You own a small business and you have a million things on your plate. Read on to learn everything you need to know about SEO in our ultimate SEO kickstart guide.
When Scott Paxton entered a competition to see who could get their new website to the front of Google the fastest, he decided to look at what his competitors were doing.
What he learned can help you take charge of where your business ranks in the top search engine result pages (SERPs).
You want to rank first for your industry on Google…but you don’t have the time or money to spend hours trying out different strategies…how do you get great SERP results without blowing your whole budget?
This guide will walk you through how to use SEO for small business. Stop wondering why you aren’t ranking as high as you want and get a free site audit now!
Is SEO for Small Business Worth It?
You love your business and nothing excites you more than waking up to help it grow every day.
But your website and all its subdomains aren’t popping up on the first page of Google.
As much as you’ve heard about how small business SEO can help bring in new customers, you just don’t want to bother trudging through educational resources on the subject.
One easy place to start is with a SEO score. You’ll get an easy to read SEO report sent right to your inbox.
This is a great place to start if SEO seems like a daunting subject. It will show you everything you could be doing to rank higher for your keywords.
Let’s take a look at what else can help your rankings.
SEO Then and Now
In the early days of SEO, volume was all that mattered. Google wasn’t as savvy to spam and other black hat tactics as they are now.
Today, Google prizes quality over quantity. That means having great content that solves your audience’s problems will always put you ahead of your competitors.
Everyone tells you that you need great content. Sure, that’s easy to say, but how do you consistently produce great content that your readers love?
Good question. Every business using digital media in the world wonders that, so you’re not alone.
Start by creating your content strategy. Having a strategy helps eliminate the possibility of creating the wrong kind of content for your customers.
A content strategy should answer each of the following questions:
- What is the content about?
- How will it be displayed? Which social media outlets, websites, etc.
- Who will you need to hire to produce the content?
- Who will make decisions about which content is produced?
Often times marketers fall short of completing the real goal behind SEO. To get more sales. Just ranking higher for certain keywords will undoubtedly bring more traffic to your site, but if you’re attracting the wrong visitors your efforts are in vain.
How well you do at matching your customers to content that solves their problems determines your reputation with Google.
“I Have a Reputation with Google?”
Yes, Google ranks websites by how trustworthy they are. Everything from how long visitors spend on your page to whether they scroll through and read everything are factors in your reputation.
Small business online reputation management relies on several factors to help pages rank higher than their competitors.
→ Put Mobile First
On January 10th, 2017 Google made an official announcement that the future is now.
For years smartphones were the future of media consumption. Businesses knew eventually they’d need to optimize for mobile, but Google’s update set a firm date.
By now, if your site isn’t easy to bring up on a smartphone, there’s no way you’re going to make it to the top of the SERPs.
So what makes a website suitable for mobile devices? One of Google’s most recent beefs with the mobile user experience (UX) is intrusive interstitials.
→ Bad Pop-Ups
You know those pop-up ads that ask you to subscribe or buy something and don’t let you see the content until you comply?
Or even worse, when you do comply and the pop-up is unresponsive, making the whole site useless.
These are what Google considers “intrusive interstitials”. Keep in mind that only ads that hurt the user experience by either crashing the site or creating a paywall are intrusive.
That’s because Google aims to serve the searcher, not the business. Think about when you’re searching for something.
How much time have you wasted clicking on links that looked promising only to be led to a paywall?
It sucks and Google knows it.
Fix Technical Issues
Often times entrepreneurs will focus on how their website looks without testing to make sure all the features and links work.
→ Loading Speed
Research shows that 53% of people will leave a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. That’s bad news given that the average loading time of a mobile page hovers around 22 seconds.
Complicated graphics or videos can cause your site to lag too much, ultimately losing your potential leads.
→ Broken Links
Make sure every link on your site is functional. Broken links hurt your online reputation and make your whole site look unprofessional.
→ Canonical Link Elements
Canonical link elements tell search engines which page of duplicate content should be shown. You probably have several duplicates of content pages from your own site and don’t even know it.
That’s because duplication can happen due to something as small as opening a new user session. Often times a single instance URL is issued when each visitor comes to your page.
Forgetting to use canonical link elements can result in the wrong page being pushed up the SERPs.
“Would I Do This If Search Engines Didn’t Exist?”
Is the exact question Google says to ask yourself before modifying your site. It’s tempting to cater to search engines because they bring in so many of your customers.
But it’s important to keep in mind that you share the same goal as Google, to better serve your customers.
So look at Google as more of a partner than a landlord. One way to prove to Google your site is trustworthy while still providing tremendous value to the end user is through backlinks.
