Today I am going to share 5 simple but powerful Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips on how you can take your small business from invisible to visible — and stand out from your competition. Figuring out SEO can be crazy complicated, especially for small business owners. Google and other online search engines keep changing their rules, and SEO marketing specialists are happy to charge you a lot of money for their version of advanced rocket science.
The truth is, a lot of their strategy and tactics are geared for big business, and there are a lot of great free, easy-to-use tools to help you build your SEO skills and your online visibility. It just takes a little time and practice. It’s a lot like juggling. Start out by keeping it simple, and then add more advanced techniques as you learn and implement the basic strategies.
Before we jump into our SEO tips, let’s cover some search engine optimization basics. Moz has an excellent overview of how search engines work. Here is the most important information from this excellent article.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) basic principles
How do search engines work?
Search engines have three primary functions:
- Crawl: Scour the Internet for content, looking over the code/content for each URL they find.
- Index: Store and organize the content found during the crawling process. Once a page is in the index, it’s in the running to be displayed as a result to relevant queries.
- Rank: Provide the pieces of content that will best answer a searcher's query, which means that results are ordered by most relevant to least relevant.
What is search engine crawling?
Crawling is the discovery process in which search engines send out a team of robots (known as crawlers or spiders) to find new and updated content. Content can vary — it could be a webpage, an image, a video, a PDF, etc. — but regardless of the format, content is discovered by links.
Googlebot starts out by fetching a few web pages, and then follows the links on those webpages to find new URLs. By hopping along this path of links, the crawler is able to find new content and add it to their index called Caffeine — a massive database of discovered URLs — to later be retrieved when a searcher is seeking information that the content on that URL is a good match for. The information stored in the index is what is used to return search engine results pages when a user types in a search query in Google or any other search engine.
Search engine ranking
When someone performs a search, search engines scour their index for highly relevant content and then orders that content in the hopes of solving the searcher's query. This ordering of search results by relevance is known as ranking. In general, you can assume that the higher a website is ranked, the more relevant the search engine believes that site is to the query.
Start with your website visibility
First, make sure that your website is actually visible and searchable by the search engine bots. You need to make sure that it is accessible to crawlers and is indexable.
Otherwise you are as good as invisible to them and the rest of the online world. Start by checking how many of your pages are in the index. One easy way to check your indexed pages is to type “site:yourdomainname.com,” an advanced search operator query into the Google search bar. Google will return the results for what it has indexed with your site domain name.
For more accurate results, monitor and use the Index Coverage report in Google Search Console. You can sign up for a free Google Search Console account if you don't currently have one. With this tool, you can submit sitemaps for your site and monitor how many submitted pages have actually been added to Google's index, among other things.
However, If you're not showing up anywhere in the search results, there are a few possible reasons why:
- Your site is brand new and hasn't been crawled yet.
- Your site isn't linked to from any external websites.
- Your site's navigation makes it hard for a robot to crawl it effectively.
- Your site contains some basic code called crawler directives that is blocking search engines.
- Your site has been penalized by Google for spammy tactics.
SEO Tip #1:
Understand your audience.
First of all, you need to identify what problems you solve for your customers. Do you have a unique selling proposition for your business? If you cannot speak clearly to your customers’ desires or needs, they won’t be able to figure it out. They will end up totally frustrated and leave your website. Make your content clear and directed specifically to what they want or need.
Most importantly, choose keywords that your audience uses to search online. Sometimes people think that they are looking for one thing, but in reality, they want something totally different. Imagine what Apple would have used for search terms when they first launched the iPhone. Nobody knew what an iPhone or smartphone was. Therefore, Apple would have included search terms such as “best Blackberry phone”, “best Palm Pilots,” “best Motorola phones,” etc. in their keywords list to make sure that they were connecting with their intended audience.
Follow Apple’s example. First include terms that are related to their search, and then add keywords that are related to when they are not sure of what they are searching for. Finally, use tools such as kwfinder or Ubersuggest to find related or alternative search terms to add to your list. Use your list of keywords consistently in your content, page titles, meta descriptions and tags.
