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A simple guide to SEO for small businesses

Camille Roch
by Camille Roch
Published on 16 January, 2018

laptop with some symbol and the letters seo

How small businesses can use search engine optimisation to promote their services and rank higher in search page results.

You’ve heard about how search engine optimization can help customers find local businesses and services. Now you wonder: What on earth is Search Engine Optimization? How does it work and how can I get started?

Digital marketing for small businesses can seem difficult at first. But when done correctly, it can help increase your visibility on search engines and build trust with customers.

Here are few tips on how you can implement SEO for your small business.

How does SEO work?

Let’s start with the basics: what is SEO and how does it work?

Basically, SEO is the process of improving your website to attract visitors when they type a search query into the search engine.

Let’s say someone experiences an electrical failure at home. How would that person go about finding help? Most likely, they’ll go online and type a question in their search engine bar such as : “Electrician near me” or “Best electrician in Birmingham”.

So how does the search engine work to provide the most useful answers?

Imagine that the search engine sends spiders, or web crawlers, to crawl through each page of the web to find relevant content.

First, these spiders need to scan each page to understand what it is about.

Then, they create an index of relevant results. This is what you get when you type a question in Google. Results are ranked based on popularity and authority. This means the more visits and mentions (such as links) your website gets, the higher it will rank in the search results.

This explains why your website needs a strong Search Engine Optimisation approach: you should aim to appear in the first page of the search results as studies show that users are way more likely to only go through the first page results.

To achieve that, your website should be clearly optimized for the search engines to quickly scan them. It should also feature qualitative and authoritative content to rank well in search page results.

If you want to learn more about how search engines work and the best practices to help Google understand your website, you can check out Google Webmaster Guidelines.

What are the benefits of SEO for small businesses?

Now you understand better how SEO works, you may wonder: is SEO useful for my business? Should I invest time and resources in building an SEO strategy and for what results?

First, keep in mind that today most consumers search for local services online. Similarly, we now see an explosion in mobile usage with 61% of consumers using mobile devices to find local business information.

This means your business not only needs an awesome website. But you also need to optimise it to rank high and make sure it renders well on small screens.

Finally, a strong SEO approach will help you get more organic traffic on your website and ultimately, bring in new business at a relatively low cost compared to online advertising.

What should small businesses know before they start doing SEO?

Before you start putting in place your SEO strategy, there are a few things you need to consider.

First, determine the budget you can allocate to compete on certain keywords with your competitors.

Second you need consider that SEO can take some time before you see some results.
Don’t expect your website to move to the first search results page overnight. Your SEO campaign is a long-term effort that will likely take six months or longer to show results.

So SEO is not the best option if you are a new business and need immediate results. Also, if there isn’t much awareness of your service, it is unlikely people will search for you online. In that case, online advertising or social media marketing might be more suitable.

Can small businesses do SEO by themselves?

Even if you only have basic knowledge of how digital marketing works you can do SEO for your small business.

Here are a few basics to help you get started:

1. Start with simple on-page optimization

When a user types a query in their search bar, the search engine will crawl the web to find the most relevant pages to display in the search results.

To make your website rank higher, optimize elements of your webpage to make them easily understandable by the search engine.

  • Make sure your webpage meta description and title (what the user see in the search results page) accurately describes the content.
  • Create an URL (the web address of your page) that is short, punchy and self explanatory. Try to get your own domain for your website.
  • Optimize the pages of your site with the right keywords.

2. How to target the right keywords

Keywords are terms the visitor types into their search engines. Basically, they are questions or topics they want to know more about.

To attract the right prospect to your website, you need to research which keywords are relevant to your business that your customers are using.

Start by making a list of keywords your customers might search for. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and brainstorm around your business services.

Let’s say if you run a hair salon, relevant keywords could be: “woman blow dry West Hampstead”, “best hair salon in West Hampstead” or “price woman highlight West Hampstead”.
Next, expand your keyword list by searching for alternatives. Type them into Google search bar or use tools like Ubersuggest to generate more ideas.

Then, determine which keywords offer the best opportunity to rank for. Tools like Google Keyword Planner tells you how competitive they are (meaning how many of your competitors are already using them).

Remember, there are lot of other businesses out there competing for the same keywords. So a keyword like “haircut” will be too broad and difficult to rank for.

Instead target keywords with low competition and high search volume. Choose specific keywords related to your services or location. These are called long-tail keywords and are composed of 2-3 words such as “blow dry and cut West Hampstead”.

Once you have your list ready, optimize your pages by inserting your keywords in strategic places: the page URL, page title, meta description, header tag, headers and content.

This will help the search engine understand the purpose of your page and how to index you.

Also remember not to “stuff” your content with keywords. Search engines like Google will easily detect that and downrank your website.

magnifying glasses on a laptop keyboard

3. Create local places pages

To reach out to the largest number, you want to be present on all major search engines. Create a page for your local business on Google, Bing or Yahoo.

Make sure you optimise your local pages with info your customers will need such as location, opening hours, phone number and services. Categorize your business correctly and make sure this information is consistent across search engines.

Don’t forget to add good pictures of the outside and inside of your building.
You can also list your business on top online directories such as Yell, Foursquare, Yelp and your local chambers of commerce website.

Finally, it’s a good idea to create a Google My Business page for your business to tie your website to a specific location. You can also ask customers to leave you a review online to give you more prominence in the search results.

4. Creating good content

When you’re looking at ways to improve your SEO, another solution is to create good content and optimise it correctly. Good content will draw links from other website, resulting in your website ranking higher in search results.

So what type of content small businesses should create?

Focus on timeless, evergreen content that will keep visitors coming. Also remember that you are writing for your users, not for search engines so avoid overloading your content with keywords.

Instead, think about who your customers are and what problems they might have.
Let’s say if you’re an electrician you can write posts such as “5 things to do immediately after a power cut” or “Everything you always wanted to know about your electrical switchboard”.

5. How to do link building

Another way to improve your SEO is to use relevant links within your content. You can for example link to reliable external sources (1-2 per page) to improve your site’s trustworthiness.

Also remember to link to relevant internal pages from your site to improve navigation and promote a good user experience.

Finally get some backlinks to your website—meaning other websites that link to yours. Ask partners, suppliers, customers or friends to link back to your website. This will help build your authority and, in the long run, improve your ranking.

However remember to focus on qualitative and relevant links. So say if you’re an electrician you don’t want to get links back from a spa as this can impact negatively on your ranking.

Finally, to ensure your SEO efforts are working, make sure you monitor traffic. Analytical tools like Google Analytics give you info about the number of visits and how customers act on your site.

Camille Roch
Camille Roch
Camille Roch is a journalist, editor and content strategist. She previously worked as a reporter and contributed to international human rights publications such as the UN or Amnesty International.
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