If you’re tempted to roll your eyes at that headline, I won’t fault you. National brands have, well, national brand resources. They have entire teams devoted to making every aspect of their website and online presence as optimal as it can be.
How can your local business website – often run by one overworked jack-of-all-marketing-trades – hope to compete with that?
The truth is you can’t compete. But you can emulate, and to pretty resounding effect.
Here’s how, in three do-able steps.
1. National Brands Care About Their Visitors’ User Experience
A 2019 study by Portent found that a website’s conversion rate drops by an average of 2.11% for every additional second of load time between 0-9 seconds. When you’re getting millions of visits to your website, those seemingly small percentage-points have a large effect, which is why big brands dedicate so much time and so many resources to optimizing their visitors’ user experience.
You should, too. Luckily, you don’t need the resources of a national brand to do it. Here are three metrics to focus on, along with free tools to assist you in diagnosing and correcting any mistakes.
Google PageSpeed Insights allows you to test the current load time of your small business website. It will give you different scores for mobile and desktop speeds, along with diagnostic findings and opportunities to improve your speed score.
Don’t be intimidated if you don’t understand the technical jargon the tool spits back at you; we have some practical advice that is applicable to the majority of small business websites.
Use a Caching Plugin
Likely, a caching plugin with the correct options enabled will do most of the heavy lifting to increase your website’s load times. WP Fastest Cache is a popular free choice; WP-Rocket has some more in-depth configurations, though they come at a yearly cost. Here are some options to look out for:
These can be the largest files on your website, and each one needs its own HTTP request. Combining these lightens your site load.
This reduces the actual size of those files, speeding up your website.
This further reduces the number of HTTP requests, with images, iframes, and videos only loading as they become viewable. This improves both the actual and perceived loading time of your website.
Not sold? Here are side-by-side speed comparisons for the same image-heavy small business website. One has a caching plugin (WP-Rocket) with the previous three options enabled. The other doesn’t.
Serve Properly Sized Images
Oftentimes, website developers will insert large images into web pages and resize them using CSS properties. This keeps the images crisp and sharp for viewers but hinders website load speed.
For small business websites, this can be a juggling act. You want to offer the best image quality at the highest possible speed threshold.
Here are some quick wins:
- You may want to serve your logo in an SVG format. The benefits are that the image quality remains crisp even when sized down. SVG images also load lightning-fast.
- You’re likely already using images that are too large. You can check by right-clicking an image on your website and choosing “Inspect Element.” Take the following image, for instance:
Take a look at the container size underscored in red at the top. That’s the size your image is being served at. Now, take a look at the file size underscored in red below that. That’s the file size your server actually has to load. If you re-sized this image size to the largest container parameter, you would decrease the image size by more than 20%.
3. Consider your image formats. JPGs generally load quicker than PNGs of the same size, though the quality is considered “lossy” when the image is edited. WebP formats combine the best qualities of both, though not all browsers currently support them.
4. Consider using an image compression tool. These reduce the file size of your images, decreasing the time it takes to load them. TinyPNG is a popular free choice for this.
It’s likely the images you feature on your website are way too large, thereby slowing your site down. By simply resizing them or using an image compression tool, you can greatly improve your site speed.
Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test will tell you how mobile-friendly your website is according to Google. If you’re using responsive design in your website, it’s likely you already have pretty good usability. However, here are some things automated tests may not pick up.
- Avoid visual clutter.
Test your website on different screen resolutions, paying close attention to your visitors’ first impressions. You may need to reconfigure certain elements to better fit the mobile viewport, or even disable them from showing up on mobile devices all together.
- Properly size text.
A common issue with mobile usability is the “text too small to read” error. Font sizes should be no less than 11pt for IOS devices and 14sp for Android.
- Pay attention to clickable elements.
“Clickable elements too close together” is another common mobile issue. Ensure that each clickable element has a minimum of 10px space between them.
- Avoid intense visual effects.
A fancy slide transition on a desktop screen may be jarring on a mobile viewport. You may decide to serve a static image to mobile visitors instead.
- Don’t make people scroll.
Often, you’ll want your logo, phone number, address, and primary menu to be the first thing viewers see.
It’s likely that over 50% of your website traffic will come from mobile devices. A little tweaking can go a long way in giving them the best experience possible.
Proper Website Architecture
No one wants to flail about on your website looking for the information they need. Did you know that nearly half of your website visitors will leave after visiting just one page?
In order to keep people on your website and give a better user experience to your visitors, you need to use proper website architecture. (Search engines really like it, too.)
Your small business website should be clear, concise, and easily navigable.
Here’s how to make that happen.
- Start with your top-level pages.
