How To Market Your Rural Small Business Online

November 3, 2021
(Reading time: 12 - 24 minutes)

As a small business in a rural area or small town, you know you have unique challenges. When it comes to marketing in general, there are several things that you can do to differentiate yourself from others and be found. One of the easiest and cheapest is to up your online marketing game! 

When it comes to local business online marketing, we have numerous unique challenges. As someone who grew up and still lives in a small town in a rural area, I get it, and it makes it even more difficult when I see businesses struggle. The main reason it is so difficult is that the search engines don't understand us.

Let’s look at several definitions of what is considered a rural area.

The US Census Bureau defines rural as what is not urban—that is, after defining individual urban areas, rural is what is left.

(Source: Defining Rural at the US Census Bureau)

ERS (Economic Research Service) researchers and others who analyze conditions in “rural” America most often use data on nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas, defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on the basis of counties or county-equivalent units (e.g., parishes, boroughs). Nonmetro counties are outside the boundaries of metro areas and are further subdivided into two types:

  • Micropolitan (micro) areas, which are nonmetro labor-market areas centered on urban clusters of 10,000-49,999 persons and defined with the same criteria used to define metro areas.
  • All remaining counties, often labeled “noncore” counties because they are not part of “core-based” metro or micro areas.

(Source: What is Rural?)

Okay, that is well and good, but what about North Carolina?

North Carolina Urbanized Areas

Rural North Carolina is made up of 80 counties out of the State’s 100. This is based on the Rural Center’s analysis of county population density with data from the 2010 decennial census. The classification system adopted by the Rural Center uses a county population density threshold of 250 people per square mile or less to define counties as “rural.”

(Source: NC Rural Center)

If we look at the map, we will see that a significant amount of the US population, about 80%, lives in urban areas. That leaves 20% for those of us that live in rural areas.

Urbanized Areas and Urban Clusters: 2010

Now according to Inc Magazine’s Encyclopedia entry on Rural Businesses, they say that:

In the US as a whole, total company counts indicate that roughly 98 percent of 5.8 million companies, not counting farms, were small businesses. The same proportion must hold for rural businesses as well. No data breaking down businesses by rural or urban locations are available, but assuming that small businesses are distributed based on population, about 1.1 million small businesses operate in rural areas, including small towns. 

Given these estimates, small commercial operations appear to be more numerous in rural areas than in urban areas.

This means that 20% of the population lives in rural areas, and about 20% of all small businesses are in rural areas then.

Why is it so hard for us to be found online? The Pigeon Update

Google Pigeon Update

The reason is that on July 25, 2014, Google released what would become known as the Pigeon Update. While it was designed to help local searchers, Mike Blumenthal determined that it reduced the search radius to about 3 miles. Thus effectively hurting rural businesses.

Therefore what can you do to combat this?

Nine things you can do to help your small business be better positioned online

Here are nine things you can do to help your small business be better positioned online:

1. Have an Actual Website That You Control

First and foremost, you should know that a website is mandatory to perform anything in these steps. You can integrate the following actions by reorganizing it, adding fresh content, and enhancing your meta-data if you currently have a website. However, if you don’t have one it might not be all bad, as sometimes starting with a blank slate may be simpler.

Your Social Media Page Is Not Your Website

It’s a common misconception by many small businesses since social media pages are so accessible and popular. While social media can be and should be used as part of a greater content marketing strategy, you still have to have a website for it all to live.

In a recent blog post, I talked about how these platforms are rented land. I encourage you to check out “The Two Farmers and the Rented Land” in its entirety. However, this is the premise.

There are two farmers, each using rented land from Frank Booker. Both worked the land but one invested in his own land while the other was content to use the “FREE” land. Then Frank Booker started building fences and gates that prevented people from knowing about all the farmers, including our farmers, but he offered to charge them to direct people to their roadside stands.

The one farmer had invested so much in the rented land he couldn’t afford to pay Frank Booker and would lose his farm. The other farmer had purchased his own land and used the rented land to help redirect people to his main stand.

The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t build your business on other people’s land. You never know when they are going to come in and change things on you.

