SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the process by which a business or website will work on improving the quality of its content, authority (links to that site from around the internet), reviews, and technical performance (speed etc) so that it shows up higher in the search results.
It’s one of the most powerful ways a small business can market itself, as it allows businesses to punch above their weight. Bigger businesses might be spending millions on old-fashioned strategies like billboards, TV and even yellow pages. A small business can be number one without spending a dollar on any of those strategies. They can just do SEO.
The key elements of SEO are content (the words on your site), links to your site - if people link to you it shows you’re trusted - and finally reviews, site speed and other technical issues. Naturally, search engines trust sites that people love and that load quickly more than broken sites for businesses that nobody has ever reviewed positively!
One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make with their content is simply not having enough of it.
It’s easy for an inexperienced business owner to imagine their website more like a brochure than an information resource. With that strategy in mind, they try to condense things, keep them short, cover all their services on one list etc.
That kind of strategy can work for larger businesses where Google will often attribute a range of services to them and return the homepage for all. For a smaller business, however, it’s important to detail each service and provide a unique (and equally importantly - converting) page for each service.
Take a pest control business as an example. They might make the mistake of simply listing their different services, eg ‘wasp control’, ‘bed bug removal’ etc all on one services page with no detail. That fails for two reasons. The first is simply that Google will trust a site/be more likely to send visitors to a pest control business that has a detailed wasp control page than one that simply mentions wasp control somewhere on the site.
Secondly, though, you have to consider your visitors when you’re putting pages up too, not just Google, otherwise your site won’t convert into business.
What about those visitors who want to know more about your wasp control activities? Perhaps they want to know if you can deliver eco-friendly wasp control. Others will want to know if you can offer pet-safe wasp control. You can only convert those customers, answer their questions, and get the business if you have a detailed page for each service.
And, of course, when people search for ‘pet safe wasp control’ you’ll get the click too from Google, whereas the business who just has ‘wasp control’ on a list will rarely get that visitor at all.
Be sure to consider all the phrases related to the service you’re offering. For example if you’re selling cheap wine don’t just type ‘cheap wine’ over and over on the page in all your headings and paragraphs. That type of over optimisation of content is now ‘out of fashion’ and unlikely to fool Google.
Instead talk about everything related to cheap wine, for example boxes and bottles, artificial cork, sulfites to increase shelf life, grapes, locations, flavours. Anything that Google will know is semantically related to cheap wine will help show that your page is deeper and more authoritative. You’ll see this kind of strategy sometimes discussed as ‘LSI keywords’ online - you may wish to do more research into that before writing, but it’s not necessary if you cover your topic deeply and just consider your competitors' pages/the types of topics they cover and look to better them.
Your customers also love to be kept in the loop! The occasional blog post of a job you’ve completed with quality pictures and video increases the chances somebody who has found your site will buy from you because they can TRUST the work you’ve already done.
Often, the best businesses are mentioned in the press, have won awards, are regularly mentioned by charities they support and by communities they participate in both online and locally, and are cited by businesses they partner with.
All of that results in a strong network of links from all around the web to your strongest competitors. Google knows that these links are a powerful signal that a business receiving them is highly authoritative in their space and worth ranking more highly.
In order to compete with a business that has a strong lead over your business in links, you must develop a strategy to not just close that gap (they will naturally be continuing to build links themselves) but overtake and maintain a lead.
This usually involves a lot of networking, local outreach, charity work and other local activities but once that low hanging fruit is all used up, you will then need a strategic approach to accumulate more links from all around the web. One of the most popular ways is to build a flagship piece of content (like this) with useful information, beautiful data and animations and then promoting that through hard work and manual outreach to webmasters and publishers.
Once you have your content perfected, and as many or more links than your competition, usually you’ll be in a strong position to compete in the Google search results. However, there’s still more that small businesses can do to improve their results, conversion rates and leads from search.
A great way to build links is to leverage existing relationships you already have. For example, if your business is currently donating to a charity or cause, ask them to place a link on their website to yours. You can also search Google for mentions of your business that aren’t linking to your website, and ask them to simply drop a link to your site!
If linkbuilding seems like a daunting task, or you simply don’t have the time to get it done, we can effectively devise a backlink strategy for you so that your website gains trust and credibility in the eyes of search engines.
Google shows the reviews your business gets right there on the search results if you’re a local business. Those reviews will impact many users in their decision whether or not to visit your site or to go to one of your competitors. In order to take advantage of this you’ll need to claim your Google listing - which Google explains here - https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177?hl=en-GB.
There is also some evidence that all things being equal, Google also considers reviews when trying to split similar businesses apart for those valuable top map-pack positions that show on the homepage of Google.
Some automated tools can be used to help you gather reviews, direct complaints to your complaints team instead of to public review forums etc (For example gatherup.com - formerly Get Five Stars).
However if your business is too small or you don’t have a team in place to manage that kind of detail when it comes to your review strategy, you should just instil a ‘reviews first’ ethos in your team.
Anytime someone tells you they’re happy just explain that a review on Google would be a huge help to you and if they took a few seconds it would really help your business out. That reviews-first ethos will lead to enough people leaving reviews over a few years and as you’re only asking people who are happy/telling you they’re really happy, you’ll mainly get good but legitimate reviews.
Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to buy fake reviews or do anything that could put your entire Google My Business listing in danger. Quite often, review services for hire are using people from around the world to use fake reviews, and Google can easily tell that a person in China most likely didn’t hire you (from New Jersey, we’ll say) to pressure wash their house and sidewalk.
As a small business you likely have one web developer you contract with now and then to fix up your site rather than an on-site tech team making regular updates to your business website.
It is also important to make sure you don’t have any broken links on your website. If Google looks at your website and notices that you have many broken links (whether they are to other pages on your site or external websites) it will simply stop reviewing your website and move on to other sites that it deems more credible. If you have a small website, you can easily review all the links using a normal web browser in less than an hour. However, if your website is large and has many pages you may consider using software (such as Screaming Frog) that will crawl your website for you, and report any errors it may have.
A great way to optimize your website for speed is to make sure your images are compressed properly. Internet users want your website to load as quickly as possible and the likelihood of them giving up and looking elsewhere increases by 32 percent when load time increases from one second to three seconds.
Free tools such as Caesium are great for this task and very simple to use. By compressing your images (making the file itself smaller) your site will load faster and make potential customers happy!