Whether we can generate enough organic traffic to our website can make or break any business, and yet, many small businesses overlook SEO in favor of other forms of marketing.
In fact, SEO can be a very cost-effective way to grow your small business by generating more leads and ultimately, growing your revenue. In small businesses with a fairly limited marketing budget, SEO should the first choice.
However, it is understandable that many small business owners didn’t want to invest in SEO because they don’t understand the concept and its benefits, and this is why below we will discuss all you need to know about implementing SEO in your small business’s digital marketing strategy.
SEO In Layman’s Terms
SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization, is optimizing your small business’s website and other online platforms (social media profiles, Google My Business/Google Maps listing, etc.) to improve the business’s presence on Google’s search engine results page (SERP) and also the other search engines’.
Obviously more and more people are now actively using Google to look for information, and there are over 80,000 Google searches made every second. The thing is, 75% of people simply won’t browse past the first page of Google SERP, so unless you can rank on this first page, or even better, on the top 10 spots, you won’t be able to generate organic traffic.
This is why SEO is now very important. Without SEO, it can be very difficult for small businesses to rank on this first page of Google ‘s SERP.
SEO VS PPC: Pros and Cons
Why do I need to invest in SEO? Can’t I simply advertise on Google search?
While there is indeed an option for us to advertise on Google’s SERP with PPC (Pay-per-click) ads, there are some key considerations you should have.
First, is about trust. While PPC ads are positioned above the organic results, people always trust organic results better. The click-through-rate (CTR) for organic results is much higher than PPC, and only 15% of the whole search traffic goes to PPC ads.
In fact, having your site positioned on the top spots of Google’s SERP can significantly improve your brand’s perceived credibility. If, for example, your site is ranked #3 for “digital marketing strategies” search queries, then it’s a strong sign in the eyes of your prospects that you are a credible brand in the digital marketing niche.
Second, is about costs.
SEO is obviously the more affordable option out of the two. In fact, if you do everything by yourself, SEO can be totally free. However, generating results from SEO can take some time, and on average it can take 6 to 12 months before you can generate a significant amount of organic traffic through SEO.
On the other hand, while PPC ads can virtually guarantee short-term results, it can be very expensive if you are not careful in bidding your keywords. You can technically generate enough traffic provided you’ve put an unlimited amount of investment in these PPC ads. However, you will lose money and so this is not the objective.
So, this is a case of money vs time, and you can’t rely on PPC alone to generate enough traffic while maintaining profitability.
Last but not least, is regarding sustainability. While, as discussed, PPC ads can be effective in bringing in traffic, the effect will only last during the duration of your ad placement. Once you’ve stopped putting in money to your PPC ads, you won’t get any more traffic.
On the other hand, while SEO is—as discussed—, a long term game, the result is also long-term and sustainable. Once you’ve ranked high enough in Google’s SERP, you can generate organic traffic for years to come. Yes, you might drop down in ranking sooner or later, but with a solid foundation of SEO, you can re-climb the SERP with just some tweaks and re-optimizations.
Implementing SEO for Your Small Business: a Step-By-Step Guide
Step 1: Keyword Research
Before we can implement proper keyword research, we have to first define our target audience. It’s pretty obvious: different target audiences will search for different keywords and will require different SEO approaches.
If your small business already has an existing customer base, then this process should be fairly obvious. You can simply use various analytics software to analyze the demographics data of your existing audience, and build your buyer persona.
Your objective is to understand their problems, pain points, behaviors, and especially, search intent.
If you are a brand new business without any existing customer base, then this can be slightly more complicated. However, a common approach is to do a competitive analysis and try to imitate your competitor’s target audience. You can do this by checking the followers of your competitors’ social media accounts, and use various analytics tools to help you.
Once you’ve figured out your target audience and their search intent, then you can start your keyword research. Our objective here is to define the target/focus keywords of our SEO campaign with three main principles:
- The target keyword should be relevant to our target audience. We can determine this by measuring the keyword’s monthly search volume.
- The target keyword must be valuable and relevant for your business. Not all keywords that are popular among your consumers would be valuable for your business.
- Depending on your timeline and available budget, the competition for the target keyword must be manageable. It’s no use aiming for overly popular keywords if the competition is too stiff.
Make a list of your keywords, and sort them based on their priority.
Step 2: Plan Your Content Marketing
It’s really important to understand that the core of SEO is content, and to be more exact, high-quality content.
In the past, content for SEO used to be about keyword stuffing: including as many of your target keywords as possible in your content. However, nowadays this practice can be penalized by Google.
