Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Small Business SEO!
To increase the online presence of your small business, it’s important to understand the basics of SEO and how it works. This guide aims to demystify SEO by breaking it down into its simplest components.
Rather than using technical jargon, the guide provides a clear and straightforward explanation of SEO and how to use it to improve your website’s ranking and visibility in organic search results.
Small business SEO is all about expanding your online visibility and driving more traffic to your website. This is achieved by optimising your website for search engines and making sure that your site appears at the top of search results when someone Googles your product or service.
To improve your website’s SEO, you need to focus on elements such as title tags, keywords, image tags, internal link structure, and inbound links.
Search engines also consider site structure, design, visitor behaviour, and external off-site factors when determining your website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).
The ultimate goal of SEO is to increase your website’s rankings and visibility, ultimately leading to more conversions, customers, and revenue.
This guide provides a comprehensive introduction to the world of SEO and will help you construct a successful strategy.
What is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is a process that optimises a website’s content and structure to increase its visibility in search engine results pages (SERP). This is achieved by conducting keyword research, optimising content, and earning inbound links.
The effects of SEO efforts can take several months to materialise, but the outcome is an improved ranking and visibility for a website.
Ranking and visibility are two important concepts in small business SEO.
Rankings determine the position of a web page in the SERP, while visibility refers to the prominence of a domain in search engine results. Both concepts are crucial for delivering the main objectives of SEO: increased traffic and improved domain authority.
The importance of SEO for small business cannot be overstated, especially in today’s digital age. With 92% of internet searches happening on Google, SEO helps position a brand throughout the entire buying journey and aligns marketing strategies with changing customer behaviour.
As Statista reports, 60% of consumers research a brand online before making a purchase, and 67% of B2B buyers start the buying process with a web search. By optimising a website for search engines, companies can ensure they are visible and accessible to potential customers during the complex and ever-evolving buying process.
The Importance of Search Engine Optimisation
The goal of search engines is to provide users with relevant information or answers to their inquiries. The algorithms of search engines analyse two key factors to determine the relevance and authority of a web page: relevancy between the search query and the content on the page, and the website’s popularity on the Internet.
These algorithms, known as search algorithms, are kept confidential by search engines, but SEO experts have identified some of the factors they consider when ranking a page.
These ranking factors, such as adding more content, optimising image filenames, or improving internal links, can greatly impact a web page’s ranking and search visibility.
As a small business owner or marketer, it is essential to consider the role of SEO in your marketing strategy, as it can help position your brand throughout the entire buying journey.
With 92% of internet searches taking place on Google, it is crucial for your brand to show up in search results to be noticed and considered by customers. Moreover, customer behaviour has changed with 60% of people researching a brand online before making a purchase and 67% of B2B buyers starting the buying process with a broad web search.
Adhering to the E-A-T framework can aid in determining relevance and authority. E-A-T, which stands for “expertise”, “authoritativeness”, and “trustworthiness”, may not be direct ranking factors, but they can improve the SEO content and impact direct ranking factors.
In conclusion, small business SEO is a crucial component of a successful marketing strategy that helps improve a web page’s ranking and search visibility, which ultimately drives traffic and domain authority.
Small Business SEO Strategy: A Comprehensive Plan for Increased Website Traffic
A successful SEO strategy is designed to drive more traffic to your website through search engines. This involves implementing both on-page tactics, which use keywords aligned with user intent and off-page tactics, which involve earning links from other websites.
The Three Key Elements of an Effective SEO Strategy
To optimise your site, you must focus on improving ranking factors in three main areas: technical setup, content, and links. Let’s examine each of these in detail.
For your website to be ranked, the following must occur:
- A search engine must be able to find your pages on the web.
- It must then scan the pages to determine their topics and identify relevant keywords.
Finally, the pages must be added to the search engine’s index, which is a database of all the content found on the web. This way, the algorithm can determine if your website should be displayed for relevant queries.
It sounds straightforward, but there is a catch. The way a web page is viewed by a search engine is different from how it is seen by a user. The user sees it as a collection of graphics, colours, text, formatting, and links, while a search engine sees it as text only.
