10/11/2020 by David Mihm
A guide to SEO for small businesses
SEO has come a long way since I started in this industry back in the mid-2000’s. Almost every business owner around the world knows what SEO is and does, even if they couldn’t spell out the acronym as “Search Engine Optimization.”
Despite a concerted effort from Google’s Webmasters team to educate business owners (and marketing professionals), that hasn’t stopped SEO from being a bit of a black box for a lot of non-experts. It’s certainly easier to grok something like social media or email marketing --my company Tidings’ primary focus.
Small businesses eager to improve their presence in Google are also still the unfortunate targets of a lot of snake oil salesmen.
But while SEO takes a lot of “sweat equity,” it remains one of the cheapest ways to promote your business, in terms of financial expense.
With all of the above in mind, earlier this summer I developed the SEO Cheatsheet -- a roadmap for small business owners who want to improve their SEO presence but might not have the time to invest in reading excellent but more advanced guides, or the budget to hire an agency.
What follows here is a little big longer-form summary of my Cheat Sheet.
Keys to SEO
Crawlability refers to the ease or difficulty with which Google’s robots can navigate and understand your website.
The quickest way to assess your website’s crawlability is to enter this search at Google: “site:yourdomain.com.” Google will show you a list of all the pages it knows about on your site. If these results look “funny” to you, something may be wrong with your website’s Content Management System. (READ ALSO: Mono Websites are optimized for Google crawlers)
From a content standpoint, the goal of your website is to communicate a strong “scent” to both Google and users about exactly what products or services you offer, and where you offer them. Be as explicit and complete as you can when describing your products and services, in language that your customers use -- not marketing-speak.
There are probably thousands of businesses just like yours around the world, trying to rank for many of the same keywords you are. How does Google determine the order you should be ranked in, when you’re all saying the same thing?
All other things being equal, Google will show a site which has received the most “votes” from around the internet. What counts as a vote? It might be a mention of your business on another website. It might be a link to your website from another website. It might be a review that one of your customers leaves on Google My Business or Yelp. It might be a photo that a customer posts on Instagram or Pinterest.
The important thing to note about authority is that you can influence it by promoting your website with customers and influencers in your industry, but you can’t necessarily give yourself authority.
My 80/20 rule of SEO.
You may have come across the Pareto Principle in other contexts. As applied to SEO, I assert that roughly 20% of your ranking potential stems from what you say about yourself, and where you say it, largely on your own website. But 80% actually comes from what other people say about you, and where they say it.
While you can influence crawlability and relevance to a huge extent with your website structure and content, your authority comes from other people, and other websites, talking about your business.
Your SEO Roadmap
Now that you have a basic understanding of how Google ranks websites, let’s take a look at an action plan to achieve better rankings.
Step 1: Keyword Discovery
What keywords (sort of a misnomer; really keyphrases) should your website try to rank for?
- Keywords that your customers are using. Listen to the phrases they use when they call or write in, and use those same phrases in your website copy.
- Keywords that Google Suggests. Do a handful of searches for the keywords you’re hearing from your customers. But instead of looking at the websites that rank for those phrases, scroll all the way to the bottom of the Google search result. There you’ll find (usually 8) additional keywords related to the one you just typed in. This can help give you a sense of related terms you might not have previously considered.
- Google Trends. Search for your top handful of keywords in Google’s free Trends tool. Towards the bottom of the screen for each search, you’ll find a set of up to 20 keywords related to the one you just typed in.
Step 2: Keyword Theming
This is the most difficult step of your roadmap. Gather all of the keywords from Step 1 (Discovery) and do your best to group related terms together.
The purpose of this step is to start to identify how the pieces of your website fit together. What are the shared characteristics that might make for an entire section? Which important terms clearly deserve their own page?
It may help to use a spreadsheet application like Google Sheets or Excel to help you easily move terms around (one term per cell).
There’s no right or wrong answer for the number of themes you group keywords into, but the more themes you identify, the more content you’ll have to create later on.
Step 3: Site Architecture
Your site architecture is basically an outline of your website, where each theme you identify gets its own section in your outline -- and its own page on your website.
Unlike an outline, though, there doesn’t have to be a defined beginning, middle, and end. And related themes should be cross-linked to one another once you make those pages live on your website -- something that’s difficult to accomplish in a standard outline.
