These days, most small business owners know that search engine optimization (SEO) is something they need to do. But to many, the term alone is confusing — not to mention the various tricks of the trade — and hiring a consultant that can implement SEO tips and strategy may just not be in the budget.
Let's begin by explaining what SEO is: It's an inbound marketing technique that involves keywords, smart linking and other methods to, yes, optimize a website so the page ranks highly on search engines. The goal is to make it so that when people — i.e., potential customers — are searching for products and services, they find your business first.
Don't get overwhelmed yet. While developing a complete mastery of SEO is a full-time job in itself, there are many small, painless things businesses like yours can do to optimize their websites. Here are five SEO tips for doing just that:
1. Use the Google Keyword Tool to Create a Content Strategy
When creating your website, it's important that every page be search engine optimized with target keywords, a proper hierarchy and title tags, and that the site loads quickly. This work, however, is generally best left to a Web designer who can get an optimized site up quickly — an essential part of the task because your website is a portal to your business.
Far more important for the small business owner is an SEO-motivated content strategy that uses the Google Keyword Tool as a guide. To use this, create a Google account if you don't already have one. Then type in search terms that are relevant to your business. The tool will suggest various related terms that customers are searching for — terms you might not have ever known were relevant, and that you should consider in your content strategy.
As an example, let's say you own a flower shop in Austin. Typing in "flower shops in Austin" generates a number of terms that target customers search for, including "flower shops austin tx" and "austin florist" and "best flowers in Austin." In the resulting grid, you will see a ranking for how competitive the term is and how many people are searching for it.
Ideally, you'll want to select terms with low competition and high search volumes, though even those with medium competition might be a good target. With these keywords as a guide, brainstorm content for your website's blog, whether that's "Top 10 Tips for Choosing the Best Flowers in Austin" or a how-to video for creating wedding bouquets.
(Need more help with choosing keywords? We suggest this great Google Keyword guide.)
2. Share Content on Social Media Sites
Once you have engaging, search engine?optimized content, it's time to get that content out to customers by promoting it on social media. The real goal here is to create a passionate community filled with followers who love and respect your brand. This is what we call social SEO.
Create a profile on all of the major sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn, making sure to add important keywords into your descriptions and details about your business's location. Keep your updates varied, sharing both your content and other interesting content in some posts and reaching out directly to followers in others. Add keywords where you can, but make sure to keep it natural. The more followers link to your site and social media profiles, the better you'll rank in search results.
3. Register on Google Maps
If you operate a business with a physical address, make sure to register your information with Google Maps. This will increase the chances your business will appear high in results when a customer searches for services in your area.
4. Replace Link Building with Relationship Building
While link building is an important part of any SEO strategy, it can be difficult for small businesses to compete with big businesses that can pay for consultants to do this full-time. What's more, with each new update of its search algorithm, Google is getting better at giving exposure to good content and punishing sites that do bad link building, so you don't want to inadvertently get yourself in trouble by doing the wrong thing and lowering your rank.
Far more effective is relationship building — the act of reaching out directly to bloggers and social media followers in the hopes that they will share your content or site. This means more than just saying, "Thanks for the follow." In return, share content written by your peers and influential people in your industry. Email bloggers privately to compliment them on their work and suggest ways to work together. Guest post on other blogs and create guest posting opportunities on your own site. Become a go-to resource both for your customers and industry experts by developing strong and authentic relationships, and your site will climb the rankings.
5. Measure the Results Using Google Analytics
There's an old saying in business that applies here: "You can't manage what you don't measure." If you don't have a Google Analytics account, now is the time to sign up. With Google Analytics, you'll get an in-depth peek into just who is visiting your website, what kind of content they're seeking, how long they're sticking around, what they're clicking and whether or not they're converting into customers.
This will help you refine your content strategy to just what's working, and it will also help you experiment along the way. What's more, there are many ways to dive even deeper once you master the basic skills. Google provides a good start-up guide, as well as many helpful YouTube videos. This Google Analytics Guide provides a great in-depth look.
SEO tips like these can be intimidating at first, but there are many simple ways that small business owners can increase their search rankings without an in-depth search mastery. Start with an attainable goal, like implementing one keyword strategy at a time, and build up your toolbox of tricks from there.