Therefore, any elements that cannot be rendered in this way will be invisible to the search engine, even though the website may appear to be functioning properly for the user.
- Navigation and links: Search engines crawl websites in a similar manner to how a user would. They follow links, landing on a page and using those links to find other content to analyse. However, as mentioned earlier, they cannot see images. So, it’s important to set up your navigation and links as text-only.
- Simple URL structure: Search engines do not like reading lengthy strings of words with complex structures. For this reason, it’s advisable to keep your URLs short and include as little beyond the main keyword for which you’re optimising the page as possible.
The loading time of a page, or the time it takes for a user to be able to view the content, is used by search engines as a measure of quality. Various elements of a website, such as an image size, can impact this factor. Utilise Google’s Page Speed Insights Tool to receive recommendations on improving your pages.
Broken or Dead Links
A dead link directs a visitor to a page that does not exist, while a broken redirect leads to a resource that may no longer be available. These issues not only create a poor user experience but also prevent search engines from indexing your content.
Sitemap and Robots.txt Files
A sitemap is a straightforward file that lists all of the URLs on your site, used by search engines to determine which pages to crawl and index. On the other hand, a robots.txt file specifies which content should not be indexed by search engines (e.g. specific policy pages you don’t want to appear in search results). Creating both a sitemap and robots.txt file will hasten the crawling and indexing process of your content.
Pages containing identical or similar content can be confusing for search engines, often making it difficult for them to display any of the pages at all. If search engines do manage to find these pages, your website could be penalised. As a result, duplicate content is considered a negative factor by search engines.
When you use a search engine, you’re searching for content – whether it be information on a particular topic or a specific issue. This content can come in various formats, such as text in a blog post or web page, a video, a product recommendation, or even a business listing. Regardless of the format, it’s all considered content and crucial for SEO in increasing search visibility.
There are two main reasons why content is essential for SEO:
- Customers are looking for content when they use search engines, and the more content you publish, the higher your chances are of increasing search visibility.
- Search engines use content to rank pages, based on the relevance of the page to the user’s search query. During the crawling process, search engines determine the topic of a page, analysing elements such as page length and structure to assess its quality. Based on this information, search algorithms can match the user’s query with the most relevant pages.
The optimisation process for content begins with keyword research.
The Importance of Keyword Research in Small Business SEO
The goal of SEO is not just to attract any visitors to your site, but rather to draw in potential customers who are in need of your products or services. For this to happen, your website needs to rank for keywords that these individuals are searching for.
Without ranking for relevant keywords, your website may never be discovered by your target audience, even if it appears at the top of search results.
To begin with, keyword research involves identifying terms and topics related to your business, converting them into initial keywords, and conducting thorough research to find related terms used by your target audience.
Our guide on keyword research for beginners provides a step-by-step process for uncovering the keywords you should target.
Once you have a list of keywords, the next step is to optimise your content, also known as on-page optimisation. On-page optimisation not only helps search engines understand the topic and keywords of a page but also makes sure it is matched to relevant searches.
The bulk of on-page optimisation focuses on the words used on the page, but it also involves optimising some elements of the code, such as meta-tags like the title and description.
While the majority of websites focus on optimising blog content, these optimisation techniques can also be applied to other types of pages. In our guide, we will focus on optimising blog posts for relevant keywords, but the advice is equally applicable to all other types of pages.
Optimising Your Keywords
To make sure that Google recognises the keywords you want your page to rank for, it’s essential to incorporate them in the following areas:
- Title of the post: Ideally, place the main keyword as close to the beginning of the title as possible, as Google tends to give more weight to words that appear at the start of a headline.
- URL: Your page’s web address should also include the keyword, and ideally, it should contain nothing else. Additionally, eliminate any stop words.
- H1 tag: In most content management systems, this tag is used to display the title of the page by default. However, double-check that your platform doesn’t have a different setting.
- First 100 words (or the first paragraph) of content: Including the keyword at the start of your blog post will give Google a clear indication of the page’s topic.
