By Kitty French, Manta Contributor
Search engine optimization isn’t fast and it isn’t easy, but it is totally worth the effort to win more customers for your small business! Learn how to generate leads and sales by improving your website’s visibility in Google search results.
No matter what business you’re in, there are potential customers searching for your products or services on their smartphones right now!
And it’s no secret: Search engine optimization (SEO) draws customers one step closer to making a purchase from your company (and not the competition). Still not convinced you should make SEO a priority? Here is everything you need to know about how SEO works, why it generates leads, and how to make search engine optimization pay off for your small business.
1. What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Search engine optimization is one of the main digital marketing tactics companies use to attract customers on the internet.
Search engine optimization isn’t like buying an ad on TV. Instead of being a single expensive advertisement that may drive results in a short sales burst, SEO is a collection of digital marketing tactics that, over time, improves your company’s online presence. And when the right internet users can learn about your business, the more your sales will grow in the long run.
“SEO is the carrying out of any activity a search engine deems helpful in promoting relevant, quality websites and businesses to consumers based on their search terms and personal preferences,” explained Jordan Brannon, head of digital strategy for Coalition Technologies, a Los Angeles-based web design firm.
2. SEO Strategies for Small Business
Your goal is to use various SEO tactics to improve your business’ chances of ranking well for certain search terms in Google or Bing search results. This search engine visibility is important, because most customers research their purchases online before making buying decisions.
“SEO is about giving users what they want, and showing those signals to search engines so that you rank higher,” said Oleg Korneitchouk, director of marketing for SmartSites, a New Jersey-based online marketing firm.
When we talk about SEO for small business, we’re talking about a collection of techniques that work together as part of your digital marketing strategy. SEO is a combination of activities aimed at improving how high you show up on in organic (not paid-for) search results, said Korneitchouk.
SEO tactics include:
- Website architecture and user experience
- Keyword research
- Content marketing
- Link building
- Social media promotion
“Ultimately, any marketing activity a business performs can and should have an element of SEO to it,” Korneitchouk advised.
Before diving deeper into these SEO tactics, let’s look at why SEO is important for small businesses, and what you can expect.
3. What SEO is Not
“SEO is visibility online,” said Ryan Bartlett, founder of search engine marketing firm SEO Direct. And the more visibility your company website has online, the more money you stand to make.
But, cautions Bartlett, “SEO is not cheap. SEO is not easy. SEO is not fast. SEO is not magic.”
You’ll need to invest time or money—or both—to get results from SEO. You have to know your business, you have to know your customers, and you have to find the best way to connect with them online.
Nor is SEO a “one-time thing you pay for,” explained Eric Brantner, founder of Scribblrs, a company that advises businesses how to set up successful marketing blogs. “Effective SEO is ongoing and always adapting.”
If your company is doing it right, SEO will always be a work-in-progress. Search engine optimization is a marketing strategy that you’ll constantly improve upon as search technology, customer preferences and your business evolve.
4. Why SEO is Important for Business Websites
“Small businesses live and die by their marketing efforts. SEO is an important aspect of that,” said Bartlett of SEO Direct.
If your potential customers can’t find your website, they won’t become your customers, said Jeffrey Hensel, marketing director at North Coast Financial. Before taking over online marketing for North Coast, Hensel worked for six years as a SEO specialist for an ecommerce website.
“SEO is important for all small businesses,” said Hensel. SEO is how small business websites can show up online when potential customers use search engines to find for the products or services the business provides.
5. SEO for Small Business Owners
A simple way to understand SEO is to compare it to a tried-and-true small business marketing tactic: yellow pages listings.
“SEO is how you get listed in the modern phonebook—which is page one of Google and Bing,” said Eagan Heath, founder of Madison, Wisconsin-based digital marketing firm Get Found Madison.
Instead of being listed in alphabetical order like a phonebook, your website’s search engine rankings will depend on “whose website and web presence does the most things search engines like Google care about,” said Heath.
“SEO is a process that needs to be integrated into all your marketing, writing, publishing and customer-targeting activities,” he added. When you integrate your SEO efforts, you can make sure your website is as appealing as possible to search engines.