These are the primary resources people are looking for when visiting your website. For small businesses, examples may be pages such as: about us, services, products, projects, contact us, etc. Try to keep these to a minimum to avoid clutter. We’ll add more in the next step.
- Add sub-level pages.
These are pieces of content directly related to your top-level page. In practice, it may look like this:
- Our Team
- Service 1
- Service 2
- Service 3
- Subset 1 of service 3
- Subset 2 of service 3
Only add sub-level pages to your menu where relevant. There’s no need for clutter.
- Utilize separate menus.
Your main menu should be static. However, you may want to add more menus in places such as your footer or sidebars. Common examples for small business websites would be a list of all the locations that you service or a list of the services or products you provide.
- Don’t make people search too hard.
A good rule of thumb is that every page on your website should only be two or three clicks away from any other. Use a silo approach – if one topic is broken down into multiple subset pages, make sure all of those pages link to each other.
- Maintain consistency.
As your website grows, you may be tempted to plop down new pages anywhere that is convenient. Don’t. Once you’ve built your website hierarchy, strictly adhere to it for all additional pages. Your users (not to mention Google) will thank you.
Website architecture is a key facet to providing a good experience to visitors and search engines alike. All the top brands in the world pay attention to it. Can you imagine what a website like Amazon.com would look like without proper website architecture?
I shudder to think of it.
User Experience Matters
The big box brands know that keeping a visitor engaged on your website can be just as important as getting them there in the first place. By thoughtfully considering your website load speed, mobile usability, and overall content architecture, you can make the most out of the visitors you get.
2. National Brands Have Well-Defined Online Entities
Google defines an entity as “a thing or concept that is peculiar, unique, well defined and discernible.” These entities are often characterized by name, type, attributes, and relationship to other entities. Google collects this information and stores it in their Knowledge Graph. Sometimes, they display that information during a search query.
Let’s take a look at an example of this in action. Here’s a search for the word “mcdonalds”.
Notice the attributes Google has decided to include on the right. We get the category (fast food company), the stock price, the date of founding, the various social media accounts, and more.
Google likely has pulled some of this information directly from the McDonald’s website, but not all. They’re also pulling data from other entities that have a relationship with the McDonald’s entity. They’re only able to do this because the original entity is so well-defined.
While your small business won’t have the same reach and relationships as national brands, you can still do things to better define your online entity, making it easier for Google to collect all of your information in its Knowledge Graph.
Schema Markup Helps Define Your Brand
Schema markup plugs directly into the Knowledge Graph, giving Google key insights into details about your business. This is a code you insert into the header of your website.
Here’s an example:
“name”: “Your Business Name”,
“caption”:”Your Business Name”},
“streetAddress”: “Your Street Address”,
“addressLocality”: “Your City”,
You could plug your small business information into that code and run with it as-is, but let’s take a quick look at what the code is saying to Google and other search engines first.
- First, we’re defining our entity as a local business. If you service a local area, Google needs to know.
- Next, we’re connecting our website to our entity. To Google, they’re now one in the same.
- We’re telling Google about other properties that should be considered the “same as” our website. Namely, our social media profiles. We’re building relationships.
- We’re defining our logo. Google might show it as structured data.
- We’re defining other attributes. Our phone number, address, geo-coordinates, and hours of operation round out the defining characteristics of our entity.
By adding this simple code to our website, we’re defining a clear entity for Google and other search engines. This is how they know the difference between a “Martha’s Cleaning Service” in Los Angeles and one with the same name on the other side of the country.
Don’t be careless with this. Before putting the code on your website, make sure to validate it.
Next, we’re going to make our entity even clearer.
Building Relationships with Other Entities Better Defines Your Brand
Your online entity isn’t an island – it needs support from other entities to be the best it can be. Similar to how getting backlinks can increase your organic search engine rankings, building relationships with other online entities can increase your visibility when it comes to local SEO.
Here’s how we make that happen.
Google Business Profile
For small businesses, your Google Business Profile is the lifeblood of your online presence. It is more important than your website, your social media profiles, or any other online entity you create.
The same way SCHEMA markup can show structured data about your online entity for organic searches, your Google Business Profile can show structured data for searches with local intent.
However, Google will only show what you tell it to show.
Here’s how to wring every last drop of value out of your profile.
- Fill out your profile completely.
Most small businesses don’t pay as much attention to their Google Business Profile as they should. Google allows you to display a wealth of information about your business. National brands utilize this opportunity to great effect. Here’s how you can, too.
- Categories: Start specific, go general. Don’t try to stuff irrelevant categories. It does more harm than good. For a list of all categories, Google “google business categories 2022.”
- Service area: Start with the city in which you’re located, and then spread out. Google allows counties, too. List as many as are relevant to you.
- Description: You have 750 characters to work with. Use them all.
- Products: Do you sell them? If so, fill it out.