Instead, content in SEO in 2021 is about providing relevant, valuable information for your target audience. We still need to include our target keywords, but we have to include them as naturally as possible. In fact, with the recent Google BERT update, Google can now understand the context of content better than ever, and technically we don’t really need to optimize for keywords anymore.
So, SEO content today is about providing value for your target audience.
A simple but effective practice here is to do a Google search for each of your target keywords (that you’ve listed in the previous step). Check the top-ranking pages for each keyword, and see their approaches with their content.
Remember that SEO is, by nature, a competition: you are attempting to rank higher than your competition in the SERP. You should check every competitor that is ranked on the first page of your target keyword’s SERP, and especially the top 3 results.
Your goal is to create a piece of content that is better than all of these competitors, and generally, you have two possible approaches:
- Creating something that is much better than all of them: more in-depth, longer, better data and information, better images, etc.
- Take a different angle and create a unique piece of content.
If you can find a different angle, typically the latter’s approach is easier (not saying it’s easy).
Another important consideration to have is that content marketing for SEO is not only about content creation. Content promotion is just as, if not even more important than the content development process itself.
Content promotion is about how you are going to promote your content: you should promote your content in as many possible channels as possible to generate more traffic to the content and also to generate backlinks in the process (more on backlinks further below).
So, you should plan at least a six-month worth of editorial calendar listing:
- Target keyword: the target keyword for this specific content.
- Title idea: at least a topic idea
- Objective: the specific objective of the article (improve awareness, promote a specific product, nurture leads, etc. )
- Author/creator: who is responsible to create the content
- Editor (if any): who is responsible to edit and supervise the content’s quality
- Publish date: when you are planning to publish the article
- Distribution: where you are going to publish the content, how you are going to promote the content
- CTA: offers tied to the content
Step 3: Plan Your Local SEO
This step is assuming your small business is a brick-and-mortar business or at least targeting a local audience. If not (for example, if you are a small SaaS or eCommerce business), you can skip this step.
Local SEO is a sub-discipline of SEO where you are targeting local keywords (mainly keywords+city/location name or their variations.)
In the past, local SEO is simply about creating content that includes the city/location name in it while optimizing the content for the target keyword. However, this has dramatically changed since Google decided to include Google Maps results on top of the organic results for these local queries.
So, now when you search for something like “restaurants in Los Angeles”, you will get a SERP page similar to this:
An important thing to note is that now Google displays 5 places on desktop search and 4 on mobile searches. Until recently, Google only displays 3 places before we need to click “More Places.”
As we can see, people can also interact with these Google Maps results to call the establishment or to ask for Google Maps directions. So, we can imagine that getting our small business ranked on these top 4 (or ideally, top 3) spots of Google Maps will dramatically improve our conversions.
So, local SEO today is about optimizing our listing to rank higher on Google Maps, and we can achieve it via four simple steps:
- Claim and verify your Google My Business listing
Google Maps results aren’t based on your website but on your Google My Business listing. Search your business’s name on Google My Business, and claim it.
If you are an established and/or famous business, other people might have claimed your listing. Don’t worry about this, as you can simply request for ownership and claim the listing as yours. If you can prove that the business is indeed yours, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Once you’ve claimed your listing, don’t forget to verify it. Typically the process of verifying your business involves Google sending a postcard (containing a verification PIN) to your business’s physical address.
- Optimize your Google My Business Information
One of the key ranking factors for Google Maps is how relevant your business is for your audience, and this would depend upon the information you provide in your GMB listing. You should optimize the following areas:
- Choose a relevant, specific category for your business. Your category should be what your business is about and not what your business is selling.
- Especially pay attention to your business’s NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) information. Make sure it’s complete and up-to-date.
- Select applicable attributes. Use attributes to highlight unique features offered by your business, for example, if you have an outdoor patio or have a children-friendly area.
- Write a comprehensive description of your business. You can optimize this section to include your target keywords but focus on delivering complete and accurate information for your human audience. Make it as attractive as possible.
- Include photos. Very important here since Google Maps is a visual platform by nature. According to Google, listings that include photos get more requests for directions and phone calls. Invest in high-quality photos that represent what your business is. Also, upload new photos regularly, weekly if possible.
- Make sure to include up-to-date business hours. Google provides easy options to include special events and weekends/holidays.
- Publish Google Posts regularly. If possible aim to publish one post a week.
- Build Local Citations
A ‘local citation’ is any mention of your business’s NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) on the internet.
