Lessons From Google@Manchester: You Don’t Need To Be Big To Be Best


Even the most seasoned, confident marketers can feel like they’re staring into the abyss when faced with organic search competition from big businesses.

Whether it’s a new client you’re trying to help, or a completely fresh business that you’ve created, the presence of a famed multinational or an online giant can be enough to rule out ever hitting the fabled number one ranking spot.

Disparities in link profiles can seem insurmountable, their social metrics can be off the charts, and the search volumes around their branded terms alone can dwarf your total organic traffic.

However, two talks at the annual Google@Manchester conference in the UK this week revealed the light at the end of the tunnel for SMEs everywhere.

How Small Businesses Can Turn The Tables

In the first, Richard Eyre, Chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK; Elliot Muscant, Managing Partner of Dentsu Aegis Network; and John Roberts, Founder and CEO of AO.com, discussed the ways in which small businesses have been upsetting the odds and turning the tables on their big competitors.

In the second, Rasmus Ankersen, author of Hunger in Paradise and The Gold Mine Effect, detailed the ways in which a select few major corporations guard against complacency — and how the majority do nothing.

Airbnb, Uber, and Netflix were all given as examples of now-major enterprises that began by upsetting the traditional way of doing things, and the traditional businesses doing so.

Eyre believes that smaller businesses now have the advantage: “There’s a path of disruption [in industries]. It starts very small,” with the key disruptors also small — often so small, in fact, and doing something “so fundamentally different” that the established status quo in that particular field don’t notice them until it’s too late.

It’s Not Inevitable, Just Likely

Muscant points out that when big business put their minds to it, they have the financing and the personnel to innovate better than anyone. However, as Ankersen was to explain later, the number of businesses that have been content to rest on their laurels, even with the advent of the internet, vastly outnumber those who have strived to change with the times.

Muscant describes the need to be brave, while Roberts cites paranoia as a key to keeping up — two qualities that, if missing in a large business, open the door to competitors, no matter how small.

Roberts reveals that one of AO.com’s mantras is “do unto yourself before someone does it to you,” giving the example of HMV, the UK-based music retailer that only recently came out of administration (bankruptcy).

HMV really should have invented iTunes. They made a bold decision not to invest in the web. Why? They had 600 stores to protect… Opportunities always look a lot bigger going away from you than coming towards you.
John Roberts, CEO of AO.com

Eyre agrees: “Big businesses can think in a very linear way…they fail to innovate. There’s a tendency in big businesses to try to force their business on consumers who have moved on.”

While this first talk was aimed at helping bigger businesses adapt as the world of search and new technology advances, it was clear that there’s still much to be done, and Ankersen took a more damning view of the endemic complacency that allows any fledgling business to challenge major players in everything from organic search to embracing wearables.

He identified entities ranging from Nokia to the Newcastle United soccer team as examples of companies that went from huge success to disaster thanks to hubris, ego and complacency.

Complacency Applies To SEO, Too

And while he was more often than not referring to their market share, the exact same thing can be said for their SEO. If the giants have ranked number one for years off the back of their offline branding presence, the age of their domain, or any other factor that has not required active attention, then the chances are that they’re not doing anything to ensure they stay at the top.

The analogy that Ankersen draws for the way in which technology — including Google — has shifted the nature of competition is that of the world’s most successful soccer team.

They have the best players, the biggest stadium, and state of the art facilities, and yet when they step out on to the pitch, they’re greeted not by an opposing soccer team, but by an American Football team.

In short, thanks to search engines like Google combined with some innovation, it’s possible to spring a surprise on even the biggest competitors.


  • Challenge The Status Quo. The past decade has given us countless examples of the status quo being overthrown, and with the pace of change in technology, the number of industries that will fundamentally alter will only increase.
  • Eschew Complacency. Many big businesses are complacent. While it may seem like they’re doing everything they can to stay on top, once a business is there it’s hard to stay motivated and focused. This applies to both their position in the market as a whole, and their approach to search engines and other, relatively new marketing channels.
  • Quick Response To Trends. In many ways now, being bigger is a disadvantage. Responding to trends and consumer feedback will be much faster in smaller, more nimble businesses.
  • Dare To Be Different. Don’t blindly follow the example that has been set over the last years and decades; some of the internet’s biggest success stories have based their entire business model on doing things differently.
  • The Advent Of Consumer Choice. Search engines have awakened consumers to the possibility of choice more than ever before; there’s never been a time when more potential customers are comparing prices and products. If you have something that they want, they can find you, and if enough of them do so, then Google will recognise that.

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