Small Business SEO Basics - How To Get Started

Small business SEO has always been seen as a bit of a grey area in terms of what exactly needs to be accomplished and how you should go about doing it. Do you do it yourself, or do you go with an outsourced agency? The choice is yours, although I'd always say that you should at least try and do the basics yourself before turning to outside help.

The basic elements really are not that hard to implement so that's what I'll focus on in this post. Learning to complete these steps really isn't a black art and it's really quite simple to optimise your own website as well as most other search professionals would be able to.

So, with that aim in mind, here is my SEO basics guide.

First, a quick word about where I see SEO in your overall marketing strategy.

I might be throwing myself under a bus here, although I'm of the opinion that as a small business you really shouldn't fuss over the finer details of search engine optimisation. It really doesn't require that much expertise to acquire a good local search engine presence, although if you are looking to conquer the globe, you'll probably have to investigate further!

What I want to do here is provide a guide that will help you get the basics in place and hopefully result your site to rank well, especially in local search results. After all, most small businesses are only concerned with their local catchment area. After you have done this, I think you are far better focusing on other areas of your marketing place - integration and diversity are absolutely key. So, while it's fundamentally important that you have a well optimised site, I would advise against falling into the trap of spending hours each day tweaking every little part - I think this is counter productive.

Before I start on the main body of the post, here is a rough overview of my thoughts as to what you should have covered in terms of small business SEO basics. Each is explained in more detail further on down this post.

  • Conduct smart, goal focused keyword research 
  • Implement the results of this research into your site 
  • Create well written and descriptive meta description and title tags 
  • Create well written, relevant and useful content that will engage users and also attract natural links 
  • Run a regularly updated blog 
  • Submit your site (actually, your business) to a few relevant, local business directories, but don't link-build in the traditional way 
  • Focus on local SEO and set up a Google places listing for your business 

Finally, please remember that this post is primarily written for the small business owner who is looking for a good local search presence - as I said above, if you are looking to dominate the world, you probably need more advice :-) I think that small business SEO is very different from what needs done for larger businesses and that sometime the lines become blurred. This in turn makes search engine optimisation seem very daunting to the small business owner, although hopefully this guide will show that it doesn't have to be at all.

Let's get going then.

So, why bother with SEO for your small business in the first place then?

With the wider theme of this blog in mind, (increasing revenue for your small business), good search engine presence can be one of the most efficient ways of generating leads and sales for your business.

Please consider the following statistics:

  • Businesses who generate 40% or more of their leads online grow 4x faster than those who do not (Hinge Marketing Study) 
  • Leads generated online cost up to 62% less than those generated through traditional outbound methods (Hubspot Survey) 

Clearly then, good search engine positioning will go a long way to helping your business either get off the ground or grow. These stats probably apply to much larger businesses, although the premise still remains - it's more cost effective to generate your leads online, and you'll probably grow quicker if you do.

On Page SEO Basics

The first part of this process is to tackle your own website before you get involved with off page work. In particular, pay close attention to the following:

  • Technical aspects, such as accessibility and architecture 
  • User experience - how easy is it for users to move around your site and find what they are looking for? 
  • Conversion optimisation - how easy is it for users to complete a required 'action', such as contact you, or download a free e-book? 
  • Creating relevant, useful content that relates well to user searches across the major search engines 
  • Make sure your page stands out in the SERP's 

Although you may see adverts or emails that will tell you that you need to order 10,000 backlinks for $300 in order to rank well, these emails are completely bogus. We'll discuss off page SEO shortly, but the most important thing you need to do at the start is to make sure that your own site is functioning well enough by taking care of the points above.

At the end of the day, Google wants to offer it's users relevant sites that they will find useful and be able to use easily. Focusing on these points ensures that you tick all of these boxes.

Keywords and page copy

On page SEO is not concerned with things like keyword density, although you do want to put some good work into considering the main keywords and key phrases that you'll include on your site. After all, this is how your site will be discovered.

As a general rule of thumb, try to write original content that naturally includes your keywords - I'd say around 400-500 words as a minimum for a standard services-description web page, with your keyword/phrases mentioned 3/4 times within it. The most important things are that it reads naturally and that it doesn't seem forced or contrived.

Don't worry too much about length though, it's possible to get your message across (and rank well) in fewer words. Update: it's now been suggested that word length of between 1500 and 2000 words are most optimal for better search rankings. However I'd still say that you should focus on quality rather than quantity - also, a 'real' site will always have a broad range of articles at different lengths.

Also, whatever you do, don't try to keyword stuff this text - two or three times per keyword or phrase is enough. You don't get extra points for excess here, in fact, it's the opposite - you'll find yourself with a nasty penalty.

Keyword research is really important and if you do it properly at the start, you'll save yourself plenty of headache going forward. You can start by using Google's free keyword planner tool, and there are also many paid alternatives available online too.

Note: I'd suggest using this to give you an idea of the demand related to your products and services and to give you an idea of themes - don't worry too much about trying to rank for specific terms these days (you can read more about this in the keyword research guide below).

