I’m sure you’ve heard.
SEO traffic converts like crazy. And there’s plenty of data to prove it.
And so on.
But you get none of it.
* Sigh *
That’s why we created this guide - to show you what’s involved in a typical SEO strategy for a small business.
But I’m afraid we have to start with bad news.
You see this is not a step-by-step plan.
But that’s exactly the knowledge you need to win in Google.
If you run a small business and are looking for new ways to attract online audience, this guide is for you. We’ll show you every area you need to work on to win organic rankings.
If you run an online store and want to attract more organic visitors, this guide is for you too. It will help you familiarize with the key concepts of SEO and give you confidence to start building on that knowledge.
According to Statista, there are 191 million online buyers in the US today.
And at least 44% of them begin their journey to product ownership in a search engine.
SEO ensures that your site shows up when they look for what you sell.
Ranking for various keywords relating to your products or services helps you to:
But none of this will happen unless you position your site in search.
Before you do anything else, you need to decide what you want to achieve by investing time and money in SEO.
Any goals you choose will help you plan your entire strategy. And let’s face it, without them SEO is nothing more than a time and money wasting exercise.
You may decide to use search engines to spread the news about your brand. You can do that by creating content that aims to attract new audiences.
Ideal for: New sites that need to first establish themselves in the marketplace.
You may also want to increase the visibility of your products or services in search engines to attract potential buyers.
Ideal for: Ecommerce or service based sites.
If you run a content-based site (a news outlet for instance) you may decide to increase your pages, blog posts, videos and other content types visibility in search engines.
Ideal for: Content based sites like magazines, publications, blogs or sites providing educational content.
Last but not least, you may want to attract more customers, leads and sales from a search engine.
Ideal for: Pretty much every website with commercial intent behind it.
Therefore, as a first step, you need to define your objectives.
When doing so however, remember that these goals should relate to your business’ objectives.
For instance, if you’re only starting up, you should focus on increasing your brand’s awareness in search, raising authority and building an audience.
If you run an ecommerce site with an established customer base however, you may use search to increase your sales and market share.
When deciding on your objectives, follow a SMART goals methodology. Make sure that your objectives are:
You should define your goals as clearly as possible.
“Increase traffic” may sound like a great objective. In truth however, attracting 10 new visitors to your site would have already achieved it but would that have any impact on your business?
“Increase non-branded traffic by 15% within the next 6 months” on the other hand is specific and simple to measure.
Building on the previous characteristic – you should have no trouble gauging your progress. Define milestones to help you monitor if your efforts bring you closer to completing your goal.
You need to be able to achieve your goals too. Aiming at millions of dollars in online sales in first year might sound like a great plan. But if your site never ranked before and you work in a competitive industry, you will probably be better off setting up a more realistic goal.
You also need to ensure that your goals are relevant to your business. Setting off to increase sales if you don’t offer anything for sale might prove difficult to achieve.
Finally, you should also work out a timeline for achieving your goals. It will help you allocate resources and schedule various campaign elements but also manage expectations.
Here’s an example of a well-defined SEO goal:
“To increase non-branded traffic by 15% within the next 6 months.”
Keywords are the foundation of SEO.
Everyday, people use keywords to find information, products or services.
To attract them to your site, you need to discover what phrases they are likely to use to find what you sell.
Think of the last time you had to describe your company to someone. I bet you used phrases you felt communicate it best:
But your potential customers might type in different phrases into search engine to find you:
Keyword research helps you discover those very terms and phrases your audience might be using to find what you sell.
Without this knowledge you could be missing out on a lot of potential traffic.
Given the complexity of keyword research, we will only scratch its surface in this guide. Later on however I will point you to our more in-depth resources that will guide you step by step through the entire process.
For now though, let’s learn more about different types of keywords customers might use.
Depending on what they’re looking for, customers will type different search queries into a search engine.
They will use a single term or category when their knowledge on the subject is limited. Or ask a question when they’re looking for very specific information.
Various types of keywords relate to different stages of a customer’s journey. It’s important that you learn to recognise them. This knowledge will make it easy to discern phrases with commercial potential.
Let’s see how it works then.
Head keywords often contain nothing more than a single word or phrase, i.e.: “book”, “apple” or “shoes”.
They are generic and often don’t reveal what the user’s really searching for. For instance, someone searching for “apple” might be looking for information about a fruit, electronics manufacturer or the Beatles’ old record company.
Head keywords receive high traffic but rarely convert.
Body keywords are longer and often include additional information regarding the user’s search, i.e.: “Apple laptop”. It’s now easier to discern what the person’s looking for. Although we still don’t know what laptop model they might have in mind.
Long tail terms describe the searcher’s intent in detail, i.e. “Apple Macbook Air 13inch”. Customers often use long tail keywords when they are ready to buy.
We can also categorise keywords by their role in the buying process. There are 4 keywords types that relate to a buyer’s intent– informational, navigational, commercial and transactional.
Searchers use these keywords when they search for information. They are easy to recognise by such phrases as “how to”, “where” or “how”.
