Small Fish In A Big Brand Pond

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Recently my husband did something that scared the life out of me: he bought a major appliance from a minor e-retailer. After finding a great price on an item that he wanted, he dug into their online reputation and found that it was practically spotless, so he took a big chance and spent a lot of money at an unknown company. I’d not have been so brave. As I expected, being a Negative Nancy, there was a flaw in the item. However, said minor e-retailer sent a replacement with zero hassle.

Now, I never check a brand’s backlinks before I buy from them of course (being mostly sane) but I definitely check out their online reputation I’ll check their offline reputation out too if possible, but I do look into them. Are most of their reviews positive or negative? Do they have major customer service issues? Do their items tend to fall apart after one month? I want to know these things before I commit my dollars.

Big brand backlinks have been in the news a lot recently as these brands have come under suspicion about how exactly they got their rankings. We know that major brands have enjoyed a certain level of security online for the most part, one that has never been afforded to the little guys. Big brands can play fast and loose and eat up all the online space for keywords that you may want to rank for. Add some polluted local SERPs for certain industries and you have a mess to wade through. How on earth is a small guy supposed to compete?

Here’s capitalizing not on your well-known name (um, because you might not have one yet), but on why you’re different from everyone else who does what you do. What can YOU bring to the table?

For starters you can make darn sure that you don’t make any customer service mistakes that can garner you negative reviews online, and you can make sure that in the event that you do get some negative press, you respond to it and you fix it asap. Nothing is worse than seeing unaddressed complaints online.

You also need to define why you’re different than the bigger guys. Having a few bright spots in how you do business is a definite, but you also need to be able to distinguish yourself in the online world, playing by the online world’s rules. As I’ve said many times before, hiding crappy links in a giant backlink profile is much easier than hiding them in a small profile. If you only have 50 backlinks, you’ll want to make sure that they’re really good ones.


  • Get listed in (relevant) niche and local business directories.
  • Set up every possible form of social media alert for your brand and URL. This way you can respond to anything that pops up online, positive and negative.
  • Respond to the first instance of negative experience. Don’t wait for someone to complain twice before you address it.
  • Use some form of web analytics in order to keep an eye on where your traffic is coming from.
  • Keep a very close eye on any links pointing to you. Many people are unaware of what’s lurking in their link profile. As much as I hate to say it, you need to be extra careful if you’re working with someone who isn’t telling you how he’s building links. I come across some really nasty links almost every week, and the clients have no clue.
  • Use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but use them wisely, to build up and be a part of a community.
  • If you have a local business presence and it makes sense for you, put a lot of your effort into local marketing. Network with other business owners in your area both online and offline.
  • Keep producing good content that is easily shareable using social media buttons.
  • Reach out for links when you find a great site. The worst that will happen is that you’ll be turned down.


  • Comment or forum spam. You have no idea how many times people ask me to look at what they’re doing wrong with link building and their profile is nothing BUT comment and forum spam.
  • Reach out to spammy sites that are comprised of nothing but links. Yes, they’ll probably link to you, but no, you don’t want that link.
  • Sit back and rest. Your competitors, especially the bigger ones, certainly aren’t. Building good links is an ongoing effort.
  • Think that you can write great content and have us find it accidentally. You need to send us to it.
  • Use Twitter and Facebook to only post links to your new blog post, sale, product offering, etc.
  • Set up 10 different microsites that all crosslink and concentrate on a specific microtopic for each site. Yep, people are still doing that.
  • Crank out impersonal link requests. If these ever get read, they’ll most likely get trashed. And don’t assume the webmaster is male…that’s a personal pet peeve of mine.

Just remember: you can definitely compete online, but you don’t have the same room for mistakes that big brands do. However, if you’re conscientious about how you market your site, you can build a well-optimized web presence that doesn’t rely on what only works at the time.

Julie Joyce
Julie Joyce owns the link development agency Link Fish Media, is one of SEO Chicks, and contributes to Search Engine Land and Search Marketing Gurus.
Julie Joyce

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  • Nick Stamoulis

    The best defense is a good offense, and managing your online brand reputation means being proactive! Brands cannot afford (literally) to hide their heads in the sand when a bad review or bad press pops up. Thank customers for positive reviews, and reach out to those who had a bad experience quickly.

  • Matthew

    Totally agree Nick, epsicially since rules changed and well they have in the uk where you cannt try and hide the fact you got bad reviews if a customer gives you a review good or bad you are supposed to put on website so people know however nothing wrong with you showing your reply on there, Abit like ebay when people got negative feedback you could reply and justify what had happened as customers who dont get what experience they wanted will leave negative comments about your company even if its not your fault

  • eGrove Systems

    Rich source 

  • Paul

    I agree with Nick, the best defense is definitely a better offense 

  • Johnm

    These are some great suggestions!  About three years ago I took the same risk your husband did and it didn’t turn out too well. )-;

  • Jen Jenkins

    Great article. This sort of strategy can help any small business seeking to build up their SEO and is also just good business practice (common sense).