For some small businesses owners, SEO is not something that they would initially invest in.
Most cash-strapped entrepreneurs and small firms focus on initiatives that they think would generate the most return like Facebook advertising, Google ads or even go traditional with print media.
There are sayings out there that SEO as a marketing strategy is a dying effort. It’s not really accurate. As long as people use Goolge and other search engines to find new products and services, SEO will be relevant.
It’s however true that online marketing is moving more towards omni-channel, which means only one marketing channel can’t bring you the success you deserve.
SEO is an ever-growing industry and it’s more relevant for small businesses now more than ever.
In this article, we’re going to be talking what SEO is, why it matters to your business and what are the steps you can take to start doing it.
Let’s get started!
(In this article I will be referencing to Google as search engines not just the company Google).
Why SEO Matters For Small Businesses?
As much as 86% of consumers rely on the internet to find a local business and 1/5 of those would be actively searching at least once every 7 days. Not to mention the fact that at least 72% of consumers will say that “search” is their first choice in looking for information.
What this valuable information entails are that local customers who look for small businesses tend to rely heavily on search.
First thing to know is that SEO is a long-term play. Other efforts like paid ads and email marketing initiatives tend to focus on the immediate return (which you’ll find is getting constantly more expensive).
SEO is like planting a seed and reaping the fruits of your labor continuously once it grows into a full-blown tree.
It’s sustainable – improving your branding and reputation in time as your company grows. It’s not reliant on one marketing activity but a culmination of all your efforts.
Search plays a big role in growing awareness and establishing a unique voice in the market. According to Moz, it provides you with more than 20 times more traffic opportunity than pay-per-click initiatives on mobile and desktop. It allows you to compete with the giants in your industry and levels the playing field.
If you also think about your marketing and sales funnel – SEO can support and aid in your customer’s path to purchase.
From the top of the funnel in leading awareness, SEO can be used to generate topline understanding of who you are and what are your product offerings. In driving consideration and interest, SEO can deliver on this by communicating and targeting consumers who are more inclined to purchase. At the bottom of the funnel, it converts potential leads into paying customers.
SEO can drive local sales and if you have a brick-and-mortar store, it can also increase your footprint. As much as 50% of mobile users tend to visit a business they searched for within the next 24 hours. 18% of those who searched will lead to a sale.
SEO can deliver this – linking your searches to actual sales or visits.
What is SEO?
SEO can be easily understood as optimizing your website for better PageRank – which is Google’s way of classifying which pages go on top of search results with a given keyword or key-phrase that someone is searching.
It sounds complex and there are hundreds of different factors that Google looks when making a decision to rank a page. Their goal is to server the absolute best result to the users search query.
SEO takes into account different elements like user experience, content quality, domain authority etc. For starters we can look at SEO in these two main categories:
- On-page SEO – These are the activities you are doing with your website and its sub pages. It involves writing good (and long) content, putting together attractive METAs so your page would stand out in the search results and the overall user experience (page speed, security, navigation & design). You guess it right. There are tasks for all of the team not just for the marketing specialist.
- Off-page SEO – These are the actions you take outside your website. Most commonly off-page SEO is referred to link building. That means getting other websites linking to your website. In theory this improves your domain authority and Google is more inclined to rank your website higher when your domain has good authority compared other domains that are trying to rank with a given keyword.
Like I mentioned there are hundreds of different ranking factors and we can only guess which have the biggest impact on your ranking.
In order to always move in the right direction keep in mind that Google wants to serve the best content to the users. So if you write outstanding content, provide good user experience and this is acknowledged by other websites as well by giving links to your site, you will do good in terms of SEO.
While SEO can be a bit complex, it all boils down to doing your research and concentrating your efforts based on what you find.
Analyzing the Market
First, let’s work on understanding what you’re up against.
The intent is to identify what are your competitors doing. Key things I like to look for is the search volume, commercial intent, keyword difficulty and the actual content is currently ranked with the given keyword.
To start your research, I suggest you begin by familiarizing yourself with the right tools:
Google Search Console
This tool is meant to help you manage and track your performance against Google search results. It’s packed with powerful and useful features like:
- Seeing which keyword delivers the most traffic and the level of competition within that keyword
- Submit sitemaps to aid search engines find, index and rank your web pages.
- Determine and fix website errors. Usually, crawl and page errors affect loading time and page performance. Through console, you can determine what areas need fixing and which specific parts need to be adjusted.
- Get regular updates from the Google search team which helps you understand new innovations or changes in algorithms.