Backlinks are when other websites link back to your content.
How to Get Backlinks
Before we talk about how to get backlinks, let’s talk about how not to get them.
This is just as vital because black hat tactics like link schemes can result in penalties that will make your site harder to find than Timbuktu with a blindfold on.
Original content reigns supreme within Google and other search engines. Unique opinions and commentary on content from other sources is still considered original.
But content scraped from other sites with nothing of value added to the user experience will earn you a penalty fast.
A great way to get other sites to take notice of your content (and link to it) is to create a resource center.
→ Resource Center
A resource center, like this one, is the perfect way to build backlinks. No one likes being sold to. It’s why we fast forward or skip commercials whenever we can.
But a source for high quality, fresh content that answers your readers’ questions will have them begging for more.
And yes, your resource center should be totally, 100% free. Think of your resource center as a first date with a potential customer.
You want them to see the expertise and skills you have to offer. You don’t try and sell to every visitor right away the same way you wouldn’t propose to every stranger walking into Starbucks after you.
The less sales-oriented your resource page is, the better. This isn’t a buyer’s guide. Don’t try and upsell or link to products. Provide only the information readers are looking for.
It might seem counterintuitive not to focus on sales here, but remember we have a reputation to uphold with Google.
The more time reader’s spend on our pages the higher they’ll rank. A resource page builds your credibility as an expert in your industry.
How Social Media and Content Marketing Work Together
Social media is a double-edged sword when it comes to content marketing.
It democratizes content creation but it can also be more demanding than your typical marketing strategy.
That’s because not only do you speak to your users on social media, but they speak to you.
→ User-Generated Content
Taking advantage of user-generated content like customers using your branded hashtags is an important part of making your social media campaign a success.
Responding to comments and DMs also go along way in ranking your social media pages higher in SERPs.
→ Keep It Share Worthy
Social media is all about sharing. Sharing something that makes you laugh, cry, or angry is what makes social media so addicting.
It’s not like traditional media that talks at you. It’s your best friend sending you something that made them crack up.
It’s your mom sending you something that made her go, “awww!”
Always ask yourself, “would I share this on my personal profile,” before posting something on your business profiles.
Marketers used to go on nothing more than trial and error. Not anymore. We have more data than ever to base our marketing decisions on.
A website audit report is a good place to start. You’ll get a look at what’s working (and what’s not) with keywords your visitors might be using to find you. You can focus on those subjects and remove irrelevant content that may be holding you back.
Facebook’s targeting metrics are arguably the most advanced of any tech company. You can find everything from keywords your customers are searching for to what their favorite band is.
A pet supply store might target the keyword “black cat” on Halloween, which would probably create a short term surge in traffic.
But most people searching for the term “black cat” are not going to be interested in pet food.
Know who your customer is before trying to connect with them.
One of the best ways to do keyword research is with an in-depth keyword analysis. These are great because you get an instant critique of your keyword usage.
If you’re not ranking well, don’t worry! That’s the whole point of the audit. Improving your SEO strategy starts with fixing what’s broken.
If your site is lacking in keywords there is a lot of help. Content creation and backlinks are what will get you to the top of the SERPs. You can outsource a lot of this time-consuming work to a service like this.
You Can Start to See Results in Less Time Than You Think
So what did Scott Paxton learn while racing to rank his website?
Every top search result led to a subdomain of their homepage. Your homepage should act as a directory that hosts all your valuable unique content.
That’s because we want to provide value above all else. Backlinks and keywords create the language we use to communicate with Google.
But content is what speaks to our customers.
No one wants to do business with a faceless corporation. SEO and content marketing set you up to be an industry leader by humanizing your business.
To start ranking higher and attracting more customers, get a free site audit and start optimizing your page immediately! If you still need help with your SEO strategy we can help with everything from designing your website to creating a solid network of backlinks.
Stop ignoring your SEO strategy while your competitors thrive. Read this article now about what happens behind the scenes of a site audit.
The line between offline and online sales has become very blurred. There’s showrooming and Research Online, Pay Offline (ROPO), point of sale (POS) e-commerce systems, click and collect options— and then there’s local action-focused search to factor in.
With smartphones that keep us connected to the internet wherever we go, we always have the option of buying something in under a minute. We can search for things, place orders, and carry on with our days. Micro-moments are an ever-present danger to our wallets.
Retailers that aren’t taking advantage of this power are making a huge mistake, because it’s a huge source of revenue. Let’s look at what local SEO really involves, why Google cares about it, how you can optimize for it, and what really makes it worthwhile: ROI.
What does local SEO for online sales mean?
