Search engine optimization (SEO) is part of a strong foundation for small business success. If a small business does SEO poorly, they risk becoming like one of those TV shows that airs on an obscure channel in the middle of the night. Even if it’s a great show, it will be hard for it to gain a following because it’s so hard to find. Similarly, you can have a wonderful business, but if Google does not show your website in their search results, then potential customers will struggle to find out about you.
When entrepreneurs get SEO right, they can see lifts in website traffic, brand visibility, and revenue. This makes for stronger growth and more sales opportunities.
If you start a business without a strategy in place to grow your online presence, you’ll see competitors take business from you since search has become an increasingly important driver of revenue for both B2B and B2C companies.
This post will cover the basics of SEO for small businesses from keyword research to tips on how to save time while creating quality content.
What Is SEO for Small Businesses?
Search engine optimization is the process of optimizing your business’s website so that it can be found and indexed by search engine crawlers, which are bots that trawl the internet, finding and ranking content. (Check out this Complete Guide to SEO to learn more.)
Successful SEO for small businesses involves using several key components of content marketing. Master these fundamentals, and your traffic will start a steady upward ascent.
- Keyword research — This is the act of learning which terms and phrases your potential customers type into search engines. By figuring out what people are searching for to find related businesses, to find information about your business, or to find information about a topic related to your business, you can create content that is useful to them. A good keyword strategy is monitored and updated regularly as the trends of how people search are always in flux. In order to stay on the cutting-edge, consider investigating the SEO strategies of your competitors using tools like Alexa’s Competitor Keyword Matrix.
- Copywriting — If your pages are uninformative or confusing, people will bounce from your site soon after landing. On the other hand, if you create useful content that is well-laid-out and makes compelling arguments, your readers will be more likely to read your whole page (check out these SEO copywriting tips). This will increase the average time a user spends on your site, also known as time on site. The average time on site of a top 10 Google result is three minutes and 10 seconds, so it’s crucial to write quality copy that gets readers to stick around.
- Content marketing — A well-crafted content marketing strategy emphasizes writing blog posts — each focused on a specific keyword — that inform and engage your target audience. Depending on the type of business you run, this may be a key part of your online strategy, and it may not. To test this out, consider creating a few information-driven posts using the hub and spoke strategy. This is when you create a landing page centered around a competitive keyword with decent search volume that is core to your small business; then you link back to that page via other blog posts that cover related, long-tail keywords. In doing so, you will create a site that is easy for both readers and search engine crawlers to navigate, which greatly affect how high a site’s pages rank in SERPs.
- Link building — The number of internal links (linking to existing content within your own site) and external links (when a different site links to your content) is an indicator that SERPs use to determine the quality of your site. It’s especially helpful if you can get high-authority sites to link to your content as that is a strong indicator of the quality of your site.
- Usability and UX — SERPs will downgrade you if you have a clunky, slow-to-load, or hard-to-navigate website. Plus, a well-designed page keeps visitors around longer.
- Local SEO — A good local SEO strategy involves utilizing the above tactics but with a special focus on your immediate surroundings. Think blog posts on local topics, links from popular local newspapers, and Yelp reviews from local patrons.
Why Should You Care?
Without an SEO strategy, your website will likely struggle to appear in search results. Even for businesses with a local customer base, online visibility is essential. No longer are people strolling down main street hoping to stumble across a product they like or a service they need. Instead, they fire up their phone or computer — 86% of people use the internet to find local businesses.
That being the case, it’s no surprise that organic search (when people search a term and then click on a SERP link) drives 51% of all web traffic for both B2B and B2C.
If you want to make money in the modern business environment, it’s critical that you have a plan for ranking higher in SERPs.
SEO Tips for Small Businesses
Tip 1: Focus on technical SEO
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing the structure of your site pages so that the crawlers can properly “read” and index your site. If we were to personify the crawler, the goal is to have it check out your site and then think: “Wow, these pages load fast, the links all work, and everything is secure. I have no qualms about promoting this content.”
Even if your actual writing is amazing, problems with technical SEO will hamper your site’s ability to rank highly in the SERPs. So before creating new content to draw in potential customers, take stock of the quality of your content from a technical perspective.
Some problems are best left to engineers — like making sure your security and encryption protocols are up to date, page speed optimizations, and the structuring of data. If you don’t have that technical background, give these a try:
- Create a sitemap and submit it to Google — Depending on what tools you used to build your site, there are plugins you can use to create a sitemap. Yoast SEO is one such plugin for WordPress users that generates a sitemap automatically and keeps it up-to-date when you publish new content. You can submit your sitemap to Google via Google Search Console, a free service Google offers to help you manage your presence in Google Search Results.
- Prune old pages that don’t perform — If your site has a lot of pages that don’t get traffic, your rankings will be negatively affected.
- Fix broken and old links — The SERP robots will downgrade your content if you consistently send your reader to outdated or broken links. A recent study showed that sending users to high-authority outbound links is looked upon favorably by Google’s ranking algorithm.
- Optimize your images — Use relevant images with appropriate captions. You should also use the “alt text” section to give a description of the image.
If that feels like a lot, don’t worry. There are tools that can help. Alexa’s SEO audit tool can find areas of weakness and give you step-by-step instructions on how to fix them.
Effort level required to excel at this task: Low. You’ll have to do some research, but helpful tools are readily available, and the actual fixes are not that hard to implement.
Tip 2: Focus on Local SEO
Nearly one-third of all mobile searches are location-based queries, such as “restaurants near me.” And even if the “near me” is not added, Google’s algorithm now automatically prioritizes local options if you just search “restaurants.” SERPs are teeing up small businesses to be successful with local SEO, so it’s paramount that they capitalize on the opportunity.