6. Do Small Companies Need SEO?
“Nowadays consumers rely on a number of marketing channels to find the products and services they need. But many buyers’ journeys begin with a simple online search,” said Dan Goldstein, president of Page 1 Solutions, a web marketing company based in Golden, Colorado. “To be successful, businesses need to be able to capture these users.”
To understand how SEO can help your company reach customers through their smartphones or computers, think of your own behavior, suggested Antonella Pisani. The former marketing executive owns and operates the retail discount website Official Coupon Code.
“When you go to a new store, restaurant or even doctor, you likely start on Google or another search engine, right?” Pisani said. Being found on search engines is critical for large, small, local and ecommerce businesses alike.
But SEO is especially important for small businesses. Small companies don’t have millions to spend on television, radio and print advertising. SEO is a low-cost way to drive web traffic—and foot traffic!
“All companies should focus on SEO, but it’s most critical for those who have limited advertising budgets and are in a competitive space,” Pisani said. “If a small business doesn’t have a strong brand name already, they will need to perform better on generic or broad keywords in order to be discovered.”
7. What Types of Businesses Should Use SEO?
SEO is necessary for almost all small businesses offering goods and services, said Alice Bedward, marketing manager for Helpling, an on-demand platform for housecleaners.
“It won’t be long before virtually all consumers are searching for products and services online,” said Bedward. “But if they cannot find your website, you’re likely to lose out.”
Bedward warned, “Without an SEO strategy in place, users are far more likely to find your competitors instead.” SEO is a necessary low-cost marketing tactic that can be especially useful for small businesses in specific industries, she added.
Small companies that are likely to benefit from SEO include:
- Online goods and services businesses
- Professional services like real estate agencies, attorneys and accountants
- Restaurants, cafes and bars
- Home renovation companies, roofers and builders
- Medical practices
- Personal and pet care services
8. When is SEO Necessary?
SEO is necessary “whenever you want to attract customers to your website, or whenever you want to sell your products or services online,” said Kevin John Gallagher, director of client success for marketing firm Stargazer Digital. How soon after starting your business should you begin focusing on SEO?
“From the get-go!” said Brantner of Scribblrs. “You need to be using SEO when initially setting up your site. From design to content, best practices on your site can help you rank quicker and higher.”
9. What Does a Successful SEO Strategy Look Like?
A successful SEO strategy will include considering how to “increase traffic, leads and sales as part of a holistic approach,” said Gallagher of Stargazer Digital. “The goal of an SEO strategy needs to be to generate more leads and sales—not simply increase your search rankings.”
Hiring an SEO consultant to optimize your website one time isn’t enough. SEO is an ongoing part of maintaining your company’s web presence.
According to Brantner, a successful SEO strategy integrates the following:
- On-site SEO: Everything from your written content to your images should be set up to be search-friendly for Google and Bing.
- Off-site SEO: This includes reaching out to get links from industry influencers, reporters and anyone else who might find your site useful. This also includes optimizing your company listings on online directories.
- Usability and mobile-friendliness. Google ranks sites based on mobile usability now more than ever. That means speeding up your website and making it easier for users to navigate. It also means making sure your site is built for viewing on all device—like smartphones, tablets and laptops—not just desktop computers.
10. Where Should Small Business Owners Begin Their SEO Efforts?
Search engine optimization begins with the way your website is built and the content it displays. This is called “on-site SEO.”
“You need to make sure your site is set up with SEO in mind,” Brantner said. “That begins with keyword research to ensure you’re targeting the best search terms for your business, and permeates through the entire website-building process.”
Whether you build your own site using a web hosting platform like WordPress, Wix or Squarespace, or you hire a developer to build a custom website, your site must be designed for speed and readability on mobile devices.
If you hire someone to build your company’s website, make sure these specifications are guaranteed.
Let’s take a quick look at each of the on-site SEO techniques mentioned in the first section of this article.
11. SEO Technique: Optimizing User Experience
Where should you start with SEO? By optimizing your website, said Leslie Handmaker, who owns and operates her own digital marketing firm in Denver, Colorado.
Website architecture determines the way your site is laid out and the speed at which it functions. Your website architecture helps determine how easily search engines can index or crawl your site, a major factor in SEO ranking.
