Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a term small businesses hear a lot as they dip their toes into digital marketing. But for such a simple idea — make your website more apparent on search engines like Google — executing on SEO can actually be much more complicated. In fact, some small business owners make a living just by being an expert in SEO.
That said, SEO can be a huge benefit for those looking to promote their small businesses. If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to be a full-fledged SEO expert, here are a few, small-business-focused details to know about.
SEO is an acronym that stands for search engine optimization. When we say “search engine,” we’re generally referring to the most widely used search engine in the world (hint: it’s Google), but there are other search engines to optimize for too (like Bing, DuckDuckGo, Qwant, and more). For small businesses trying to build relevance, it’s wise to simply focus on Google.
SEO is considered a technique that helps improve the visibility of your website on search engines — that means where it ranks in relation to other websites. When someone searches for something and goes to a specific website, that’s called “organic traffic.” They are coming to your website naturally, without the assistance of paid marketing (another great strategy that we cover here).
To get a better sense of how SEO works, it’s important to know how search engines work. They essentially look through and take note of the web pages on the Internet — this is called “crawling” and “indexing”, respectively. When someone looks for something online, the search engine quickly figures out what the most relevant web page is for that specific search.
For example: searching for “apple” won’t pull up information about the fruit or where to buy the fruit. Most people are searching for information about the Apple company, the devices it makes, or where to find the nearest Apple store, so that’s what will be displayed.
Here’s where small business marketing comes in: a website that follows specific rules for SEO can make itself more likely to appear when someone searches for something specific. For small businesses, that can be whatever the business sells or provides. More eyes to the website means more potential interest, and that means more potential revenue.
The big caveat is that you have to play by the rules and trends of what people are commonly searching for. Apologies to all the online apple (fruit) sellers out there.
This depends on how your website factors into your marketing strategy, but in most cases, you’ll want to think of your online Google audience as prospects who aren’t anywhere close to becoming your customers. We’re talking the tip-top of the marketing funnel.
A lot of small business customers (and most people in general) will turn to Google for fast and complete answers. Google, in turn, gives an online audience what it wants by promoting the top websites for specific search queries (i.e. what’s typed into Google’s search bar). If a website doesn’t meet the needs of what its audience wants to see, it falls in the rankings.
Typically, the top search result gets 33% of clicks on the page, with the second getting 15% and the third getting 9%. In total, about 75% of all clicks are on the first search results page (the top ten spots). This is where the “If you want to hide a dead body, do it on the second page of Google” joke comes from.
So marketing with SEO means you’re at the mercy of Google — they change and tinker with their search algorithm constantly, which forces everyone to adjust their strategies. They also do this when websites figure out loopholes to game the system. But that said, there are some basic rules to follow to ensure you’re using SEO to give your potential customers a great first-touch experience.
While SEO can be complicated, the good news is that small businesses often don’t need to dabble in the muddied parts of it. Most of the time, their SEO success is contingent on the keywords they choose to optimize for.
We’ve broken it down into three specific steps:
When identifying your website’s goal in relation to SEO, don’t be overly ambitious. Be pragmatic and pair your goal with your value proposition. If that’s something as simple as “my business repairs surfboards in Santa Cruz,” then that’s how you’ll approach SEO.
You also need to have a clear idea of how your website factors into your value proposition. Is the point of your website to let the world know that your small business exists? Is it to sell something online? Is it to share specific information? Or is it a mix of all of that? Make sure you know these things before moving forward.
Now you need to choose your SEO keywords to optimize your website for. Here’s what you need to ask: What would your potential customers be searching for that will lead them to your website?
If you had a surfboard repair shop in Santa Cruz called “Jack’s Shack,” you wouldn’t optimize your website with “jacks shack” as the keyword — that would lead to muddled search results with other businesses called Jack’s Shack. Similarly, if a surfboard repair shop had a weird name that no one has heard of before, it isn’t likely that a potential customer would search for it.
It’s important to optimize for keywords that are aligned with your value proposition. In the surfboard repair shop example, the value prop would be that it’s a surfboard repair shop in Santa Cruz. Therefore, the keyword to optimize would be “surfboard repair Santa Cruz.”
Now it’s time to think about how Google will find your website and how it will look on the search engine results page (often shortened to “SERP”). So where should your keywords go?
You can also include your keywords in your meta description. Google won’t boost a website’s search ranking based on keywords in meta descriptions, but it will bold them in the search results. That gives your audience a clue that your website is relevant to their interests.
Write website copy with your keywords in mind. The actual text on your website should be about your keywords — if you don’t have a website that covers what you’ve optimized for a SERP, it will result in a bad reader experience (the same as a bad customer experience).
Build context around your keywords in your copy. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to write about your keywords, try building context around them. For example, someone searching for “surfboard repair” might also search for “surfboard ding,” “broken surfboard,” or “how to fix a surfboard.” Consider these as you build out the content on your website.