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Summary: Small business SEO (search engine optimization) is a loaded topic, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are fundamentals that every small business can implement (and aren’t too difficult). Read below for seven small business SEO action steps you and your staff can take this week.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is like exercising: You can start experiencing the benefits almost immediately, and if you commit to it for the long haul, you’ll reap even greater rewards.
According to a 2015 B2B study by Google, 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search. The study also revealed that search is the #1 resource for B2B research, with 90% of B2B researchers (who are online) using search “specifically to research business purchases.”
In another study by Nielsen and Google, it was found that 74% of mobile consumers use search in the shopping process, and that search is the most common starting point for mobile research. (48% of mobile consumers started their research with a search engine.)
Bottom line: Whether you are a B2B or a B2C company, search engine marketing is vital for your business because it drives sales and revenue.
Every small business should be doing SEO because it’s not difficult and is extremely effective for generating traffic, leads, and revenue for your business. Through SEO, we’ve generated thousands of dollars for our company and millions of dollars for our clients. (We’re not exaggerating; take a look below.)
Small Business SEO: Seven Action Steps to Take This Week
Small business SEO is not rocket science. You just have to know how search engines work, why pages rank well in search engines, and be intentional with optimizing your website the right way.
Before we get started, it’s important to set correct expectations for SEO. According to Google, it can take 4-12 months for a website to see the benefits of their SEO labor. (See clip at 1:40 in that video.) While you can be at the top of a Google search results page with Google AdWords, SEO is a long-term game. Both SEO and Google AdWords are important — they are two different digital marketing strategies working towards the same goal: generate more traffic, leads, and revenue for your business.
This post is going to be a long one, so grab a cup of coffee and get ready to take notes.
Let’s get started.
If you came to us and asked, “What are some SEO action steps my company should be doing?”, this is what we would tell you:
1. Determine your target keywords
Good SEO starts with selecting the right keywords: keywords that real people actually use when searching on Google, Bing, and other search engines. Ideally, you want to find keywords that have high search volume, low competition, and buyer intent. The more competition around a certain keyword, the more difficult it will be to rank on page one of search results. If you target a keyword no one searches for, then you won’t generate any traffic, leads, or revenue.
Think about your current customers and target market. If they were looking for a solution to their problem or an answer to a specific question — something your company could solve for them — what words and phrases would they type into Google? These words and phrases are keywords.
Take a few minutes to think about this, and write down 3-5 potential keywords you think customers might use when searching. Once you’ve got your keyword list, here’s how to do keyword research and make sure that the words and phrases you think prospects and customers are using are actually being searched:
- Take your list of 3-5 keywords and run them through Google’s Keyword Planner (free tool).
- Look at the average monthly searches, competition, and suggested bid columns to determine which keywords are best.
- Browse the suggestions on the “keywords tab” to find some new ideas.
- Pick 3-5 keywords that are searched that you can use for your company’s website. (Ideal keyword length is 2-3 words. One is too broad, and more than four can be too specific. Keep in mind, that if you target a keyword that is 2-3 words long, you can still show up for long tail search terms that are 4+ words.)
For example, let’s say you own a fitness center in Chicago. Using the Google Keyword Planner, you could see which keywords related to “fitness centers” would be best to target. During your keyword research, you may also find other keywords worth using on other pages of your website. Make note of these as you go.
Bonus: Small Business SEO Tools Worth Using
In addition to Google’s Keyword Planner, there are several other keyword research tools worth mentioning. Here are the ones we use and recommend:
- Google suggest (free)
- Amazon suggest (free)
- Moz.com Keyword Explorer (Starting at $99 per month)
- Ahrefs.com keyword explorer (Starting at $99 per month)
- Webtexttool.com (Starting at $16.17 per month when billed annually)
2. Use an on-page SEO checklist when creating new pages (or optimizing existing ones)
Now that you have your keyword list, it’s time to make sure that these keywords are placed in the right places of your website.
You want each web page to be targeting one specific keyword. To ensure this happens, we need to place the target keywords in the right places of your chosen web page. Anytime you create a new blog post, product page, landing page, or any web page you want to rank well in search engines, you need to make sure your target keyword is in the following places:
On-Page SEO Checklist
- Page Title: Use your keyword in the page title, ideally at the beginning.
- Body text: You want your web pages to be at least 500 words (1,200+ is better!), and you want to use your target keyword within the first 100 words.
- Sub-headings: Try to use your keyword in a H2-H6 subheading on your web page, if possible.
- Meta Title and Description: The meta title and description are what you see in a google search. Use your target keyword in the beginning of the meta title, and a few times in the meta description.
- URL permalink: Your permalink should be easy-to-read and include your keyword. (www.example.com/keyword-here)
- Images: Use at least one image on your web page. Use the target keyword in the <alt> tag and the file name (keyword-name-here.jpg.).
- Internal and External links: Link to other relevant pages on your website, and any other sites that would be useful to your readers.
This checklist also works for optimizing existing web pages. We’ve helped clients reach page one of Google by using the checklist above to optimize their existing web pages. (We’d share their website with you as an example, but they may not want potential competitors reading this article to spy on their SEO efforts.) Just be sure to NOT change the URL of any published pages. Doing so will break any links pointing to that page, which will hurt your SEO.
3. Create and publish useful, high-quality content on your website at least once a month
Google doesn’t reveal exactly what their “secret sauce” search algorithm is, but they do openly admit what factors are important for a high ranking website. One of the most important factors for a website that ranks well in Google is useful, high-quality content.
Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site.” – Google
Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist for Google, recently admitted on a Google+ hangout (30:15 to 30:40): “I can tell you what [the two most important search engine ranking signals are] — it’s content and links pointing to your site.” (More on links in a minute.)
