Maintaining a business website is critical if you want to reach your target audience. However, just because you have a website doesn’t mean anyone will land on it. Your customers need to be able to find you online if you’re going to survive and thrive in today’s competitive landscape, regardless of which industry your business falls into.
That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. Effective SEO strategy puts you in the fast lane for getting found online and growing your business.
So, here’s what you need to know about the power of small business SEO and the basics to help you find your footing.
What is search engine optimization?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is optimizing your website to rank higher for targeted keywords on Google and other search engines. Businesses use various strategies to climb the ranks, but it’s a long-term process and success doesn’t happen overnight.
Above all, success with SEO means you’ll bring more organic––or unpaid––traffic to your site. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways of growing your brand. Many marketers don’t like to use the term unpaid because it overlooks the work and resources that go into implementing the strategies.
How can SEO help small businesses?
From an opportunity standpoint, SEO allows smaller businesses to compete with larger ones. You can increase your online footprint and win more leads or customers by ranking for relevant keywords via content, social media, reviews, and other forms of audience engagement. However, larger companies will have more resources devoted to these efforts, so SEO isn’t the great equalizer it appears to be.
If you operate a brick-and-mortar location, you should also consider local SEO. Local SEO helps you target people in your specific area, which can help attract more customers to your physical store. If your priority is getting people in the door, local SEO is a great place to start because competition will be limited to companies in your immediate area. In particular, local SEO can help guide customers to your store via the coveted “near me” search query.
Primarily, local SEO has a different goal than simply increasing your search engine footprint. Instead, it’s designed to translate SEO into real-world action by encouraging more phone calls and foot traffic. This is because Google’s local SEO is built to support customers actively searching for a physical business in their community.
The same goes for ecommerce businesses. Even if you lack a physical brick-and-mortar store, you can still use SEO to target customers in your community. For example, many businesses that don’t offer shipping services have a convenient online shopping experience that allows customers to browse and order online, then come pick up their purchases in the store.
Benefits of effective SEO
Why should you invest in SEO for your small business? There are plenty of good reasons, but here are a few that help show how SEO can get you closer to your business goals.
- Increase awareness – Improve your search rankings for relevant keywords and enjoy a larger digital footprint. Focusing on SEO is also a chance to expose your brand to a larger audience, getting your name out there to help supplement other marketing efforts.
- Connect with your audience – The more you know about the terms your audience is using to search for businesses like yours, the more you understand their intent. This knowledge can guide your content creation activities and align your marketing across channels like social and email, too.
- Differentiate from competitors – Strategic small business SEO enables you to stand out from similar companies, even in competitive industries like ecommerce and professional services.
- Generate more leads – The right SEO strategy can help you rank higher in search results, ultimately attracting more traffic to your site. And if you’re targeting the right keywords and phrases, you’ll likely bring in more qualified leads.
Important SEO terms to know
Here are some of the most crucial basic SEO terms to understand for small businesses.
- Search query: What someone types when performing a search
- Traffic: Visitors to your website, either through organic SEO or paid advertising
- Ranking: Your position in the search results for a specific keyword or phrase
- SERP: Search engine results page
- Indexing: When a search engine adds your pages
- Crawling: When someone enters a search query into Google, the search engine crawls the internet according to a set algorithm, to read relevant content and determine how to position it in SERP
- Search intent: The goal behind a user’s search
- White hat vs. black hat SEO practices: White hat SEO involves using ethical techniques, while black hat SEO involves using practices that violate the search engine’s policies. Black hat SEO practices can get your site removed from SERPs entirely
- Featured snippets: The answer box at the top of Google’s search results
- Local pack: Local business listings that appear at the top of a batch of search results.
- “People Also Ask” box: A set of questions and keyword phrases that are directly related to the search query
- Organic vs. paid search: Organic SEO refers to the practices involved in growing your site traffic through unpaid, earned search results. Paid SEO refers to paid techniques like pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
7 basic SEO tips for small businesses
The most important thing to remember about SEO is that you can’t expect immediate results. Impactful SEO strategies involve a conscious, ongoing effort to boost organic site traffic through a variety of methods. These are some of the most basic steps you can take to set your business up for success.