Before geo-targeting was an option, SEO was unfocused. The overall goal was always to get more traffic in general, reasoning that the more people visited a site, the more conversions there would be. It makes sense, and it works— but when there’s a physical location involved, your SEO requires a far more granular approach.
Because it operates through a physical location, local SEO needs to be geographical to an extent that goes beyond simply knowing what country a user is from. Consider the average Google search made from a phone in today’s world. Google won’t just parse the text; it will use the searcher’s specific locational data in combination with the specified keywords to try to find the best possible solution in that context.
Just look at the enormous increase in the use of the term “near me” in America over the course of the last 7 years. We know that we don’t need to type our current locations, so we don’t bother. We pass our tasks to Google, and it takes one look at our location data and figures out what exactly we’re talking about.
That’s what makes it so much more important (and interesting) to optimize for.
Why Google prioritizes local SEO
Imagine that you got hungry on a night out and wanted to visit a restaurant, but you couldn’t think of what could be open at that time. Eager to eat, you could take out your phone and search for “restaurants still open right now”. Google would interpret the string, conclude (quite correctly) that you were searching specifically for restaurants in your area, and deliver results meeting your criteria.
This focus on understanding intent—recognizing what a user meant regardless of what they actually said—is a key part of local SEO. It’s all about figuring out the purpose of a search so the best results can be found, and mobile devices play into this hugely (since searches from mobile devices cumulatively comprise well over half of all web searches now).
By listing a company in response to a local query, whether as a top result or even a featured rich snippet, Google knows it is implicitly recommending the locations it lists. If you can give your business the best chance of being such a recommended location, it will benefit you hugely through increased business from mobile users ready and willing to convert.
How you can optimize for local search
Given the overwhelming importance of being picked by Google as a top result for a local search, local SEO is all about covering all the bases and jumping through every hoop provided. Google wants as much information as possible. Here are some things you can offer:
- A Google My Business Map Listing
Filling in Google’s My Business page is an essential component of appearing on Google Maps. Without it, you won’t be featured, and all your local SEO efforts will be ruined as Google won’t want to rank you for a local search when it isn’t even sure your business is in that area.
- Local Content
Your business should have a blog or at least some form of content updated semi-regularly. Use your content to write about your area and your place in it— touch upon relevant area keywords, but be sure to make it good content regardless. If you make a guide to your area, it’ll give you new ranking possibilities and further associate your business with your location (remember to share it on social media for added exposure).
- User Reviews
A company with no reviews appears suspicious. Even if you get glowing reviews offline, it won’t help your traffic. Encourage your customers to leave you reviews through Google+ (it’s mostly dead, but the reviewing is still of value), an external review service if you have enough customers to justify it, or (if your online store setup supports it) even a free or cheap review add-on.
While you can include reviews through microdata, it’s not all you can tag. You can point out anything you can list through Google My Business (including opening hours, holiday hours, menu link, etc.) and more, including product types, dimensions, materials, etc. Google may not want to rely on it, but for the moment it still has value.
By including as much detail as you can about what your business does, where it is, and how it operates, you can make your company a viable contender for SERP positioning when a relevant search is made.
If you’re willing to do some PPC to get things moving, you can use Google’s Merchant Center to advertise your product listings inside results pages, plus they’re playing with a system for buying directly through search results. PPC doesn’t innately affect SEO, but if it brings in new customers who really like your site and your service, the uptick in your metrics certainly will.
The high ROI of local SEO for online sales
We still need to answer the titular question of what investment in local SEO can do for your online sales (and offline sales)… so let’s do that now since we only need one term: high ROI.
The scattergun approach of standard SEO gets strong results, but it also wastes resources for businesses with physical locations and associated restrictions. It brings in people who never intended to buy anything, traffic from overseas, and a weak return on the effort.
You don’t just catch stragglers— you catch the people who are in the right location at the right time and itching to buy something you can offer them.
While it’s challenging to track local SEO ROI sometimes, try using call tracking to segment the data. Use one number for your Google My Business listing, another for your website, and another for any other type of campaign you run.
Once you’re done, you’ll be able to narrow things down and figure out where all your sales are coming from. You’ll most likely see that your local traffic is converting at the highest rate. If it isn’t, then you’re doing something seriously wrong to push away locals and should think about your overall strategy.
Getting the SEO rockin’ for your small business website can be tricky (and frustrating). Especially, if you’re trying to do it on your own. The good news is that there are a number of common issues you can easily resolve, with a little direction. Focus on these strategies, and your website will be taking a giant leap in the right direction.
