For many small business owners, online advertising and marketing are typically top of mind. However, search engine optimization (SEO) may not be, and for good reason. If you’re like other business owners who have started to investigate SEO, you’ve probably found it to be a bit of a rabbit hole, and can feel incredibly complex without the guidance from a consultant. We hear you! However, SEO is incredibly important for helping you find new customers, which is why we’ve written this guide to clear up some of the foggier concepts and provide you some actionable ways on how you can attract more customers to your business using this important tool.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art and science of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic (visitors, readers, and clients) to your website through organic search engine results. Organic results means they appear without paying for advertising. See below.
How do Search Engines Work?
Search engines are resource machines. They scan the contents of the digital world and evaluate thousands of factors to determine what content is most likely to answer a search query. We use search engines to find plumbers, doctors, food, clothes-- and it’s also working to help people find your business.
SEO is a broad term, but put simply, it is a marketing strategy designed to expand your businesses ability to come when someone searches for you (or what you offer) via search engine. Online advertising (through Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc.) need continuous funding to send traffic to your site, but having a solid SEO strategy in place with high quality content (and the right keywords) can help customers find your site organically for years to come.
Ways to Improve Your SEO
Strategies for “optimizing” the SEO on your website include: adding relevant keywords and phrases, editing meta and image tags on your content and photos, and more. By taking these extra steps when you build your website and create your content, search engines will be able to index your site better, and by extension, help make it easier to have potential customers find your site.
As you optimize your site, keep these three goals in mind:
Quality of traffic. You can attract all the visitors in the world, but if they're coming to your site because visitors think you can provide them one thing, but you provide something else, you’ll be penalized by search engines. Instead you want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in products and services that you offer.
Quantity of traffic. Know who your customers are, inside and out. Are you a regional business, or sell nationally? What other interests and problems do your customers have? Focus your content (such as on a blog or “about me” page) on communicating what appeals to them. For example, there isn’t much value in trying to appeal to teenagers if most of your clients are in their sixties. And if you only offer services to folks living in and around Chicago, it’s good to note that on your website. Once you have the right people clicking through from those search engine results pages, the more business will materialize.
Organic results. Ads make up a significant portion of many search engine results pages (SERPs). Organic traffic is any traffic that you don't have to pay for (and isn’t it always nice to save money?)
To best determine what sort of traffic is quality traffic and how to create it, you must answer these questions
What are my customers searching for?
How do I optimize my web pages to include those keywords?
Google Analytics can tell you things like who is visiting your website, from where, and, above all, how they found you. Once you see where a good deal of your traffic comes from-- whether it’s a particular keyword punched into Google, a directory like Yelp, or a social media post--you can start more smartly putting energy into those channels. You technically don’t need Google Analytics to optimize SEO, but, it’s one of the easiest ways to see if your effort is working.
Easy Website Practices Improve Your SEO:
It’s worth noting that most reputable site builders will now offer SEO features out of the box, but here are some explanations and best practices on what exactly encompasses a “high quality” site from an SEO perspective.
Copywriting — If your pages are uninformative or confusing, people will give up on your site in seconds. If you create useful content that is well-laid-out and provides the reader with information about your service or market, you will increase the average time a user spends on your site, also known as time on site. This boosts your SEO.
Content marketing — Depending on the type of business you run, a blog might be a key part of your online strategy, and it may not. But it’s in content marketing where SEO keywords can shine and search engines will pick up your site content. Consider starting a blog featuring keywords that are important to your clients, covering market movements, relevant tips, or project updates. Picking the right keywords to feature is important, and there’s a lot of different ways and services to determine which are the most important (for example, if you own a women’s boutique, the word dress should be somewhere in there). It really doesn’t matter if you add this content to your site as a page or blog post. Just make sure that you write about things that people want to read about or things that make people talk about your business in a positive way.
Link building — This can sound complicated, but truly it’s not. Link building essentially means that, within your site, you’ll feature links to other content in your site-- those are called internal links. Then, you’ll also link to other sites outside of your own (say government agencies, professional partners etc)-- those are external links. These links are an indicator that search engines use to determine the quality and validity of your site. Search engines discover new web pages through linking and determine where it should rank. In other words, the more links, the more likely you are to appear at the top of a search engine result. A great way to do this is to reach out to businesses similar to yours or influencers in your industry. By putting yourself and your services in front of reviewers and influencers who feature you on their sites, your credibility will rise. Also creating informative content that people will want to link to is a good base to build from (such as a blog). Then there’s the tried and true networking: asking friends and family to link to your site will build your profile and your rankings.
Usability and UX — Search engines will bury you if you have a clunky, slow-to-load, or hard-to-navigate website. Most people are operating on their phones, so be sure your website loads quickly on not just the computer, too. For a great primer on how to optimize your website, be sure to check out our deep dive.
Local SEO — While some people run businesses that operate everywhere, specificity and investing effort into locality can boost your visibility. Consider writing blog posts on local topics, links from popular local newspapers, and Yelp reviews from local patrons.
Create a sitemap and submit it to Google — Depending on what tools you used to build your site, there are plugins you can use to create a sitemap. You can submit your sitemap to Google via Google Search Console, a free service Google offers to help you manage your presence in Google Search Results.
Remove pages that don’t perform — Less is often more when it comes to website building. If your site has a lot of pages that don’t get traffic, your site will be buried in search engines. If the pages feature content people will need, consider consolidating them, like moving your testimonials page to your about me section.
Fix broken and old links — Search engines will bury your content if you send site users to outdated or broken links.
Optimize your images — Use relevant images with appropriate captions. You should also use the “alt text” section to give a description of the image. Not only will this help your SEO, but it will make your site more accessible to clients who are visually or hearing impared. Also, ensure your image file names are relevant, when you are uploading them to your website. For example, an image with the file name “untitled-4-April 20” will not perform well, but an image with the title “manicure-close-up” will do much better.
Don’t skip your “About Me” page - First impressions are important, and if clients are on your site, and if you offer services, your About page will typically be the second or third page they visit besides your homepage. It’s important to introduce who you are and what you do. Write about your business, your goals, your experience, and your successes. People want to know and trust who they’re working with, and it’s an easy way to insert relevant keywords that boost your SEO.
Some of the most common technical SEO problems have to do with:
Improper use of canonical link elements.
SEO is unfortunately not a set-it-and-forget-it system, but one that needs constant maintenance. It’s a good idea to build into your monthly schedule a bit of time to check all your links, and to write compelling original content for all of your platforms including your website, social media, Yelp, and Google Business links.
Once you have used these tactics, the benchmarks of success are determined by you. It’s easy to give up on an effort if you have no way of tracking its success. Increased visibility and ranking higher in Google or Yelp is always great, but there needs to be a next step. When developing your plan consider using one of these metrics as a performance indicator.
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It’s important to determine which of these is most important to you and how your content and website encourage these outcomes.
While SEO can seem like an daunting topic to handle when you’re improving your online marketing strategy, just remember that it doesn’t have to be overly complex. Most site builders offer optimized SEO out of the box (so you don’t have to micromanage the technicalities), which means the challenging part for you as a business owner will be simply to be expressing your content in a clean, easy and helpful way, so that more customers can find you faster.