Easy SEO for small businesses

Search engine optimization (SEO) is about taking actions to ensure your website can be found in a search engine results page (SERP) when people search for words or phrases relevant to the content on your website.

Your SERP listing ties in with brand awareness. Think about when you’ve used a search engine; you unconsciously trust the top results. If you can push yourself to the first page of Google, and users keep coming across your website when they search for a desired product or service, then chances are they will click through to your website. A properly optimized site will be more visible to search engines, more user-friendly, and have more credibility on the web, all of which increase traffic to a site.

According to a survey by Capital One Spark Business, only 17% of small businesses actively invest in SEO. This means that if you optimize now, you have the advantage on 83% of the competition. To boost your performance in search engines, you need to take some steps to support SEO. Follow our top tips to strengthen your SEO, stay competitive and give your business the exposure it needs to gain new visitors, customers or followers.

Think about keywords

Regardless of the type of site you are building, the starting point for your SEO campaign should be keyword research. So what are keywords exactly?

  • Words and phrases that identify what people are searching for

  • Words and phrases that describe the topics you write about

Never underestimate the value of keywords. The job of a search engine is to take the information web users type into their search, and find the most relevant site using the words (keywords) entered.

You need to make sure your pages are optimized to serve the search terms related to your business. Instead of relying on gut feeling to drive traffic, perform proper keyword research and competitor research.

Pick your keywords wisely

You need to research your keywords, targeting the right ones help generate high quality traffic and more conversions, which is a no brainer for any small business. By taking keywords into consideration and creating a site structure (see Step 3) and creating content that maximizes their potential, you end up with a site that is more appealing to the search engines and their users.

First, let's brainstorm and write down search queries—the words might people type into the search engines to look for your company.

  • For a single location business, you need to optimize your content to match your services. Let’s say you are a plumbing business located in Denver. Begin by describing what you offer. Your first keywords might look a bit like this:

    Denver plumbing services

    Professional plumber Denver

    Denver Plumber

    Emergency plumber Denver

    This is just the beginning.

    Think about your core services: leak repair, water heater repair, toilet repair, sewer repair for example. Think about the other services you provide. While leak repair is a common call-out service for a plumber, that’s just one search term they might use when finding an expert. Customers might be searching for a specific problem, they might need a single leak repair, or their home might require a complete re-piping service.

    Now consider that there’s more than one type of leak. Customers might be searching for roof leak repair, or pipe leak plumber. Similarly, a client with a problem toilet might look for issues with toilet flushing, toilet overflows, or toilet clogging. Consider each service from this perspective and note down all the possible descriptions of the services you provide.

  • E-commerce sites typically focus on certain ‘main’ keywords they try to rank for. If you’re selling products or services through your site, think of keywords which are relevant to your brand or products. Note down the name of your brand, products and the categories you use to distinguish them, including both the broad and focused keywords that describe your products. (We’ll be using these later). A jeweller for example might want to rank for Rings in general, plus more specific searches.

    Category keywords like precious stone rings, and even more specific keywords like opal ring, ruby ring etc, to ensure all bases were covered.

It’s most likely that your competitors are targeting for the exact same keywords, and if they have a stronger link profile (see Step 4), they will probably outrank you. The best search terms are ones that people actually use—and ones in which there’s limited competition. Phrases are almost always better than single words, except in highly specialized applications with their own terminology. At least give yourself a chance to appear on page 1. For a more in depth guide to choosing keywords, check out this article from Moz.

When it comes to keywords, above all else, think about the intention of the user. The search queries emergency plumber in Denver, and buy an opal ring online both show clear user intent, while targeting for the keyword 'plumber' would be harder since the competition would be tougher, and the user could have many different intentions using this keyword. They might be simply researching how to become a plumber, instead of requiring plumbing services. The same goes for opal ring, this search phrase could fall under the category of research. Targeting with additional keywords like "buy", and "online" will capture the people an online jeweller wants visiting their site; those with an intent to buy a ring online.

