioning and engaging.

How To Make Your Website A Good Salesman

Since most consumers do research before filling out a contact form, your website is likely the first interaction a potential client will have with your business. Making sure that first impression is polished, professional and helpful is imperative. So, now that we’ve identified traits that would leave a bad first impression, let’s look at ways you can spruce up what you have.

How does your website communicate?

Just as you would ensure a salesman representing your organization had the right knowledge, tools and ability to communicate with your clients, you need to make sure your website has the same. How you choose to talk about your services, products and company also speaks highly about your company culture. In fact, using some of the same criteria you would use to hire a member of your sales team can help in planning out your website:

  • Does it communicate well?
  • Is it engaging?
  • Do you want to spend more time with it?
  • Does it know what it’s talking about?
  • Does it come across overly aggressive or too passive?

How is the information presented?

A good salesperson provides the information prospects need to make a decision and helps them toward a next step.  With a website, you can accomplish this with good content and calls to action. To do this, you can interview your current clients to find out what information they needed to make a decision and why they decided to work with you.  Make sure that each piece of content, whether a service page or a blog, also allows your users to easily navigate to other pages, information or contact forms to help guide them through the buyer’s journey.

Can you update the website you have or should you redesign?

A good salesperson is also responsive, clean and organized. This translates to your website in terms of great design, easy navigation and ensuring you have good site speed. If you love navigating around your website, and get lost in its web of content spun through helpful internal links and call to actions, chances are prospects will too. Once you’ve identified improvements that will make your website the best 24-hour salesman you have, it’s time to decide whether you can update your current website or if you need to completely redesign. If your business goals indicate that you should choose the latter, download our website migration guide to make sure your redesign goes smoothly without losing keyword rankings and SEO value.

Download our guide to SEO for site migrations

Five Reasons Businesses Fail to Reach Their Digital Marketing Goals

One of the best things about digital marketing is that there’s a tool or technique out there for measuring almost anything. Do you want to find out how many phone calls are attributable to your SEO campaign? We can do that. Or maybe you’d like to compare the ROI of your different channels – from email to PPC to social. We can help with that too. Of course, when you’re measuring your successes, you’ll also be able to see when you aren’t reaching your goals. Sometimes, getting there is just matter of time, but there are a few obstacles we see time and time again which can prevent businesses from reaching their digital marketing goals. Let’s take a look at some of the more common obstacles.

why-businesses-fail-goals Continue reading “Five Reasons Businesses Fail to Reach Their Digital Marketing Goals”

Should I Be Doing SEO or PPC? Or Both?

I spend my days talking to business owners from nearly every industry.  It’s my favorite thing about my line of work: having the opportunity to learn about different businesses and organizations, and helping them craft an online marketing strategy.   A business owner is usually an expert in their respective field, and I get to learn about how they work, for whom, and perhaps most importantly, why. Every business is different, and therefore every marketing approach should be.  Internet marketing is not for everyone, as I mentioned in my post on 8 Reasons Not to do SEO or PPC.  But if you identify that your target audience is searching for you online, how do you know if you should do SEO or PPC?


I answer this question with more questions: What are the goals of the campaign? How soon do you need to see results? What budget do you have for online marketing? Different industries have varying levels of competitiveness in organic and paid results, so looking into what it will take to compete will help you make a decision. The two work hand in hand and help each other out, as discussed frequently by internet marketing experts, including in this SEOmoz blog. The benefits of doing both concurrently are extensive, but with a limited budget, many of our clients are forced to choose between the two.  The advantages of SEO include:

  • The vast majority of clicks go to organic results (a study by GroupM UK and Nielsen determined 94% clicks went to organic results)
  • Higher long-term ROI
  • Having top rankings in search results not only drives the most traffic, but also indicates the relevance and importance of your business/ website.

That said, PPC has several advantages as well, including:

  • Speed to market
  • Testing Opportunities
  • Your ads can be changed and updated immediately, including targeted keywords
  • PPC is easier to customize
  • Protection from algorithm updates

PPC has a huge advantage in speed to market. The minute you start spending money in Google or Bing, your ads appear, and people will click through to your site.  Therefore, if you need to increase registrations to an event or class in the next couple months, PPC will likely be the best route. SEO takes significantly longer, but the ROI can also be significantly higher.  SEO is a longer-term strategy that requires some front-end investment, but has long term lasting results, and you’re not paying for every single click to your site. Other things to consider are how competitive the search engines will be for your industry, the cost-per-click for your main keywords, and the amount of money and time you have to manage your accounts.

Still need help deciding?  Give us a call or drop us a line and we’ll give you our best recommendations.

Getting SEO Results: How to Establish Digital Marketing Goals

Results. This is the most important word in any marketing strategy. With digital marketing, we can track and analyze data from website traffic to conversions to sales, truly measuring the results of each campaign. The results one business might see over another, however, can vary greatly depending on where they currently are, and where they want to be. A critical first step for any digital marketing strategy is to establish the goals of the campaign. Using the data you already have from Google Analytics, we can get an understanding of how many leads we need to acquire a client, and how much traffic we need to reach that number of leads. Getting SEO Results: How to establish digital marketing goals Continue reading “Getting SEO Results: How to Establish Digital Marketing Goals”

How Much Does SEO, PPC, and Inbound Marketing Cost?

“It’s Free!” “Call Us Today!” Just kidding. At Digital Third Coast, we don’t pride ourselves on saving clients money – we pride ourselves on helping them make a lot more of it. Agency pricing varies dramatically with SEO, PPC, and inbound marketing, from a few hundred dollars per month to tens of thousands of dollars. So what will it cost you?

