If you’re hungry for new customers, now is the time to invest in SEO. For a small business, search engine optimization (SEO) can be a gamechanger. By optimizing your website and promoting your content in the right way, you can generate a steady stream of organic traffic straight from Google.
People turn to Google and other search engines to find products and services that will solve their problems. Someone looking to repair their bike, for example, might type “bike repair,” and Google will automatically suggest relevant search queries.
Statistics show that customers rely on search engines to find and select local businesses. A survey from Burke for the Local Search Association (LSA) found that 80% of surveyed Americans used a search engine to find a local product or service the week before the study. Plus, another survey from BrightLocal found that 86% of consumers consider online reviews before contacting local businesses. Where your business ranks in the search results matters, and so do reviews that prospective customers can find. Luckily, a solid SEO strategy can give you an edge on your competition and help you win new customers fast.
In this guide to SEO for small business owners, we’ll explain how SEO works, outline how to clean up your website and share actionable tips for increasing your rank in the search results. We’ll also introduce you to the biggest SEO mistakes to avoid, give you an easy game plan to start implementing SEO best practices and explain how you can use SEO to convert visitors into customers.
Ultimately, the key to a successful SEO strategy is to provide quality content that makes it to the first page of Google. Let’s get started!
To understand SEO, we’ll start by looking at a brief history of Google. Google ranks websites for certain search phrases or keywords. In the old days, marketers could oversaturate their website with keywords, a practice known as keyword stuffing, to quickly rank for those terms in the search results.
Google has since stamped out this practice by creating a sophisticated algorithm that identifies the most relevant and authoritative content based on a variety of factors. In other words, gaming the system has become pretty much impossible.
The best way for small, local businesses to approach SEO is to identify the primary concerns of their customers and translate those concerns into high volume target keywords. Start by asking yourself: what are the most common problems that my products solve? What unique services am I offering for my target market? What kind of help are potential customers looking for? Then, look for search terms that address customer pain points and convey your value proposition.
When it comes to SEO for small business, specificity is key. There is a huge amount of competition for certain keywords, so it is essential to find a way to stand out. The last thing that you want is to be buried on page 2 of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Luckily, your location can be used as part of the search to narrow your competition. For example, if you are a dog groomer based in Brooklyn who is hoping to attract new customers, you can optimize for the keyword “dog grooming brooklyn.”
For small business owners that sell products online, dive into all the different ways that your products solve problems for people. By creating content and positioning yourself as an expert in your field, you can win over new customers.
On-page SEO refers to the practice of optimizing individual pages in order to improve your overall rank and win more relevant search engine traffic. Every page that you write should have unique and short title tags, unique meta descriptions, and internal links. Let’s look into 7 basic on-page SEO elements you must have under control to secure a chance at ranking success.
Write Clear, Concise Title Tags
Title tags are very powerful when it comes to search engine ranking. If you want your pages to rank, you need to have unique and descriptive title tags that include targeted keywords.
The length of a title tag is important. Shorter title tags perform better, as longer title tags can get cut off and searchers may not get the full context.
Another thing you’ll want to consider with title tags is the order in which they appear. Large e-commerce sites tend to list categories and subcategories. Too many categories can dilute the SEO.
The first few words in a title or headline are the most important, so update your title tags to include the keywords in the first few words. This practice can also help to increase your click-through rate (CTR).
Write Enticing Meta Descriptions
A meta description is a short text that summarizes the content of a webpage. Meta descriptions don’t have a direct impact on the ranking, but they have two other important roles:
You can use meta descriptions to share product descriptions or other helpful information about your business. Try to make this text meaningful to your target keyword and unique enough to spark curiosity.
Include Direct Product Links
If you’re selling hundreds of products, you’ll need to take a hierarchical approach to organizing your website. It would be impossible to effectively feature hundreds of individual products on one home page. Categorizing your products will make them easier for customers to find, but it can also result in some crucial pages ranking lower in the search results.
One solution to this issue is to try featuring your best selling products (with direct product links) at the top of the home page. This practice helps boost the rank of products that are selling. Just don’t go overboard. Feature no more than 10 bestsellers at a time or you’ll end up overwhelming your visitors.
Match Internal Anchor Text to Keywords
Many people get internal linking text wrong. If you are trying to rank your category page for something like “children’s clothes,” don’t label the link “Apparel (K-12).” This is confusing to search engines and it may not even make sense to your visitors.
Internal anchor text links should reflect your keyword strategy. Link to pages using the keywords that you want your website to rank for in search. These internal links should reflect common usage and labels that people understand.
Remove Low-Value Links
As your website grows, make sure you direct people to the most important content. This includes content that targets competitive keywords, service pages and your best selling products.
Your internal link structure may stop serving you over time. As your website grows and you add more products and content, prioritize your most important pages. Look at what these pages are linking to and remove those that no longer serve your purpose.
Optimize For Mobile Devices
These days, people spend more time on their mobile devices than on desktop computers. In fact, 58% of US site visits were from mobile devices in 2018, according to Perficient Digital. This is why it’s imperative that you ensure your website is optimized for customers who are browsing the web on their smartphones or tablets.
There are two main ways to optimize your website for mobile: you can use responsive design in your existing website or create an app. We recommend using responsive design because it means you’ll only have to build one website asset. Most website builders and come responsive out-of-the-box, so this shouldn’t be a daunting task.
Increase Your Site Speed
If your webpage takes too long to load, potential customers may become impatient and abandon your site for a competitor. Research from Google found that over half (53%) of mobile users will leave a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Slow site speed can also negatively affect sales. And nearly 70% of consumers say page speed influences their decision to buy from an online retailer.
