SEO Essentials Every Small Business Website Needs to Get Results
Understanding on-page and off-page SEO
In basic terms search engine optimization refers to making your website show up on search engines like Google. For example, if you have a business that sells quality pet toys, you would want people searching for the term “quality pet toys” to find your website in their results.
There are two sets of factors that tell Google what your site is about, how much authority it has, and how it should rank it. These can be broken down into on-page and off-page factors. An easy way to think about it is on-page is what you tell you search engine your site is about and off-page is what the rest of the Internet tells a search engine your site is about. An example of an off-page factor would be other sites linking to you and giving your site more authority. While off-page SEO is extremely important in boosting your rankings for highly competitive terms, most small business entrepreneurs have less control over such things compared to your on-page ranking factors.
That’s why on-page SEO is a great place to start when trying to improve your business’ rankings. On-page SEO is how you will tell Google and other search engines exactly what your site is about. This can be accomplished by paying close attention to the site architecture and content.
Improving you title tags
The first thing to know is that keywords at the start of the title have more SEO weight than those at the end. Many small businesses make the mistake of putting their brand name at the start of each title tag instead of using their target keywords.
Another common mistake is making title tags that are too long. A good rule of thumb for all search engines is to keep title tags between 50 and 60 characters. Google changed how they display title tags in the SERPs (search engine results page) a few years back to use pixel limits instead of characters. If you go any longer your text will be cut off and lose its effectiveness, see the example SERP image. There is a good SERP preview tool here, which let’s you test title, description and URLs to see how they will look in Google’s SERPs.
Given the limited space creating effective title tags is a bit of an art form but there are some best practices to follow. Most of the time it’s best to have the keyword or phrase you’re wanting to target as close to the front of the tag as possible. However, you don’t want to just stuff keywords into the tag. You want it to read naturally and best case scenario have an implied call to action in it. Remember this is often the first chance you have to make an impression on a potential customer so you don’t want your title to read like spammy gibberish.
Also keep in mind that while your homepage most likely will have the most domain equity (a measure of the value of a website), you’ll also want to craft your subsequent pages with strong title tags. This will allow you to target different keywords for each of your website pages. For example maybe your business sells organic pet treats in addition to your quality pet toys. In this case you could create a separate page on your site for each product and include the specific product in your title tag, e.g. Organic Pet Treats: Keep Your Pet Healthy and Happy.
Winning the click
Although your page’s meta description tag is not a direct ranking factor it can have a big influence on getting more search traffic. If you think in terms of ads your title tag is the equivalent of a paid search headline and your meta description tag is your ad copy. In the case of organic search your title tag should attract the attention of the searcher just like an ad headline. But in order to get them to click on your listing your description needs to convince the searcher that their initial interest is justified and that your website is worth looking at, a.k.a. “winning the click.”
So what makes a good meta description tag? You want to write it from your potential customer’s point of view. In other words adopt their “what’s in it for me” mindset when you write the tag. You want to immediately address the benefit they will receive from going to your site. Going back to our “organic pet treats” example, a good description tag would be: Great tasting healthy treats will keep your pet healthy and happy. Our organic pet treats use only the highest quality ingredients. Shop today online.
This is what it would like like in a SERP:
The title tag and description both contain the target keyword, which Google will bold. This helps attract your potential customer’s eye. The title places the keyword at the front for maximum SEO benefit but conveys the end benefits. The description includes both benefits and features and finishes with a call to action.
Creating a blog
Starting a blog to go on your website can also be a great way to bring organic traffic to your site. Why? Because it not only allows you to share relevant and interesting information with potential customers but to also further define the context of your site in the eyes of Google. Even if you worry that you won’t have enough content to share on a weekly basis, having a few “evergreen” articles on your site can still help SEO and bring in visitors.
Going back to the organic pet treat example, your blog could not only include articles about the importance of organic ingredients in an animal’s diet but also share some thoughts on other topics relevant to your audience. Maybe that’s stories about being active with your dog or perhaps that just means sharing cute photos of happy, tail-wagging customers. In any case having a blog on your site allows you to potentially rank for new keywords related to your business as well as reinforce your authority on your primary ones.
If you’re like a majority of site owners you probably use WordPress. WordPress is a versatile CMS (content management system) that makes publishing new content on a website very easy. It can also be very SEO friendly when set up correctly. Google currently favors a siloed website architecture. Although site architecture is a subject far too broad for this post the basics of it boil down to organizing related content into their own sections on your site. WordPress makes this relatively easy with their category hierarchy. Just remember that every page and post on your site belongs in only one category. If you do that you will be far better off than most websites and Google will look upon you favorably.
One of the best free tools for WordPress plugin called Yoast SEO. The plugin has a number features, including making it easy to create SEO friendly URLs, preview your title and meta description tags for length, and allow you to add custom markup data for Facebook Open Graph and Twittercard, which can help with both SEO and social media engagement. There are also some more advanced SEO features but just using the basics will provide a major lift to your site.
Verifying your business info with other sites
The thing about the internet is that anyone can post whatever they want regardless of whether or not it’s accurate. That’s why you’ll want to ensure that sites like Yelp, YellowPages.com, and Google have the correct information for your business including your name, address, and phone number — or “NAP.” This is extremely important for local focused businesses, as consistent NAP is one of the factors Google uses for local rankings. Have accurate and detailed listings on those sites can also bring a lot of direct traffic, both to your website and your storefront.
One quick way to ensure that you’re information is correct across multiple sites is to use a service called Yext. This platform will confirm your NAP with other sites and correct any errors quickly and easily. Another site you’ll want to register with is Google Local which will also provide searchers with your hours of operation and other information that gets displayed in Google’s local search results.
Monitoring your results
So you’ve taken these basic steps to increase your search engine traffic. How will you know if your SEO efforts are paying off? There are a number of free tools that can help you monitor your site’s traffic. Two of the most popular are Google Analytics and the Google Search Console. Both of these will be helpful in showing how your site is performing overall and where the traffic is coming from specifically. Google Search Console can also alert you to issues with your server as well as potential website hacking so it’s important to register your site and monitor it regularly.
Another super simple to way to see how your business is ranking is to Google yourself. More accurately you’ll want to search for keywords you’re targeting and see what sites rank highest. This is a quick way to know what potential customers will see when they do the same search. Just note that, to ensure accuracy, you’ll want to do these keyword searches in a “private” or “incognito” window that doesn’t allow cookies. Otherwise your results could be skewed due to Google’s personalization algorithms.
Search engine optimization is a huge topic that unfortunately cannot be learned in one article. Additionally constant updates to Google’s search algorithms can mean that information regarding best practices can be outdated quickly. However, by adhering to these small business SEO essentials you should be able to help raise the profile of your business on web and grow your sales organically. Best of luck.