So, how can you create useful, high-quality content for your website, to help it rank well in Google and other search engines? Here’s how.
- First, ask yourself: “What are the most common questions my patients, clients, and/or customers ask me?” Write down a list of 2-3 answers.
- Use Google’s Keyword Planner (mentioned above) to find keywords related to these questions. This is important because you want to write your content (your answers to common questions) around commonly searched keywords so that your website begins to rank for those keywords.
- Write an educational/informational article around that keyword (answering this common question) once a month.
- Publish the content, share on social media, email your list, and let your customers know about it.
- Track the pageviews and organic search traffic to your website using Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
Try to publish at least one useful, high-quality blog post on your website once a month. (Side note: You can also use this approach to create video and audio content.)
4. Build links to your website using the “ORCA” method
Backlinks from other websites are super important. Why? Because Google says so:
Make sure that other sites link to yours. Links help our crawlers find your site and can give your site greater visibility in our search results. When returning results for a search, Google uses sophisticated text-matching techniques to display pages that are both important and relevant to each search. Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.” – Google
Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to your own website. Link building is incredibly important but it can also be very difficult. Brian Dean, an international SEO consultant and the founder of Backlinko.com, says “Link building is the most important (and challenging) SEO skill.”
The Anatomy of A Backlink
Here’s an example of a backlink from probloger.com to blog.hubspot.com:
For those of you who are a little more tech-savvy, here’s a great breakdown on the anatomy of a text and image backlink from Paddy Moogan.
Although link building is difficult, it is not impossible. It’s possible for you and your staff to build backlinks by following what we call the ORCA method:
Here are two important things to remember about link building:
- You should always ask for a link whenever possible. If you can provide a useful piece of content for the other website to link to, even better (and more persuasive).
- Avoid excessive “link exchanges” with partners (i.e. “link to me and I’ll link to you.”). This can be considered a link scheme, which can negatively impact your website. When linking with partners, it’s best to make sure there is a reason for them to link to you. (On their partner page, list a helpful resource your company published, etc.)
5. Monitor your website’s activity and fix any technical problems
There are two analytics tools every website should have installed. Both are free and do not take long to setup:
Google Analytics will give you details about your website: How many visitors your site is getting, what channels are driving the most traffic, what pages are most popular, and other similar data. Google Search Console will alert you of any technical problems that are preventing Google from crawling, reading, and/or indexing your website. It will also show you what search terms (keywords) your site is being discovered for — something Google Analytics does not do out of the box.
Here are some common technical problems that can harm your SEO, with solutions in the right-hand column:
|Technical Problems||Technical Solutions|
|(1) Page Speed: Website is slow.||(1) Make sure you have good hosting, and that your images are sized to exact dimensions.|
|(2) Security.||(2) Use an SSL certificate and serve your website through HTTPS.|
|(3) Crawl Errors: Search engines are unable to crawl certain pages on your site.||(3) Make sure your Robots.txt isn’t preventing search engines from crawling and indexing web pages you want to be indexed.|
|(4) Poor user experience on mobile/tablet.||(4) Make sure your website is mobile-responsive and adjusts for phones and tablets.|
6. Setup and optimize your local business listings on Google, Facebook, and Yelp (and any other relevant directories)
Every business should claim their local listing on at least Google, Yelp, and Facebook. They’re free, allow you to showcase customer reviews, and are a great way to attract new customers who use these sites to search for products/services that they need.
There are many other local business listing sites, and depending on your industry, you may want to be in these additional sites as well. When it comes to setting up and managing your local business listings, you have two ways to do this:
- Manually: Setup your accounts one-by-one on the relevant business listing sites you want.
- Software: Use a tool like Yext Listings or Moz Local to have one central location that you set up your business information and sync across multiple different business directories.
The second option mentioned above requires an additional fee, and you may find that some of the directories are irrelevant to your company. Do a little research before deciding to go with this option. For many businesses, being listed on Google alone will suffice and generate a lot more business for them.
Remember, it’s essential to fill out all your business information on these listing sites. According to yelp, “On average, businesses with complete profiles receive 5 times more customer leads per month.” Filling out all your business information is a simple step that can reap big results.
7. Set up goals in Google Analytics to measure your traffic and conversions from organic search
The great thing about digital marketing is that practically every activity is measurable — you can attribute a return on investment (ROI) to your marketing. To track traffic and conversions from organic search, follow these steps below:
- Setup Google Analytics and Google Search Console on your site.
- Sign into Google Analytics, and click Admin. Select the appropriate account.
- In the far right column (View), select the website you want to track conversions for.
- Click Goals, then click + New Goal. and follow the steps to setup a goal.
- Setup goals from all necessary conversion points on your website: contact form, email list opt-in, etc. (Note: You can track e-commerce orders with goals, but it is better to set up e-commerce tracking in Google Analytics so that you can better reporting.)
- Test each goal once to make sure conversion tracking settings are configured properly.
To recap, here are the seven small business SEO action steps your company should start working on this week:
- Determine your target keywords.
- Use an on-page SEO checklist when creating new web pages, or optimizing existing web pages.
- Create and publish useful, high-quality content on your website at least once a month.
- Build links to your website using the “ORCA” method.
- Monitor your website’s activity and fix any technical problems.
- Setup and optimize your local business listings on Google, Facebook, and Yelp (and any other relevant directories).
- Set up goals in Google Analytics to measure your traffic and conversions from organic search.
Let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments below. If you’d like to talk more about partnering with an SEO agency, you can schedule a free 30-minute strategy session here.