SEO and content marketing can be tough for small businesses. Creating content that answers the frequently asked questions in your industry may not be too difficult, but getting it found in search engines is not so easy if you are a small local player. Even if you could rank a piece of content nationally, would it turn into business? Could you handle the influx of leads if it did?
The digital marketing channels and tactics you use are a strategic decision — and in many cases, traditional content marketing is not the best choice for small local businesses. This is a different story for SaaS (software as a service) companies and the like, which can easily scale users and deliver their product on a national or international basis. But for the small local guys, traditional content marketing can lead to a lot of head-scratching and wasted effort.
The SEO power of portfolios
This is not to say that content marketing is completely useless for small and local businesses — rather, that there is a strategic decision to make regarding the kind of content you create and how you promote it. And often, the key to smart local content marketing efforts is simply in the work that you do for your customers.
This is the content that really demonstrates what you do, where you do it and who you do it for, which is the information that really matters. Of course, “portfolio” is kind of a catch-all term — we are just as interested in case studies, reviews and testimonials as fair game for small business content marketing efforts, and often a single piece of content may contain one or more of these elements.
- portfolio entries;
- case studies;
- reviews; and
This kind of content has two main benefits:
1. Topical scope
Creating portfolio content provides very specific examples of your work. In the case of a painting and decorating company, it could be a certain kind of property in a very specific location: painting and decorating a Victorian house in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield.
This can zoom into a hyper-specific activity or location or zoom out to be more general. This broad or specific approach can apply to the job and the location in which you operate, creating the opportunity for smart local content, which so, so important for local businesses.
Take the following examples of portfolio pieces (Note: I am in Birmingham, UK, so examples reflect my own location and areas):
- Renovation of skirting boards in a Victorian house in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham
- Repair of ceilings in 1970s semi-detached house in Walmley, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham
- Complete rewiring and electrical refit of a five-bedroom, three-story Victorian house in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham
- New heating system, radiators and pipework in five-bedroom, three-story Victorian house in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham
- Rebuilding chimney on 1970s semi-detached house in Mere Green, Four Oaks, Birmingham
- Repointing of chimney on Edwardian property in Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham
- Roof repairs to eliminate damp issues on terraced house in Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham
These content pieces improve the scope of search terms you can rank for by detailing very specific jobs within your overall business category and focusing on other key details.
In the examples above, we have looked at the specific jobs in various trades, micro and metro areas, and specific types of property. All of these details would likely be missed in your traditional service pages — or poorly implemented in an effort to create catch-all service and location pages that are, more often than not, not really up to scratch.
There is a good chance your pages would now rank for search terms like:
- builder repointing chimney mere green;
- roof repair terraced house wylde green;
- rebuild chimney semi detached house four oaks;
- plumber new heating system boldmere; and
- … many more just like this.
Sure, these are going to be low-volume terms, but they are highly specific. And with localized search removing the need to enter your location, and an ever-smarter and mobile- (and voice-) driven search landscape, consumers are searching in more detail than before.
Getting folks through the digital front door is great, but you must then convince them to take action — and portfolio content again comes up trumps here.
Too much SEO thinking is done in a silo without enough consideration of the real users who will land on your pages. All too often, we see small businesses creating overstretched and over-optimized location pages that have keywords crammed in to help them rank but provide a poor landing page experience.
Creating portfolio entries, case studies, testimonials, and even reviews (which hopefully you are not creating as such and are requesting) opens you up to increased search engine traffic with real local users and provides the information these customers need to make an informed decision to do business with you.
Most local businesses are offering the same exact service as their competition, and this undifferentiated marketplace creates a difficult environment for prospects to choose Company A over Company B. Smart marketers and small businesses out there will see this obstacle as an opportunity to stand out amongst their peers with carefully crafted portfolio entries that illustrate a strong reputation — thus making it clear that they are the best choice for these weary internet browsers.
Powering up your portfolios
As ever, the best way to illustrate what I am getting at here is with examples, and the following are in part drawn from my own recent struggles to identify various contractors to help with the renovation of our new (very old) house.
I am pretty handy on a PC and the internet but utterly hopeless when it comes to the practical skills required to renovate a house. As such, I have spent a considerable amount of time on the internet trying to locate a range of local tradesmen, including electricians, plumbers, central heating specialists, plasterers, painters and decorators.
All in all, it was a nightmare to manage from behind the keyboard. Indeed, the process was so difficult that in the end, three of the four contractors I ended up working with came by referral; only one was someone I found via the internet.
This tells me that there is a huge opportunity for traditional contractors to optimize their digital presence and win more work. After all, I am about as search engine and internet savvy a user as you are going to get — so if I failed at this task, what must your average consumer make of the wasteland of small business websites?
What we commonly see, particularly around the traditional trades, are business directory sites and portals aimed squarely at users trying to find a local tradesman. These all tend to provide a raft of reviews and are highly visible, yet I found it very hard to distinguish one business from another.
In fact, a search for “plumber in birmingham,” which is a trade and the metro location where I live, returns 10 results, and eight are a directory or portal of some sort. This makes some of Google’s recent comments regarding directories somewhat curious — both Gary Illyes and John Mueller of Google seemed to imply that securing directory placements was an outdated practice or “very often not the right way to build links.”
But certainly in the UK, directories — and in particular, vertical directories — are still hugely visible in many local business categories. The following image shows that five of top six listings for “plasterer in birmingham” are directory listings, but I really want to see an actual website for these companies to aid in decision-making.
When it comes down to it, what I wanted to see was that the various contractors had tackled similar jobs (experience) and had done a good job (credibility). What was out there did not fill me with confidence and enable me to do that.
Structuring your portfolio entries
The specifics here will vary for each business, but I would be looking at the following kind of loose structure as a starting point.
- The problem. What was the issue? Where was the pain?
- The solution. How did you help? What measures were taken?
- Testimonials and reviews. Can you get the actual client to add some feedback to this page?
This does not have to be a huge piece of content — you can simply outline the problem (damp in first floor bedroom) and detail the solution (repoint and cap chimney) along with all the other important details (type of property, location and so on). In most cases, you will want to add images, so it always makes sense to take photos of the job as you progress. You can then largely tell the story via the photos you take and keep the actual text concise and to the point.
Of course, you will need to get permission from the customer, but if you do a great job and gently stroke their ego and tell them just how happy you are with the project, then this will generally help you secure permission — and of course, this can lead to asking for that client testimonial.
SEO does not exist in a silo, and the lines between smart SEO, content marketing and demonstrating your credibility are forever blurred. Often, the same content can tackle these three important goals for small and local businesses.
More often than not, the best content marketing options for small and local businesses is the creation of portfolio content that widens the search terms you will be found for and demonstrates your credibility in completing jobs for your local customers.
When executed well, your portfolio content will widen the search terms you can be found for and attract more local search engine users while simultaneously demonstrating your credibility for an SEO and marketing win-win.