Every business owner would love to increase organic traffic, but SEO can be a very tricky beast. There are constant Google updates and algorithm changes to stay on top of, along with best practices to maintain and follow. While not every business is going to have the time and resources to handle their search engine optimization in-house, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the basics and attempt to stay up to speed in regards to how the industry and strategies evolve over time. Even the slightest knowledge can be beneficial, especially when evaluating potential SEO partners and vendors.
I recently reached out to several SEO professionals and asked them to provide their best SEO tips for small business owners. In the end, we were able to compile the responses from 18 individuals, which can all be found below. Pour a cup of coffee and dive it. I am confident that you will learn something new if you take the time to consume the information laid out here.
1. Understand that SEO is multifaceted.
Rather than just discuss one tip, I thought it would be good to highlight the checklist that we use during our SEO process. This is perfect for a small business to follow:
- Initial Preparation: Before any kind of audit, crawling an entire site needs to be executed and analyzed for tracking and indexing purposes. Various free crawling tools are available online.
- One URL Version: Your site should not be accessible by various URL variations/different spellings. There should only be one main URL, and any other variations should be redirected to that version.
- Page Titles: They should be 50 to 65 characters in length and unique to that page — don’t use same title tag on multiple pages. Use the keyword of that page twice if space permits — once at the start, followed by a separator such as a colon, hyphen or pipe, and then once again in a call-to-action. If relevant, include a geo-qualifier, such as “Georgia” or “Atlanta, GA.”
- Meta Descriptions: Ensure they’re unique and relevant to that page, written as descriptive ad text with a call-to-action; no more than 140 characters in length including spaces and punctuation, but no fewer than 51 characters. They should contain one to two complete sentences with correct punctuation and no more than five commas. If relevant, include a geo-qualifier, such as “Georgia” or “Atlanta, GA.”
- H1 Tag: This is the most important tag and shouldn’t be skipped on a page. Search spiders pay attention to the words used in the H1 tag so it should contain a basic description of the page content, just as the page title does. Give the user a clear idea of what the page content is about.
- H2 and H3 Tags: These tags target secondary keywords/phrases and are essential to the overall organization of your content.
- Image Names and Alt Text: Search engines can’t read images, but alt text allows search engines to understand what an image is and enable it to be found in image searches.
- Errors: Make sure there are no errors, particularly the “404 Not Found” error code.
- Site Speed: Google’s recommended page load speed is 1.4 seconds or less.
- Run Tests and Reports: This probably goes without saying, but run some test searches and search-traffic reports to gauge your position and what areas need to be improved.
Greg Corey, Porchlight
2. You sales and customer service teams are a great source of content topics.
Its worth the time to take your best sales, customer service and support information, and put it online. If you build your site out in a way that it has a natural, logical structure of helpful content that addresses your various customer concerns or needs, you will find that you can rank competitively on some terms without a huge investment.
We often encourage our clients to spend some time listening to their best sales people or listening to their customer service lines. What questions are being asked about their products or services? What’s motivating people to buy? What are the roadblocks? How does their team resolve those things?
Usually the answers to these questions will naturally target keywords and respond well to latent semantic indexing (LSI) that drives many long tail search results in 2018.
Jordan Brannon, Coalition
3. Have reasonable goals in place.
When you’re a small business using SEO to try and outrank national companies, setting reasonable goals is critically important.
Imagine that you are a small electronics retailer. No matter how well structured your site is and how many links you build, you are not likely to outrank businesses like Amazon and Best Buy for search terms like “best desktop computer” or “buy a printer.” Instead, set a reasonable goal like ranking for terms such as “best gaming computer in 2018 for under $1000” or “best laser printer with easy to recycle toner.”
By creating pages on your site for niche terms with reasonable search volumes that are optimized properly, you have a chance to leap to the top of the search engine results and drive meaningful growth for your business.
Zack Gallinger, Talent Hero Media
4. Always bring value to every customer interaction.
Rather than hoping a potential client fills out a contact form, provide a valuable resource — an infographic, PDF, eBook, etc. — that is free, but only when a valid email has been given. This will generate more email leads while also providing value to your website users.
We always say you want to be the encyclopedia of your industry. By providing answers that your current customers ask improves your chances of showing up for long tail keyword searches.
The most actionable tip every local business can do is to keep your Google My Business listing up to date with photos, specials, hours, etc. — because this is the first impression for many businesses.
SEO is really the practice of providing the best answer to a users search query, so you want to make sure you have content on your site that actually answers questions your customers ask you — if they ask you they are asking Google as well.
Joseph Sloan, Advice Media
5. Publish consistent blog content.
There are many reasons why blogging is a huge opportunity for small businesses to increase their rank authority — or where they end up in search engines.
With blogging, you can incorporate and answer commonly asked questions or search terms (How to make pancakes, for example). Google, arguably the largest search engine today, now ranks pages based on their usefulness. By writing helpful articles in your blog, search engines like Google will prioritize your content over others.