Now I have seen the aforementioned scenario play out more than once. I meet a small business, and they only have a social media page and consider it to be their website, which it is not.

It is a page on the social media's website.

Now, I have seen the above scenario play out more than once. I meet a small business, and they only have a social media page and consider it to be their website, which is not. It is a page on the social media’s website.

I have said it before that your website is your greatest marketing asset. According to research from HubSpot,

it’s estimated Google processes approximately 63,000 search queries every second, translating to 5.6 billion searches per day.

…[While the] average person conducts between three and four searches each day.

2. Here Are the Top 5 Basic Things That Every Small Business Website Need
Here Are the Top 5 Basic Things That Every Small Business Website Need

For small businesses in rural areas and small towns, there are five things that you have to do and need to have on your website to be able to show up on the search results pages (SERPs).

Is It Easy to Use and Navigate
  1. Is It Easy to Use and Navigate
    Visitors to your website should be able to locate what they’re looking for quickly and easily. This means keeping your navigation menu tidy and user-friendly. Try to limit top-level navigation to between 5 and 7 menu items and utilize dropdown menus if you need more. This also means you might have to make some hard decisions on what to include there and what to place in the dropdowns. At the very least, make sure you have a way for people to contact you prominently listed.
All Killer, No Filler
  1. All Killer, No Filler
    Unlike a burger from a popular fast-food chain, you will want to get rid of the filler and make sure your content is killer. More on this later because it bears repeating.
Include Calls to Action
  1. Include Calls to Action
    Visitors to your website should be able to convert easily and quickly. Make sure you provide them with every chance to do so. Strong calls to action (CTAs) should compel visitors to take action, such as clicking a link, calling, filling out a form, scheduling an appointment, or other action. It's a good idea to include a CTA at the end of each section of the page.
Make Sure It is Responsive or Mobile-Friendly
  1. Make Sure It is Responsive/Mobile-Friendly
    Make sure your small business website is responsive/mobile friendly. In rural areas, many people may rely on their cell phones for internet access as broadband isn’t available to them. Your website shouldn’t seem clumsy or be challenging to use on a smartphone. The fact that users must squeeze and zoom to see little text, look for tiny links, or come up with inventive methods to view information that has been cut off indicates that your site is not mobile-friendly.
The Fast or the Furious
  1. The Fast or the Furious
    Google realizes that speed matters, and how quickly your website loads is critical to how Google ranks your site on the SERPs. The load time will not only impact your rankings, but it also adds friction to the user experience. Don't take my word for it. Take a look at these statistics about site speed:
    • 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less. (Source: NeilPatel.com/KissMetric.com)
    • 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. (Source: Think With Google)
    • Amazon calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year. (Source: Fast Company)

I could elaborate more on the three aspects of SEO, On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO, and Technical SEO, but I have an in-depth guide posted about that already.

3. Understand That Content Is King

If you enter the phrase “Content Is King," you will get delivered north of three billion results! In January 1996, Bill Gates wrote an essay titled “Content is King,” which was subsequently published on the Microsoft website.

He starts by saying, “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting." 

He goes on to say that:

...No company is too small to participate.

One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.

The Internet also allows information to be distributed worldwide at basically zero marginal cost to the publisher. Opportunities are remarkable, and many companies are laying plans to create content for the Internet.

...

I expect societies will see intense competition-and ample failure as well as success-in all categories of popular content-not just software and news, but also games, entertainment, sports programming, directories, classified advertising, and online communities devoted to major interests.

...

If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.

Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling. Although the gold rush atmosphere today is primarily confined to the United States, I expect it to sweep the world as communications costs come down and a critical mass of localized content becomes available in different countries.

(Source: Wayback Machine: Microsoft.com; Alternate Source: Crag Bailey.net)

First off, I want to know where Bill Gates got a Flux Capacitor and keeps his Delorian because, frankly, he was spot on. As he predicted, content would quickly become and still is the king of the Internet.
I often tell prospective and current clients that we have to have content on the website for the search engines to find and index. Ever since Google released the Panda algorithm update in 2011, quality content has been a big deal.
Goolge Panda Algorithm Update

All Killer, No Filler

Unlike a burger from a popular fast-food chain, you will want to get rid of the filler and make sure your content is killer. 

