Any small business should be focusing on exposing their brand to a wider audience and gaining new leads and retaining customers. Therefore, SEO or Search Engine Optimization is vital for small businesses to achieve a better online presence and grow their business.
It is a common misconception that SEO is only important to large, global corporations. However, search engines are by far the top way customers are discovering new businesses – with research from Google stating that 86% of people use the platform to search for local stores and businesses.
Search volume for small and local businesses is ever increasing – with "near me" searches growing 136% last year alone. In this guide, we’ll explore some key tips, tricks and SEO strategies for small businesses.
What is SEO and why does my small business need it?
Search engine optimization refers to the practices used by websites to rank higher in search engine result pages (SERPs). By increasing your search visibility in your chosen keyword, you’ll be improving your online presence in such a way that grants you more user traffic.
The principles of SEO can be split into the following categories:
- On-site SEO
- Off-site SEO
- Local SEO
On-site SEO – also known as on-page SEO - is the practice of optimizing the elements of your website to rank higher in search results. This includes the use of keywords, the quality of content, the speed of your website, and how mobile-friendly it is. We’ll talk more about content SEO and technical SEO later on in this guide.
Off-site SEO is any practice that takes place outside of your website. This includes external linking, social media marketing, guest blogging, and other forms of external/link building linking tactics.
For a small business’s website to thrive in SERPs, a blend of both on-site and off-site SEO strategies is crucial. Let’s explore some great strategies for small businesses to implement as soon as possible.
Content, content, content!
Content SEO refers to creating and publishing content that people are looking for. Content refers to anything that lives on your website – but this could be articles, web pages, products and more!
Common types of SEO content include blog posts, articles, listicles (“top 10…”) and longer guides just like this one!
Deciding what content to produce
Our first step is to develop a content SEO plan. Firstly, we'll need to determine your goals as a business. What are you looking to achieve? Are you looking to drive sales? Do you want to boost your brand recognition or reputation? Who is your target audience? Are you looking for a global audience or would you like to segment locally?
The best content marketing strategy focuses on solving problems or answering key questions your target audience may have. Large enterprises may employ survey and market research firms to ask their target audience what they’re looking for. Small businesses can start small by asking customers on social media and speaking to their existing clients.
Anything you publish should be SEO optimized. There are a few key considerations here:
- Keyword Research and Optimization
- Content Organization
- Content Promotion
To pick topics and keywords, we’ll need to consider what respond well in SERPs. From speaking to your customers and undergoing your own content research, you’ll likely have some keywords in mind.
It’s useful to assess keywords and also see what’s currently trending. For this step, it’s a great idea to use a keyword research tool. A free and publicly accessible option is Google Trends.
Enter your keyword ideas to see the current search volume. If you’re not quite sure yet on topics, try looking at Trending Searches. To find keywords similar to your market sector or past keywords, type in a relevant search term and check the related terms.
For example, typing in “clothes” may give you vintage clothes or festival clothes when in demand.
Then, we’ll need to pick a keyword – a word or phrase – that will be the focus of your content. This is what you’ll hope users will search to find your site. Short, generic phrases with high search volume like “shoes” or “men’s shoes” will be difficult to convert – i.e. get people to visit your site – due to high competition.
Long-tail keywords refer to keywords that combine three or more words or phrases. These keywords usually attract more relevant traffic, are less competitive and therefore have a higher chance of success.
If you’ve already been doing SEO for a while, nothing beats Google’s Search Console, which provides accurate search volume figures for keywords that you’re already ranking for -- for free. Down the line, it may be worth creating a spreadsheet and categorize the keywords you’re ranking for into clear topics to understand which queries you should focus on thorough keyword mapping.
Another great keyword research tool is Keywords Everywhere – a keyword research browser add-on for Chrome and Firefox. Of course, you can always use more advanced SERP tracking tools like Ahrefs, Semrush and other rank tracking tools, but they may be pricey for small businesses, and if you don’t have an SEO specialist in your team, you may only end up using ⅛ of the features they actually have.
Of course, if you’re unsure of this process and want to get the best mixture of keywords in order to rank for key queries, consider outsourcing and hiring SEO keyword research services.
Once you’ve selected your target keyword, we’ll need to optimize your web pages and content to rank. Some things we’ll need to look out for are:
Keywords should be included in Title tags. This will be the name of the page when it appears on a search result.
Include meta-descriptions: These are short descriptions that will appear below the title in SERPs. It should be a maximum of 155 characters and should also include your keyword.
Don’t overstuff (spam) your keyword: Overinclusion of your keyword is also a real problem. This includes repeating words or phrases out of context or using your keyword too many times.
The metric to look out for here is keyword density. This can be calculated using the following formula:
Keyword Density=Number of WordsCount of Keyword
It’s usually a good idea to stick to less than 2% keyword density. Anything below and it may not be recognised, anything higher and your site could be penalized by search engines.
Next, we’ll explore content optimization and organization. The name of the game is to create content that will keep people on your page for longer and that is easy to read. Therefore, much of these content optimization tips are geared towards readability
Firstly, search engines favor longer content – try making sure your pages are at least 300 words long. Also, you should consider separating your content by subheadings. Don’t make these sections too long either – a good maximum also being 300 words.
