Small Business Underdog: Compete Locally with Large Retailers this Holiday Season

  •    Freelance writer focused on web development, email marketing and baseball. He lives in Los Angeles, but wishes he lived in Tokyo.

It's a tale as old as stories themselves: David vs Goliath, the underdog taking on the bigger, favored opponent and winning. Everyone loves to see an underdog prevail. Except for rich fat cats who swim around in pools filled with money and brush their teeth with cigars. But who cares about them?

This holiday season is your opportunity to tell your own underdog story. Nearly 93% of shoppers prefer local businesses to national ones, which means 93% of shoppers prefer you. It's just a matter of getting your business in front of these folks. Here are three things you can do to win this holiday season.

1. Master Local Search

Google places a heavy emphasis on local search results. This ensures that a person searching for flowers in Philadelphia sees local businesses in their area instead of florists in Chicago who'd hardly be able to deliver their order.

This local business preference isn't just city based; Google drills all the way down to the zip code and even the street of the person doing the search. The stronger you perform at this micro level, the better you'll do in local searches across the board.

Claim your business on Google My Business. This will ensure you show up in local searches both in Search and on Maps. Provide as much specific information as possible when adding or editing your Google My Business — and any other — listing. Add your business name, exact address, website, and an email address that uses your domain name (if you own, then create an email address like; this adds legitimacy that you're the real owner). You'll also be asked to categorize your business. The more categories you enter, the less impact each one will have, so don't get too wild; just choose one to three very specific categories that describe what your business is all about.

Cover your bases by also both submitting to Bing Places for Business and ensuring your business is listed on Apple Maps. Then look to increase your local citations. This means getting listed on places like Yelp and Angie's List. There are hundreds of potential citations that you may want to submit to depending on your business and location; you can find many of them listed here or, if you feel overwhelmed, can even hire another service to do the heavy lifting for you.

Once you are up on Google My Business, Yelp and similar spots, you'll want to:

2. Increase Online Reviews

88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. It can be a little scary to list your business on a site where other people can leave reviews. What if someone rates you with one star? Or just makes up something bad?

This very low potential for negative impact is more than outweighed by the positive: not only is simply being listed on Yelp and other review sites a huge boon for improving local search results; the more reviews you receive the higher you're likely to rank.

Of course, you could easily increase your number of reviews by just being really rude to everyone, then lots of people would happily visit Yelp and go into detail about how you're a great big jerk. But you'll probably want to increase your number of good reviews instead.

How? Ask for them!

You likely have happy customers. Your business wouldn't exist if you didn't. They just need a little prompting to leave you a review.

If an order happens online, send an automated email shortly after asking for a review with a link to Yelp or your Google Local Page. Be honest and tell them how big of a positive impact they'll be making for you by leaving a review.

If it happens in store, include a short hand out with every order that walks through how and where to leave a review, also mentioning the positive impact.

Use some of the great reviews as testimonials on your site. Then say something like:

Want to be featured here? Leave us a review!

Use these testimonials to help:

3. Tell Your Story

This is where you truly shine versus the big chains. You're part of the community. Your business makes your neighborhood, your town, your city that much better of a place to live.

Talk about your roots on your about page. Why do you love your city and what you do? How are you giving back to your community?

Discuss your town on your blog. What kind of events are going on? How are you taking part?

Thread this identity throughout your site. Use it to develop your brand personality.

And don't just tell your story in walled off sections of the site. Talk about it everywhere. Even use your Page Titles and Descriptions to tie yourself to your local community. These are especially valuable since they show up directly in search results. Each Page Title should potentially even include your neighborhood:

Emma's Tees - Bringing Style to SF's Mission District

Dynamo Pizza - Delivering to Chicago's South Side since 1983

The more you can separate yourself from the big chains by highlighting your local appeal, the more you'll draw in that large percentage of customers who prefer to shop with local businesses whenever they can. And you'll be yet another underdog, in a long series of them, who came out ahead.