  • Don't stuff your page full of keywords and phrases that sound unnatural.
  • Don't list text in the same color as the background trying to “hide it.“
  • Don't list a bunch of communities or zip codes on a page.
  • Don't use duplicate, thin, or low-quality content.
  • Don't post content that lacks authority or trustworthiness.
  • Don't have a high ad-to-content ratio
  • Don't use a content farm

Content directly affects how well your website ranks. According to a recent SEMRush report, the more material you have, the better. Content in the form of blog articles and content throughout your site is now more crucial than ever.

4. What Types of Content Should I Have for My Rural Small Town Business
What Types of Content Should I Have for My Rural Small Town Business

 

There are three types of content that need to be on your website to help a small business rank well. Those are blogs, landing pages, and geographical landing pages.

Blogs

A blog is short for web log or weblog. A personal blog or business blog will traditionally include regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material, such as photos and videos. Blogging is a core component of content marketing, as it can accomplish several initiatives simultaneously –  like website traffic growth, thought leadership, and lead generation.

I have repeatedly said that Google is hungry for content, much like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors. Having a blog and putting content out that again answers questions people are looking for can only help your business.

Landing Pages

Another significant component of getting a small business to rank in the SERPs is having landing pages. There are several types, such as ones that have downloadable content offers, pages that list information about your particular services.

Service and offering pages will typically help the rural small business more. You will want to treat these much the way you do as a blog but focus on one service or an aspect of the service going in-depth. Be sure to include both professional and layman words to ensure that the search engines understand what the page is about.

For example, if you run an auto repair shop, you would want to have pages and content that talks about the primary services you offer, such as oil changes, brake replacement, suspension repair, tires, etc.

Geographical Landing Pages

The short answer is that geo-targeted landing pages are pages on your website that cover a service and a geographical location. These types of pages are critically important to any rural or small town business that has local clientele.

5. What Should A Geographical Landing Page Include

A geographical landing page or local landing page should at the very least include the following:

It must be unique for each location you are targeting and talk about one service you offer, such as:

I prefer to use a modified version of the Building A Storybrand framework. It goes something like this:

  • A large, clear statement of what your client wants or the pain point
  • A brief explanation or description of what you do or how you solve said paint point
  • A call to action button should drop them to the bottom of the page for a contact form and contact information
  • You also need an image to help illustrate your point.
  • Talk about why they shouldn't do the topic of the page
  • Talk about why they should seek help
  • Why choose you
  • Why do they need to call you now, including a sense of urgency or limit
  • Talk about the area, including landmarks such as parks, national parks, state parks, etc. Essentially anything that can help Google understand where you are talking about.
  • Include testimonials for the social proof aspect
  • Include pricing if applicable for the service you are offering, even if it's a range. A range between $150 and $1,500 is still better than nothing at all.
  • How do they get in touch with you?
  • Images should be geotagged if possible. Even if it's a cell phone snapshot, it's better than a stock photo that doesn't represent the area.

Modified Version of Building A Storybrand Framework Example

6. Why Local Landing Pages Are Critical for Small Businesses in Small Towns And Why They Work

The reason geographical landing pages are so important and effective goes back to the Pigeon Update I mentioned earlier. Google and anyone who doesn't live in a small town or rural area doesn’t understand that distance isn't as important a factor. I have often joked that I will pass seven churches to go to the church I want to go to. While there is one that is much closer, it's not what I prefer. The bottom line is we don't mind traveling; it’s part of living in a small town and rural area.

By including these types of pages on your website covering your small town and the smaller communities (think zip codes and post offices) around them, you can help Google better understand that you service those locations.

Like with your blog, you should be using these geo-targeted landing pages to answer people's questions about your local small business and your local area.

Why Geographical Landing Pages Work

7. Do Your SEO Keyword Research to Target Your Audience

All of the content you write, be it blogs, landing or local landing pages, is for not if you aren't targeting the right keywords your audience is using to find businesses like you.

