The finer points of small business SEO

When it comes to effective marketing, search engine optimization is too important for small businesses to ignore.
0623 Ec Feat Seo

Small businesses are always looking to make a good first impression, and the best way to do that is to have a web presence that not only attracts but also informs customers and potential customers alike. That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) can help.

SEO optimizes a business website, making it easier for search engines like Google to find it, bringing more people to the site. The ultimate goal is to rank higher in search results, and that’s where keywords play an important role.

As long as there are websites, SEO will continue to evolve. To keep pace, small business owners may need to choose between spending either their time or their money to succeed.

In this exploration of SEO, three things became evident: content rules, Google is king, and patience is a virtue.

Top 10 list

Recently, BDC, a Canadian bank, posted an article on how to attract people to a website (“10 SEO Tips for Small Businesses”). We used BDC’s 10 tips as a framework for the professional insight of local web experts — Tony Herman, co-founder at Webstix; Dylan Thompson, director of Powderkeg; and Greg Elam, president of GetSpecific Website Marketing.

Tip 1: Find the right keywords

Searchers need to be able to find a business website, so companies should develop a list of 20 to 50 keywords —  including slang or shortened words — that people might search for. Keywords should be used on every page, in the company’s URL address, in titles, and in the website’s metadata descriptions describing site content for search engines.

Why does this matter? Elam explains: “The first page in Google is where things happen; the second page, not so much. That’s why marketing toward keywords is so important. I use the Google keywords tool, which compiles a list of keywords — there might be hundreds! Usually, I compile them first and then write the metatags.”

Be proactive, Thompson advises. “Think of the questions people will search for that your business can solve. Make these questions the title and provide answers in the content. These are called long-tail keyword searches and make up a larger portion of the overall search volume than the highly competitive words you might think of first.”

Tip 2: Focus on unique offerings

Use words that differentiate your company, including your geographic location. There’s a lot of competition for keywords, especially in pay-per-click campaigns, so niche keywords are recommended.

Tip 3: Don’t overstuff your site with keywords

“Google is smart and will catch on to these types of games,” warns Thompson. “Your No. 1 goal should be to write good and valuable content and work your keywords in organically.”

Tip 4: Build links to your site

The more people are directed to a web­site, the higher that site will rank in searches. It’s common to ask other industry-related businesses to link back to your website and vice versa, “so ethically create backlinks,” Elam says, “and check your ranking often.”

Thompson cautions against purchasing backlinks. “It can be very tempting to do, as backlinks do improve your SEO, but Google has many ways to catch you doing this and then banning you from their results. It’s definitely not worth the risk.”

Tip 5: Publish lots of high-quality content

Home pages should include about 1,200 words of unique and original content, and blog posts on a relevant subject are an easy way to create content. Posts should be updated at least twice a month, though weekly is better, Herman advises. “I turned a client down last week because they didn’t have enough content. If there’s nothing to optimize, you can’t optimize.”

Write for the reader, he implores. “Otherwise, why would they visit your website? What’s in it for them?” Getting a copywriter involved can help keep content from becoming too one-sided.

Thompson concurs: “Good content written with SEO in mind is most important.” Google wants searchers to land on valuable content providing them with the answers they need. “When people get delisted or penalized, it’s usually because they are more focused on tricking Google instead of writing valuable content.”

Tip 6: Get social

Social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram are considered search engines because people use the search functions to learn more about other companies or products they see online.

“Social media has taken over email marketing,” Elam notes, “so there are lots of places to sell.”

Tip 7: Make sure your website is user-friendly

Google regularly checks and evaluates websites, Thompson says, and Google PageSpeed Insights helps measure core vitals, including page speed, accessibility, and interactivity. “These will all factor into your ranking and you want to have high grades for each.” Mobile-first indexing is another tool used to ensure that a website is optimized for mobile devices, he says, which will likely help rank it higher than
a site that is not.

“Google PageSpeed Insights can run a report that shows how quickly a page comes up on a mobile phone,” states Herman. “It’s one of the first things we work on with a new SEO client.”

Websites must work on all computers, whether Mac or PC. They must load fast and render quickly and correctly. “I tell people to think like Google,” Herman says. “If a site isn’t looking good or helping people, it needs to be fixed.”

Tip 8: Measure results

Free or low-cost tools can measure SEO performance and share insight on who visited, which search engine they used, and how long they stayed on each page.

“Monitor and adjust your strategy based on these results and keyword research,” advises Thompson. Google and other third parties, like Moz, provide tools that can determine how many times per month a specific keyword is searched.

Use this data in your plan to attract the most traffic, he adds. “Keep in mind that the more searches per month, the more likely it is going to be a highly competitive keyword to go after, requiring more effort.”

Tip 9: Be patient

“It’s important to construct a website the way Google wants, with structure, conversion rates, and optimization, but it may take weeks to kick out results,” Herman says. Six- to 12-month contracts work best to allow for tweaks, focus on maintenance, backlinks, and content. “It takes time to learn that maybe you’re ranking No. 7, but we need to get you to No. 3 or higher.”

Have patience. “After a year you can evaluate, scale back, or move forward,” Herman adds. “And remember that SEO is the marathon, not the sprint.”

Tip 10: Aim high

The fact is, most users won’t search beyond page two, so it’s important to always aim high. Rankings are never guaranteed, and anyone that promises a No. 1 ranking could be flagged by Google for trying to cheat the system, notes Herman.

First things first

Get the website built first, Elam says, with about 30 pages of solid content. “Every page should be optimized, which will cost more but is well worth the effort.”

Focus on content, Thompson reminds, but don’t ignore the smaller details because every little bit counts. There are a multitude of things that can be considered.

Google measures user experience, which can include things like button-size, navigation, or whether a site is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant and accessible. “Is your website readable by screen readers?” Thompson asks. ”Can it be navigated completely without a mouse?”

A well-designed website should last three to five years before needing a ma­jor overhaul, notes Herman. In addition to SEO, there’s also CRO, or conversion rate optimization. CRO is the process of increasing the percentage of users or website visitors completing a specific action to increase leads, revenue, and to lower acquisition costs.

“We’ve been doing more CRO along with SEO, which is where design, copywriting, and good photos come in,” Herman says. “It’s one thing to get people to a site, but if it’s optimized for conversion and results in 2% of traffic versus 1%, that’s double the leads.”

Costs for having a well-performing website that boosts business can add up, Herman admits, “but how do you not do it? A website is the hub of your business marketing. It’s how people find you.”