“Start with taking a deep dive into the technical (aspects) of your website,” Handmaker said. “If the proper site architecture, URL structure and page coding aren’t in place, all other optimizations could have little to no impact.”
Site architecture will also determine the user’s experience. Visitors to your website will leave if they can’t find what they’re looking for. Ideally, your website architecture will draw users into your site, and guide them towards calling you, emailing you, visiting your store or making an online purchase.
Your web address and the URLs of each page on your site need to reflect your business and the purpose of each page. For example, “SpringfieldsBestPlumbers.com” is a good domain name, because it describes your service and includes your location for local searchers. Keep it simple: A good URL of your “Contact” page would be “SpringfieldsBestPlumbers.com/Contact.”
12. SEO Technique: Keywords
The words and phrases that customers will likely use to search for the products or services you offer are called keywords or keyword phrases. Using the right keywords in your web content and site tags will improve your ranking in search results for those keywords or phrases.
There’s only one way to find the right keywords: Research your customers and your competition.
“Keyword research and competitive analysis are key to having the best keyword master list to work from,” explained Gabriel Bertolo, founder of New Jersey-based digital marketing firm Radiant Elephant. “Google Keyword Planner is a great free tool to help find the best keywords.” (You do need to set up a Google AdWords account to access the keyword planner.)
“From there it is a matter of bringing these keywords into the site’s content,” said Bertolo. Keywords should be used—but not overused—in your website’s written content, your photo tags, page titles and headers.
But a keyword is only as effective as the context in which it is presented. Don’t try to trick Google or Bing by placing keywords where they don’t make sense—you’ll actually hurt your search engine rankings.
Instead, take the time to provide useful information to your website visitors on key subjects. Let the keywords flow naturally within your overall message.
This video explains more about finding the right keywords and using them the right way:
13. SEO Technique: Content Marketing
If you want more customers to visit your website and consider making a purchase, “you must have outstanding content,” said Tabitha Naylor, who owns and operates her own digital marketing firm.
“Content means everything from product pages to form fields to videos and testimonials, because it all ties together,” Naylor added.
The photos and information on your home page should be appealing and descriptive so visitors understand what your business all about. Photos of your products and services show customers what you have to offer—and tagging those photos and videos with descriptive keywords will help boost their visibility is search results.
The golden rule of digital content is this: Content has to be relevant to your target customers and discoverable by search engines. The more your content can deliver on what people are searching for on Google, the more it will earn organic search traffic.
This video explores different types of content you can use to attract people to your website and earn their business:
14. SEO Technique: Social Media Promotion
Social media won’t directly help your company’s search rankings, but if used the right way, it can drive more people to your site.
As more people click social media links to your site to learn about certain subjects, that “will help Google discover and index your website pages more quickly,” said Gallagher of Stargazer Digital.
Including your business name, address, phone number and hours of operation on social media sites just as they are listed on your website will give search engines another signal that your information is legitimate. This is another small thing you can do to earn better rankings in search results.
15. SEO Technique: Link Building & Publicity
Gaining publicity and links back to your website is the fuel that ignites your digital content and drives traffic to your website. How do you distribute your website’s content? You post your links to social media, include links in company marketing emails and get other websites to link to your blogs, articles, specials or website landing pages.
Learn how to drive visitors to your website—and drive up your search engine rankings in the process—in this video:
16. SEO Technique: Analytics
Website analytics tell you how well your SEO efforts are working—and where you might need to adjust your tactics.
“Check out Google Analytics to see where traffic is coming from and where it’s going around your site,” recommended Ben Cook, marketing director for social media marketing firm JC Social Media.
Your Google Analytics dashboard allows you to see how many internet searchers are finding your website using your keywords or phrases. You can also see how many people find your site through Facebook or online business listings. By noting how long people stay on your site, Google Analytics can help you learn where visitors are finding the most valuable content.
All this information can help you tweak your SEO efforts, so you can gain the most traction with website visitors and, by extension, Google and Bing.
17. What is Local Search?
When smartphone users search for products or services nearby, Google and Bing display localized search results based on the searcher’s current geographic location. Ranking in these local search results is one way to use SEO to reach customers in your vicinity.