I’ve completed hundreds of small business website SEO audits over the past couple of months. I’ve tracked the data from these audits and ran some statistical analysis on it. There are definitely some noticeable trends.
The first thing I noticed is something many owners/managers may not realize about their small business website…
Lots of people can put together a nice looking website these days. But from what I saw, many of the most amazing looking websites were some of the worst performing ones. A primary purpose for any small business website is to drive sales. So all the pretty in the world doesn’t mean a thing.
Aside from that, there are eight key observations I’ve been able to make from looking at the data. Each of these has a significant impact on your website’s ability to do its job well.
What To Expect
- Use an Effective Domain Name
- Get Encrypted with an SSL Certificate
- Build a Portfolio of Quality Links Back to Your Website
- Establish Your Authority
- Work on Page Speed for a Better User Experience
- Optimize for Mobile First
- Clean Up the On-Page Elements
- Step Up Your Professional Brand Image
Use an Effective Domain Name
This first observation simply blows me away. After all, this is the foundation of all other strategies for your website. It’s about domain name selection. One thing you need to understand is that the first thing people and search engines see is your domain name. And first impressions matter, to both people and search engines.
No pressure. But don’t mess this up.
Here’s what I’m talking about. Let’s say your company, Southern State Roofing Company, launches a new website. The worst thing you can do is to abbreviate the main identifying keywords into something like ssrcompany.com. That doesn’t tell anyone anything about who you are and what you do.
You’ll miss out on any kind of name recognition with people. You’ll also miss the opportunity to get the business keyword of “roofing” in there.
A domain name like southernstateroofing.com, while longer, will be easier to remember and will help your chances on search engines.
Better yet, try using one of the many not-com names that are gaining popularity. If the .com isn’t available, then a great option in this example could be southernstateroofing.contractors (yep, .contractors is an option). This can help a great deal when people search for terms like. “[your city] roofing contractors.”
TIP #1: It’s important to use a name that’s not only memorable but also one that sets you up well with the search engines.
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Get Encrypted with an SSL Certificate
If you don’t know already, security is a huge deal on the Internet these days. It’s such a big deal that Google is impacting search engine rankings based on how seriously you take this. And Chrome, the leading web browser, is starting to show “Not Secure” warnings for websites that don’t run an SSL (encryption) certificate.
Of the websites I reviewed, fewer than 30% of them currently do not have a security certificate.
Using an SSL certificate on your website means that it will run as an HTTPS website instead of the regular HTTP version. It will encrypt user information when delivered over the web. For example, when someone fills out a contact form on your website, their information could be exposed on a non-HTTPS website.
Taking care of security and encryption on your website with an SSL certificate will have two main benefits:
- It’ll protect you from the security-mageddon happening now with search engines and web browsers.
- Your visitors (potential customers) will have more confidence in doing business with you when they see the big green “Secure” indicator in their browser.
TIP #2: Get an SSL certificate for your website now. Standard Domain Validation (DV) certificates are inexpensive and are sometimes included in hosting plans.
Build a Portfolio of Quality Links Back to Your Website
There’s no doubt about it, the Internet is built on links. That’s why it’s called the web. That’s all Google is doing. At their core, they’re providing you with some links that should answer your questions. Google’s mission statement is to, “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Google not only provides links to answer your questions, but they also evaluate links to your site to determine usefulness.
Their goal is to always provide the best answers they can to your questions. If they start providing non-relevant information, then they know we’ll leave to find answers elsewhere. So the quality of the links they provide is of utmost importance.
One of the ways they evaluate the value and authority of your content is to look at the links to your website. The idea is that if a higher authority website links to you for an answer on something, then you must be valuable.
That’s where MozRank comes in as a measurement (for us, not necessarily for Google). It’s a way to measure link popularity of a website. A website is scored on a scale from 0-10, with 10 being the highest.
The average MozRank of the website evaluated in this study was 3.79. That’s not a horrible number but still shows that most sites have a great deal of room for improvement as it relates to link building.
The average website you’ll visit when surfing the web will likely be around 3-4.
TIP #3: Make sure you have a strategy for building strong links back to your website. This can be done with SEO link-building services (like ours), guest posting on other websites, and developing local citations for your business.
Establish Your Authority
Like MozRank, the Domain Authority (DA) score has to do with how authoritative your website it. But it takes into consideration more than just the MozRank factors. It’s a score that measures a site’s authority through measuring links (internal and external), mobile-friendliness, on-page content, and site structure.
In my experience, I’ve seen DA scores go up and down just based on the page structure of a website. Specifically, as it relates to the topic(s) your website is supposed to be about.