The most important part of local SEO is setting up a Google My Business Profile. These are free and easy to maintain.
First, claim your GMB listing here. Make sure to fill everything out including local phone number and address. The information you enter will now show up in Google’s search results.
Then, as customer reviews come in, you will get alerts. You can respond to these customers and start a conversation. If you are personable and kind, you can bolster your standing in the community.
The other critical feature of Google My Business is the question and answer section. You can proactively answer questions that you think might come up so that potential customers have as frictionless an experience as possible.
Effort level required to excel at this task: Low. Each of these platforms make it easy, so there are really no excuses for hesitating.
Tip 3: Find Keywords Customers Are Searching For
The best way to know what to write is to know what your ideal customer is already searching for. Then, if you can answer their question better than anyone else, you’ll be recognized by the SERPs as a business that should appear at the top of the results.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools out there to make keyword research faster and easier for time-strapped business owners.
To start, you can analyze the suggestions you get from Google’s autocomplete feature. As you type something into the search bar, you’ll notice that you get suggestions. These represent the most searched phrases — i.e., Google is doing keyword research for you. Use the list as a jumping-off point for content ideas.
There are also dedicated keyword research tools such as Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty tool, which provides a quick and easy-to-digest breakdown of keywords related to your site or to a particular topic that you have a good chance of ranking for.
After you identify keywords that are worth focusing on, create a page on your site or a blog post targeting each of those keywords. (Pro tip: make sure you understand the search intent of the keywords you identified.)
Effort level required to excel at this task: Medium. Keyword research can be a tricky SEO task to tackle for time-strapped entrepreneurs as it requires time, knowledge of crawler behavior, strategy, and knowledge of keyword research tools. That said, there are tools that can dramatically simplify the process.
Tip 4: Optimize On-page SEO
On-page SEO is all about the words on the page. While the main goal is always to create interesting content that naturally incorporates your target keywords, it’s also important to structure your posts in a way that gives you the best chance of being located in a search.
- Optimize page titles and headlines — Your headline is a big factor in your click-through rate, which is itself a key part of how SERPs determine their rankings. The click-through rate is the percentage of people who view your headline and end up clicking on it. You want something catchy that is about 60 characters long so that it doesn’t get cut off. If your title is too long, the SERP will insert an ellipse at the end of the character limit, and the reader might be left wondering what your post is actually about.
- Use proper header tags — The headers you use for each section of your post can be optimized to contain relevant keywords. Also, by making your site digestible and clear for your readers, you will boost those ever-important time-on-site metrics.
- Clean up your meta tags — Every content management system allows you to enter meta tags, which are essentially just descriptions of your content. These tags are used by search crawlers to make sure that the description of your site matches the content on the page. By using relevant keywords and descriptions in your meta tags, you ensure that crawlers know what your page is about.
Alexa’s on-page SEO checker can help you identify your areas of weakness.
Effort level required to excel at this task: Low to medium. A big part of the effort here will be identifying which pages are most important to invest in optimizing. Use a tool to tackle those pages first to save time and get the most out of your on-page optimizations.
Tip 5: Streamline Content Marketing
Content marketing takes time and energy, and small businesses can be strapped for resources. Follow these tips to get the most bang for your content marketing buck.
- Use templates — Some of your article content or landing pages can follow the same format every time, thus reducing the cognitive load of coming up with a new idea. A good example of this is teardown posts, which are in-depth looks at one aspect of a business or product. For example, you can analyze, compare, and contrast the pricing pages of two businesses. Repeat that process for any two businesses, thus giving you a reliable format that doesn’t often goes stale because you are always bringing new information to light.
- Use videos — It is generally faster to a create a video than to write a post. Internet users are voracious video consumers, so peppering video into your content is a good idea even if it isn’t a time-saver. Tools like Wistia are available to help you optimize your videos for SEO.
- Leverage social media and other distribution channels — Don’t rely only on organic search. Small businesses that succeed are the ones that hustle. Share your content on social media, and identify relevant distribution channels to post your content. Reddit, with its near infinite list of subreddits and niche interests, is a great place to start.
Effort level required to excel at this task: Medium. While streamlining is easier than putting a little thought into your strategy, there is no getting around the hard work that goes into creating and sharing quality content.
Tip 6: Build Authority With Links
Having other sites link back to your site improves your position in search engines. This is because Google understands quantity—and quality—of backlinks to be an indicator that your site is worth reading. Research has shown that the number of sites linking to a page correlates with a high SERP ranking more than any other SEO strategy.
In order to build local links, you’ll need to have an outreach strategy. This can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet that includes the names, emails, and numbers of your potential contacts. It can include local newspapers, bloggers, events pages, and (non-competitive) businesses. Positive media mentions are a godsend to an up-and-coming small business.
One way to find good places for potential backlinks is to see where your competitors are getting links. Then you can target the same places. Alexa’s backlink tool quickly and easily does this work for you.
Effort level required to excel at this task: High. Link building takes a lot of sweat equity, and it has to be built on a foundation of solid content, service, and excellent word of mouth.
With so many other decisions to make, conversations to have, and sales to secure, SEO might feel like something small business owners can put off. But the longer you wait, the further you may fall in search results, and the bigger the impact on organic traffic and revenue. Start today with these actionable tasks to help ensure that people who could be your customers can find you online.
Sign up for a free trial of Alexa’s Advanced plan to kick-start your keyword research and search engine optimization.
Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission.