At Digital Division, we really wanted to explain some SEO topics and give everyone more understanding about what SEO does and what it can do. So, we've written the ultimate guide to SEO for small businesses. We hope it helps you!
What is Small Business SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, can seem like a daunting task to many small business owners. However, it's actually very possible to take control of your online presence and start ranking number one on Google!
SEO is the process of optimizing your website and web presence to show up first on search results across the web. Making sure your Google My Business profile is up to date, having relevant and useful content, and optimizing your website are all useful things that will build your organic traffic and get you ranking higher in search. We will touch on all these things and more in this definitive Small Business SEO guide.
Why Do I Need SEO For My Small Business?
Many business owners wonder why they should even invest time and effort into SEO.
First and foremost, all of your competitors are! If you aren't using SEO tactics, you'll lose a competitive advantage in your local market. Second, good SEO practices are also good for your brand. The better your site looks and the more frequently you pop up around the web, the more potential customers will trust you. Third, and probably the most important, is utilizing SEO can be a low-cost way to get a lot more customers.
Where to start with SEO
There are so many different things to do, how can you possibly know where to start? The very first thing you should do is take a look around the local market and do a competitive analysis. Before you begin pumping up your own website, it can be helpful to see what competitors are doing to better cement your digital marketing strategy.
You should Google keywords for your business and see who comes up in the top rankings. Look through their sites and see what they are doing well. Do they have a good amount of pages and links throughout their site? How fast did the website load? Did they seem to have a lot of reviews?
Many times you'll find that the businesses that appear first in the search rankings aren't doing anything that great at all. These will be good opportunities where you can swoop in and take a high ranking from a competitor. Even in the more competitive markets, you can still get onto the first page or in the top three if you optimize enough.
After looking at your competition, choose what keywords you want to try to rank for. It can be tempting to want to rank for short keywords like "plumbing". It's possible to do, but you'll usually end up going against some large companies with massive advertising budgets.
A good starting point would be to try to rank for long-tail keywords. These are things like "How to fix broken pipe" or " muffler repair for mustangs." These keywords will have a lower search volume but can lead to higher conversion rates because people are searching for exactly what they want.
Once you've assembled your list of keywords, it's time to get your Google My Business ready to go.
Google My Business and Local SEO
Your Google My Business profile is one of the most important things that local and small businesses can optimize to help them rank higher and get more customers. Some businesses don't even have a website, and use their Google My Business (or GMB) profile exclusively, though we don't recommend this strategy.
For those who are unfamiliar, your GMB profile appears when your business or your keywords are searched on Google. You've probably seen one many times before. This is a place where you can link to your website, post phone numbers, have general information about your business and people can leave reviews. Many small businesses don't take into account the value they could be getting out of their GMB. This can be one of the best ways to appear in local searches and get local customers.
You need to make sure that you have claimed your profile, as this will allow you to edit and add information. You should start by inputting all the correct information for your business. It can be tempting to put keywords in your name or try to add extra services but you should avoid doing this. Your profile can get reported and taken down if Google finds out you’re violating their guidelines, so it's best to just use the actual registered name of the company.
Once you've entered your name, website, and phone number, you can move on to the services section. This section is very useful for reaching your target audience because these will act as your keywords. If you do carpet cleaning and mold restoration, be sure to put those as separate services so Google knows what search terms they should consider you for.
Another important section is categories. These are the more broad terms you want to rank for. They're usually the most obvious ones too. If you're an electrician, “electrician” would be a great category for you. Try to keep your categories to a minimum, because Google will notice if you somehow have dozens of categories of services you perform.
Customer Reviews are one of the most critical online elements for your local SEO. According to the Moz 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors Report, Review signals account for 15% of the factors that Google considers when showing the "Local pack" or the three local businesses that pop up when people search for a certain keyword. That's an awfully large percentage for something you can't really control.
There are a few things you can do to keep your reviews healthy, however. Don't leave yourself fake reviews, as it will come back to bite you and your GMB could be taken down. It is considered okay to politely encourage customers to leave reviews, but never ask for reviews from people who have never interacted with your business.
While it may be tempting, never respond hostilely to negative reviews. Even if you're in the right, be polite and cordial. If you try to fight them in your review response, it will signal to other customers who are not familiar with the situation that you may be aggressive or difficult to work with.
Don't stress yourself out if you get one negative review. If you have enough positive reviews to balance it out, all it will signal is that you're an authentic business. Obviously respond to the negative review and try to address the problem as much as possible, but never lash out in the public forum of Google Reviews.
Next up, optimizing your website for SEO.
High-authority sites have their headings, their meta descriptions, and the content on their web pages written to rank for certain keywords. This may seem overwhelming at first, but there are a few easy steps you can take to get Google’s ranking algorithm on your side. We will start with the part that's the easiest for small business owners, editing your content to rank for keywords.
Earlier, you did keyword research to figure out what you wanted your business to rank for. When you write your content for your site, you should include keywords in the text and headings that you want the page to pop up for in Google.
You should avoid keyword stuffing your pages (the process of putting a keyword on the page as many times as possible). This will make your content difficult to read, plus Google doesn't like that and will often punish you for it.
Being aware of keywords and using them naturally throughout the text will allow Google to see that your page is relevant and you should show up in the organic results of a search. Make sure your website copy is written to appear on search, and not just written to fill a slot on your company website. Blog posts are a great way to keep active on your site and they give you the opportunity to add more keywords and reader value to your small business website.
Moving on to a slightly harder, but equally as beneficial, part of your website's SEO: Meta content.
A meta description is what appears when people see your page in a Google search result. While not directly tied to SEO, it allows users to see and understand what a page is about before clicking. If you have a low-quality or confusing meta description, you might not be getting the traffic you want to your site.
Ideally, you want to sell that your page is worth reading to whoever is searching. If you don't write a meta description for your page, Google will automatically create one by using what it thinks is the best content on your site's page. This is less than ideal, as you have no control over what Google displays. Therefore, it's often easier and better to write your own.
If your site is hosted through WordPress, it's easier than you'd think to edit your meta description. All you need to do is download a plugin, such as Yoast SEO. Once you’re ready, there are a few tips you'll want to know before you edit your meta descriptions.
Try to keep it short
There is no industry standard, but if it gets too long, it might be cut off.
Keep it relevant to the page and include relevant keywords
Both Google's algorithm and a person searching will see your meta descriptions, and they most likely want to see keywords that are relevant to their search.
Just keep it simple
Your meta description doesn't have to be the best-written ad ever, it just has to drive traffic to your site.
If your website isn't laid out in a logical way, it's going to be hard to have a big impact. Customers won't want to stay on your site if they can't figure out where to go. You also want Google to be able to understand what's on your website when they crawl it.
Having your website categorized correctly can be a huge boost to your search ranking. If Google can figure out where everything is on your site in an easy manner, they are more likely to display it.
Having a logical flow of your site pages is also helpful to potential customers. For example, having a heading called "Computer repair" that leads to two pages "Laptop repair" and "desktop repair" that further lead to different models is very coherent and clear. Having "Desktop repair" lead into "Macbook repair" and "Gaming PC repair" is a little more confusing and hard to follow.
Link building can be terrifying to small business owners. It takes a lot of time and effort. However, there are a lot of ways to get easy wins without dumping all of your time into SEO.
If you're not familiar with link building, that's okay. Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to your own site. Link building signals to Google that your website is trustworthy and has a strong web presence. It's also a low-cost way to get your business ranking higher. It requires some work, but the pay off is great.
Link building can be done through content creation. Content creation (like blogs, graphs, interesting articles) is a great way to build links because it's a win-win. The linking site gets to teach its readers with your informational content, and you get a high-quality backlink for your efforts.
Another great strategy is to connect with business resources in your local area. Often, you'll find that your business is already associated with many other local businesses. You can use these relationships to ask for backlinks. Do you do any charity in the local community? Are you a sponsor of any youth sports? Have you ever done a partnership with another business? These are all great opportunities for local backlinks.
Finally, there's always the tried and true method of messaging other websites and offering to guest blog, offering already written content, and including a link to your website. Link building takes time, but it's a great way to get your site more authority around the web.
On your own site, you want to make sure that you don't have any dead links. Dead links are links that lead to a page that doesn't exist (whether your own or another website’s). Dead links can decrease your overall quality score and knock you down a few pegs. There are many tools around the web you can use to crawl your site for dead links if you don't want to check manually.
Another thing to watch out for is duplicate content. You don't want to have the same paragraph more than once on your site, or Google might start to think it's spam. If you think your content is too similar, go in and rewrite it a bit at a time. You might end up ranking for new keywords.
Business Listings and Citations
Another good SEO strategy that is infrequently used by small businesses is to keep a good handle on your listings throughout the web. Google searches will have more than just your website, they'll often have a wide array of other sites that have listings for you, like Yelp, Bing, and Apple Maps.
There are a few reasons you want to monitor your listings and keep them up to date over the web. The first is that these can be a good source for new customers. People use listing sites all the time to find local services, and if you get even one extra lead from one of these sites, it can be worth it.
Another reason to keep your listings correct is that this signals to Google that you're a real company that exists around the web. The more you're mentioned and linked to by these sites, the more Google will trust your website. This can be a great competitive edge, especially for small companies whose competitors aren't doing the same thing.
Finally, having a correct listing on multiple sites will allow a Google search for your business to be filled with you for the top results. If you haven't updated any listings, Google may slip a competitor into the results.
Technical Site Fixes
This is one of the most difficult things for small business owners to edit, as it involves technical knowledge, and is harder to see the results for yourself. We won't dive too deeply into it, but here are a few things to watch out for.
Page speed is probably one of the most important technical aspects. You can put your URL into Google's Page Speed Insight Analyzer to see how well your site does and what can be fixed. Most websites are recommended to load in at 2.5 seconds or less, after that there are large drop-offs in the number of people who stick around.
Another important thing is having a safe site. Changing your site from HTTP to HTTPS can actually help with page ranking. This tells Google you value your customer’s security. You can crawl your own site with many tools around the web to find out if you have any dead links if you have metadata, or if a picture is too large. These all can contribute to your ranking score and how efficiently your site runs.
These are just a few things that go into your website ranking. Growing your business through SEO is a process, not a one time fix. If you need help navigating the world of SEO or have any questions, please, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org We'd love to hear from you!