- A whole lot more involving analysis and site maintenance.
If you are really dedicated and passionate about SEO, setting up Google Search Console is the ideal first step. It gives you a leg up on on-page SEO – something you should focus on before you go off-page.
The best part? It’s free.
Google Analytics Is the ULTIMATE way to see site performance and the how people engage with your content.
It allows you to monitor how much traffic you’re getting and look for the pages that attract the most traffic.
You can see the breakdown of this traffic and where its coming from. You can also see if you have increasing and decreasing traffic and by how much it grows or declines over time.
It gives you benchmarks and data on average bounce rate, page views and time spend on the site. These particularly are important user experience metrics you should track.
Ahrefs is probably one of the most comprehensive SEO tools out there.
Sure, it’s not free, but doing SEO without it takes a hell of a more time, so I definitely suggest making that investment.
Ahrefs helps you find opportunities – specifically low hanging fruits.
It gives you a perspective on low or poor competition but with high or medium search volumes. This allows you to pinpoint what keywords help your business and which ones you’ll likely drown in the competition. Their dashboard is highly useful for keyword rankings and content alerts.
Tracking is the bread and butter. Their alerts are excellent for planning outreach (off-page SEO activity for getting backlinks) and competition analysis. Use the tool to target several phrases that are highly relevant to your website so that you can get a feed of new content consolidating these results – published around a few phrases or keywords. It gives you an insight into how the competition thinks and what their content is all focused on.
Once you have these tools ready, it’s time to focus on your keyword planning.
The key is to look for long tail keywords. Per Hubspot, these are phrases that contains at least three words. These target niche demographics rather than mass audiences that are looking for generic keywords. They’re more specific, hence, less competitive. Ultimately, using these words allow you to rank higher in search engines and they’re harder working traffic since they’ll more likely convert to leads and paying customers.
There are two ways to go about this:
Method 1: Discover Long Tail Keywords via Google Suggest
Let Google do the work for you. This is one of the smartest and easiest ways to discover long tail keywords. In simple terms, just go to Google and type a keyword. But don’t press “enter” just yet or click the “Google” search button. Instead, look at the keywords presented by Google and show to you.
These “suggest” keywords are highly specific and in demand phrases that people would usually look for. Since it’s validated and came straight from Google themselves, you know they can help you.
Method 2: Use Keyword Planning Tools
There are several free keyword planning tools available out there. One of the easiest to get started with is Googls Keyword Planner (part of Google Ads). It’s important to note that you’ll see only the range of search volume (100 – 1000) when you’re not running ads on the same account. If you’re running ads then you’ll be able to see more accurate volumes.
I guess you already knew that if you’re running ads.
Also I would recommend to check out Keywordtool.io as it captures all suggested keywords making it possible for you to scale and work on research faster.
Once you’re done with research, it’s time to start preparing your strategy.
Prioritize and plan activities
From your initial list, start narrowing it down to just 3 to 6 main keywords to begin with.
The intent is to optimize your search performance around these. Once you’re ranking with them you can start adding other keywords to your focus.
Remember that SEO is a long term strategy. While it’s possible to get some results fast if you pick a keyword that has little competition yet decent search volume, it usually takes time to rank something when you haven’t done SEO before.
Write Awesome Content Around Your Keywords
Content is still king.
If you don’t have good and valuable content, it will be extremely hard to rank on the first page not to talk first position with the given keyword. Google optimizes it’s algorithm based on which websites help users get the results they need.
The goal is to create blog posts that are at least 2,000 words long with images, videos and have many paragraphs in place. Make your readers scroll down to finish the article and get them to look at your site longer.
Remember, the longer visitors spend time on your site, the more valuable and engaging your content is (at least that’s how Google sees it).
At the same time, use your keyword only once in the first 150 words. Google puts a premium on the initial 150 words you use. Use the right words off the bat and get them aligned on your headers.
Similarly, use your keywords in H1, H2 and H3 titles. Often we see that clients use only H1 title across their website, which isn’t ideal for SEO.
Images and multi-media also contributes to the robustness of your content. While Google is bad at understanding images, this adds value to user experience and contributes to the overall ranking.
Talking about images, don’t forget to add alt tags. This gives additional information to Google what your content is about and it adds to user experience when we’re the site is read with screen readers.
Optimize Your Content
Aside from working on your individual pages, also consider how each page and blog post forms your total website.
Ensure that each page or blog post is focusing on one specific keyword and some very closely related keywords.