Using the Southern States Roofing Company example from earlier, that domain name is one of the factors considered in the DA score. Choose your name wisely, and it’ll help you out quite a bit.
In addition to that, it should be clear to search engines (and visitors) what your website is about. If your main pages and menu structure include more generic About, What We Do, Testimonials, Gallery, Contact pages, then you’re making it more difficult for search engines to figure out what you’re really about. None of your keywords are showing there.
Instead, consider main navigation pages like About, Roof Replacement, Roof Repair, Roof Inspections, etc. This will make it more clear what you are an authority on.
And for a bonus, create subpages to build more depth and structure. So under Roof Replacement, consider adding subpages for Tile Roof Replacement, Shingle Roof Replacement, Metal Roof Replacement, etc. Additionally, blog posts can be another way to add depth to the website and pass authority up to other cornerstone content pages.
The average DA score for the websites we evaluated was 15.25. That’s on a scale of 1-100. Getting your DA score more into the 30-40 range can result in great improvements in rankings. Get yourself over 50, and you’ll almost be able to write your own ticket on the search engines.
TIP #4: Consider how well your website is built from an authority perspective (check out this case study on website structure). And develop some depth with strong content to establish your authority.
Work on Page Speed for a Better User Experience
One really important ranking factor that seems to be often missed is PageSpeed. From Google’s perspective, if you’re too slow, then you’re not a good answer for them to present. They want to minimize the impatient-factor in the results they present.
Too often, website owners and developers go for the super flashy and pretty design, but don’t do it in a way that keeps the site running smooth. Too many large images and videos and scripts can knock you way down on this score.
The average PageSpeed score of the websites I evaluated was 60, well below the 85 (on a scale of 1-100) that Google gives a green light to. And the greatest offenders were the people who likely thought they have an amazing new website that looks incredible but had scores in the 30s.
In WordPress, there are plenty of great tools to help you optimize images, minify scripts, and leverage caching. All of these are crucial in maintaining quicker page load speeds.
TIP #5: If you’re on WordPress, then consider some optimization plugins to clean things up right away. If you’re on other site builders like Wix or Weebly, consider moving to WordPress. Our managed WordPress hosting will include plenty of these tools, and we’ll even help take care of it for you.
Optimize for Mobile First
Whats worse than scoring a 60 for Google PageSpeed on your website? How about scoring a 51 for PageSpeed on mobile for your website? Unfortunately, that’s the average mobile PageSpeed score for the evaluated websites.
During a time when Google is focusing so much on mobile-first indexing, you need your website to perform well on mobile.
There are two ways you can do this:
- Get your web pages running on AMP. This is Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. Basically, the idea is to push your page content into a more mobile format that Google serves up really quickly through their results pages on mobile devices. The downside is that it technically doesn’t get the traffic ON your website, so you may lose some of the experience as pages are stripped down for speed.
- Focus more on the mobile version of your website’s design. All websites these days should be mobile responsive. But mobile responsive doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s mobile optimized.
With the typical website getting around 50% (and constantly increasing) of their traffic through mobile now, you cannot afford to skimp on this.
TIP #6: There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the methods of mobile optimization. The important thing is that you spend some time doing this optimization. Do take a desktop-only approach to design. And don’t just think about converting the design to mobile optimized, consider mobile-first content too.
Clean Up the On-Page Elements
One of the biggest on-page factors for your content is the metadata, image alt tags, and header text. Your keywords should be built into each of these elements on every page. Too many websites fail to optimize this for their keywords, or simply miss it altogether. In our experience, cleaning this stuff up across the website is one of the easiest ways to get some big wins with your SEO.
And don’t optimize every page on your site to the same keywords. That feels unnatural because not every page is about the same exact thing. Using our roofing company example, consider optimizing pages like this:
- Homepage –> “roofing contractor” as the keyword focus
- Roof replacement page –> “roof replacement [your city]” keyword focus
- Roof repair page –> “roof repair [your city]” keyword focus
Using a plugin like Yoast SEO, the metadata can be updated in the “snippet” settings for the page. That’s the information that shows up in the search engine results for your page. (Can you guess what keyword terms the page shown below is optimized for?)
Many websites also contain generic text in header text on most website pages. For example, the header text for a section on the page might be “Our Services,” which doesn’t contain keywords. Instead, consider using something like “Roofing Services” instead.
TIP #7: Review the metadata settings for each page on your website, and make sure they contain your keywords and look enticing for searchers to click on. Also review all header formatted text to make sure it’s specific, and check all images to ensure the “alternative text” contains your keywords.
Step Up Your Professional Brand Image
This last item isn’t necessarily a performance or SEO metric. It’s more of a branding issue. Many (a large many) of the websites analyzed used a non-domain based email address for their contact email.
