Search engine optimization (SEO) for small businesses can be overwhelming. We created this practical guide to cover the most common Small Business SEO services.
While the algorithms a search engine uses are extremely complex, the actions the bot is trying to perform are straightforward.
As the graphic shows bots care about 3 things: what the page is about, where to file it, and in what order.
Focuses solely on the element of the page itself that helps the bot determine what the page is about and under which keyword(s) to file it.
It gives each page an authority or page score which is a measure of the ‘clout’ the author has on the topic. We cite a respected author more often than an unknown author. The more ‘trusted’ your site is, the higher your ranking will be. Off page SEO helps to build clout.
Technical SEO pertains to the coding of the page, page structure, and site structure. This is more for developers, but there are some simple things you can do that can help.
We will take each of the major elements of SEO apart and explain them step by step. The one thing to remember is that we share the same goal as the search engines. We both want satisfied users.
A satisfied user is one who finds relevant information that answers the intent of the question he or she is asking. I emphasize intent because it is more important to understand why the user is asking than how they choose to ask it.
In this section we will discuss keywords, tags, and meta descriptions. We will also cover the importance of the user experience as a proxy for user satisfaction.
We generally define a keyword as a three to five word phrase that encapsulates the intent of the query. Before you get started, I suggest you take the time to create a keyword strategy and SEO strategy.
As a rule of thumb, we use:
There are only three tags that matter in an SEO campaign - the title tag, the H1 tag, and H2 tag. The title tag is self-explanatory.
The title should be between 55-60 characters long. It should lead with the keyword, followed by a pipe symbol, then the company name.
The example above shows the author Time Out New York would like this page to be filed under the keyword “New York Restaurants & Reviews”. This is the best way to signal your keyword intent to the search engines.
Header tags are a level down from the title. The H1 tag is the main headline tag. The H1 tag should tell the reader why they should care. The subheadings H2s are a level below H1 and should cover the 2-3 focal points of the content.
H1 and H2 are minor ranking factors. Google ignores H3 and below, but can still be helpful to the reader for navigation. It is best practice to have 1 title tag, 1 headline tag, and at least 2 subheadings.
They do not use meta descriptions in ranking, but they are very important for user experience. Remember, both you and Google want the same thing, a satisfied searcher. The meta description allows the user to self-select whether this content is what they want.
The meta description has a maximum of 160 characters. Best practice is to have a one-sentence summary with a clear call to action.
It is best practice to write with one keyword in mind. When creating content, it is important to research what is important to your audience. For example, you could review what is trending on social media.
Google measures user satisfaction via three key metrics - bounce rate, page speed, and dwell time. Bounce rate is the percentage of users who only visit one page. From a search engine perspective, a high bounce rate by itself is not bad.
However, a high bounce rate with a low dwell time indicates a poor user experience. Dwell time is the number of seconds a user spends on a page or site.
Finally, we need to discuss page speed. Page speed is a major factor because it is the main driver of mobile bounce rate.
Search engines like Google have moved to a mobile first ranking system. Therefore if your web design is not fast, it will negatively affect your website rank.
When Google developed the first modern search engine, they based it on links. Its simplicity was genius. Every link a page received was, in the simplest terms, a vote of confidence. The more votes a page, it has ranked higher.
That simple idea, coupled with a lot of complex mathematics, revolutionized the way we find information. It worked beautifully. However, it was easy to cheat, so the algorithm is now much more complex. Links remain a powerful ranking factor, but the scales are now tipped to quality over quantity.
This is probably the hardest task of all, especially if you are a small business. Awareness is a key challenge for many small businesses. Highly respected sites are not likely to link to a site they do not know.
We will cover the two most common techniques used to build links, called skyscraper content and guest posting.
In this technique, you search from the leading pages for your keywords. Next, you seek the articles that may be dated or have not been updated. After reading the article, you email the author proposing so changing that could improve the post.
Naturally, you would include a link back to your article in the proposal. This technique works, but its success depends on how well known you are and the value of the improvement.
A guest post is where you post an article on another blog site. The site has an editorial board which vets content. Typically, you can get one author link back to your site.
For guest posts, you need to research the websites in your industry that have the highest domain authority. Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMRush all have tools that can help.
Next, you need to research these sites to see if they accept guest posts. If they do, follow their procedures. Each site is different, so it is important to read the details.
A full review of technical SEO is beyond a step-by-step guide. However, we should cover two simple but important aspects - robots.txt and sitemaps.
Robots.txt is a simple text file on your server that allows a bot to crawl the page. You want to make sure that it looks something like this:
A sitemap is simply a list of all the universal record locations (URLs) that are live on your site. This file can help bots discover new pages faster.
Your hosting service, your content management system (e.g. WordPress plugin), or through a 3rd party site can generate sitemaps. One generated, make sure that is loaded to a page on your site like the example above.
All the steps we just covered are very important. But, for local businesses, it is critical to get your local SEO right. Your online marketing will be so much more effective if you do.
As you can see from the example below, the local pack lets you jump to the front of the line in organic searches near your physical location(s)
It is hands down the best feature Google offers for small businesses. Local search can be amazingly successful.
To rank well in local search, you need to have several local pages linking to your local site. Just like links provide authority to content. Local links are a powerful signal that your local listing is legit.
Google My Business is one of the best ways to ensure your local business is tracked by Google. It is worth the time and effort to claim your business location or create one. It is relatively easy to do.
The MOST important thing in local search is the consistency of three data points. Your business name, address, and phone number. Make sure your NAP is the same everywhere.
Every city has a list of local businesses. You will want to make sure they list your business on them. Your local chamber of commerce is a great place to start, as is your local small business administration chapter. Most SEO companies will offer this service for a fee.
The star rating that you receive on Google is based on your reviews on Google My Business. Reviews are critical because they are a powerful signal that your business is legitimate and is active. You should take every opportunity to encourage your customers to leave reviews.
If your business has multiple locations, you will want to make sure that each location has its own page and listing. It may be more work to manage multiple listings. However, you could gain the benefit of being in the local pack for more than just your primary location.
The three main small business SEO services all small business owners should consider:
ProStrategix is a full-service digital marketing agency. Please reach out to us if you have questions or need any help with ensuring your website is getting the most visibility on search that it can.
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Brian Cairns, CEO of Prostrategix Consulting. Over 25 years of business experience as a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and small business owner. For more information, please visit my LinkenIn profile
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