Your primary sections should each get not just their own pages, but their own labels/links in your primary navigation.
And one element of your site architecture should be a consistent call-to-action and contact information in the header and footer of every page. (LEARN MORE: Why bundle websites and SEO for SMBs)
Step 4: Content Creation
Now that you’ve identified the pages you need to create for your website, it’s time to actually create the content that will live on each page.
When you write content, be authentic and use the tone of voice you’d use if a customer called or how you’d respond if a customer wrote an email to you.
Don’t use marketing jargon (unless you’re selling to marketers!) and don’t use keywords willy-nilly in a mistaken effort to attract Googlebot.
Use headings liberally (like this blog post does) to attract prospects who will likely be scanning on their first visit to your site rather than reading in great detail.
And if you’re not a great writer, that’s OK! Use multiple forms of media like images, videos, and podcasts. If you have the time to transcribe or describe what’s in the multi-media, that’s even better, but the key is to get the content up in the first place.
Step 5: Content Optimization
At this point we are well on our way to better crawlability and relevance. Now it’s about taking our site into the “awesome” realm.
The first optimization technique could actually go in the Site Architecture section as well -- it’s Page Speed. Google offers a free tool to test how quickly your site loads. It’s a harsh grader, so if you get a 50 or 60, don’t panic. Your site is probably still “OK.” Lower than that, and you may want to consider migrating to a faster content management system. But, if you’re a Mono Solutions customer, your site is already optimized for speed--most Mono Sites score over 95, even with how harshly this tool grades!
Another key element of optimization that a lot of small businesses miss -- link your most important pages directly from your homepage. This helps Google understand just how important the products and services they feature are to your overall business, and will give those pages more ranking potential in search results.
Use keywords when you link between pages on your website (the link text itself is called “anchor text.”)
And, especially use the keywords that each page is intended to target in that page’s Title Tag. You can see the Title Tags of each page of your existing website in the blue links that appear for a “site:yourdomain.com” search in Google.
Step 6: Content Promotion
The first 5 steps in your Roadmap have all focused on the 20% of SEO. These are all foundational best practices that you should probably complete before you start promoting your website. But remember it’s the promotion that’s going to result in ~80% of your ranking potential.
The primary “votes” that Google counts for your website are links to it from other websites. So think about where you might be able to get a link to your website:
- Suppliers or distributors whose products you sell
- Regional or national trade organizations
- Local or neighborhood business organizations
- Testimonials your business might be able to provide to service providers you do business with
- Complementary businesses (think bookstores and coffee shops, chiropractors and lawyers, etc)
- Interviews and guest columns
- Charities you or your employees donate time or money to
- Groups for whom you host events at your physical location (not during a pandemic, of course :/)
I’d also encourage you to promote your products and services via an email newsletter (at Tidings, we make that easy). Your subscribers may operate websites themselves where they might link to your promotions, or share them on social media.
Your SEO Timetable
SEO is by no means a fast, or one-time, process. It’s a marketing channel you should continue to invest in over time. Much as you might remodel a house, you still need to do regular upkeep to keep it in top shape and to prevent damage or deterioration. The same is true of your website.
Most of Steps 1-5 in the roadmap above are one-time efforts for the most part. But anytime you offer a new product or service, run a promotion, hire a new team member, etc., you should repeat those steps and think critically about how and where to place those pages in your website, and what terms they should target.
There are also a handful of one-time off-site steps you can take to improve the authority of your site. Claiming local and social profiles (and including links to your website when you claim them) builds your link footprint. If those profiles surge in popularity through an increase in reviews or followers, they’ll also convey additional authority back to your website.
Setting up an email platform, and investing in really great photography and videography can also be important one-time steps. (LEARN ABOUT: Mono Email Marketing)
Hire a photographer/videographer to come in and shoot your offices, your products, your staff, or if you’re a service business, you out in the field or at your completed projects. Building a library of photos and videos lets you drip them out over time on social media and via email, even if you post them all immediately to your website.
Content promotion and creating additional content are the steps you’ll want to continually invest in. And as I hinted above, implementing an intentional review acquisition program to build the authority of your local profiles can pay big dividends as those reviews and ratings grow over time.
Do you want to know get further information? Learn more about our SEO solutions in this video and be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates, news, inspiration, invitations for our webinars, and moro from Mono.