- Meta-title and meta-description tags: Search engines use these two code elements to display the search listings. The meta-title is displayed as the title of the search listing, while the meta-description provides content for the brief description below it. Moreover, they are used by search engines to better understand the page’s topic.
- Image file names and ALT tags: Search engines can only see the file names of graphics on a page, so make sure that at least one of the images includes the keyword in the file name. The alt tag is the text that is displayed instead of an image for visually impaired visitors. It also resides in the image code, so search engines use it as a relevancy signal.
- Semantic keywords: Add variations or synonyms of your keyword to ensure that Google and other search engines have a better understanding of the page’s relevancy. For example, if your main keyword is “Apple,” it’s crucial to make it clear whether you’re referring to the fruit or the tech company behind the iPhone. Adding semantic keywords like “sugar,” “orchard,” or “cider” to the copy can help clarify what queries the page should rank for.
Factors of On-Page Optimisation Beyond Keywords
Incorporating keywords is not the only aspect of on-page SEO. The following factors also contribute to establishing a page’s reliability and influence:
- External Links: By linking to other pages relevant to the topic, you help search engines better understand the subject matter and provide a positive user experience by showcasing your content as a valuable resource.
- Internal Links: These links serve two purposes. They enable search engines to find and index other pages on your site, and they demonstrate the semantic relationships between the pages, improving their relevance to the search query. Aim to include 2-4 internal links per blog post.
- Content-Length: Longer content has a tendency to rank higher because, if done correctly, it provides more comprehensive information on the topic, keeping readers on your site for a longer period of time, also known as dwell time, which is a critical ranking factor for search engines.
- Multimedia: While not mandatory, including multimedia elements such as videos, diagrams, and audio players can indicate the quality of a page and keep visitors engaged, which signals that the content is valuable and worthy of attention.
Importance of Links in SEO
In order for a page to rank, two crucial elements must be present: relevance and authority. While relevance is primarily addressed through technical setup and content, authority is largely established through links.
A backlink, also known simply as a link, is a reference to your content on another website. Every time another website directs its audience to your content, you earn a backlink to your site.
Google uses the number and quality of links as an indicator of a website’s authority. The reasoning behind this is that if a website is of high quality and popularity, other webmasters will reference it more frequently.
However, not all links are created equal, and low-quality or suspicious links can negatively impact your rankings.
When it comes to link building, the focus should not be on simply acquiring any links, but instead on gaining the highest quality references possible. The factors that determine the quality of a link are not entirely known, but some have been identified over time through SEO efforts.
The popularity of the linking site, the relevance of the linking site’s topic to yours, and the trustworthiness of the linking site are all elements that contribute to the quality of a link and its impact on rankings.
The Art of Link Building
Link building is a crucial aspect of SEO and is often considered a challenging task. To build high-quality links, a strong link-building strategy is essential. The links you acquire must adhere to certain quality standards and should not be easily recognisable as artificially created by search engines.
Here are a few link-building methods:
- Editorial Links: These are links that websites have referenced on their own without any direct outreach from your side.
- Outreach: In this approach, you directly communicate with websites to secure links. This can be done by creating outstanding content and reaching out to them or suggesting placement for a link.
- Guest Posting: Writing blog posts on third-party websites that allow you to include links to your site within the content or author bio.
- Profile Links: Many websites provide an option to include a link to your website in your profile. Although not all profile links carry strong authority, some might and it is relatively easy to create them.
- Competitive Analysis: SEOs often analyse the backlinks of their competitors to identify and replicate links for their own websites.
Link building is a critical factor in determining the success of your site in search engines. The next step is to measure the effectiveness of your efforts.
Tracking your SEO Results
To track the effectiveness of your small business SEO efforts, monitoring and measuring data is crucial. The technical setup, content, and links of your website play a significant role in getting your website noticed by search engines. Keeping track of your results will help you make improvements to your strategy.
