Go head-to-head against big-box competitors online AND WIN

by | Apr 13, 2022

Online SEO

The battle between independents and the big box stores has gone online – along with your retail and trade customers. In this social media and digital marketing report, find out how your business can come out on top by leveraging the power of local search.
Deepak Verma from Search Marketing Group explains.

In the physical world, big box stores are dominating. The giants are getting bigger and bigger, buying out smaller, independent businesses. With more stock, a bigger marketing budget, and a seemingly endless number of resources, it may feel impossible to level the playing field. 

But all hope is not lost. In the online world it is not just size that matters most – it is having the smarts as well. All it takes to direct buyers to your doorstep is a data-driven digital marketing strategy that leverages your strengths and while exposing your competitors’ weaknesses.  

Ecommerce is the future of business

What you may have suspected for a while is true – the world of business has shifted online. While many independent hardware store owners pivoted to online sales and Click ‘n’ Collect out of necessity, the facts suggest that the pandemic has had a permanent impact on the way Australians shop. 

According to a study conducted by Monash University, over two-thirds of Australian shoppers (68 per cent) relied on physical stores prior to the pandemic. Now, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) use online methods instead. Interestingly, the majority of these shoppers prefer to purchase from the websites of physical retailers they trust – a big plus for independents looking to take their offerings online. 

With the number of online buyers in Australia projected to hit 20.7 million by 2025 – over three-quarters of the population – it is clear that e-commerce is here to stay. And considering that 37 per cent of online sales in 2021 were in the home and garden category, it is vital that independents establish a strong digital presence sooner rather than later. 

Whether it is looking at availability and price before they visit a store, opting for Click ‘n’ Collect, or even completing the entire transaction via the website, customers now expect to engage with a business online at some stage of their buying journey. The question is: will they find your business, or a big box store instead?

How can I make sure my store gets seen online? 

The good news is you do not have to spend thousands on an e-commerce website, like the giants do, to see results. With the right data-driven strategy, you can make waves and see a serious ROI on a smaller investment. 

There are many components to digital marketing, but arguably one of the most important is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). This is the practice of optimising a website so that it ranks higher whenever a user searches for a particular word or phrase. 

Being ranked first on Google all but guarantees over a third of all clicks – and the lower you are, the less likely a buyer will even look at you – this is a vital element to ensuring your products are seen. 

A lot falls under the umbrella of SEO, including on-page optimisation, off-page optimisation, and technical SEO. But there is one area that provides a unique opportunity for independent hardware store owners: local SEO. 

Much like other types of SEO, local SEO is about improving search engine visibility. However, local SEO specifically helps brick-and-mortar businesses improve their ranking for searches performed by customers within their area. This gives local businesses a powerful advantage, but only if used right. 

The power of local SEO

Google likes to show its users the most relevant content to them. One vitally important criteria it uses is their location. 

If a customer is looking to buy something now, they will not want to drive to a store an hour away. Google uses a person’s location to direct them to stores that have what they want in their area – and, with the right strategy, your business can show up at the top of the list.

Local SEO can also be handy for customers looking to buy online. According to the 2021 CommBank Consumer Insights Report, Australians are increasingly buying from local online retailers and neighbourhood stores. 

Now more than ever, customers want to support businesses in their community and independent owners. This goodwill means that if you can get your products on the first page of local search results, you have a far better chance of earning that sale. 

How to get started with local SEO

Firstly you need to claim and optimise your Google My Business listing

Google My Business is a free tool that controls how your business appears on Google Search and Maps. It is the first step in getting Google’s trust – and yet, 56 per cent of businesses have not claimed their listing. 

If you have already claimed yours, the next step is optimisation. You will want to include your business name, location, opening hours, phone number, and website URL, along with a profile picture and pictures of your business. Respond to any customer reviews and reach out to satisfied customers, asking them to leave reviews as well.

And most importantly, keep the information in your listing updated regularly. This ensures your customers get the best experience and Google recognises your site as a fresh source of information. 

Create local content 

One advantage you have over the big box stores? You can get super specific with the content you create. By regularly promoting local industry news, events, people, and information, you can attract a local audience that is interested in what you have to offer. You can also create city, town or even suburb-specific landing pages to better target users. 

If you have more than one location, create separate pages for each of your stores and include unique information: your address, phone number, hours, promotions, specific testimonials, and anything else a visitor will need to know. 

Connect with locals on social media

While Google claims that likes, shares, and comments do not affect a website’s ranking, they do increase your prominence – a key local ranking factor. There is also the fact that often, a business’ Facebook page or other profile will appear higher on a results page. 

You also might want to optimise the ‘About’ section of your Facebook page and make sure you include relevant keywords. For other platforms, try incorporating local hashtags and specific locations into your captions. 

And most importantly, be social. Where relevant, make sure you connect with local groups and find opportunities to take part in the community. 

Take advantage of local inventory ads

With Google Shopping, you can show off your products to local searchers before they even click on a website. 

Local inventory ads appear at the top of a search result page and showcase the items you have in stock, your store hours, directions, whether you have Click ‘n’ Collect, and much more. From there, users can easily click and go to your site, buy the product they need, or source more information. 

There are many ways you can improve your local SEO and redirect your customers away from the big box stores. Start with these tips and you just might see a shift.