For example, our southernstateroofing.contractors should be using email@example.com for email instead of firstname.lastname@example.org (or worse, email@example.com).
Honestly, Gmail is not as bad because of how widely used it is. But using a domain name based email address that matches your company’s website address provides a much more professional image. And people will judge you based on little things like this.
TIP #8: Just get the email addresses set up. If you prefer, you can set up your Gmail to send/receive that email for you. So you can continue to use the Gmail interface, but with a much more professional image.
If you want your online marketing efforts to be successful, then getting your small business website design done properly is of great importance. And it involves more than throwing up some cool photos or some drone video. You’ll need to get these website design fundamentals done right if you’re going to have a chance of succeeding.
But if you get these elements right, you’ll set yourself up far ahead of the competition. If you already have a small business website in place, then let us run a free, no-obligation website SEO analysis report for you. You can use the information to improve your website on your own. Or hit us up to talk about how we can help take care of issues or just build you a well-designed website.
Regardless, it’s important to know where your website stands and to take steps to improve its ability to drive results for you.
I’m asked about this quite frequently. It’s this question about how to design a website and ensure it’s set up for the best possible search engine ranking. Because being found on search engines can make or break your online success. So it’s not just a question about ranking high for a certain keyword. It’s about ranking high for the best keywords to drive results.
Before we dig into the details, it’s important to understand that search engine optimization (SEO) success is dependent on two factors. The first factor is on-site design and setup. This has to do with the structure and mapping of pages on your site, the content you offer, and several behind-the-scenes settings. The second factor is off-site promotion. This has more to do with link building and gaining outside credibility for your website. Our focus here today will be with the first of these two factors, on-site design.
A few years ago, some friends started a new laser engraving business. As they were kicking things off, they knew that the website was going to be a key piece of their strategy. So we got together and built a site around their main keyword of laser engraving. The site did well in ranking for that phrase, and it helped generate several new customers for them.
Over time, the business continued to grow, and the owners gained a better understanding of their niche. Most of the work they are doing falls into two main categories. One type of customer they get is business and corporate accounts looking to get logos engraved onto other products as promotional giveaways. The other type of customer is looking for personalization on keepsake items, such as wedding party gifts.
As they began to expand and focus on those two categories, they also felt like it was time for the website to evolve with them. The good news is that the website was rock solid with terms related to laser engraving. However, it wasn’t anywhere on the radar for terms related to these two categories. The new design would need to capitalize on these niche categories.
Keyword Research (Where a Good SEO Strategy Begins)
When we set out to design a website for search engine ranking, the first thing we need to do is keyword research. I’m a firm believer in following what the data tells me. I never arbitrarily pick a keyword phrase out of a hat and build a website.
We targeted three keyword phrases in order to show up in searches for the best possible audience.
- laser engraving (already ranking well locally for this, and didn’t want to lose it)
- promotional products
- personalized gifts
We selected these phrases after evaluating dozens of options and alternatives in Google’s Keyword Planner tool. When doing this for a local business, it’s helpful to filter results geographically. For example, you don’t want to use soda in an area where it’s more commonly called pop. Filtering geographically will get you the terms people actually use in your area to find what you’re offering. Beyond that, it’s all about finding the terms that have the highest search volume. And it’s a bonus if they have low competition. These terms present the greatest opportunities to capture visitors.
How To Design a Website for Results
Search engines are looking for authority. They want to ensure that the pages they send searchers to are the most helpful resources available. Old SEO methods of keyword stuffing pages just don’t do the trick anymore. So you need to show value. One of the best ways to show value (and authority) is through strong content. And long-form content typically shows higher authority than a few short blurbs. Therefore we built three high-authority pages mapped out like this:
- Homepage (main keyword: laser engraving) – Our target for the homepage is 1500 words of content. Within that content, we have sections with short summaries for the other target keyword phrases. And then we added other general information about laser engraving.
- Authority page (keyword: promotional products) – The target for other authority pages is at least 800 words of content. We used similar keywords, such as promotional items and custom logo engraving, but the main focus was on primary term.
- Authority page (keyword: personalized gifts) – This page has the same 800-word target and used other supporting key phrases like anniversary gifts and personalized wedding gifts.
The new website structure focuses primarily on these three pages. Other existing pages aren’t removed. However, the more we can focus on core navigation for these three pages, the better. Therefore, we add the new authority pages to the header menu and link to them from the homepage. Likewise, the authority pages link to each other and back to the homepage.