Your main objective here is to list your business in as many online directories according to your niche and location. A quick Google search like “restaurant directories in New Orleans” can show you these directories, but if you are located in the U.S., you can use this guide by Moz on where to find local citations for your business.
In building local citations, the more the merrier. And obviously you should also build relationships with business partners, influencers, and various other parties to generate citations.
A key principle in building your local citations is to maintain consistency of information, especially your NAP. That is, if you, for example, moved your business address, you’d need to update all of these listings. This is often the biggest challenge in building your local citations, and where the help of a B2B SEO agency can be beneficial.
- Encourage Positive Reviews
A key factor in boosting your Google Maps ranking is to get more positive reviews from your existing customers. Focus on generating more reviews on Google Maps first, but you should also build reviews on other platforms (TripAdvisor, Yelp, industry-specific review sites, etc).
- Offer incentives
A common yet effective practice is to offer incentives to your existing customers in exchange for their (positive) review. For example, you can offer discounts and freebies for people who can show that they’ve left a review for your business.
- Just ask
Sometimes asking at the right time is all it takes. For example, you can ask for a review when a customer just has just made a repeat purchase.
- Respond to existing reviews
An important thing to do is to always respond to incoming reviews, including and especially negative ones. People are more likely to leave reviews for businesses that regularly respond to their customers since it means that their concerns are being heard.
Step 4: Technical SEO
This step is about optimizing the technical aspects of your website. Technical SEO can be a pretty deep subject, and you can check technical SEO checklist to get started. However, here are some key areas to focus on:
- Page speed: how fast your website loads will affect bounce rate, and bounce rate is now a direct ranking factor. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insight to assess the condition of your website and optimize it properly.
- Mobile-friendliness: make sure your website is mobile-responsive. This can be as easy as upgrading your site’s Theme into a mobile-responsive one if your site is WordPress-based.
- Indexability: use Google Search Console to analyze your website and fix any crawl errors. Also, make sure there aren’t any errors in your robots.txt file. Make sure Google can properly index your site.
- User experience: make sure it’s easy to navigate your site and ensure it is designed properly. Again, UX-related metrics like bounce rate and dwell time are now ranking factors. Your goal is to ensure people stay as long as possible on your website.
- Structured data markup: structured data (s\chema) markup is assigning properties and attributes to all the different elements on your website so Google can understand them properly. Implementing schema markup will also make your website eligible to be featured as a Rich Snippet.
While there are certainly other areas you can optimize, in general, the objectives of technical SEO optimization are:
- To optimize your content and important areas of your site (URL, title tags, META description) so they include your focus/target keyword naturally.
- To improve overall user experience so your audience can stay longer on your site and consume more content.
- To ensure Google and the other search engines can properly index your website and recognize all the different elements in it.
Step 5: Link Building
Backlinks remain the most important SEO ranking factors. When you get a backlink from another site, this site is saying that you are a trustworthy, credible source of information. This is why backlinks are called the vote of confidence of the internet.
The thing is, link building in 2021 is no longer about getting as many backlinks as possible, but the quality of the backlinks is just as, if not even more important than quantity. So, various link-building schemes like private blog network (PBN) and other gray-hat and black-hat tactics simply no longer work.
Yet, getting backlinks from these high-quality, authoritative websites is obviously easier said than done, especially if you are a brand new, small business. So, how can we do it?
While there are various approaches we can try to get more backlinks, the most important thing to consider is to include link hooks in your content.
Link hook is something interesting and/or valuable in your content that will attract people to link it. In short, giving your content a link hook is essentially giving your backlink source a reason to link your content.
Link hooks can come in many different forms:
- Unique information or data not available elsewhere. For example, results from original research.
- Aesthetically pleasing content like infographics or well-taken photos.
- Interesting and original story
- Actionable tips that people love to share
- The content itself can be a link hook, so make sure to write high-quality, relevant content
Another important thing regarding link building is to regularly build healthy, lasting relationships with those in your industry: business partners, influencers in your niche, and even competitors. They can be important, steady sources of backlinks in the future.
Last but not least, it’s very important to remember that SEO for SaaS is a long-term game. In general, you should expect to invest at least six months and even 12 months in SEO before your small business can reap its results. However, once you’ve successfully got your pages ranked in the first page of the SERP, you can get a sustainable, long-term source of organic traffic.
So, it’s important to continuously monitor your progress during this time. SEO is not a static marketing effort, and there can be various changes in SEO algorithms during your campaign. Monitor your progress, and adjust your strategy when necessary.