Who’s on top? Research your keywords against the competition

Now that your keyword research is done, it’s time for competitor research. Ascertain which keywords your main competitor has selected to form their SEO strategy. Don’t forget to investigate their Domain Authority (DA), and Page Authority (PA). Is the DA higher than yours? Do their pages have higher PA than yours?

Luckily, Moz makes this investigative work really easy for you. You can find the information by installing the free Moz toolbar. In the Page Elements tab, you’ll find the title and description they are using along with other header tags, head to the Link Data tab for page ranking and Page Authority information: If your competitors DA’s or PA’s are significantly higher than your own, competing against them will be quite tough, so you might be better off going for easier wins by focusing on alternative keywords.

Use keyword tools

To maximize on our chances of appearing in people’s browsers, we need to think about how people are searching for each keyword. That’s where keyword tools such as Google Keyword Planner and SEMrush come in extremely handy. We want to know which keywords people are naturally using to hone our content. Remember, people's brains work differently, the terms you use might seem an obvious choice but it doesn’t mean everyone else is using the same ones.

Using a keyword tool for leak repair gives us a variety of keywords that don’t relate directly to plumbing: car oil leak; how to repair a radiator leak; gas leak. It also gives us terms like leak repair service; plumbing leak services; repair leaking toilet. We want these keywords because the user intent is clear. They want the services that we offer. Now we’ll design our website to reflect that.

Organize your content

Next up we’re going to design your pages and overall site architecture. Organizing your site in a logical way will impact on your success in search engine results.

Pages

Your website’s pages will be dictated by your keywords. Organize your keyword-targeted content to maximize search traffic.

  • For an e-commerce site you’ll have a number of product pages, usually organized by category pages.

  • For a site with a physical location, your pages will display your services, as well as your physical location.

  • For a personal site, your pages will be divided by your subject matter. For example a film review site might have topic categories for each article such as Coming Soon, Science Fiction, and Blu-Ray Reviews.

Site Architecture

We’ve discussed our primary and secondary keywords. Now’s the time to get them into some kind of order. The thinking behind "Information architecture" is to get users to where they want to be, in as few clicks as possible.

For example, for an e-commerce site, you might want to pay special attention to:

  • Popular products in each category

  • Top-rated products

  • Recently viewed products

  • Related products

These subcategories should be available from the homepage, and the site navigation so the user can find information interesting to them, without having to dig around.

When approaching your site’s architecture, look at how the biggest companies in your industry have designed theirs. You might want to follow a similar route with modification, or take a different route completely. How can you improve on the navigational architecture? Think about what actions you can do to make sure your site is better for your visitors than theirs.

When website content is unorganized, it can be difficult for readers and search engines to understand what the pages are about, in turn making it harder to rank for target keywords. A popular method of organizing content is via a content silo.

Silos group related content together creating a topical hierarchy. By siloing your site, you are establishing its keyword-based topical areas or themes. This process will clarify the message you want to send to search engines which will make your content overall more understandable.

To go about ‘Siloing’ a film review site, it would make logical sense to have a subcategory beneath the homepage for for each film category keyword—from horror, to drama and everything between. Each review will be at the bottom of the hierarchical structure. This pyramid style structure lends itself to all types of websites:

  • Plumbing Services > Toilet Repair

  • Custom Jewelry > Bracelets > Friendship Bracelets

  • Film Reviews > Film Noir > The Third Man

URLS

Your URLs should reflect your site architecture. A good URL structure describes the page’s place within the overall site structure, and shows a clear navigational path within that.

Take the URL above for example.The structure shows a clear path from the homepage, through the category level pages (bracelets), onto the sub-category pages (friendship-bracelets) and the final product page. Both you as a user and the search engine crawlers can instantly understand where the web page is in the site’s organization.

Create quality content

This might not sound like an SEO tactic, but stick with us. Google actively rewards sites that serve high-quality content. Google defined what is considered to be quality content in a lengthy fashion. Which includes basic principles for web dev newbies and more specific guidelines for those wanting to delve deeper into the topic.