Back-End Tactics to Improve Search Engine Ranking
Strong SEO writing is an important part of this process. Additionally, there are some other back-end pieces that to take care of. It’s things like creating strong snippets (using Yoast SEO) that can make a big difference. Not only should a snippet contain your keywords, but it also needs a strong call-to-action.
In addition to this kind of metadata, we make sure other elements are properly addressed:
- Content readability – Yoast SEO does a great job scoring the page content for this. And I like to run all of my content through Hemingway App to help me find and correct difficult to read sentences, passive voice, and other readability factors.
- Link balance – Every page should have links to other internal (your site) pages, but also external links to other websites. Don’t overdo it, but make sure the page’s links are strong and add value.
- XML sitemap considerations – Static pages on the site that provide authority should be set to a high priority for the search engine bots. Additionally, less important pages (like your contact page, etc) should be bumped down in priority or removed from indexing altogether. This helps tell the search engines to determine what content is really important on the website.
Beyond this, if you have green lights from Yoast SEO on readability and SEO, then you should be all set.
Before this redesign work on the website, laser engraving was already performing well for us in local searches. Usually in the top three, and sometimes number one. The site was not ranking at all for the terms promotional products or personalized gifts. Once Google’s bots got to index the new site changes, we noticed some nice results. The homepage now seems to have a pretty strong hold on the #1 spot for laser engraving locally. And local searches for the other terms are now ranking the website in the top five!
Promotional products is currently ranking the homepage at #5…
Personalized gifts is performing even better with TWO pages ranking in the top five! Here you see that not only did the homepage rank for this term, but so did the authority page…
These results were achieved without any other external SEO work. Simple, yet strong design strategy resulted in major improvements in search engine rankings.
At the same time, there are a few other tactics which could support (or even improve) strong results like this:
- Link building and other off-site SEO promotion – Building a good portfolio of links pointing back to all of these pages could continue to enhance their credibility.
- Content marketing strategy – Producing fresh and relevant content using related keyword terms can strengthen on-site authority.
- Social media marketing – Providing social proof for these pages by sharing them regularly on social media sends strong signals to the search engines.
There’s definitely a strategy to follow if you want to build a website for great search engine ranking. And the key really is to think through all of the elements of the design and don’t skip some for convenience. If you do a good job with all of this, you’ll see the payoff in increased visibility (and traffic).
Winning in local SEO isn’t about doing some magic trick and spiking yourself up to number one overnight. Remember the story about the tortoise and the hare? The idea is simple. Keep doing the right things consistently over time, and you’ll win. You can increase your organic (not paid ad) Google traffic over time by consistently focusing on a few key tactics.
That’s what happened last year with one local business we work with. And I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t have much hope for them at times through this process.
If you understand SEO, then you know there are internal and external factors that impact your rankings. Internal factors might include having a strong, user-friendly website design and authoritative content in your area of expertise. External factors deal with off-site issues like having a strong backlink strategy. In order to do really well, both of these areas need to be handled well.
What We Could Have Done Better
It was a year of transition for this local business. Over the course of the year, there were three different Marketing leads to work with. The transitions meant different ideas coming to the table regularly, and a need to move slowly on big changes. For us, that meant we weren’t able to pull the trigger on some bigger website changes we felt needed to get done. In particular, it would have helped our SEO chances greatly if we were able to:
- Update the look and feel of the site to a more modern design
- Restructure and streamline the site for user experience and a strong sitemap
- Bulk up thin content pages to show greater authority
The good news is that it looks like we may be giving these things more attention this year. With this stuff not running optimally, we saw improvements in Google traffic, but not as much as we could have.
The Improvement We Saw In Google Traffic
In 2015, organic search produced 4,333 first-time visitors to the website. In 2016, that number was 6,446 first-time visitors. That’s an increase of over 2,100 more people (48.77%) coming through their (virtual) doors!
This chart might not look overwhelming, but remember the tortoise and the hare? Each month this year (blue bar) represents an increase anywhere from 110 to 280 more new visitors per month than the previous year (orange bar). It represents steady, consistent work resulting in steady, consistent results.
What We Did To Get These Results
Early in the year, we did some initial cleanup and link building, which gave us a bit of a boost out of the gate. Internally, there was some cleaning up of meta descriptions (the snippets you see in search results), and other optimization. Externally, we did multiple tiers of link building and social bookmarking. That all gave us a good start, but the real story is in the consistency throughout the year. Here’s what we did, and all within a budget of less than $400/mo:
- Backlink Cleanup – Before we got into building our (good) backlink portfolio, we first needed to get rid of any old backlinks that were hurting us. We were able to uncover several links that held us down and get rid of them (as far as Google is concerned).