Optimize your META titles and descriptions to be better than your competition. This helps with the CTR (click-through-rate) from the search results. The more clicks you get the more likely you’re going to rank higher.
Also, consider adding internal links from one article to another within your site. This makes your content easier to read for Google and increases the chances of ranking higher. It’s also good from the user experience stand point, which we know from previous points also contributes to the overall SEO.
Next, ensure that you link out to 5-8 authority sites from the page that you’re trying to rank. Outbound linking enhances your reputation for Google search results. It gives the impression that you are helping the readers discover content that matters to them.
Similarly, whenever you publish a new piece of content give it a few links from different pages on your own site. When linking, use keyword-rich anchor text.
This is still one of the most important ranking factors to get your website on top of results.
Link building should definitely be part of your overall SEO plan. Backlinks are what give your domain the authority. Think of it as published science research papers. Usually the ones the are cited a lot tend to be the best researches and are top of the mind for all the researchers in the industry.
This is actually how Google started back in the 1998. They came up with a web crawler that not just read the website content, but also checks the links particular pages have and what is the authority of these links.
In 2019 and beyond, links need to be from highly relevant sites and are from authority pages. This means that buying cheap links and bulk doesn’t help you rank as it used to in early days of SEO. In fact buying links can get you penalized.
Ideally, you’d like to get a link with an anchor text of your target keyword. For example if you have content around dog food, then getting a link from a dog training blog with an anchor text “dog food” is best option.
To get going, start by looking where your competition gets their backlinks from. You can use Ahrefs to determine this.
Here’s an example where one of the top ranking sites for the keyword “dog food” is getting backlinks.
Try to work your way to get in those sites as well. Write original content that you can pitch to these sites as a guest blog and ask if it’s okay to add a link back to your website.
Remember, don’t be over salesy with your content and backlinks.
Keep Updating Your Content
This is something we see so many people in the SEO world do wrong.
They create and write good content but rarely update it.
Updating content is much better than writing new content all the time. Take an old blog post of yours and improve it to be relevant for the current year. Of course don’t forget to promote it in social media and and to your e-mail list (if you have one) and watch how its ranking starts to improve.
Take time and add new paragraphs, images and whatever is relevant to make your existing content even better.
Not a believer?
I recently updated my blog post How to Become Famous on Instagram adding more paragraphs, deleting some old paragraphs and refreshing it.
I was blown away by the results. I got 260.70% more organic traffic in just 14 days!
Don’t forget the technical side of SEO. If people are having a hard time to access your site, they will leave and your rankings will be affected. If your site is not optimized for mobile, you’ll lose a big chunk of an audience.
Luckily, you don’t need a fancy computer science degree to get things going. Technical SEO is manageable. Here are some things to look for.
- Delete zombie pages – these are pages that you created but Google didn’t index. You can remove them completely or try to integrate some of its content to some other pages to make them more relevant. Look what Google has indexed from you. Search – “site:yoursite.com” to see the results. Then cut down where needed.
- Be optimized for mobile – Majority of searches are done on mobile. To check how optimized is your site, use Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool
- Make sure to speed up your site and run a speed page test. Determine what is causing slow loading speed and consult with your hosting provider or developer. Usually the case is bad or old website code, poor hosting provider or too large images that aren’t optimized.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some other tips worthy to remember.
- Ensure that your link building doesn’t go against Google policies. If Google detects that that you’re manipulating it there’s a high chance that you’ll get penalized and you need to start all over again.
- Never ever use “#” in URLs. Google does not support index URLs with “#” listed. Keep that in mind when creating URLs. So for example if you have a one-page style website with all the relevant content in sections and you’re using the scroll-to-anchor solution you might want to re-structure your site to home page and keyword optimized sub pages.
- Say goodbye to thin content or rewrite it. It will bring down your site quality and tarnish your results. After 8 years of doing SEO I’ve found that articles that are about 2,000 words long tend to rank a lot better than smaller articles.
To Sum Up
To succeed and grow in today’s business climate, you need SEO. Regardless of your size, scope, presence, SEO should be in your marketing mix.
Without SEO, you’re leaving money on the table by not reaching to the visitors who are searching for your products.
SEO is about providing a quality user experience to your audiences (usually educational content). Start by understanding what your audience is searching for, write content to them them not for Google and then think about how to optimize it for higher rankings.
If you are still unsure about your SEO performance, we’d be happy to give your site a quick look and give you a free SEO audit. If you have any questions feel free to leave your comments to this article.
Also check out these statistics about Google.