When looking for information about a particular brand, company or product, searchers use navigational keywords. These keywords often include only a brand or company’s name.
Commercial keywords often help customers find and compare products or services. You can recognise them by words like “best”, “compare”, “order” in conjunction with brand or product name (i.e. “best Nike men’s shoes”, “compare iPad covers”, “best tablet for Christmas”).
Lastly, customers use transactional keywords to find products they want to buy. These keywords often include terms like “buy” or “for sale”, “for rent” etc. and describe the need behind the product (“buy iPad Mini cover”).
Being able to recognize different types of keywords helps to:
Your website is the centre of your SEO strategy.
Elements such as website architecture, server location but also content and page optimisation are, among others, the key Google ranking factors.
And therefore, optimising a site is one of the most crucial aspects of any SEO strategy.
This process is divided into two parts:
Let’s look at each of them in detail.
On-page optimisation provides factors that make it easy for a search engine to find, index and then understand content on a site.
Key on-page optimisation factors include:
Various research confirmed that Google uses feedback from users (i.e. time on site and SERPs click-through-rate) to rank a site.
And therefore, the more appealing your site is to your users, the more appealing it is to Google too.
If your site features a clear structure, making information easy to find, your visitors are less likely to bounce off it or spend little time on a page.
But if your site is only a jumble of pages with no logical structure and flow of information, visitors will have hard time finding what they’re looking for and thus, leave the site at a snap.
Google finds and indexes pages on your site by crawling from one page to another. In other words, it follows your structure to discover pages you want it to index and display in search results.
The better you organise pages and information on your site then, the easier it will be for Googlebot and other crawlers to access and index them.
The two key meta-tags (title and description) are important ranking factors providing a concise summary of what the page is about.
Search engines also use them to display information about a page in search results.
You should strive to optimise your meta-tags to include all relevant information that might help a search engine understand your site but also, entice searchers to click.
After content, title-tag is the second most important on-page ranking factor. It helps a search engine to discern what the page is about.
A title-tag also works like a headline, telling a user if a page contains the information they’re looking for.
There are few best practices for setting up title tags:
Although description meta-tag has lost a lot of its original ranking importance it still sends a relevancy signal, helping a search engine to understand the content on a page.
Description tag also allows you to include a longer page overview in Google’s search listing. It is therefore still a good practice to define it for each page, even if Google no longer uses it as a ranking signal.
Headers help to organise content on a page into sections and make it easier to read.
But what’s important, Google uses HTML header tags, which define page headers in code as relevancy signals and ranking factors.
For instance, according to this research, pages with a <h2> tag defined typically rank higher than those pages without a header.
Images send a search engine a very strong relevancy signal through their file name, alt text, title or caption.
On top of that, they have an opportunity to drive traffic from image based search engines as well as social media.
To optimise images, you need to include a page’s keyword in:
Content on a page is important for many reasons:
It is safe to say that pages with poor content stand a very little chance to achieve good rankings.
There are similarly many factors that affect how useful content is for rankings:
The number of and quality of links pointing to a page from other pages on a site are both strong ranking factors:
A sitemap is a file containing links to all pages on a site. It helps search engine to find and index your site much quicker.
Having a sitemap prevents Google from overlooking certain pages on your site and gives it a road map to index it thoroughly.
This term encompasses 3 key aspects of your website’s setup that help search engines find, crawl and index your pages. Namely:
Crawling relates to ensuring that all pages on a site can be crawled by search engines. This is typically achieved through:
This area relates to monitoring whether your pages are being indexed or there are any issues with crawling your content.
The last part relates to monitoring how your pages rank in search. Do right pages rank for right keywords? Is your website ranking as high as it could, given its current setup and authority?
For instance, a wrong page ranking for a particular keyword might suggest indexing problems. This could be due to many factors, from content optimisation, a problem with internal linking or navigation.
Whether you’re launching a new site or will be promoting an existing site, site audit is always the first thing you do before launching an SEO campaign.
In simplest terms, site audit is a process of examining your website to establish what is good about it and what is not. Site audit helps to identify potential problems that could hinder all your organic search efforts and tell you if a site is ready to compete for rankings.
A site audit you can reveal:
Quality content is the key to achieving high rankings.
Search engines have only one goal – to provide the best user experience. And that means, delivering relevant and quality information.
It’s only natural then that only pages offering value to users stand a chance to rank high in search.
But what makes content good for SEO?
In the past search engines used a predictable algorithm to establish what pages to rank. They used to match a users search query with words on a page. If the two matched, they displayed the page in search results.
That was a system easy to game.
You just had to fill a page with keywords you wanted to rank for and bam! Google showed your site in SERPs.
It didn’t matter that such copy delivered little or no value. As long as it helped to rank, website owners were happy to use it.
But this provided very poor user experience. And thus few years ago however Google began tackling low quality pages.
As Amit Shingal, Google Fellow points:
“Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find ‘high-quality’ sites by reducing the rankings of low quality content.”
Today, instead of looking at keywords only, search engines assess content’s quality and its usefulness among many other factors before they rank it.