How to Find and Choose Keywords for Your Small Business Website

When getting started, you need to identify keywords your clientele is using to find you. You can start by making a list of important and relevant topics based on what you know about your small business. Then use these free or freemium tools to help refine the list:

What to do with the list

Now that you have a massive list of keywords, it’s time to refine it down. Here is how:

Three Main Factors for Choosing Good Keywords

Choosing good keywords relies on three things, relevance, authority, and volume.

Relevance
  1. Relevance
    Google ranks content based on its relevance to the searcher. This is where the idea of search intent comes into play. Therefore, only if your content satisfies the demands and needs of the searchers will it rank for that term. Furthermore, your material must be the greatest resource available for the searchers’ query. After all, why would Google rank your material higher if it is less valuable than other information on the web?
  1. Authority
    Google will give more credence to authoritative sources. That means you must do everything possible to establish yourself as an authoritative source. Unless your content is outstanding, you are less likely to rank if you aren't recognized as an authority in the field.
Authority
Volume
  1. Volume
    Choosing low-volume keywords are a great way to show up on the first page of the SERPs, but it doesn't mean anything if people aren't searching for those keywords. However, there is a balance; you may find that a low-volume keyword may be the ticket to higher conversions.

Check Long-Tail Keywords and Short-Tail Keywords

As part of your strategy, you will want a mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords are words and phrases that are generally shorter and more generic. They will typically be just one to three words in length. Long-tail keywords are longer, usually containing three or more words.

See How Competitors Are Ranking for These Keywords

A word of advice, just because your competition may be doing something does not mean you have to follow suit. The same is true for keywords. Just because a keyword is significant to your competition does not mean that it is also important to you. Understanding what keywords your competition is attempting to rank for is a wonderful method to help you re-evaluate your list of keywords.

If your competition is ranking for keywords on your list, it makes sense to work on improving your ranking for those as well. However, don't dismiss those that your competition appears to be uninterested in. This might be an excellent chance for you to gain market share on key phrases as well.

Use Keyword Planner Tools to Cut Down Your Keyword List

Now that you've found the appropriate combination of keywords, it's time to filter down your lists with some quantitative data. Go back and revisit the tools I suggested earlier to pair it down, then build out a content calendar or content plan focused on your rural area! 

8. Create a Content Calendar

Like peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and peanut butter, or pickles and peanut butter (don't worry, I don't get it either), the point is that they go hand in hand. Therefore when developing your content calendar, remember that consistency is key.

Nothing is worse for a prospective client than coming to your website and seeing old, outdated content or a blog from 2 years ago. And just like that prospect, Google will not like it either.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to posting content. You can post shorter content more often or longer content with a longer span between them. Whatever you choose to do, I wouldn't let more than a month go by without posting some sort of content to your website. I will also say this; the more frequent you post, the more likely the search engines are to come back around to your content.

9. Understand What Is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization or SEO is often a term thrown around by web designers, digital marketing agencies, or anyone with a basic understanding of the web. But what does it really mean?

SEO is the process of optimizing your website to appear higher in search results on the search engines. The higher your pages rank in search results, the more likely you will attract new and existing clients.

SEO can be broken down into three parts, On-page, Off-page, and Technical SEO.

  • On-page SEO is anything you do to improve your website's ranking in the SERPs. Because you own the business and the website, you have complete control over on-page SEO factors.
  • Off-page SEO is all about creating backlinks and boosting your SERP ranking externally. Your content will be recognized more by Google if you have more links to it. Google highly values backlinks since they help crawlers locate your website and indicate the content's credibility.
  • Technical SEO is all about your website's structure. It helps you meet the requirements that allow search engines to crawl your site and better understand your content.
What Is SEO

What Is Local SEO?

97% of people learn more about a local company via the internet

You may find it surprising that “97% of people learn more about a local company via the internet" (Source: SEO Tribunal). As a small business in a rural or small-town, a thoughtful and detailed local SEO campaign may produce astonishing results. You will want to make sure to optimize your listing on directories, social media and get reviews, as prospects will use these to learn as much as they can about your local business before making contact.