“Many (small) businesses are service or product providers for a local area. When someone in a town needs to find a landscaper, they will most likely search something along the lines of ‘[town name] landscapers,’” said Bertolo of Radiant Elephant. If your business appears in these results, you have an opportunity to win a local customer right when they are looking for a product or service just like yours.
18. How to Get SEO for Your Business Without a Website
If your company doesn’t have a website, you can still take steps to help customers find you online by establishing your company’s web presence on business listing directories like Manta, Yelp and Google My Business.
“Online business listings or citations are critical for local and overall search engine optimization,” said Brandon Wright, chief marketing officer for Salt Lake City-based digital marketing agency ThoughtLab.
“In Google’s eyes, everything is about how legitimate and relevant your website is. Online business listings help with both legitimacy and relevance,” added Wright. “Make sure you have all of the big listing sites under your belt.”
Here’s everything you need to know about business listings in one video:
19. Which Is Better, SEO or SEM?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the paid counterpart to SEO. Think of it this way: You earn SEO, but you buy SEM.
“SEO and SEM are like peanut butter and jelly,” said Darrell Evans, cofounder of Yokel Local Internet Marketing. “With algorithms constantly changing and with Google reshaping the first page of search results, a small business is wise to have both.”
Google AdWords and Facebook Ads are both products that display your company’s ads to specific groups of internet users based on the keywords, location and customer characteristics you want to target.
This video, “SEM for Small Business,” will provide guidelines for getting the best returns from your paid SEM campaigns:
20. SEO To-Do List For Beginners
Ready to turn your website into a lead generator, but still not sure exactly how? Follow this six-step strategy to get started, recommended by Yokel Local’s Evans:
- Define your target customer. Here are some questions to help you narrow in on your target audience: Who buys your products? What do they need that your company can provide? When are they likely to buy your products? Where do they live and/or work? Why should they buy from you instead of your competitors?
- Map out the buyer’s journey every step of the way. Using everything you know about your customers, plus any sales data you may have collected, map out some of the common paths your customers take to purchasing from your company. This can help you learn how best to put them on the purchase path through digital marketing.
- Build a mobile-responsive website that targets your customers’ information and sales journey. This is where location data can work with your customers’ buying patterns to drive sales through local SEO. If you run a pizza shop, for example, you can increase your chances of showing up in smartphone searches by including geolocation data in your online business listings and targeting your city in your SEM ads. Pop a click-to-call button on your website, and you’ve got a recipe for mobile marketing success!
- Optimize the site based on Google’s best practices. Google makes the rules in internet search rankings. Learn what it takes to rank in general Google searches and in local searches, and you’ll be more informed as you go about your SEO. Owners of small businesses should pay special attention to Google’s Local Three Pack, which is key to ranking in searches conducted by nearby customers in your city and neighborhood.
- Create content that’s relevant and useful to potential customers. Give people a reason to stay on your website and a reason to return to your site. Helpful “how-to” videos and other instructive content will help you build a trusting relationship with potential customers. And who will they buy from when they’re ready? The business that earned their trust.
- Commit your marketing resources to link building. When other websites link to your website, it signals to search engines that you are a legitimate business and a trusted resource in your field. That improves your search engine ranking (your site’s “authority”) for a given keyword phrase or topic.
You might generate links to your website by getting your business featured on a local news website, by submitting a guest column to a blog, or by having a link on a community or organization site like your local chamber of commerce.
21. How Much Does SEO Cost for Small Business?
One SEO question that leaves experts scratching their heads is this: How much should small business owners budget to spend on SEO?
“That’s a tricky one,” said Brantner of Scribblrs. “You have to remember that SEO blurs with marketing these days. So, you’re almost combining your SEO and marketing budgets, because modern link building is marketing.”
There are many factors to include when making your budget, he explained. To determine how much you should spend on SEO, ask yourself:
- How much does your business make?
- What industry are you in?
- How numerous are your competitors?
If you can set aside 5% of your total revenue to long-term, SEO-focused digital marketing, you’ll likely start to see an increase in leads and sales.
This article originally appeared on the Manta site here; reprinted with permission