- Services: Your selected categories will automatically show up as services. However, you can provide more. If “kitchen remodeler” is your primary category, you can add custom categories beneath it such as “cabinets” and “countertops,” along with descriptions.
- Images: Your logo and cover image are first. Put some care into this – people will see them when your Google Business Profile shows up in Google. “At work” photos are for when you’re on the job. “Team photos” are of, well, you and your team. “Identity photos” can be of signage on trucks or vans, office signage, business cards, etc.
- Calls: You can activate call tracking to better understand how well your profile is working for you.
- Reviews: If you have customers, text a few at a time and ask them to leave a review. If you don’t, ask family or friends to leave a review commenting on your good qualities, mentioning you by name instead of the company.
By simply taking the time to fill out your profile completely, you can get much more value out of your Google Business Profile.
- Utilize posts to keep your profile up to date.
Google allows you to write posts to keep your profile fresh. These include offers, what’s new, and event options. The “what’s new” option in particular is a great all-purpose function: you can post links to pages on your website, new blog posts, updates about your company, and more. Get in the habit of utilizing this function at least once a week. Later in this article, we’ll tell you how you can automate this task.
- Google gives you a free website. Why not use it?
Google will collect all the information you’ve put into your Google Business Profile and display it on a free website. To enable this, all you have to do is click on the “Website” tab in your Google Business Profile, then click the blue button that says “Publish.”
All the work you’ve put into your profile will be displayed here, along with your core business details: your name, address, and phone number (or NAP).
You can even add additional links back to your website, giving you a quick SEO boost.
So far, we’ve clearly defined our online entity. If you’ve followed the steps above, Google understands that your business name, address, phone number (NAP), website, and social links all make up a unique entity. Now, it’s time to push that entity out into the world.
Data aggregators are companies that collect business information and distribute it to hundreds or thousands of websites. Certain directories only accept business information that comes directly from data aggregators. Furthermore, using data aggregators can save you dozens of hours of legwork directly submitting your business information to directories.
(Quick note: You’ve already defined your online entity with a specific name, address, and phone number. It is vitally important to list those details exactly the same to each site you submit your details to.)
Here are four data aggregators you can submit your business to today:
Different aggregators allow you to submit different levels of detail about your business. Exhaust all options, submitting your logo, business categories, social media links, business photos, hours of operation, and any other details when applicable.
Remember: it all makes up your online entity.
Structured citations are places where your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) appear in a listing format. You’re probably already familiar with some of these, such as YellowPages.com, Manta.com, or SuperPages.com. The more of these structured citations you can get, the better defined your online entity becomes.
According to BrightLocal, these are the top 35 citations in the USA.
|maps.apple.com||Domain authority: 100|
|google.com||Domain authority: 100|
|facebook.com||Domain authority: 96|
|bing.com||Domain authority: 93|
|yelp.com||Domain authority: 93|
|local.yahoo.com||Domain authority: 93|
|foursquare.com||Domain authority: 92|
|bbb.org||Domain authority: 91|
|mapquest.com||Domain authority: 89|
|yellowpages.com||Domain authority: 87|
|here.com||Domain authority: 86|
|city-data.com||Domain authority: 85|
|manta.com||Domain authority: 81|
|tomtom.com||Domain authority: 78|
|merchantcircle.com||Domain authority: 77|
|nextdoor.com||Domain authority: 77|
|angi.com||Domain authority: 76|
|justlanded.com||Domain authority: 76|
|citysearch.com||Domain authority: 75|
|superpages.com||Domain authority: 69|
|company.com||Domain authority: 68|
|us.kompass.com||Domain authority: 66|
|local.com||Domain authority: 66|
|elocal.com||Domain authority: 66|
|brownbook.net||Domain authority: 61|
|storeboard.com||Domain authority: 61|
|chamberofcommerce.com||Domain authority: 60|
|infobel.com||Domain authority: 59|
|spoke.com||Domain authority: 59|
|yellowbook.com||Domain authority: 58|
|hotfrog.com||Domain authority: 58|
|insiderpages.com||Domain authority: 57|
|yellowbot.com||Domain authority: 57|
|botw.org||Domain authority: 56|
|ezlocal.com||Domain authority: 56|
There are hundreds of others, but being listed on just these websites will do wonders for your online visibility.
While not as immediately obvious, unstructured citations can be just as powerful as their structured counterparts. They still reference key details about your business – your NAP – but don’t group those details together.
Typically, unstructured citations are harder to come by. Not to worry – here are three easy sources to start getting unstructured citations for yourself today.
- Press releases. These are great sources for unstructured citations. Services like PRNewsWire can distribute your release to hundreds of outlets.
