Let me be blunt: the secret sauce of pushing your small business upward in SERPs is being realistic. Yes, you can get in the top 10 results, but only for the right keywords.

This doesn’t mean you have to make compromises. On the contrary. Being realistic is what brings you results. And when I say results I mean leads, clients and, yes, cold, hard cash.

Let me exemplify what being realistic means.  Four months ago, someone read one of the articles I publish here. She decided to hire my agency to help in boosting her content and SEO.

The client was the owner of a small business in a small town. For confidentiality purposes, let’s say she was selling wedding dresses.

Do you know what the first keyword she wanted to rank for was? Yes, that’s right, wedding dresses. She had done her research and found there are a lot of people searching for this.

Of course there are.

But this doesn’t mean they would find my client. No matter how much this small business invested in content and SEO, fighting for the first 10 positions in SERPs with huge companies and designers would have been futile.

So we suggested another approach, one that brought results aka clients.

Here’s what we did.

1. Eliminate what’s irrelevant

Our first stop here: search volume. According to The Search Engine Journal, search volume is yesterday’s trend for search engine optimization and barely relevant even for Google AdWords.

When you work for a small business, this becomes even more pertinent.

Why, you ask?

It’s quite simple: you don’t want to waste time (and money!) trying to get all the clients! That’s not going to happen. Instead, you need to focus on those you can get and on those you want to get.

From a content and SEO point of view, this means creating the right kind of content at the right time for the right people. I know, getting everything right may sound overwhelming. But if your keyword research is customer-centric, you’re halfway there.

Think about it for a second: it’s actually easier to succeed in ranking for low volume keywords. So this is good news for business owners and copywriters alike.

Now let’s see why low volume keywords are also a good idea and not just the cheaper idea.

2. Using keywords that meet the customer halfway

I’ve said it before: the cost of copywriting services is continuously increasing because great content is now the norm instead of the exception. Plus, SEO is no longer simply stuffing your 500-word article with keywords like “wedding dresses.”

Now, you have to meet your customer halfway and correlate your business goals with your copywriting efforts. In other words, today’s SEO copywriters need to also be marketers who understand audiences and buyer personas.

A 2007 SEO writer might have said: “sure, let’s write 10 articles with a six percent density and use ‘wedding dresses’ and the keyword in all of them.” Today’s SEO copywriters who are worth their name know that that’s the worst idea possible.

OK, it may be good for Vera Wang. A designer of her caliber can afford to invest in SEO and target…literally everyone — even women who only aspire to wear a Vera Wang dress, but don’t have the money or a planned wedding yet.

A small business, on the other hand, typically needs money now rather than in a few years. A keyword like “wedding dresses” doesn’t attract people who are ready to buy. It attracts virtual window shoppers.

Instead of generic keywords, you need to consider very specific ones.

For instance: “A-line wedding dress Austin,” “cheap wedding dresses Tucson,” “wedding dresses with sleeves Phoenix,” “cheap mermaid wedding dress Sacramento,” “custom made wedding dress Tacoma.”

See what I did there?

I narrowed it down for people who are past the window shopping phase and know exactly what they are looking for. This is what small businesses need to target.

3. Long-tail keywords are a small business’ best friend

If you take a closer look at the examples above, you’ll see that they are all long-tail keywords. They don’t have large search volumes, but they bring the right people to your website.

This is what I explained to my client: even if you managed to rank for a high-volume keyword and get tens thousands of organic hits per day, you won’t get customers. When she said “I want my phone to ring,” I knew we would work great together.

Yes, I could have charged her a fortune and worked for four years to get them to rank for a high volume, highly competitive keyword. But she would have been bankrupt in less than that.

While having a lot of organic traffic is nice, this is nothing more than a vanity metric. It’s just like buying Instagram followers. They won’t bring you any real money.

And this is what I and all the SEO copywriters I hire are about: optimization that brings cash, not great statistics. Yes, brand awareness is also important. But all business owners must think about keep their shop open at first and only then about fame.

The bottom line

It may sound unpleasant, but a business is about making money first and foremost. The bills don’t pay themselves. In order to do that, content and SEO have to be in line with business goals.

This is the exercise we do whenever we onboard a new client: we ask them what their business goals are and then we work backwards to meet them. You want to sell wedding dresses in a small town like Billings? Use long-tail keywords and forget about volume. Be specific, even if your keyword ends up as long as a whole line.

Once again, you are looking for people who know what they want. Offer them exactly that. If you create stunning mermaid wedding dresses, why optimize for “wedding dresses” alone. Let your products or services shine through proper keyword research.