- Creating Social Signals – We have a way to sort of mimic the effect that celebrity social media accounts can have when they share something. These social signals usually have a quick impact by showing the search engines that something on your site is of high social value.
- Contextual Links with Guest Posting – The idea here is to get authoritative websites to write an article about a subject related to you and include a link in the article back to your website. The higher authority of the website, the higher value of the link back to you.
- Advanced Crowdsearch – This is a strategic way of creating some of the other signals search engines look at to determine the value of your site (and its content). When search engines see the value, they bump you up in the rankings.
After the backlink cleanup, we just put the other three items on a three-month rotation. Each month we would do just one of them, and target it at the homepage of the website. After we worked through all three of them over a three-month period, we would start over.
Consistency is the Key
It’s also important to note that if the budget allowed for us to do two or three of these things every month, the results we saw would be greatly magnified. You get out of it what you put into it. But more importantly, the key is in the consistency.
Doing the right things regularly paid off by generating more Google traffic to the website. And if we’re doing our job well on the website, then we’ll be converting those visits into sales leads and then into customers. More on that idea some other time…
The internet of today is competitive, and having a strong local SEO strategy is a necessity for small businesses. Most business owners know the difficulty of remaining competitive online, but they don’t know where to start. Small businesses owners should consider these local SEO optimization tips.
Stay Compliant With Google Updates
Google rolled out their latest update in September 2016, and it encourages business owners to provide a more useful, relevant experience for searchers. The Penguin update lists a few strategies that can help business owners push their sites to the top of local rankings. Some factors revealed in the Penguin update include domain authority, on-page optimization, and the physical address of businesses.
Create Pages for Local Listings
Another effective strategy is to build local listing pages on directories such as Google+, Yelp, and Foursquare (just to name a few). Business owners should create profiles on these directory sites and claim site ownership. From there, the owner should ensure the accuracy and consistency of the listings. By listing the website on these directories, business owners can rise through local listings.
Sign Up for Your Google My Business Page
By signing up for Google’s My Business, a local business owner can make his or her site more visible on Google+, Search, Maps, and Google Local. When the site owner signs into this service, they can enter or update the business’ address and contact information, and they can also access other apps such as Reviews, Insights, Analytics, and Hangouts. The business search service can be accessed via desktop browser or mobile app, and the app provides notifications when someone reviews the site on Google+.
Add a Blog Page to the Business Website
Putting a blog page on the company website will help the owner improve the site’s visibility. The more posts you publish, the more visitors will come to the site. Writing blog posts allows business owners to target locally-relevant search terms and keywords, and these posts can keep visitors on the site once they’re there. The longer a visitor stays on the site, the more likely they are to turn into a customer. Relevant, engaging blog content reduces bounce rates, which are an important measurement of the site’s search engine ranking.
Optimize Your Site for Mobile Devices
Optimizing a site for mobile users is another important way to improve its search engine rankings. With each Google algorithm update, mobile optimization becomes more important. Updates prioritize sites that display well on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, and these sites rank higher in mobile search results.
Ask Visitors for Positive Reviews
Google gives great importance to online reviews during site rankings. Good reviews build trust in a site and enhance credibility, and that’s why it is important for business owners to gather positive reviews from customers. Owners can increase the likelihood of customer endorsement with emails listing all the major review sites such as Google Places and asking for their input on products and services.
Create Engaging Content
With each algorithm update, it becomes increasingly important to have site content that offers users something of value. It’s quite easy to create engaging, valuable site content. All the business owner has to do is determine customers’ concerns and write content that attempts to resolve them. By solving a reader’s specific problem, a business owner can enrich that customer’s online experience.
Create and Maintain Social Media Pages
Building a solid presence on sites like LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter is critical for a business owner who wants high search engine rankings. Social media also has indirect effects on site rankings. When a company’s fan base increases, more people visit the site. Search engines take site popularity cues from search results, and increased traffic can boost the site’s rankings.
Improve the User Experience
Business owners should focus on an improved user experience (UX) by making sites easy to navigate. Clear layouts, appealing designs, and easy-to-find contact info can go a long way toward a better UX, and these factors can encourage visitors to remain on the site longer. When visitors stick around, conversion and bounce rates improve, and it boosts the site’s search engine ranking.
To dominate search rankings, site owners should regularly update site content. This helps sites in two main ways. First, regular updates keep customers coming back to see what’s new. Second, Google’s algorithm updates tend to favor sites that frequently post new content. By following the tips listed here, business owners can improve their local SEO.
P.S. Learn more about our search engine optimization (SEO) services, and drive more traffic to your site.