Use these keywords to plan your content strategy. This will ensure that you write about topics that people are actually looking for, and it’s a great way to brainstorm new blog post ideas and marketing content. When you are reviewing keywords, pick ones that have the highest search volume and low competition. Repeat your keywords in your content to boost your SEO rankings and help you show up in Google snippets. Don’t forget to look at your competitor’s websites to find out what keywords they are using!
Tools to use: Whiteboard, notebook, digital spreadsheet or notebook such as Evernote. Right now, I am into mind-mapping tools such as Scapple and Xmind.
Time involvement: Medium
SEO Tip #2:
Optimize your page content
Speak to your audience. Use their language, not yours. Localize your content to your audience. For example, Minneapolis and St. Paul are two specific geographic regions in the Midwest, but locals refer to the entire metro area as “the Twin Cities.” If local business is important to you, make sure to include the specific geographic keywords that people use. In this example, words would include “Minneapolis,” “St. Paul,” “Twin Cities,” and possibly specific neighborhood names.
Use any of the recommended tools to optimize your keywords, website page titles, meta descriptions and body content. I like Yoast, since it gives me a list of recommendations, even though I don’t always agree with it. The goal is to get all of these critical pieces working together and supporting your overall website strategy. It takes time to complete this but is an important part of a successful online strategy.
Examples of activities that help make your site more user-friendly:
- Optimize your site to be mobile-friendly.
- Use SSL certification to indicate that your site is secure.
- Create user-friendly page URLs like “yourname.com/about” instead of URLs with numbers “yourname.com/php-21565.”
- Build an XML site map to help 1) people find content and 2) search engine bots to index your site pages.
SEO Tip #3:
Take care of technical SEO issues
Some of the most common technical SEO problems have to do with:
Speed. Optimize your page load speed. Viewers will leave within a few seconds if your site is taking too long to load. Google now ranks page load speed as a factor in ranking your site. Check your bounce rate in your analytics dashboard.
- Duplicate content. Google will ding your ranking if it finds lots of duplicate content.
- Broken links.
- Improper use of canonical link elements.
- Un-optimized pages.
Time involvement level: High
SEO Tip #4:
Add credible backlinks, citations and directory links to your website.
Create business directory listings that are appropriate to your business. Make sure that your listings are accurate and complete. At minimum, include your business name, address and phone (also called “NAP”) information consistently in your business listings. Your NAP must be consistent everywhere online, or search engines such as Google will rank your site as unreliable, since the information is not reliable and potentially misleading.
Next, identify your local influencers who are relevant to your business referral network. You will want to work with them to create backlinks to your site. I recommend you make a list of your top 25-50 potential business directory listings and allocate time every week to complete one or two.
SEO Tip #5:
Monitor your top competitors.
Make a list of your top 5 to 10 direct and indirect competitors and build time in your calendar to check their websites and search listings on a monthly or quarterly basis. If they consistently outrank you in organic search rankings, investigate their approach with each of these SEO tips.
First, use free tools such as Neil Patel’s SEO analyzer to compare their website with yours. Follow up by making the recommended changes and re-testing the results every month to track your results. I have been using Neil Patel’s SEO analyzer tool regularly since I launched my new website in January, and I have seen excellent progress towards better SEO rankings. It takes time but is worth the effort. My current goals are to clean up keywords and optimize scripts to reduce the number of requests.
Tools to use: SEO analyzer
Time: Medium to high
Constantly test and improve your content and keywords
In conclusion, SEO takes time. First, set realistic expectations. It will take you weeks if not months to fix SEO content and technical problems to build up your SERP rankings. Three to six months is a reasonable amount of time to see improvements for your keyword rankings.
Constantly test your content. Choose quality over quantity, so you do not get penalized for keyword stuffing or duplicate content. SEO research is an ongoing task, much like keeping your favorite mode of transportation clean and running well. Finally, monitor your results on a regular basis, so you can shift proactively if you notice changes to your site traffic.