By creating blogs, you can also automatically populate your social channels. On most website platforms, it’s easy to sync Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or an email database up to your blog to automatically update whenever you send this out. It’s not exactly SEO related, but it’s a huge plus that comes packaged with the benefits of SEO.
Also, by creating a consist blog, you’re ensuring your website’s content is always fresh. Search engines love to see new, fresh content on websites when it visits them. If it sees new content on your site, it will visit your site more often, almost always resulting in higher organic exposure. Plus, blogging is easily taken on by an intern or can be outsourced to a content provider.
Ryan Williams, Action Ready Marketing
6. Take advantage of Google’s free tools.
Google My Business, Google Analytics and Google Search Console are all free and used by nearly every SEO professional in the business. Claim your Google My Business page and fill out all the available fields completely so you start appearing in the map results. Set up Analytics and Google Search Console, as well and begin learning what data and insights they provide. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t understand everything right away. Google has plenty of support articles and videos that you can dive into as well. Over time, you will learn how to use these free tools to better your organic positioning.
Mark Bealin, SearchLab Chicago
7. Focus on the basics to start.
Here are some SEO tips I give to small business owners:
- Create and build a blog: This has multiple benefits to your business. You can optimize content towards long-tail keywords in search engines that will obtain very specific traffic for you. This is also a way to showcase your expertise and build thought-leadership in your industry. You are also regularly updating your website with new content that can build trust with your audience and show you are active. Your audience can/will share your content with their network which helps build your digital “word-of-mouth”.
- Keyword research and on-site optimization: Find the best keywords for your website with Google Keyword Planner — find lower competition keywords that have the traffic volume to make a difference. Optimizing your core pages towards these keywords with meaningful traffic will set you on the path to getting these main pages ranked.
- Local directory updates: Make sure your company’s name, address and phone number is consistent across the internet. You definitely want to have your Google My Business setup. Getting your Yelp, Bing, FourSquare, etc. addresses all aligned is very important and will help build your digital presence to gain valuable backlinks for your business. MozLocal is a tool that can help execute this tactic very quickly.
Daniel Henderson, SearchPerfection.com
8. Target awareness topics.
When creating content and thinking about your SEO strategy, you should target awareness topics — keywords that people are searching for when they become aware of a problem they are looking to solve.
There is less competition for awareness keywords because there’s generally less buyer intent. If you’re solving a big problem for your market this will position you as an authority and make people view you as a resource, not just a business.
You’ll convert organic leads much more easily once you’ve established your authority in the industry. People will naturally come to you for answers and they’ll see your product or service as the go-to choice when they’re ready to purchase a solution.
Tim Jernigan, Badger Maps
9. Target the correct keywords.
My number one tip for small business owners is to invest time in learning what your customers search for and how, and use that research to select your keywords. Don’t guess — confirm.
One of the biggest issues I see when I audit SEO components of various websites is that the keywords are picked for the wrong reasons. Business owners often choose keywords they would use to describe their business as opposed to how someone would search for them. Well researched keywords attract more authentic, well-matched traffic.
Sacha Brant, Sassy Lasses
10. Optimize your website for people first, search engines second.
Search engines, such as Google, have come very far in how they understand the relative value of websites, and of course this influences how they present them in their search results. SEO work falls into two categories — on-page SEO, which is what you control on your own website, and off-page SEO, which includes the authority that your site receives from links and citations on other websites.
Traditionally, great efforts were made by SEO companies and business owners to manipulate their website keywords in a pseudo-scientific fashion, hoping that just the right keyword in just the right place would ensure a top Google ranking. Google is getting smarter, however, and today’s SEO can be summed up by one phrase: put the user first.
Because of improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, Google’s search algorithm can use related terms to determine that a website is about a topic even if the keyword does not appear on the page. If several models of Fender, Gibson, and Epiphone are on a page, but the keyword “guitar” is not, Google can now use their data to figure out the intent.
The focus is now on the quality of the page to the user, and although it is unconfirmed by Google themselves, many of us in the industry have a strong belief that the Google algorithm includes data such as the amount of time people spend interacting with a web page. If they click on an item in the search results and immediately hit the “back” button and return to the search results, that can negatively affect the site that was visited. So, if the content is topical without being over-optimized, and useful to readers, the site can be successful.
In addition, quality user content on a website has side benefits that will increase their own authority over time. Real users that find content useful will include links to content naturally — this might be in their own web content or it might be in the social media sphere. This was the idea behind Google’s original patent years ago, but after years of playing catch-up to those who would try to game the system, the company now has a pretty good grasp on how to value real link authority.
So, while the field of content marketing is a mile deep and a mile wide, the best SEO tip for a small business looking to break into search engine listings in 2018 is clear — focus on website users — make great content that is deep, useful, and shareable.
Elijah Litscher, The Loop Marketing Inc
11. Leverage satisfied customers.
Whenever you have a satisfied customer, use this as an opportunity to gain more search engine visibility. There are plenty of ways to do this. Do they have a website or a blog? Ask them for some exposure and a link. Did you help them on a large-scale? Shoot a video or write a post with a case study describing their experience with you. Was it simply good work from your side? Ask them to leave a review on one of your business listings.