Whilst we’re on the topic of length – try not to make your sentence length too long. Sentences over 20 words long are difficult to read, potentially turning visitors away. In a similar fashion, paragraphs should never exceed 200 words. An unwieldy paragraph is hard to read, especially for those who are skimming your content.
There are tools like Frase and Dashword that use AI to help you optimize your content by including relevant topics covered by the top results.
Use a Content Writing Service
When it comes to optimizing for search engines, it’s a great idea to ask professionals for help! Looking into hiring agencies and other providers that offer high-quality SEO content writing services will help your content rank on the first page for relevant queries and convert search visitors into regular customers.
Need some help finding a content writing service? We have a guide just for that: Top SEO content writing services for your needs in 2022.
Next, we’ll focus on technical SEO. This is the practice of ensuring your website means the technical specifications and requirements of search engines.
This means ensuring that search engines can find and crawl through your website to index all of your content.
To help you out with technical SEO, you could perform a site audit on Ahrefs to see what’s going on under the hood. You’ll be able to assess your site’s performance, including identifying if it has too-large CSS or HTML.
A slow website can directly result in lower search rankings. There may be many factors influencing the time it takes for your pages to fully load, but the number one issue affecting page speed is your web page size.
Firstly, try compressing any images, graphics or videos on your site. Consider using newer image codecs like AVIF to drive down the page size. In 2020, the average desktop webpage size was 2080 KB.
Another useful tool is a Content Delivery Network. Often referred to as a CDN, a content delivery network (CDN) is a network of servers spread around the globe that deliver content from servers nearer to a visitor to speed up loading times.
You can use PageSpeed Insights to see how fast your website is.
For the non-technical: Here are some website builders that provide excellent website speed, without you having to tinker much (none of them are WordPress builders):
- Webflow - Powerful visual CMS with a default site speed of nearly 99.
- Unstack - Great for SMBs that want to build a simple website for marketing.
- Shopify - Excellent for eCommerce, with an array of tools available.
An important consideration in technical SEO is how your website is organized. Naturally, as your site grows it will get cluttered – and your hierarchy of content may get muddled and confusing.
This makes it difficult for search engine crawlers to understand your website, resulting in less-than-ideal rankings.
You’re looking for a flat site structure, where your content is organized in clear and distinct categories. Each and every page that is indexable should be easily accessible from your homepage.
Avoid messy structures that create so-called orphan pages. This is referred to content that has no internal links pointing towards them. Search engines take into account internal links and external links into account for search results. Crawlers follow links to discover your content and internal linking is crucial to establish relationships between your content. You can use tools like SEO Scout to spot these orphan pages by identifying pages with 0 inbound links (IBL).
Many regard backlinking as the most important SEO strategy for sustained growth. They’re also referred to as incoming or one-way links. Search engines recognise backlinks as votes of confidence towards your content.
The general idea is that if lots of websites are willing to point towards yours, they must contain high-quality content that is worth checking out. Convincing other websites to link to yours is a huge aspect of off-site SEO.
Not all backlinks are the same. Targeting popular and trustworthy sites for earning backlinks is far more lucrative than small, dead sites with no user traffic. In fact, backlinks from spammy, low-quality websites may hurt your business’s search ranking.
This is known as domain authority (or domain rating by Ahrefs). Think of the sites you use every day and trust. These are extremely high authority sites. A random guy’s WordPress blog is therefore low authority. A backlink from a high authority site is worth infinitely more than one from a low one.
To assess your backlinks, Ahref comes in handy once more. With their site audit tool, you can check the authority of backlinks pointing towards your website.
So, how do you get backlinks? There’s no easy answer, and it’s up to your initiative and imagination to convince other, larger sites to link to yours. Here are some examples:
- Does your small business have a wealth of information that’s ready to be tapped? Your content should be accurate and well-written enough to become a source for journalists and bloggers. Try adding research and statistics into your articles or blog posts in the hope it’ll incentivise others to nick it from you! Services like Help a Reporter can get you in touch with journalists who need your expertise.
- The key is to create content that people want to reference. Complete or ultimate guides are perfect for this. Other sites may want to create short-form articles with links just like this one to reference material. If your site is that material, backlinks galore!
- There are so many different link building tactics out there, such as barnacle SEO, guest blogging, niche edits, link swapping, and so on.
According to research from Backlinko (note the backlink!), “Why” and “What” posts are the most heavily linked to types of content.
It’s important that you don’t create low-quality content to spam topics you think you’ll get search volume in. Your content must be good enough for others to want to share it. That’s why it’s important to work with a content creation agency like Embarque to make sure your work is up to scratch!
Linkbuilding is one of the harder aspects of SEO to learn about. You have to prospect, identify relevant domains, devise an outreach campaign, pitch, and do it all over again. If this process seems intimidating to you, consider hiring SEO link building services.
What about social media links?
Surely social media is high authority, right? Can you use social media for backlinking? Unfortunately, no. Posts like status updates and tweets pointing to your website are no follow links. These don’t contribute to your backlink count and don’t transfer authority to your site.
However, a good social media strategy is great for brand visibility and recognition – so don’t ignore it! When people know about your content, they are more likely to share it in their articles and other types of content as well, which help provide backlinks over time.
Need SEO help?
There you have it, a whistlestop guide for SEO for small businesses. Need some help creating SEO content that inspires your readers and ranks high in search engines? Get in touch today to see how Embarque can help grow your business in our digital age.