So what can you do to ensure good site speed? There are three easy things you can do to shorten load times:
Most people don’t make it past the first page of the search results. In fact, 75% of users never scroll past page one. To get business from SEO, you want to secure the highest rank possible. Here are 8 things that you can do today to help your website land a spot on the first page.
Research Your Competition
Some people skip the researching your competition step, but it is vital. You need to see what other businesses are doing so you can set yourself apart from your competitors. What products or services are difficult to find in your area? How do your prices compare? What audience isn’t being served? If you discover what is already out there, you’ll be able to identify what makes you unique.
Yes, millions of people make purchases on Amazon, but there are still online businesses that succeed by providing something extra, like superior customer experience, personalized services and/or helpful content. People will seek out quality small, local businesses and become loyal customers regardless of price.
Select Your Target Keywords
Brainstorm specific questions and concerns that your ideal customer would search on Google. You’ll want to relate the keyword to a product or service you offer.
Not everyone searches the same way, so follow up with some research. To research keywords, head to Google’s Keyword Planner. You’ll need a Google Ads account for this, so if you haven’t signed up for one yet, now’s the time. Don’t worry, you don’t need to set up a campaign or spend money on ads to use the Keyword Planner.
Next, click on “Discover new keywords:”
In the prompt, enter some keywords relevant to your business. For example, if you’re a barber in the Brooklyn area, you could enter the following:
Click “Get Started” and you’ll be presented with a list of suggested keyword ideas:
Optimize Your Title and Meta Description
The best place to look for title and meta description inspiration is the SERPs. Simply search for your competitors and look at what they’re already doing:
If these businesses are ranking, it’s because Google has determined they are the best fit for that search. Take inspiration and find gaps you can fill. What makes you different, and why do your customers love doing business with you? Make these features evident in your title tags and meta descriptions.
Create Great Content
Your small business SEO is likely to receive a huge boost from excellent content. Many small business owners simply publish their products or services and contact details on their website. What they might not realize is that they can win more customers over by also sharing tips and expertise.
For example, Len the Plumber uses their blog to deliver useful content to their audience:
Engage your customers and prospects with useful, entertaining content. This will increase your authority in the market and expand your audience.
Add Your Small Business to Local Directories
Incoming links, called backlinks, tell search engines that your site is relevant and trustworthy. Adding your company to local online directories can help you generate more backlinks, which will help with your SEO and hopefully also increase traffic to your website. Make sure that you are using reputable directories.
Here are a few to get you started:
Promote Your Website on Social Media
Search engines want to provide the most helpful content. Oftentimes, when content is shared on social media, it will get more visibility in the search results.
Dedicate some time to building your social media following so that you have an audience for your latest posts, promos and news. Here are some great ideas to grow a following with your local community:
Ask Customers For Reviews
Most people are conditioned to read reviews prior to making a purchase. Research form Local SEO Guide found that reviews are one of the leading local search ranking factors.
You can improve conversions by getting positive reviews and feedback from customers. Ask current happy customers to leave a review on local listings, social media or for your website.
When small businesses get started with SEO, they often focus on keywords that have too much competition. They are hoping to attract many different types of customers rather than one very specific type.
For example, take the keyword ‘plumber’. It has a whopping 301,000 monthly searches. That is a lot of competition!
Due to the competitive nature of SEO, it is much easier to rank for niche long-tail keywords. In the example above, other keyword options have more reasonable search volume for a small business. If you are a commercial plumbing contractor, it might make sense to target that keyword. Or, use the keyword ‘replace bathroom sink faucet’ to create a helpful how-to blog post to attract new customers and build trust with your audience.
When you are creating content for your niche, you want to make it very specific and targeted. You may find that there are fewer searches, but the people who do find your website will be much closer to conversion.
Search engines provide a unique way to connect with your target market. By providing the information that they want, you can build a relationship of trust that will convert visitors into customers.
As you present your target market with the answers to their problems, you’ll also want to include a call to action (CTA) that they can take. Ideally, this CTA will also capture their contact information so you can connect with them in the future.
What are some great CTAs that will help you convert visitors?
Offering a lead magnet or incentive to share information can encourage prospective clients to share their information. Common lead magnets are downloadable guides, consultations or free newsletters.
When you create an incentive, make sure that it is a) useful to your audience and b) highly relevant to the keywords that you are targeting. Once you have contact information, you can easily notify prospects about promotions, fresh content or new products and services. An ongoing interaction will lead customers to build a relationship with your brand.
As you provide helpful content on a consistent basis, more customers will begin to discover you online and they’ll share your information with friends and family.
There are many tasks involved in optimizing your website for search and it can feel overwhelming. If you do a little bit each day, people will be finding you through organic search before you know it.
Here are three ideas to get you started:
Create a Content Calendar
If you try to think up something to write every day, you’ll give up when you develop writer’s block. Having all of your long-tail keywords organized in a content calendar with a publishing schedule helps you stay on track. Get inspired by upcoming events, national days and other creative concepts that make sense for your business.
Promote, Promote, Promote
Search engine optimized content is evergreen content. People can discover it through their Google searches long after you’ve published and it remains relevant. When you’re getting started, be sure to share your content on social media. Ask friends and customers alike to check out your content, share on social media and even link to your website.
Set Aside Time to Improve Your Website
Take time every week to update your website. Make sure that your website is loading quickly, that images are optimized with alt tags, and that your content has descriptive and enticing meta descriptions.
Now that you know how SEO works and why keywords are so important, you can start cleaning up your website and optimizing your on-page SEO. If you stick with it, you’ll improve your Google rank, increase your organic traffic and drive conversions.
Feature Image: Unsplash / Benjamin Dada
All screenshots taken by author, July 2019.
Image 1-3, 7, 9: via Google SERPs
Image 4-6, 10: via Google Keyword Planner
Image 8: via Len the Plumber
Image 11: via Yext