However, at the end of the day, the most important thing about your text is that it engages real web visitors when they come to your site. There is no point in trying every SEO trick under the sun to try and get first place rankings, only to put your visitors off with poorly written content that isn't written to help them.

Title tags and description tags

Your title and description tags are very important. The Title Tags gives the search engines a strong idea of what your site is about and while the description tag isn't a ranking factor, a well written and descriptive description tag will help your listing stand out in the SERPS (search engine ranking positions), making it more likely to be clicked on.

Each page on your site should have a unique title and description tag, and ideally these shouldn't contain your business name at the start. Be sure to use your target keywords in these tags too as this will help your page rank better than if otherwise.

Also, it's a good idea to think about the way a searcher would actually type and then write your tags accordingly. For example, rather than 'Dental Care Boston', a user would most likely use a term like 'Dentists in Boston'. You can further refine your title by including the street name where your business is located for example.

You could look at the tags displayed on this blog - here are the home page tags for example:

  • Title Tag: Small Business Marketing Advice | Revenue Builder Blog 
  • Description Tag: Revenue Builder is an independent small business marketing advice blog written to help small business owners and startups get to grips with fundamental sales and marketing principles. Impartial advice. 

Authorship markup/Google+

Nowadays, it's super-important to implement the Google+ Authorship markup to your site pages. By doing this you will ensure that your profile picture is displayed along with your website in the Google search results - this will encourage a much higher click-through-rate (CTR) to your site from the results page.

Also, it's thought that by attaching your public Google+ profile to your site pages, you are also sending a strong trust signal to Google. In turn, this could give your website a rankings boost.

Conversion optimisation and user experience

Nowadays, it's also really important to make sure that your site is easy to use and that it's very easy for your users to find their way around your site, to get in touch with you or to make a purchase. Some important things you will really want to think about here are:

  • Making sure that broken links are fixed 
  • Ensuring that your site loads quickly 
  • Having your contact details clearly displayed 
  • Making sure that your landing pages are well designed/optimised 
  • Making sure that your site is easy to navigate in general 

It looks like user behaviour is a ranking factor now, so it makes sense that you should make it as easy as possible for users to find what they need on your site with the minimum amount of fuss - the last thing you want is a high number of users bouncing straight back of your site and back onto the search results.

Off Page SEO Basics

A lot more focus is given my many search professionals to off page SEO rather than on page. This is primarily due to the fact that in the earlier days of optimisation, it was easier to rank well if you had a high number of dodgy links pointing to your site. Things have changed considerably now though and this type of link will hurt you more than they will help you.

First of all, what you shouldn't do with off-page SEO

It's probably going to be easier to start by highlighting some things that you definitely shouldn't be doing. Most importantly, you shouldn't be buying backlinks in any way, shape or form, whether this is only one link or 10,000 links sold for a few hundred dollars. Paid links are against Google terms and will undoubtedly hurt you in the long run. They're simply not worth it.

In addition to buying links, you probably shouldn't be listing your site on hundreds/thousands of useless directories, not should you create a ton of 'mini-sites' solely for the purpose of linking back to your main site. Both of these look very spammy to people and search engines and they simply won't help you rank well for important search terms, no matter how enticing the advert looks.

Another practice to avoid is that of using too much anchor text in your back links. For example, if you sell blue widgets and most of your incoming links are entitled 'blue widgets', this will also look like spam. More importantly, it will really hurt your chances are ranking well for that particular search term. A successful link profile looks natural and is not heavily weighted toward your preferred/target search terms.

For example, most of the links pointing to your site should be of the following variety:

  • Business name 
  • Website address 
  • Navigational terms, such as 'click here', 'read more', etc 

Only around 5-10% of external link text should contain terms related to your target keywords/phrases.

So how should you approach your off-page SEO then?

Firstly, it's a good idea to list on some of the main business directories, such as or Thomson Local. You should also get your Google Places listing up and running as soon as possible - this point can't be stressed enough for the small business owner serving a local area.

Also, you should focus on winning quality, relevant links from sources that are related to your niche. For example, if you are an e-commerce provider that sells hiking equipment, a link back from a hiking blog will carry much more weight than multiple links from spammy web directories.

The best way to gain quality inbound links is to create quality content - 'link bait' - that will entice people with similar interests to link to your resource. This could be a well written and informative article, or it could be an e-book or infographic, for example.

Social media networks are also a great place to spend your time building up your online presence. They allow you to build up your own following and you can use them to promote your link bait content, always remembering that re-tweets help with your search rankings.

More importantly, engaging in such activity means that more people will see your content, which means you are then likely to receive more links and to receive better search positioning.

In Sum

This had been a broad introduction into good search optimisation practice, which will hopefully help you with small business SEO. For further information, please have a look at the following posts, which go into a bit more detail on some of the areas mentioned above:

Smart keyword research
Using the new Google Keyword Planner tool
Setting up a Google Places Listing
Social media basics
Using Twitter with a local marketing focus in mind
Mobile optimised, local search marketing is awesome

Thanks for reading,

By Alan MacDougall
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