Marina Pilipenko, actiTIME
12. Put an emphasis on mobile searches and users.
More and more people — especially, in the developing nations — are using smartphones and mobile internet to access the web. There is something about mobile search that is game-changing: people conduct most of their searches on the go, which means that a big chunk of information they need is very local in its nature and they expect some immediate and relevant results. No one wants to type in — or use voice search — a “shoe repair” search query and receive results that are useful for those who live hundreds of miles away. Just let these statistics sink in — 50 percent of local mobile searchers intend to find some business information (the company’s address or a phone number) and 78 percent of local mobile searches lead to an offline purchase.
Meri Chobanyan, SEMrush
13. Pay attention to everything that’s ‘big’ on the internet.
If something is a big deal whether that is “how to manage millennials” or “Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm,” it’s probably a good starting point in terms of content. One of these trending topics probably has a highly-searched term on Google, so it’s best to include these search terms in your content. Once you do that, your content will trend — on and off social media — and your SEO performance will only continue to improve. In my own experience, I wrote an article about “the best places to eat in Columbus, Ohio” and the article received over 200,000 pageviews, which was extremely beneficial.
Sophia Borghese, Online Optimism
14. Treat SEO like PR and focus on creating a brand.
As someone who has advised dozens of small business owners over the years, I can tell you there is nothing else that works better. Here’s how:
- Use a brandable name: if you had to recommend an online book store, you would recommend Amazon, not Easybookstore.com. That’s because a brandable name comes associated with a sort of trustworthiness. People are more comfortable linking to them. That helps with SEO.
- Create newsworthy PR: you would be hardpressed to find a high authority website talking about a Long Island based car washing company. But if you were to publish a survey that says “BMW car owners are more likely to wash their cars once a week compared to Ford owners,” then that’s a newsworthy piece that can potentially be published even on large news outlets like NYTimes or New Yorker.
Anand Srinivasan, Hubbion
15. Focus on building local citations.
Local citations, often reffered to as NAPs (websites that publish your name, address, phone number and other important business data), are a key ranking factor for search engines when it comes to small and local businesses. Search engines are looking at the number of citations a business has, the quality of the citation (authority of platform) and the accuracy of the data. Google My Business is probably the most important citation to secure.
Citations and My Business signals have always been very important for SEO, and are only growing more important. In fact, it’s now possible for a business to rank in the local pack (the 3 locations that appear in a map for local searches) without having a website.
Brooks Manley, Engenius
16. Understand that SEO takes time; there are no shortcuts.
Those who try to take shortcuts usually end up paying dearly down the road.
I tell all my clients that the best website wins in the long-term. Ever notice when you look at search results, higher quality sites tend to have better rankings?
Focus on user experience. Sure, SEO can be technical, but landing customers and conversion optimization should be key to your online marketing. Does your website load fast, is it easy to navigate, are the calls-to-action clear and actionable?
Make sure your website is mobile-friendly. In fact, if you are starting from scratch, considering designing your site first for the mobile user experience. Currently, Google is in the process of moving to a mobile-first index, which means the mobile version of your website will be used to base your rankings off of. Also, this summer the speed of the mobile version of your site will become a ranking factor.
Build out your website to serve your potential customers. Make a list of the questions that may be asking on the journey, and answer them with informative content. Research online using forums such as Quora and Reddit and see what questions are being asked.
Links are still a ranking factor. Whatever you do, do not buy a cheap link building package. You are better off earning links organically. An easy win is to leverage pre-existing relationships with local organizations your sponsor and vendors you work with.
Last but not least, please be careful whom you hire to handle your online marketing. The reality is that the industry is sales-driven, not results driven. If you decide to hire an SEO company, remember that low prices and promises are a red flag.
Bradley Shaw, SEO Expert Brad Inc.
17. Invest in quality tools and software.
One of the biggest tips in regards to SEO is to invest in a product like Moz. It will track your small business website, give you keyword rankings, alert you to site errors that may be hurting your SEO, offer you keyword suggestions and even optimize your web pages and tell you where improvements can be made to your content in order to give SEO a boost. Moz also integrates with Google Analytics, tracks backlinks to your site, and even gives you keyword rankings in comparison to your competitors.
With a tool like Moz, you’ll have the reporting and the statistics you need to make the right decisions when it comes to SEO for your small business. You’ll have keywords you can target, page improvements you can make, and week-by-week comparisons to your competitors. Any SEO updates you make to your site are worthless if you don’t have a tool telling you what you are doing right or wrong.
Keri Lindenmuth, The Kyle David Group
18. Build high-quality links via guest posting.
Improving your SEO as a small business can be tricky when you’re not sure what to do. My advice would be to focus on building links to your site via guest posts. Not only do they give you strong backlinks to your website that helps to increase your rankings, but they also bring you real visitors who are interested in your products or services.
You can find plenty of guest post opportunities just by typing “niche + guest post” in Google then filtering the results. Be sure to read the requirements and then contact the website owner with a pitch for an article you want to write. If successful, you’ll get a link back to your site and a boost in traffic.
Sam Carr, PPC Protect