- Web 2.0 properties. Back in the day, these were used to farm cheap, spammy links. Today, they’re great sources of unstructured citations. You can post articles on sites like Medium or HubPages for free, including your business information and Google Map for bonus effect. Just be sure not to spam – you’ll quickly get removed.
- Community organizations. The local Chamber of Commerce or Moose Lodge website likely lists other businesses associated with them. If you have any local affiliations, check their website to see if you’re listed. If you’re not, just ask to be.
Unstructured citations help round out your online entity. National brands have tons of these. Why not put in a little legwork and get some for yourself?
Create an Online Entity and Stick to It
National brands have well-defined online entities.
By using SCHEMA markup on your site, establishing a well-defined entity for yourself, and creating relationships with other entities, you can too.
3. National Brands Use Social Media the Right Way
Most of us have seen at least part of the fast food Twitter wars. National fast food brands found an audience (not to mention quite a bit of publicity) by engaging with the culture. They knew it wasn’t enough just to announce their existence – they had to bring something to the table. What they brought was a lighthearted, fun, competitive spirit, and people loved it.
There’s no denying that social media is hard to get right. National brands have entire teams (not to mention hundreds of unpaid interns) devoted to cultivating an engaging social media presence.
While you don’t have the same level of resources, you can emulate those big brands to cultivate your own social media following to great effect. Here’s how.
Create a Unique Voice and Stick to It
In order to get attention on social media, you have to be interesting. To be interesting, you need a voice.
Most businesses fail on social media because they forget what the platforms were designed for in the first place. People use social media to connect with others and to be entertained. If all you’re doing is trying to sell your products or services, you’re not going to get very far.
Here are a few ways to offer value on social media while also promoting your business.
How do you want your business to be perceived by the world? Are you a professional expert or a down-to-earth everyman? Either can work. Think about the characteristics that define your brand and build an avatar around them. If your brand were personified as a person, how would he or she speak? That’s your voice. Use it.
- Be interesting.
People want to be entertained on social media platforms. Use your voice to tell a story that’s worth listening to. The story can be informational, entertaining, or even both. Announcing your existence isn’t enough. You need to give people a reason to listen.
- Foster real relationships with your audience.
Building an audience is hard enough. Once you have one, why not put it to good use? Build relationships with your followers by commenting on their posts, answering their questions, and providing help when asked. You can also ask your audience questions, leading to real insights about their pain points and experience with your brand.
With a little hard work, you can develop a voice on social media that’s worth listening to. Now, let’s discuss where you can put that voice to good work.
You Can’t Use What You Don’t Have
How many social media platforms is your business currently on? Likely, the answer is “not enough.” National brands utilize every option given to them to advertise their business.
You should, too.
Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to give every platform the attention it deserves. That’s okay. Simply being on the platform is a benefit in and of itself. Remember when we talked about strengthening your online entity? Being on social media platforms is another great way to do it.
Here’s 35 social media platforms you can get on right now:
Fill out your profile completely. These profiles are great sources for backlinks and unstructured citations, both of which strengthen your online entity and your small business website.
In the next step, we’ll talk about how we can automate some of the social media legwork.
Developing an Effective & Automated Social Media Strategy
Now that you have a unique voice and some social media profiles under your belt, it’s time to put them to good use.
Think about your potential customers. Which social media platforms are they most likely to use? Where do you need to be in order to get in front of them?
Since you don’t have the resources and manpower like national brands to give your attention to every social media platform, you need to be selective. Likely, you won’t go wrong focusing on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If your business has strong ties to media, you may want to include Instagram or Pinterest in that mix.
Still, three to five social media accounts are a lot to manage. Thankfully, automation can help.
Automating Your Social Media Posting
Free services like IFTTT or Zapier can help you automate the legwork of social media posting, allowing you to create a larger footprint in a fraction of the time. These services connect your social platforms, automatically cross-posting your content to multiple sources
For instance, you could have Facebook posts automatically posted to Twitter and Instagram.
You could have LinkedIn updates automatically shared to your Facebook page.
You could have new Youtube videos automatically uploaded to Tumblr.
There are hundreds of possibilities. Consider using one social profile as your “hub” for content posting and let the automation kick in from there, distributing that content to your other profiles automatically. You’ll save time without sacrificing the size of your digital footprint.
Promote Your Website on Social Media The Way Big Brands Do
By considering and creating your unique voice, building a robust social network with many different profiles, and automating some of those profiles with cross-posting, you can create a large, effective social media presence, just like the big brands.
Combine These Three Steps to Market Your Small Business Website Like A National Brand
National brands care about their users’ experience on their website. They have well-defined online entities. They use their brand voices to get engagement on social media.
Now, you can too.
While your business and brand may not be the next Wal-Mart, you can take examples of what big brands do to advertise themselves online and use it for yourself to great effect.