Small businesses are often tempted to give short shrift to SEO in their overall marketing, perhaps because mega-corporations such as Walmart and Amazon invest millions in dominating the search game. While it’s true that there will always be a competitor out there who has built a better small business SEO operation, it’s also true that today’s small business owner can’t afford to neglect search.
- It works. A well-planned and executed SEO strategy will yield results in terms of increased organic traffic and better positioning.
- It’s cost effective. Compared to pay-per-click, social media marketing, and even purchasing email marketing lists, SEO delivers a respectable return on investment.
- It dominates market share. About 90 percent of consumers search a product or service online prior to making a purchase. They won’t find your business if it doesn’t show up in search.
- Mobile search is exploding. This year, Google announced that mobile search outpaced desktop search for the first time, and in fact, Google Search is the 4th most popular app in the United States.
Of course, if you operate a local business, you really can’t afford to ignore SEO in your marketing plan. Google’s latest algorithm favors local businesses in its search results in an effort to deliver the highly relevant and individualized results today’s consumers demand. This is especially true for consumers who use Google on their smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices.
Whether you’re a mom-and-pop shop with a shoestring marketing budget or a medium-sized enterprise with a devoted marketing team, there are universal tricks and tips for developing a successful small business SEO strategy. These can be organized into several main categories or buckets:
- Keyword research
- On-page optimization
- Link building
- Content marketing
These five categories form the foundation of your SEO strategy.
SEO, Keywords, and Small Business
It can’t be stressed enough: Choosing the right keywords is essential to winning at SEO. Why? Because if no one is searching for the keywords you’re targeting, it won’t matter if you rank #1 or #1,000—you won’t get any traffic. For small businesses, keyword research is especially important, since they are often competing against larger competitors who can afford to dominate the most common keywords.
And here is where Google Adwords tool is invaluable in leveling the playing field. You can accomplish about 95 percent of your keyword research using Adwords. When evaluating potential keywords for your site, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the keyword relevant to your site?
- Will a customer find useful information on your site if they search for the keyword?
- Will traffic generated by the keyword help your business achieve financial or other organizational goals?
If you cannot answer each of these questions with an emphatic “yes,” keep researching until you hit on keywords that satisfy these basic requirements.
A word of caution about keywords: While it’s nice to rank high on broad keywords with thousands—or even hundreds of thousands—of searches per day, these only make up about 20 percent of all searches. The real money is found in the remaining 70 to 80 percent of unique search terms, the so-called “long tail” searches, that usually deliver a more qualified lead.
Image via Moz.com
The keyword “birthday cake,” for example, might generate a million searches a day, and if you are a bakery, you might think it’s a great choice to focus SEO efforts on. But it’s a very broad category; the searcher might be looking for birthday cake recipes or birthday cake decorating ideas or even calorie counts for birthday cake.
On the other hand, a search for “gluten free birthday cakes in Dallas” is a highly specific long-tail search—one that delivers a customer much more likely ready to place an order.
Keyword difficulty is another consideration, especially for a small business SEO strategy. A certain keyword may have high demand (such as “birthday cake”), but the work required to break into the top rankings can easily place it out of reach for smaller business or those just developing a web presence. Look for long-tail keywords combined with local SEO promotion for a winning small business strategy.
On-Page Optimization for Small Business SEO
If keyword research is the foundation of your SEO strategy, on-page optimization undergirds the rest of the search infrastructure. On-page optimization includes everything from optimal keyword density to site load speed that helps Google evaluate and rank your page. Great keywords won’t deliver results without good on-page optimization. Here’s a look at the basics:
- Title Tags
Page titles should have an H1 tag (most content management systems do this automatically) and include a keyword and your brand name, if applicable. Limit your title to about 55 or 60 characters, which is all that displays in search results.
- Meta Descriptions
While metas aren’t technically factored into search, they do give the searcher more information, entice them to visit, and often serve as a call to action. Limit them to about 150 characters or so.
- Site Load Speed
Use Google’s Page Insight tool to see how your site stacks up. Aim for a score of 85 or better and make any recommended changes or fixes marked with a red exclamation point. If time and resources allow, make “yellow” fixes, as well.
- Schema Markups
Adding schema markups is one of the most powerful ways to boost your website in the SERPs. Schema tells the search engine what your content means, not just what it says, which changes the way the content is indexed. Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper makes it easy to add schema markups to your site.
- Keyword Density
While there is no “optimum” keyword density percentage, there are some best practices to follow, such as including keywords in the title, meta, and anchor text, and avoiding keyword stuffing on the page. Use natural language and aim to drop the keyword at least once in the first 100 words of copy on a page.
- Social Sharing Icons
Social media has a prime place in small business SEO; Google bots make a direct connection between your website and your social media profile pages. Include relevant social icons on your web pages—it not only improves your search, it adds credibility for visitors who land on your site.
Be sure to look at all your pages, including landing pages, product pages, and your company blog and implement SEO best practices across the board. Don’t forget ALT tags for images on your site; while the impact is small, the cumulative effect could make a difference in your rankings.
Link-Building for Small Businesses
The Google algorithm factors the quality and quantity of sites that link to you in your search rankings. In fact, some SEO consultants even recommend that fledgling businesses actually buy links to boost their ranking. That tactic, however, may do more harm than good.
There is no question that high quality links build authority and credibility, ultimately improving your ranking, but changes in the Google Penguin algorithm actually penalizes sites containing too many low-quality or “spammy” links. The key is building links the old-fashioned way—by creating useful, relevant content that people want to share.
For SMEs, this means investing the money and resources to develop highly shareable, top quality content. Long-form blog posts and in-depth articles, infographics, and video tutorials are examples of high performing content likely to garner links.
SEO and Content Marketing
Everyone talks about the importance of content marketing for small businesses—with good reason. Google’s own SEO guide states that “creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any other factors.” But what constitutes compelling content for SMEs and what makes a good content marketing plan?
Here are a few pointers to improve your rankings with content marketing:
- Develop longer pieces of 2,000 to 2,500 words. Prior to the Panda roll-out, thin content could generate decent results, but now, “length is strength” when it comes to search engine rankings.
- Stick to a schedule for publishing fresh content. Your site gets a “freshness” score that can suffer if you aren’t adding original pieces or refreshing existing content on a regular basis.
- Focus on brand-building. SEO isn’t strictly for discovery, especially for small businesses. Include your brand name in your anchor text for about 15 percent of your links and incorporate it judiciously in your content.
- Avoid duplicate content. Google spiders will discover, dissect, and discard large chunks of duplicate copy, penalizing your site in the process. Remember, there is no magic ratio between fresh copy and duplicate copy—all duplicate copy costs you. Use this tool to help you identify and remove offending content. Siteliner is another useful tool for analyzing your site for duplicate content.
- Be selective in the channels you use to publish your content. For SMEs, it’s better to focus on two or three channels, such as a company blog, email newsletter, and social media platform, where you can commit to publishing high-quality, relevant content on a regular basis than pushing poor quality content across many channels.
- Incorporate keywords, but not at the expense of creating useful, relevant content that engages your readers. This is because your bounce rate counts against your ranking. Your bounce rate measures how many single-page sessions your site receives. A high bounce rate shows visitors aren’t finding useful information on their site. If your bounce rate is above 60 percent, take steps to lower it.
Have a written content marketing plan and editorial calendar for best results. If you lack the time or talent in-house to create engaging content, hire a freelancer or agency to help you. You’ll get better results with five carefully crafted pieces than with 15 or 20 hastily put-together posts.
A Word About SEO and Mobile Apps
If your business has a mobile app, give yourself kudos for being ahead of the curve for marketing and SEO. The exponential growth in mobile search is a huge boon for businesses who capitalize on the SEO advantages of a mobile app.
Your mobile app helps SEO in two distinct ways:
- Google is now treating as a “universal” result in mobile search. Apps with optimized titles and good ratings and reviews will float to the top, displacing even mobile websites with top organic rankings.
- Google considers “high quality” apps to be a positive factor in ranking mobile search results. This means that deep links between your app and website could improve your mobile search rank.
If your business markets to a highly mobile audience or relies on mobile search for traffic and leads, you might want to consider adding a mobile app to your marketing strategy.
Google Analytics: An SEO’s Best Friend
Image via E-consultancy
Few tools are more useful for small businesses tracking their organic SEO than Google Analytics. In addition to monitoring keyword performance, Google Analytics can also help you identify problems with your search presence and pinpoint weaknesses in your SEO strategy.
Getting started is easy and your website profile includes tools and widgets to create custom reports, dashboards, and segments to help you extract the most value from your Google Analytics data. Even if you’re a GA novice, you can easily download and import a variety of deep-dive custom reports and dashboards created by SEO experts who are happy to share their work.
You can also make use of the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery, which compiles dashboards, reports, and analytics bundles that are reviewed and ranked by the GA community and available for download. A good place to start is the New GA User Starter Bundle, which includes custom reports such as Really Engaged Traffic segmentation analysis, the SEO Referring Pages custom report, Search Traffic custom report, and Keyword Segmentation analysis, among others.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with reports and dashboards until you find the combination of information that gives you clear insight into your marketing and SEO metrics.
Today’s small businesses can’t afford to overlook SEO in their marketing plan. Even with stiff competition from large corporations and local companies in your own business niche, you can still rise to the top of the SERPs by focusing on narrower topics, highly specific long-tail keywords, and location relevance.