Are you looking for a high level overview of what SEO is and why it matters? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Small businesses leaders wear so many hats. CEO, HR, Sales, Finance, Janitor…the list can go on and on.
We support small businesses all over the US and in SouthEast Asia, but no matter where in the world small businesses are located, it’s clear that their teams already have more than enough to worry about. We’ve created this resource to help people like you get a quick understanding of SEO and why it matters for your business.
In this article, we’ll cover the following topics:
- Intro to SEO
- The benefits of SEO for a small business
- What is on-page SEO
- What is off-page SEO
- Immediate things you can do to improve your SEO
What is SEO?
Moz is a great resource on the subject of SEO, which they’ve defined here on their site.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
Everyone wants to show up on the first page of Google when their customers start searching relevant topics, but it doesn’t just happen. It requires intentional effort to improve your SEO.
Google (along with other search engines) has an ever-changing and improving algorithm that has one goal: Give search users exactly what they are looking for.
But it’s more than just providing search users with what they’re looking for. It involves understanding the intent of the user’s search in order to create a list of results that is as helpful as possible.
Think of Google as a digital library in which websites are books. Google looks through every page of those website “books” and creates a curated list of pages that could (and likely will) answer your question, solve your problem, etc.
So how do you show up on the first page of Google when your customers search for something that your business is able to help with?
Well, there’s no short answer, but it is relatively simple. You need to work on your SEO, both on-page and off-page.
The Benefits of SEO for a Small Business
What you want is more customers for less effort and cost. Put simply, that is the primary benefit when a business begins optimizing a website for search.
But why does that happen? When you invest in SEO (both on-page and off-page SEO) multiple results occur:
- Clearer understanding of what your customers want (their search intent)
- Helpful resources which improve customers’ buying process
- Customers more easily get what they want
It makes sense that when you are understanding, serving, and making things easy for your customers, that you’d get more of them. Right?
This does take intentional work on your part, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to help. Google is always improving their algorithm which usually impacts search rankings. This is a good thing for both users and businesses, but it means an ongoing commitment to SEO work.
The good news is that your small business can grow its revenue and market share with SEO whether you want to simply capture more of your local community’s market share (with local SEO strategies) or expand into new territories.
What is On-page SEO?
On-page SEO usually involves what most people likely think of when they think about SEO.
This is the SEO work that takes place on your actual website. On-page SEO includes everything from focusing on specific keywords to ensuring that your website is optimized for mobile devices.
The full checklist of what is required for on-page SEO is extensive, but most aspects are relatively straightforward to manage in-house if you have a user friendly CMS like WordPress.
So what does on-page SEO include?
On-page SEO includes things like:
- Keywords optimized for search intent
- SSL certificate
- User optimized structure for your website (i.e. help them find what they’re looking for quickly)
- Mobile optimized design
- Helpful content that is both full in detail, but also simply written (think 8th grade level writing)
- Schema markup where necessary
- URLs that are short and descriptive
- Optimized titles, meta-descriptions, H1 tags, and alt-tags
- Incredibly fast load times for pages
This is a good place to mention that if you’re thinking about hiring a web design company to rebuild your business’s website, you should do your homework on the more technical on-page SEO components so that you can be sure that they’re building your website with SEO essentials at the start of the process. Otherwise, you may need to start from scratch again or spend a fortune with an SEO agency that has to retroactively do the work.
What is Off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO is everything you do to improve your SEO that doesn’t take place on your actual website.
The component of off-page SEO that industry insiders believe most strongly moves the needle is link-building. However there can never be complete certainty, because while Google does let us in on the components that improve rankings, it doesn’t provide a clear set of instructions such as, “if you do x, then y and z will happen.”
Experts in SEO are always trying to understand which off-page SEO practices deliver the greatest value; but without full transparency from Google, the system will never be 100% understood.
Why does Off-page SEO matter?
You need to work on your website’s off-page SEO because it can be challenging to get your awesome content to rank well in Google searches otherwise.
Google takes into account many different off-page factors when putting together search engine results pages for users.
Link building is still important
Some have said that link building is no longer the most important off-page SEO factor, but there are still very clear correlations between improving backlink profiles and organic web traffic.
A website’s backlink profile is simply a way to look at the quantity and quality of websites that are linking back to your website’s pages.
The graph above from ahrefs shows the correlation between a keyword’s ability to rank in the top 100 and the number of referring domains (i.e. backlinks).
Quite simply: backlinks still matter.
But what other off-page practices help SEO?
This is what makes off-page SEO difficult. It’s not as straightforward as taking care of your website’s various on-page factors.
There are so many different influencing factors that take place off your website that can impact your SEO. To list a few:
To list a few:
- Google My Business
- Reviews of your business on relevant other platforms (Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google business listings, and more)
- Social media engagement for your business profiles
- Quality and quantity of backlinks
4 immediate ways to help improve your SEO
1. Start a blog for your business
Begin creating content every week for your business that is transparent, helpful, detailed, and customer focused.
We know blogging can feel overwhelming. You have other things to do that seem more important or urgent…and sometimes they are. But if you can’t find time to blog, get someone else to do it on your behalf.
The most important tip I can give for a small business blog is to focus on what your customer cares about, not what you care about.
That seems intuitive, but it’s rare in reality. An easy place to start for blogging topics is to sit down with anyone who works with your customers. Brainstorm every question you’ve ever been asked about your products, service, experience, and other aspects of your business. Prioritize that list, starting with the questions that are most commonly asked. Write detailed, focused, brutally honest pieces of content that are at least 750 words in length to answer each and every question.
Make the title of the blog the question in some way or another, then answer it in the blog.
This has a secondary benefit of saving your time answering the same questions over and over, as well as helping your customers become more educated.
2. Ensure your website is secure, loads quickly, and is easy to use for customers
For most small businesses, this may seem difficult to accomplish, but if you’re working with a company that manages your website, you can seek their help.
Your site needs to have an SSL certificate which shows both Google and users that your website is secure and legit (this causes the little lock to appear next to your URL). Unfortunately, scam sites and those with malicious intent abound, so an SSL certificate gives your customers peace of mind.
Let’s Encrypt provides free SSL certificates and is endorsed by Google.
3. Get your website to load very fast
Loading quickly involves:
- Compress files (reduced image sizes)
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Reduce redirects
- Improve server response time
- Enable browser caching
For a more complete overview of page-speed, check out this Moz resource.
4. Give your customers what they want with as few clicks as possible
Making your website easy to navigate for users can seem tricky. In reality, it can be as simple as getting honest feedback from existing customers.
Another common practice is looking at industry leaders’ websites and learning from their navigational structure. You don’t always need to recreate the wheel.
Analyzing tools like Google Analytics, specifically the user flow drop off data for your website, provides a clear understanding of where people are trying to get to and the pages that may not be helpful to them.
There’s a lot to do for your website’s SEO and you may or may not have the time. Small business leaders often need to stay focused on driving revenue, creating operational efficiencies, and addressing HR challenges. For those who want an outside partner to help, give us a call; but for those who want to roll up their sleeves and get SEOing, hopefully this article has given you a place to start and other resources for diving deeper.