If you’re a small business owner, you’ve almost certainly heard the words “search engine optimization” before. It’s no longer enough to have a website where potential and returning customers can find your location and hours, or even order from you directly—you need to make sure your site is doing the best it can to reach the top of the search rankings. This is SEO 101.
Whether your business is competing with other local businesses in the same industry or looking to grab a national or even global market, appearing in the first page of search results is crucial: The top five search results get the vast majority of clicks from users. Rarely will somebody go through pages of links to find what they’re looking for.
SEO is a combination of science and art, however, that means there is no formula to rocketing yourself to the top of Google results. On the other hand, while digital marketing professionals are likely your best bet for achieving SEO success, the beauty of SEO is that almost anyone can take part in it. There are plenty of small, proactive steps small business owners—even those convinced of their lack of tech savvy—can take to improve their search standing.
Here are 7 easy tips small business owners can use to get started in the world of SEO:
1. Make sure your website is fast and responsive—also known as “mobile-friendly”
A bogged down, slow-moving, difficult-to-read website is not only unpleasant for users, but it can have an adverse effect on your SEO. Google takes “time on site” and bounce rate into consideration, meaning that if people tend to enter your site and then leave immediately, Google begins to identify you as a poor source of information.
This is especially important in regards to responsive, or mobile-friendly, sites. A non-mobile-friendly site in this day and age is unforgivable: Mobile traffic is beginning to take over the web entirely, which means if your mobile experience is unpleasant, expect people to look elsewhere.
2. Put your business on Google’s “My Business”
Google is by far the most used search engine in the world. Adding your business to Google’s “My Business” section is a great way to claim your business and ensure all of the information about it—location, hours, phone number, photos, menu, etc.— is accurate. As with Google+ accounts, Google rewards those who engage with their system, and you’ll project a more professional and confident page in search results.
3. Use Search Console and other tools to identify where you can improve
There are all kinds of reasons why a website might not perform to the best of its ability, including crawling errors, identifying whether your site is mobile-friendly, and security issues. Google is interested in helping people improve site performance, and you can use their Search Console tool to review errors. Check out tools like Screaming Frog to crawl your site and bring back information on how you can make improvements as well.
4. Create a related blog and produce quality content
A blog that is related to your website’s business—for example, a bakery with a blog that disperses recipes, talks about trends in desserts, and alerts visitors to upcoming campaigns and changes to the menu—gives you more opportunities to be discovered by people using search engines. By creating articles that are thoughtfully named, accurately tagged, and filled with quality content (i.e., not just duplicates of what can be found elsewhere, but original writing, analysis, and interaction with customers), you’ll create a more involved and fun experience that people will want to return to and share with others.
5. Label everything clearly and accurately
On your site, on your blog, on all your content: Label things. Make clear, concise headlines for your article posts (and use a headline analyzer to show you where you’re going wrong, such as in sentence structure, character count, word balance, and more). Create specific, accurate tags for your posts—an article about baking should include general words like baking, how to and recipe, along with local terms like New York City. And add tags to your photos, which are also crawled by search engines and add to your ranking. (Note: Don’t add unrelated tags just to get traffic—Google is diligent about checking that.)
6. Create relationships with other websites and businesses
A great way to boost your social standing is to receive inbound links—links from other sites, particularly other high-quality sites, sending visitors to your page. It’s like how people love to get restaurant reviews from friends: You just trust their judgment more than faceless strangers on the internet. A good way to do that is to build relationships by making outbound links (linking to other sites) and interacting via social media.
You should also link to other parts on your site—say, two links to other pages per article—to strengthen the bonds between your pages.
7. Encourage reviews and interaction via social media
It’s tempting to throw all of your efforts into getting Google to notice you, but diversifying your visitor streams is better for you in the long run and will be noticed by search engines as well. Encourage people to leave reviews on sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, and/or to share and comment on your content via social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. A well-balanced website, which attracts visitors from all over, is search engine gold.
There’s no doubt that SEO is an ongoing and increasingly more complex process—you can probably find hundreds of other tips on how to improve your ranking with a quick, yes, search. But start with these simple steps to get yourself on the right track, and remember to always be vigilant in your SEO tactics. You should always be ready to improve further, since search engine rankings are constantly in flux with changing algorithms and new competition. Good luck, and happy optimizing.