How Much Does Digital Marketing Cost?

Establishing realistic goals for your campaign is the perfect place to start. Understanding what results are possible will help dictate what budget you can spend to achieve those results. For example, let’s assume your average client value is $5,000, and you receive 1 new client each month. If during the research phase of your marketing strategy, you find there is an opportunity to double that number, and generate 2 new clients at $10,000 per month – are you willing to spend $3,000 to get the extra $5,000? Probably. What if you can only increase that number by 1.5 times? Are you willing to spend the same $3,000 for the extra $2,500? Probably not. While a goal is not a guarantee of success, research and analytics can help craft realistic expectations in order to ensure you are getting a positive return. The reality of digital marketing is that there is no “quick fix.” You should plan to invest for several months, if not years. While some methodologies can produce quick results, such as pay-per-click marketing, other strategies such as SEO and inbound marketing will require months of work, but likely produce a higher return in the long run that can continue to grow over time.

How Much Does SEO Cost?

Planning your SEO budget should be based on long-term goals. If you need to see a return on your investment within a couple months to continue SEO efforts, it’s not the right marketing methodology for you. While optimizing on-site components including strong keyword alignment and proper architecture can provide a bump in traffic, real increases will come from ongoing content marketing efforts that increase your inbound links and the strength of your site. SEO may be an investment for months or even years before it reaches a positive return, but that return has long-term value that can continue to grow month over month. Our average SEO clients invest $2,000 – $10,000 per month in their marketing.

How Much Does PPC Cost?

Pay-per-click marketing (also known as PPC or SEM) should be based on both short and long-term goals, as we have a much quicker speed to market with this methodology. PPC has two main components of your budget: the ad spend you pay to the search engine, and the cost of an agency to manage and optimize your account. In general, we believe in beginning PPC campaigns on smaller budgets, optimizing them, and then increasing spend as we see results. While many agencies will bill you at a percentage of spend (with the average being around 20%), we base our agency costs on the amount of time we will be dedicating each month to optimizing your ad spend. We find this better aligns with business goals, rather than wanting to constantly increase ad spend (we think Google has plenty of money). Your ad spend should be based on search volume and competition, ensuring that you are able to collect enough data to make decisions and improve campaign performance. Unfortunately, there’s not a common or average spend for PPC. For example, we work with a custom tee shop who spends $1,500 per month, a software company that spends $10,000 per month, and a university that spends $80,000 per month. The right amount for you will depend heavily on your market.

How Much Does Inbound Marketing Cost?

Similar to SEO, inbound marketing budgets should be based on long-term goals. Inbound is a powerful strategy meant to not only increase the traffic to your site, but also increase the conversion rates of your site, providing a one-two punch to increase inbound leads. Because we are nurturing leads from earlier stages in the buyer’s journey, it may take longer for a website visitor to convert into a true lead, but because we are establishing trust and credibility, you will become their go-to resource, meaning a much warmer inbound lead for your business. Our average inbound client spends $5,000 – $12,000 per month in inbound marketing.   Let’s be real – great marketing costs money. For some businesses, it may cost more than it’s worth in sales. We’ll help identify what the opportunity for your business is to ensure that we can produce a positive ROI on your marketing dollars. We believe in making a measurable difference, and if we can’t, we’ll let you know.

Google Partners Connect to… Sell Google?

On Wednesday, May 21st, we hosted a Google Partners “exclusive” event at our office. From start to finish, the event was… odd.  The “exclusive” part is eluding me entirely, as it was open to anyone with a computer.  Google promoted it as a big exclusive event, without noting that it was a webinar.  They supplied us with advertising that didn’t mention it was a webinar – which we decided not to use – and a Chromecast for viewing.

google ad

With amazing minds like Arjan Dijk VP, Global Small Business Marketing, Fred Vallaeys, Google AdWords Evangelist, and Ben Wood Director, Channel Sales Americas, we were hoping to learn – a lot.  Below are the key takeaways with our side notes: Continue reading “Google Partners Connect to… Sell Google?”

Why We’re Giving $45,700 to a Chicago Non-Profit

Digital Third Coast was founded in Chicago in 2007 by our two co-founders, George Zlatin & Taylor Cimala.   Since then, we’ve grown to a team of 13 – adding 2-3 people each year as the business grows.  The backdrop for our success and accomplishments is the City of Chicago; the Windy City, the Second City, the City of Big Shoulders. When DTC started, we had the great fortune to connect with several partners working in similar spaces – web design firms, social media managers, PR agencies, and video production companies, all working towards the same goal of helping our clients grow their revenue. This year, we had the honor of teaming up with some of our agency partners in Chicago Cause. Continue reading “Why We’re Giving $45,700 to a Chicago Non-Profit”

8 Reasons You Should NOT Do SEO or PPC

When I first started at DTC, people frequently asked me “Who are your ideal clients?” And I always answered “Everyone”.  The fact of the matter is that is blatantly untrue.  It was a hard lesson  for me to learn, that there were people and companies who were ready to invest in search marketing, but who were quite simply not a good fit.  When you spend your life in business development, turning down potential revenue is much harder than it sounds.  That said, it has become a crucial part of my role to protect the interest of our potential clients and our own business. So – who is a bad fit for search marketing?

Continue reading “8 Reasons You Should NOT Do SEO or PPC”