Oh the dreaded topic of SEO for Small Business. It makes grown digital marketers tremble in their boots.
So you used our guide to set yourself up a great website. It has it all, it’s fast, professionally looking, has great content and products/services and is responsive for mobile.
But you have no traffic and specifically, you have no “organic” traffic. People aren’t finding your services or your business organically (through a search).
Diagnosis: Dead on arrival.
But what is a small business owner to do? SEO audits and Agencies are expensive, and giving access to your website to a third party is always risky. As a young start-up or entrepreneur, you really don’t need even more risk.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is a set of rules and techniques to make Google, Bing or other search engines “like” your page. Ideally they should like your page so much, that they will display it before your competition.
Google or Bing doesn’t evaluate if your services/products are of value or if your content is good. All they care for is a set of metrics that the site has to fulfill to have a preferred spot in its listing.
Search engines do not see websites like we do, they can’t view images or watch video. They see text and links. SEO helps search engines to understand your website to position it preferably for your business.
And since online search, like any other area of your business, is competitive you have to compete for it with others.
While a competent social game around your brand or product is good, the majority of internet users navigate the web using search engines. Your social will never be able to compete with the raw volume of organic search if done right.
How does it work?
For the sake of simplicity let’s focus on just one search engine, Google. Other search engines exist but the principles here are largely universal and Google is the de-facto industry leader by a wide margin anyways. It’s so popular that it became its own verb.
This article is nowhere near comprehensive, SEO is a highly complex topic and experts are being paid thousands to optimize sites, adding value to businesses. But it will get you acquainted with the logic of search engines and how to structure your content.
Let’s say you are a plumber in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
How would your clients search for your services? They would go on Google and type perhaps something like “plumber atlanta”
If you have a website but you only talk about plumbing on it, chances are people aren’t going to find you. Google indexes pages not on context, it does it on keywords.
In your case “plumber atlanta” would be a preferred keyword.
If your landing page never mentions “plumber” or “atlanta” and is largely just a description of services, skills or pricing lists, Google will think it’s irrelevant to “plumber atlanta” and not display it in the search results.
Similarly if your keyword density on the site (the amount of times you use “plumber” or “atlanta”) is low, only repeating a few times, it will display the page lower in the results.
But beware, just repeating the keyword incurs penalties as well. The so-called over-optimization of pages with keywords is filtered by Google as well.
Also remember that Google isn’t able to view images and index them. If your site has a lot of images of plumbing in Atlanta without a description (so called alt text), the search engine will ignore them and they will not count. Alt Text will give Google an anchor of what the image is about and it will count it towards evaluating its relevance.
Now lets say we have two sites that are functionally equal in the above. They have the same keyword density, everything is alt-tagged they have the same relevance to the search parameters.
How does Google decide which one to display first in its listing?
It’s simple, it will display the one first that has the highest “authority”. Authority is decided in many ways, but primarily by how many other sites of high authority link to it.
Lets say that one of the sites has a “backlink” from the BBC, because it featured in one of their articles. BBC.com has a high authority, therefore it gives “weight” to its link.
The more of these links you have, the higher your website and business will be ranked in the listing for that search.
And building good backlinks is hard. High authority sites are hard to reach and won’t give out links to random businesses.
So where does a startup, entrepreneur or small business start with their SEO and backlink building?
There are a few ways and as with everything you have to start small, perhaps by guest blogging on a smaller but popular blog relevant to your topic. Another way is to use authoritative aggregators or suggest content you wrote to sites of that particular interest.
But it’s not the only way to increase your rank.
Outbound links are just as important, as they build trust on part of the search engine. But be mindful and link to high quality and trusted sources. The more of these links you have, the higher your trust with Google.
Consider this, if a site links to content that is malicious or spam, it itself is likely malicious or spam. It’s being guilty by association.
Must-Have SEO Tools
Google Search Console gives you some invaluable tools to position and target your site better on Google.
You can decide which of your domains should be indexed and displayed, and how (with or without the “www”). It can target your site to a specific location or region as well. And lastly google will inform you if your site is infected with malware, so it adds another layer of security!
Google Analytics gives you the ability to precisely track your website visitors and their actions on the page. This is a font of great data because it shows how people navigate your site. You can see the path of interaction with your content and links, so you can tailor the to be more appealing.
Additionally Google Analytics will tell you where visitors came from, both geographically and on the internet, so you can see which links work and which don’t.
If you have a WordPress site as we suggested, the Yoast SEO plugin will make handling SEO on your page a breeze. It will keep track of the simple things and evaluate every page and post for keywords, keyword density, alt text etc. so you can first focus on the content, but then tweak it to have a great SEO score.
The MozBar extension for Chrome is a valuable tool for competitor research and evaluating your own efforts.
The toolbar will display any sites Domain Authority and Rank scores and give you insights in how you or your competitors are doing at a glance.
I found the SEO Analyzer from Neil Patel only recently and found it a quick and easy tool to evaluate sites if I don’t want to dive in too deep.
The analyzer creates metrics around your SEO and page speed, which are important reference points for both usability and page rank. Not only that, but the service also gives you suggestions on what to improve and shows you exactly which keywords are being indexed.
SEO is a highly complex topic and one article like this post is unlikely to solve all your problems. But it will put your business website on a path of steady improvement.
It’s surprising how improving just a few things that are easily correctable can have good results in this case. After all if you had zero search results before, even getting 10 is an improvement. That’s 10 more potential clients interested in your services!
But what if its not enough? There’s only so much a founder or entrepreneur can do by themselves.
If you need to grow, consider investing into SEO, it can have a great return on your investment. We are glad to help you if you need us.
Alternatively you can always double down and try and learn the basics yourself, but you will have to go deep down the rabbit hole and potentially pass up other growth opportunities.
Always weigh your opportunity-cost.
Also published on Medium.