When it comes to determining the success of your small business SEO, it’s essential to track traffic, engagement, and link metrics. While many companies have their own set of SEO Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the following are the most commonly used ones:
- Increase in organic traffic
- Ranking for keywords (separated into branded and non-branded terms)
- Conversion rate from organic traffic
- Average time spent on a page and bounce rate
- Top pages attracting organic traffic
- Number of pages that are indexed
- Growth in links (including new and lost links)
So far, our focus has been on ranking a website in general search results. However, if you own a local business, you can also target potential customers in your area through local SEO.
This is highly beneficial, as 46% of Google searches are for local businesses. People are looking for local vendors and specific business locations, and 72% of them will visit a local store within 24 hours of their search.
Local SEO is similar yet different from what we have been discussing. The principles for ranking in search engines remain the same, but with the added consideration of location-based results. As a result, search engines analyse additional ranking factors for local SEO.
Local search results are specific to a particular location and provide relevant information to users without the need to navigate elsewhere. They are primarily aimed at smartphone users, as local searches are more frequent on mobile devices. For example, a local pack, which is the most prominent element of local results, includes all the information needed to choose a business.
When analysing local websites, Google considers the proximity of a business to the searcher’s location. Businesses closest to the searcher will be presented first.
Keywords are still important for local SEO, but there is also an additional element of on-page optimisation, known as NAP (name, address, and phone number) that needs to be present on a page. This helps Google determine the location of a business.
Local authority is not only assessed by links, but also by reviews and citations (references to a business’s address and phone number online). Information entered in Google My Business, which is a platform for managing local business listings, also plays a significant role in rankings.
These are just some of the many factors that impact local SEO, but getting these right is a great start to ranking well in local search results.
Black Hat SEO
The last topic I want to address in SEO is one that I hope you’ll steer clear of. Black hat SEO is a tactic that goes against search engine guidelines and seeks to manipulate algorithms for higher rankings.
Common black hat techniques include keyword stuffing, cloaking, and buying links.
While black hat SEO may seem appealing due to its speed in ranking a site, it often leads to penalties and complete removal from search listings. There are no shortcuts in SEO and you should be wary of anyone offering strategies that seem too good to be true.
Small Business SEO Options:
When it comes to SEO, you have the option of handling it yourself, delegating it to someone within your organisation, or outsourcing it. It’s important to make this decision with a full understanding of what’s involved. Consider the following as you make your decision.
Doing SEO Yourself:
Assess your level of interest and time commitment to learning small business SEO. Do you have the resources to bring in help if necessary? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then doing SEO yourself may not be the best option. SEO is a long-term commitment and requires consistent effort to see results.
Delegating SEO to a Team Member:
If you’re not confident in doing SEO yourself, consider delegating it to a team member. This can be a great opportunity for someone interested in growth marketing, development, or web design to build their skills. You could also hire a full-time SEO specialist if your budget allows it.
This person can report to the marketing, development, or design team and contribute cross-functionally to the business.
Outsourcing SEO to an Agency:
If you have no interest in SEO, your team is at capacity, and you can’t spare the budget for a full-time SEO role, outsourcing to a reputable agency may be your best option. An agency can be cost-effective and bring expertise in driving organic traffic, leads, and conversions to your business. They have the experience and don’t require ramp-up time, unlike you or a team member who would need to learn the basics.
Keep in mind that small business SEO costs can refer to either the investment in your organic search strategy or the amount you pay for paid search engine marketing (SEM) services like Google Ads.
The cost may vary depending on the tools or marketing agency you use to optimise your web content. A survey by Impact Plus reported that 61% of marketers named SEO as a top marketing priority in 2021. Thus, to remain competitive, having at least some presence on Google is crucial for your business.
At Indigo, we have SEO packages starting at $799/mth (ex GST).
SEO Resources & Training:
This guide is just a starting point for discovering SEO. But there’s always more to learn.
Here are our suggestions for some of the best free resources on the web to learn more about SEO:
Without actively publishing and optimising its content in search results, no business can stand out online.
By increasing your search visibility, you can bring more visitors, and in turn, conversions and sales. And that’s well worth the time spent becoming an expert in SEO or engaging an agency like Indigo Media Group to help.
Contact us today for a FREE SEO Audit of your website.