John Mueller was asked if the search results are stacked against small sites, creating a situation that gives an advantage to large companies. Mueller acknowledged that big companies are hard to compete with. But he also showed how advantage isn’t exclusive to how big a company is.
As you will see, big sites have disadvantages that a small site can exploit for competitive advantage.
Do Smaller Companies Have a Chance?
The person asking the question asked John Mueller if smaller companies have a disadvantage against bigger companies because of how advertising shown for certain search queries pushes organic search results further down the page, further obscuring the search visibility of smaller brands.
The person in the Google office hours hangout asked:
“In some industries, would it be unfair for Google Shopping ads to run alongside the ads displayed on the top of the search, as it pushes organic search results and smaller organizations further and further down the page?
Do smaller organizations have a chance in competing with larger companies?”
Competing Against Large Companies is Hard
The question was highly specific but Mueller’s answer addressed the question from a more general perspective, as his answer didn’t even mention the situation of advertising pushing down the organic rankings.
Mueller’s answer also addressed the idea of whether Google favors larger brands.
John Mueller answered:
“I don’t know… I think this is almost like a philosophical question.
From our point of view, it’s definitely not the case that we’re trying to focus on big websites or anything like that.
But from a purely a practical point of view, obviously if you’re a small company and you’re trying to compete with larger companies, then it’s always going to be hard.”
Competition Is Not About Size
Mueller next used the actual history of search rankings to show how competition has always been about the effort put into creating an optimized website and user experience and not about how big the site is.
What he said is true. Smaller brands easily out-competed bigger brands because the big companies took years to recognize the value of SEO.
Big brand’s infatuation with Macromedia Flash didn’t help their SEO but it was great for small sites that knew better.
“And especially on the web, one of the things that I’ve noticed over time is that in the beginning, a lot of large companies were, essentially, incompetent with regards to the web and they made terrible websites.
And their visibility in the search results was really bad.
And it was easy for small websites to get in and kind of like say, well, here’s my small website or my small bookstore, and suddenly your content is visible to a large amount of users.
And you can have that success moment early on.
But over time, as large companies also see the value of search and of the web overall, they’ve grown their websites.
They have really competent teams, they work really hard on making a fantastic web experience.
And that kind of means for smaller companies that it’s a lot harder to gain a foothold there, especially if there is a very competitive existing market out there.
And it’s less about large companies or small companies.
It’s really more about the competitive environment in general.”
Small Companies Should Focus on Strengths to Compete
While it might seem like big brands have insurmountable advantages, that’s not really the case.
A common reasons I find that a small company can’t rank is because the person in charge of SEO essentially only knows “instructions” for how to do SEO. But they don’t really understand how search works.
While knowing rote instructions like “put your keywords in the title and headings” are a starting point for SEO, it’s simply not competitive against a company that has a more advanced understanding of how search engines work.
It’s like the difference between knowing a recipe and understanding how to cook.
The person with a recipe will create their roast pork using cream of mushroom soup and a can of cola.
With their limited experience they’ll feel like they can cook.
They know how to follow a recipe. But they don’t actually know how to cook.
And that’s the situation some smaller sites that have trouble competing tend to be in.
Some of the time (not always), it’s because there’s a knowledge gap that is keeping them from realizing their small-site competitive potential.
John’s advice on how smaller companies can compete is helpful.
“And that’s something where you, kind of, as a small company, you should probably focus more on your strengths and the weaknesses of the competitors and try to find an angle where you can shine, where other people don’t have the ability to shine as well.
Which could be specific kinds of content, or specific audiences or anything along those lines.
Kind of like how you would do that with a normal, physical business as well.”
Small Sites Have Competitive Strengths
Mueller is right, smaller sites can have advantages and can do things bigger brands don’t always have the speed or inclination to attempt.
Speed is a small site advantage. But it’s only useful when there’s a good plan behind it.
Another advantage is the audacity to build links.
The bigger brands don’t always have the nerve to beg for a link. A reluctance to take risks is a big brand disadvantage.
Having built small sites that rapidly overtook bigger brands, I know firsthand how boldness is an advantage. There are top ranked sites across a variety of industries that started small.
Do small sites have a chance competing with larger organizations? Yes they do.
But competition in 2022 is harder regardless of the size of the company.
Can Small Sites Compete Against Big Brands?
Watch at 38:15 minute mark: