Every small business wants to rank on the first page of the search engine results. Ranking on page one increases traffic to your website and, ultimately the chance of new customers finding you. But that doesn’t happen without investing in SEO best practices.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a component of an inbound marketing strategy that helps increase traffic to your website by increasing the visibility of your content in the search engine results. Since search engines deliver results based on their opinion of best fit for the query, you need to make sure that they understand the context of your content and that you are the most credible option.
Implementing basic SEO activities can be the difference between finding your next customer or them finding you.
SEO challenges for small businesses
There are several challenges that most small businesses face when trying to implement an SEO strategy.
Well-written, optimized content is the foundation of your inbound marketing strategy. Without content, there is nothing to optimize. Small business owners are hard pressed to find time to write content when they are dealing with other challenges in their businesses.
SEO takes time to produce organic rankings. If you are looking for immediate return on an investment, SEO is not the strategy to pursue. But if you have patience to build your web presence using organic search strategies, your business will become visible and will continue to stay visible long after the initial effort was made. Regular maintenance and new optimized content can keep you visible for the long term.
Optimizing your content is only one piece of the SEO puzzle. There are technical aspects to SEO that need to be implemented so your content optimization doesn’t go to waste. These factors include things like website performance, mobile support, link structure, optimized images with alt tags, sitemaps and keyword research.
SEO needs a budget. You need to hire the right resources to create and optimize your content and implement technical SEO on your website. You can try to do it all yourself, but most small business owners realize that it may not be a good use of their time. Outsourcing this to someone that knows the intricacy of content, optimization and technical SEO is worth the investment. This investment can have long-term benefits for your business.
SEO benefits for small businesses
But despite the challenges, implementing an SEO strategy does have many benefits that can’t be overlooked.
If you implement a paid search strategy, you get quicker results. However, these results only last as long as you have the money to pay for traffic. Once you have implemented a sound organic search strategy, you continue to get traffic from being found in the search results. You do have to maintain and adapt your SEO strategy to changes in the search engines, but you won’t drop out of the results immediately like you do when you stop paying for traffic.
Visibility for your brand
Higher rankings in the search engine results build brand awareness. When your site is on the first page of the search results, your potential customers see a brand that is the authority for the topic. This raises your credibility and authority and puts your business ahead of your competition.
Organic traffic to your website
What is the sense of having a website that gets no traffic? Unfortunately a lot of websites still don’t get much traffic. They built a website and thought people would come.
Your website should act as your premier sales person. If people can’t find you or see what you offer and how you help, your website is not doing its job. A professional website is important to your business, but only if it is visible to those looking for what you offer. SEO is the most effective way to do this.
A featured snippet is a brief summary appearing at the top of Google’s search results designed to answer the searcher’s query. It is an excerpt from your web page that gives your content greater visibility.
Google recently announced that a URL could only rank for a featured snippet or appear in the organic results on the first page, but not both. So although there has been a bit of controversy around featured snippets, capturing a featured snippet will still be a goal for small businesses.
If Google chooses your content as the top answer to the search query, it can boost your traffic and your authority in your industry. It does depend on the query and the content contained within the snippet as to whether this makes sense to your business. If the content answers the question completely, it could result in a zero-click outcome.
But, for most service businesses, it could encourage people to contact your business because you have demonstrated expertise in that particular topic.
SEO Best Practices Checklist
Does your website support mobile first?
Google has been crawling many websites using their mobile-first index. This means Google is using the mobile version of a page for indexing and ranking. That’s why it is important that your site looks good and performs well on a mobile device.
Google recommends that you use a responsive design for your website because it serves the same URL for a piece of content to all users regardless of the device they are on. This saves resources for your website and for Google’s crawlers.
Responsive design also makes it easier for your users to interact with, share, and link to your content. It also helps Google’s algorithms assign the most relevant indexing properties for the content.
Is your page speed the best it can be?
Page speed is critical to your digital marketing success. It impacts your:
- Rank in organic search
- User experience and how long visitors stay on your website
- Cost-per-click (CPC) if you are doing paid advertising
- Inbound marketing campaign performance
The reason page speed is crucial to your rank is that Google continuously aims to provide a good user experience. This includes the quality of the search results themselves and the quality of the resource that they provide in the search results.
There are many causes for a poor-performing WordPress website, but solving them aren’t that difficult and there are many resources that can help you improve your page speed.
If you want more traffic, leads and ultimately, customers, pay attention to the technical aspects of website performance.
Have you done keyword research to know how people search?
Keyword research is one of the most important and valuable activities in marketing. It is the process of discovering the words people use to search and using that data to create your content marketing strategy. Those searches may be informational for research purposes or product and service related.
The goal of keyword research is to find suitable keyword phrases that align with your business offerings. You need to understand the user intent of the search and then provide optimized content so it ranks for those terms. Understanding what questions are being asked by your target prospects can also provide ideas for your blog posts and other content.
But keyword research is more than just finding words you can use to optimize your content. It also gives you insights into the needs of your target market.
Does your content offer value to your target audience?
SEO always includes the statement “create quality content”. Great, but what is quality content? It’s content that:
- Educates and entertains your audience
- Adds value to your website
- Encourages visitors to share it with others.
Quality content is determined by intimately knowing your target audience and providing content that is useful to them in some way. And yes, quality content also means grammatically correct with no typos.
But one thing is for certain – creating quality content is not an option. It is the marketing fuel that accelerates your visibility, determines your reputation, trust and authority and drives more search engine traffic.
Have you followed on-page SEO guidelines for all content?
Although the goal is to write content targeted at the human, there are some specific things you can do to help the search engines understand how to better index each page of your site. On-page optimization is a technique that puts keywords in the right places to help search engines identify the context of the page.
