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How do you use search engine optimization (SEO) in your small business? If you're like most entrepreneurs, you still have a ways to go at maximizing your website’s SEO, according to a survey by Clutch that polled owners and managers of small businesses, most with one to 10 employees.

Only half of the small businesses that have websites use SEO, the study reports. (Making matters worse, nearly half of small businesses polled don't even have a website — but that's a matter for another blog post.)  However, one-third say they plan to start using SEO in the future; just 17 percent say they have no plans to do it at all.

If you have a business website but aren't bothering to use SEO tactics, you are essentially leaving the results of your website — your most important marketing tool — up to chance.

Why go to the trouble of setting up a website if you're not going to make the most of it? Effective SEO can help determine who sees your website, what they do when they get there, and whether or not they end up purchasing from with your company.

Here are some tips for improving your SEO strategy:

Educate yourself about SEO. While keeping pace with constantly changing SEO trends and strategies can be complex, understanding the basics is fairly simple. Learning about SEO is important whether or not you plan to handle SEO yourself. By knowing the basics, you'll be better able to assess the skills of any independent contractor or marketing company you're thinking about hiring to handle your SEO.

Be willing to spend on SEO. It can be hard to pay for something as intangible as SEO, but its importance to business success makes it a vital part of any small business’s marketing strategy. Set aside adequate budget to execute the SEO tactics that will help your company grow.

Be patient. Seeing results from your SEO will take some time, so be consistent in putting forth your efforts. Don't pull your budget just because sales don't instantly increase. 

Go beyond the basics. Nearly six in 10 small businesses surveyed that use SEO focus on onsite SEO and local search optimization. While both of these are important, and tend to be the easiest steps to take in improving your website’s SEO, the report suggests that going beyond these steps can exponentially improve your results.

Specifically, Clutch advises creating high-quality content for your business website. Think of content as a way to answer your prospective customers’ questions about your products and services, provide information that showcases your expertise and build trust in your business. Only about one-fourth of survey respondents say that quality content is one of their SEO strategies.

You can also use content on other trusted websites to help your SEO. For example, guest blogging on reputable websites where your target customers spend time can build your authority and drive traffic to your own website. Just as with content on your own site, this content should inform, educate and develop trust with prospects. Only 24 percent of survey respondents use guest blogging as an SEO tactic, so there's lots of room to get ahead of the pack here.

Track results. The survey recommends not just tracking where your website traffic comes from and how well you rank for your chosen keywords, but also tracking conversions and leads. This measurement is vital to showing whether or not you're getting good ROI for your SEO efforts.

All this takes time, of course, and with 64 percent of small businesses handling their SEO in-house, it's no wonder many are falling short of their SEO goals. Getting outside help with SEO is an investment that can pay off for your business. SCORE mentors can help you and can also recommend local experts and/or companies to help. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a SCORE mentor.