Local and National SEO: What's the Difference

The chances are that if, as a local business in a small town or rural area and you have a solid web and social media presence, you're ahead of the curve. However, before you celebrate thinking you are some sort of local business savant, you need to realize there are differences between local and national SEO beyond the basics.

Local SEO Relies on Citations

Local SEO Relies on Citations Much More

When it comes to Local SEO, getting citations wherever possible is a good strategy. A citation can be explained as any internet listing of your company's name, address, and phone number or NAP. Search engines love citations because they build trust, and they can verify it through multiple sources.

Local SEO Reviews Have Greater Weight

With Local SEO Reviews Have Greater Weight

Local SEO reviews on your GMB listing and on the differing citation sites have a direct impact on local search rankings. According to a Northwestern Study titled, From Reviews to Revenue, states that the average consumer will read ten online reviews before making a purchase decision.

The bottom line is that your prospective clients and the search engines trust your past clientele more than they trust you.

Local SEO Review Quality Matters

With Local SEO Review Quality Matters

Just because you have several good reviews doesn’t mean that you will rank higher than your competitors. If your star rating is low, you will need many more to counteract the bad ones as your star rating is an average of all your reviews.
 

Where to Get Citations and Reviews

Here are a few places you can start to build citations and get reviews:

Google My Business: Your Online Front Door and King of Citations

According to Google, Google My Business (GMB) “is a free and easy-to-use tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. To help customers find your business, and to tell them your story, you can verify your business and edit your business information." 

Essentially, it's another way for Google to know if your business is legitimate, as well as what “category" of business you're in. This is important for small businesses, yet many do not take advantage of it. Make sure to claim your Google My Business profile!

13 Places to Get Citations and Reviews

Citations are often free and easy to complete. Each citation should take between 10 and 20 minutes to complete. I recommend creating a spreadsheet that contains all of your small business’s information so that you can copy and paste it.

Here are thirteen additional top citations you need to see if you can get listed on:

  1. Facebook
  2. YellowPages
  3. Apple Maps
  4. Bing Places
  5. BBB
  6. Foursquare
  7. Factual
  8. Yelp
  9. Meetup
  10. Best of the Web
  11. Houzz
  12. Citysearch
  13. TripAdvisor

In addition to the citations mentioned previously, you should have your site included in other places, such as local or regional business directories. If you are in a rural community or a small town, your local Chamber of Commerce will be your best bet.

While it may seem obvious, I can't count the times I have gone to a business social media page, and the essential information wasn't filled out. You have to ensure that the about section, contact information, address, hours, etc., are entirely filled out.

How to Get More Backlinks

Aside from citations and reviews, backlinks from local authorities may be your greatest link-building technique. Local authorities can include the local high school, community college, town hall, or public library. Instead of simply asking, “Can I get a link to my website from yours?" Take a more strategic approach! Look into sponsoring a local event, group, or organization. Those are simple ways to gather backlinks from those sources, and you'll be performing a service to your community (which is far more essential)!

Here Are Some Final Thoughts

While we in rural areas and small towns typically have fewer competitors per industry, the fact remains that the Internet has made small-town businesses and rural businesses every bit as visible and connected as our metropolitan area counterparts. 

That being said, I hope you take one thing away from this post, and that is that regardless of where a business is located, having an online presence that includes a simple and easy-to-use website irrespective of industry or specialization is critical to your future success.

If you live in a small town such as Enka-Candler, NC, Hiddenite, NC, Jonesville, NC, or any small town across North Carolina and want help with your website and online presence, reach out to the small town and rural area experts. We will be glad to help you get your small business online and start reaching clients with the power of the Internet.

How to Market Your Rural or Small-Town Business Online

Free Resource

Rural and small-town businesses have distinct challenges. There are things you can do to stand out and get found online. Download the presentation files to learn how!

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Chad Treadway

Written by:  |  November 3, 2021

Chad is our business development manager. He will help you survey your business needs, ensuring you are educated on your options before suggesting any solution. Chad also has several certifications through HubSpot to better assist you with your internet and inbound marketing.

See Chad Treadway's' bio: cubecreative.design/about/chad-treadway