First, install the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. This plugin provides help optimizing the important parts of your content. It also provides a readability test to ensure you write content that can be easily scanned and understood. The plugin also creates your XML sitemap and a robots.txt file, adds schema.org information, applies “noindex” to the appropriate pages of your website and more.
Then spend time on the SEO title and description of each page and post of your website. This is what shows up in the search engine results. The title will catch the searcher’s attention first.
- Make your title unique for every page. Remove your website name in your title tags for your content pages. Use that space for better, optimized titles.
- Create unique meta descriptions that represent the content of the page. The description should be a concise, keyword rich statement and call to action to encourage the reader to click through to your website.
Adding your keywords naturally to your writing, linking to other quality content, adding alt and title tags to your images and formatting your content for easy reading will add to the quality of your content.
Have you installed Google Analytics and set up Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools?
Knowing if your SEO is working is important. Doing the optimization is great but you need to know if it is effective.
Google Analytics provides the search data you need to see if you are getting more traffic. If you aren’t seeing an increase in traffic to your website, you may have some issues that need to be resolved.
Google Analytics provides a wealth of information. But I suggest you keep it simple and pay attention to website traffic at first. You can get overwhelmed with the amount of data it provides.
Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools can also provide information on issues with your website like 404 pages, mobility issues, pages crawled but not indexed or other technical mistakes that may have been made.
There are many reasons why you should block search engines from indexing a page, such as duplicate content via the category archives. But you should periodically check the list of excluded pages under the coverage report to make sure those pages that are excluded are done so on purpose.
Here’s a very complete guide to Google Search Console that explains the tool in great detail.
Have you claimed or added your business to reputable directories and social media platforms?
Even if you provide products and services nationally or internationally, incorporating local SEO strategies is important to increasing your digital footprint. Business citations that lead back to your website helps increase the chance your business will be found. Citations from reputable sites also help build backlinks to your website.
Do a search of your business name and note where it shows up.
- Have you claimed and updated your Google My Business and Bing Places for business listings? Both search engines use this listing to validate the existence and quality of a local business.
- Is your business accurately listed in relevant business directories? Be sure to claim those listings and verify that your name, address and phone numbers are consistent.
- Do you have social media business profiles on the relevant platforms? Select the right platforms for your business. You don’t need to be on all.
- Are there any reviews about your business that you didn’t know about, both good and bad? You should regularly check on your business in the search engine results. If someone left a review, you should respond to it.
You can have the best optimized website, but without a large, accurate digital footprint, you miss many opportunities for people to find your business. Take control of your web presence across the directories and social media platforms.
SEO mistakes to avoid
SEO keeps changing. What used to work no longer does and in some cases, are more likely to hurt the visibility of your website or get your site penalized. The following are areas you should be aware of and don’t do them on your website.
Lack of unique, quality content
Content needs to be unique (authentically yours) and provide quality information to the visitor. Copying someone’s quality content is not unique. Writing your own content is unique but not necessarily of high quality. You need to combine both. Spend time creating content that gets read. It is better to provide high quality authentic content once a month than low quality content daily.
There are many ways duplicate content can be created, not all of them intentionally. Search engines are trying to serve original, authoritative content. Having many pages on your site with the same content can cause your site to lose rank.
- Unintentional duplicate content: when WordPress date, category, author or tag archives are allowed to be indexed. Install and use the Yoast SEO plugin and set the archives to “no-index, follow”, telling the search engines to not index the archives but follow any links.
- Intentional duplicate content: when SEO companies create hundreds of pages where the only difference is the URL, title and heading. They use them to try to get a business ranked in multiple towns or cities and found by those searching for a service in that city or town.
Keyword heavy content
A warning signal to the search engines is using your keywords too frequently and unnaturally. Write for your human audience and use your keywords in your content where it makes sense. Use related keywords for variety in your writing. Related keywords can improve your results and prevent you from over-using a single keyword phrase.
Optimized anchor text
Anchor text are the words you use to link to another piece of content. Make sure this text is created naturally. If your link text looks like you forced your keywords into them, they are over-optimized. When embedding links into your content, use naked URLs, brand names or phrases that relate to what you are linking to as I did in the duplicate content paragraph.
Low quality links pointing to your site
Link popularity is still used by the search engines as a measure of the trustworthiness of a site if these inbound links come from other authoritative and trustworthy websites. Buying links is not an option as they are usually made up of low quality directories and article sites, comment spam or link farms.
Not all hidden links and text is violating search engine guidelines. For accessibility reasons, you sometimes need descriptive text that may not be seen with normal browsers.
But when hidden text is used to specifically add content to a web page to manipulate the search engines for SEO purposes, it does. Some tricks include:
- Making text the same color as the background
- Using CSS to hide the content
- Setting the pixel size of the font so small that it is unreadable
- Hiding text behind images
But just because the human can’t see the text, doesn’t mean the search engines don’t realize that you are trying to fool them.
Exact match domains
Exact match domains (EMD) are not bad. But purchasing an EMD for the purpose of ranking for that keyword phrase, such as “Electrician Boston MA” (electricianbostonma.com) will not help if it is only hosting a thin content website with little to no trust and authority. Your website needs to establish itself as a legitimate resource for your area of expertise for it to rank well.
This doesn’t mean having your main keyword in your real domain will hurt you. In fact there are benefits of including keywords in your domain name. But it needs to align with your actual business name, core service or market you serve for it to have any benefit.
Invest in your online presence
The way search engines currently index and rank web pages is a benefit to most small business owners. As part of your marketing strategy, SEO needs to be viewed as an investment in your business. Implement SEO best practices for your small business to gain ranking, especially in your local market.