The main takeaway from their advice is to avoid what can only be described as “fluff”. Content should serve your visitors. Anything inaccurate, non-specific, duplicate content or unhelpful is wasting your time and your visitors. When creating content, keep in mind that anything memorable, shareable, or worthy of an online mention will not only earn repeat visits but also links from third party sites, and above all, exposure—all critical to the success of your online business.

The most successful content marketers understand their customers pain points. Their content demonstrates expertise, understanding and empathy. If you consistently appear in search engines delivering useful content, eventually you'll earn a reputation for delivering quality content, and in turn, people's trust. In time you'll become a go-to resource for browsers of your website niche, who will advocate for you.

The homepage

Your primary objective should be accomplishable from your homepage. Convince people to make a purchase, raise awareness of your brand etc.

Best practices

Titles and headers help Google determine which search terms are relevant for pages throughout your website. For example, if you own a pet store, then the fish tank page will have the term "fish tanks" in the page title, and a variation of that phrase in the <h1> header.

The title page is not visible on the page so you’ll need to view the source code to review your page titles. The <h1> header is usually the main headline above the page content, and there should only be one, unique <h1> per page.

Design

Despite best SEO efforts, badly designed sites drive people away. Evaluate the visual design of your site - Find well designed sites in your niche for inspiration.

Page titles, descriptions, and images

Title tags

One of the key aspects of SEO is to ensure all of your pages have unique and descriptive title tags and meta descriptions. Title tags appear at the top of the browser window to name a page. Search engines consider the title tag when ranking your pages, matching the title with the correct search criteria. Each title should be unique to the page it’s labelling, and if room permits, include your business name.

Your title tags shouldn’t exceed 60 characters, and should give a clear understanding of the subject of a single page on your website. Cannes Film Festival Reviews, for example, would be an ideal title tag for your category page containing all reviews from the Cannes Film Festival.

Meta descriptions

The meta description is the text that appears below the title tag. It’s usually a couple of sentences describing the content of the page. Use this as an opportunity to encourage searchers to click the link. Think of the description tag as an advertisement for the page. Make it convincing with keywords and use action verbs to persuade the reader. For example:

  • "Read up on the top ten scariest films from the past 50 years. If you enjoy horror, you won’t want to miss these movies"

  • 2Need a plumber? Experience the best plumbing services in Portland with highly trained, experienced and professional service men, and women".

  • "Buy the latest sneakers. We list the latest drops before anywhere else. Browse sneakers, shop and buy here. Free delivery and returns on all orders"

Keywords on images

People search the internet for image. To take advantage of image based search traffic, give it a file name that describes the image and label all of your images using the Alt tag. The alt tag was designed to help the visually disabled understand the images on the page. It also helps Google understand an image’s contents.

5 words should be enough to describe the photo, while keeping it simple. Separate the words with underscores or spaces. Avoid keyword stuffing, and instead, naturally define what’s in an image. When your images are optimized like this, it can help your business rank for its images as well its written content. Label all of the photos including any infographics and videos on your website.

Make yourself available to search engines

Search engines provide one of the most effective ways to direct free, targeted traffic to your site, so you want to appear in there. Search engines like Google need to find your website before they can crawl, index it, rate it and display it in its listings.

To appear in search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, you need to submit your site. Most search engines have a way to submit your web pages to their index. You don’t need to pay to feature in Google, Bing or Yahoo results, but you can choose to pay for placement such as Google Adwords.

  • Sign up and verify with Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, and Bing Webmaster Center

  • Submit sitemaps - Once you’ve created a sitemap, submit it to Google Webmaster Central and Bing Search Webmaster Tools.

  • Optimize your site from Google's side - Create an account with Google Webmaster Tools, login, and select the tools menu. From here, set your geographical target and preferred domain If you want to enable image search, you can set that permission here as well.

If your business has a fixed location, It’s likely that local searches are going to drive most of your traffic. Maximise on local SEO by submitting your site to the following major search engine's local listings:


Conclusion

Yes, there’s a lot to digest, but by following the advice presented here, you’ll be ahead of much of your competition. Search engine optimization is more than just a method of driving traffic to your website; it’s also a way to make your website more user-friendly from the onset.

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