Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I’ve written in previous articles about the concept of playing in your own “neighborhood” when it comes to small businesses and online marketing. I’d like to delve deeper into this concept, giving you some practical examples of focused Web sites and traffic-building efforts that will help you in the long run – and alleviate the time you’ll have to spend fixing the work you did that took you down the wrong path.

Where Do You Want to Live?

One mistake I see in small business startups is the lack of focus on a particular product, niche, or service. Trying to do too much too fast will backfire on you. Take it slower, develop one niche – be the best you can be, and then move on to set more goals.

You can’t live in ten neighborhoods at once; neither can your Web site. Determine exactly what your Web site is about in two or three words. What are you trying to accomplish? The most successful content is focused, to the point, and relevant. If you’re building pages about blue umbrellas, camel farming, and purple widgets, your neighborhood is more like a township. You only need one house; you can only be one place at a time. Accomplishing your ranking and traffic goals will be harder if you try to work in too large a neighborhood.

Find a Happy Place!

Here’s a real-life example. I write a travel blog, which is used to feature news about various travel topics including lodging, events, and specials. We get great traffic and send good converting clicks into various Web sites. The blog is all travel – all the time. Various posts contain links with good anchor text and an entire post themed around a particular location. Google backlinks from this blog appear within a month or two.

Curb Appeal and Accessibility

You could have the most relevant content on the planet, completely surpassing your competition; but if your Web site’s interface is clunky, counter-intuitive, and hard to navigate and read, it won’t work. If you throw a party and invite everyone, but when they arrive, your house is dilapidated, cluttered, dirty, and nobody can find the bathroom – they’re not going to stay. The same applies to your Web site. Make it clean, fresh, informative, and easy to navigate.

Host an Open House

Now that our great interface and optimized content have been built, we have ensured that our house in that neighborhood is well represented. The next step is to go out and tell everyone about our house and build buzz about what it is and how we are different from the other people on the block. We’re advertising by building links to our Web site through optimized press releases, social networking, and other forms of off-site work that is still within our sphere of knowledge and influence.

If our neighborhood is real estate, we’re not interested in links from places that aren’t about real estate in our area. These links are not relevant; they won’t drive relevant traffic; and it’s pointless. Make queries for terms your Web site is closely related to and even optimized for. Look in the top 20 results. Do you see any relevant directories you’re not featured in? Find out what directories list your competition by looking at their backlinks. If they have something you don’t – go out and get it.

Beware of Bad Neighbors

Yes, even in this area, there are exceptions, especially in search marketing. You will always see the “unexplained” backlinks. Sometimes, I can find no reasonable explanation as to why certain sites show as backlinks. I honestly believe that someday (someday in the future, someday soon, who knows?) those irrelevant sites that feature “paid links” will cease to give credence and drop from the list of backlinks. By staying completely white-hat in your traffic building and link efforts, you’ll never have to worry about the day Google pulls the plug on irrelevant links.

Step Outside the Picket Fence

The most important thing you can do as a small-business website owner is to step back. A lot of times we have an almost parasitic attachment to our Web sites. We feed off of them – live, eat, and breathe by what they do. The natural instinct is to answer every question possible with our content, even when it’s not within our expertise. This is where you support the city, not just the neighborhood. Link out to people who can answer the questions; establish trust by saying, “I don’t know.”

It’s hard work, and it can take time – but if you work to support your neighborhood, your neighborhood will support you. Be aware of what’s going on in the big picture. Know what others are up to, but don’t try to go in 12 directions at once. Stay focused, clean, and relevant to what you know, and you can succeed in a competitive online marketplace.

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