1. Optimize your website technically
Technical website optimization focuses on the more technical aspects of your website, which are the foundation of strong SEO performance. This includes:
- Fast load times
- Clear and logical navigation
- Mobile-first and responsive design
In other words, your site should be easy to use. If it’s beset by bugs and lagging, your other SEO efforts will only take you so far.
2. Focus on the right keywords
Determine which keywords you’ll be targeting. Ideally, you should focus on keywords with high traffic and low competition. Tools like Google Keyword Planner can help you research which keywords are best for your business.
Once you’ve got your target keywords, it’s time to strategically place them in the meta titles, meta descriptions, and content of every relevant page on your website.
Note that your keywords will combine individual words and long-tail phrases. You’ll also have different keywords depending on which stage of the buying journey a page is targeting. For example, some pages may be focused on driving awareness, while others might be more action-oriented and targeted toward customers who are ready to make a buying decision.
3. Consider content marketing
You may have heard this once or twice, but content is king.
Provide your customers with valuable content through blogs, landing pages, white papers, videos, and more to drive engagement. Ultimately, your content is designed to illustrate your brand as a solution to their problems. It’s also an important tool you can use to get people to land on your website through search results.
If you don’t know where to begin, look at your competitors and see what type of content they’re creating on and off their site. Be sure to offer solutions to your customers’ problems. For small businesses with limited resources, artificial intelligence (AI) like ChatGPT can help you make the most of your time.
4. Create a link strategy
The best way to think of linking is two-fold. When other sites link to your website as a backlink, they are essentially giving you an endorsement. The more reputable the website, the more valuable the backlink. When you provide outbound links, you show that your content is well-researched and more authoritative. You should be careful not to link to competitor sites, though.
Linking strategies are essential for SEO to position your site as trustworthy, so you should be working to obtain backlinks from partners, business associations, suppliers, and customers.
Linking between your own content is also a great way to build an intricate web of relevant content that you own. Cross-linking helps guide your customers through their buying journey, and it can help signal to Google that your site is an authority on a specific topic.
5. Use social media
Social media works hand in hand with SEO because popularity on social media indicates that you’re a brand that your audience is interested in.
Like backlinking from authoritative websites, linking a popular Facebook or Instagram feed to your site tells Google that your brand is legit. Site authority is a major factor in improving your search rankings.
6. Make the most of your Google Business Profile
Your Google Business Profile is your official platform on Google. It contains information like address and operating hours, as well as a forum for customers to review your business. Well-reviewed businesses will naturally finish higher on the totem pole and attract more customers.
Once you’ve claimed your business profile, encourage and incentivize as many customers as possible to leave reviews. And don’t forget to respond to reviews (good or bad) to show that you care.
7. Mix in paid efforts to complement organic SEO
Organic SEO takes time––it’s a long-term endeavor. If you’ve got the budget, don’t be afraid to invest in paid Google search ads, too.
When your ads rank in the top results for your chosen keyword or phrase, you can increase your site’s visibility and attract more leads. However, paid SEO has a learning curve, so be prepared to invest in trial-and-error experimentation to get your desired results.
Why it’s important to be patient with SEO
Google doesn’t measure a site’s SEO worthiness by looking at a few days or weeks of performance. It constantly monitors your site with its crawler bots, and evaluates it according to an evolving algorithm.
The top sites spend months and even years of consistent work to get to where they are. Although you can’t expect instant results, consistency builds lasting success, ultimately elevating your business.
Search engine optimization may be complex, but mastering the SEO basics can help put your business in a position to succeed. If you want to grow your customer base both online and offline, implement the above strategies and continually work to improve. It’s called optimization for a reason––the best SEO marketers keep finding ways to get better results.