Key elements they’re looking for include:
Today’s content should deliver the highest possible quality. This means that it should be:
Content should also entice users to interact with it. There are many factors Google take into consideration when assessing content’s engagement:
Search engines prefer new content.
With a Caffeine update, Google began to favour recently refreshed content, especially for time-sensitive searches. To highlight this even further, the search engine began displaying a date a page was last updated on.
This doesn’t mean however that you need to keep on updating every piece of content on a site. It’s worth however to create content revolving around trending topics and keep those pages fresh. This way you can enjoy top rankings for days or weeks while a topic is trending.
All elements of small business SEO we discussed so far related to your website in one way or another.
And all of them are important.
But if you’re interested in increasing your search traffic, then you also have to build backlinks.
Backlinks are links pointing to your site from external websites Google uses to establish its authority.
Think of them as recommendations for your business. The more people refer, recommend or simply mention your company (in a positive way, of course), the more likely your prospects will want to do business with you.
Search engines operate in a similar way. They consider every link to your site as a confirmation of its authority. After all, who would be referring their visitors to a site they don’t consider good quality?
But when it comes to backlinks, it’s not just the quantity that matters.
In fact, low quality backlinks can damage your rankings or even get your site penalised. That’s why you need to assess the quality of each potential link source before building a link.
There are various factors affecting the quality and strength of a backlink:
Cory Collins defines it as:
“Intelligent promotion of a website, page, or asset with the primary intention of building a link.”
Many other SEO will refer to it as a marketing strategy to build brand awareness or increase a website trust and authority with search engines.
All of those definitions are true.
But in practical terms, link building simply aims to create as many backlinks and references to your site.
Building links is rarely a once-off enterprise. Typically businesses devote months to properly conduct a full link building campaign.
The process begins with current backlink profile analysis.
First and foremost, you or whomever you hire to work on your SEO must assess backlinks currently pointing to your site.
How many backlinks do you have? What’s the authority of linking domains? Are they all good quality? Are there any links that could potentially cause a penalty?
Next, depending on the findings you might have to clean the current link profile.
If your backlink profile includes a number of poor quality links, it might be worth to remove them before building more links. Leaving them as they are may result in a Google penalty and loss of rankings.
Next you need to decide on your campaign’s goals and budget.
We’ve already discussed the importance of setting goals earlier in this guide.
But clearly defined goals will also help you devise a budget for the campaign.
Link building costs money. You need to decide how much money you can devote to promoting your site.
Next comes formulating a plan.
Once you know your current situation, goals and a budget, it’s time to plan the entire strategy.
Your plan will involve details of a linkable asset you will create.
It will also describe how you are going to promote the asset to gain links. What steps are you going to take to spread the word on your content? What channels will you focus? Will you target other bloggers and influencers? Or use paid advertising to position your asset in front your audience?
Last steps in a plan will define production schedule, launch date and key performance indicators.
Your business doesn’t operate in a silo.
Other companies offer similar products or services to yours, target the same audience and rank for the same terms.
As part of your SEO work therefore you should monitor and analyse both the market and competition.
Your online competitors might be different to companies you are used to competing with offline. And that’s for various reasons:
And therefore, the first step in competitor analysis is to identify sites you compete against and pick 2 or 3 for further research.
Next you need to compare your website and online strategies to:
Identify keywords they use and compare standard keywords metrics:
Analyse their sites to find out:
Assess their content.
Last but not least, make a list of keywords or content ideas you think you should incorporate in your strategy.
You may consider the above as a violation of your competitor’s privacy. In truth however, competitive intelligence is neither unethical nor new.
Businesses have always been researching their competitors’ strategies.
In the old days however, they were restrained to checking out their competitors’ marketing collaterals or taking a sneak peek at their trade show booths.
Today, with all the sophisticated analytics tools you can research competitors from the comfort of your office.
None of this however makes the strategy unethical.
The final element is establishing if the strategy actually works.
SEO is tough.
You devise a strategy, decide on goals and ensure both website and content pass the highest criteria. You relentlessly build links and promote the site.
But it’s hard to know if you’re making any progress. Well, unless you constantly measure your key performance indicators (KPIs).
According to Investopedia, KPIs are:
“A set of quantifiable measures that a company or industry uses to gauge or compare performance in terms of meeting their strategic and operational goals. “
They are various metrics that reflect your goals and help you establish if you’re making any progress in achieving them. For instance, if your goal is to increase traffic to the site by 15%, your main performance indicator will be traffic growth for a specific period.
But apart from indicating progress, KPIs also help to:
KPIs vary from business to business. Depending on goals you set your business to achieve, you may be tracking a whole range of different metrics.
There are however universal SEO KPIs you will track regardless of your objectives:
That’s it, every single element of a small business SEO strategy.
Now, after completing this guide you should have a good understanding of what’s involved in promoting a small business in search.
Throughout the guide we suggested various additional resources to help you learn more on each topic. Read them all. They’ll provide you with additional information you need to start preparing your first SEO campaign.
And after that, it’s all in practice.