Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is vital for small businesses. Yet many don’t know where to start. So here are a few things you need to know about small business SEO.
Why Small Business SEO Matters
All websites need visitors, but visitors who are searching for your services are among the most likely to convert into customers. Unfortunately, most are too busy to read past the first Search Engine Results Page (or “SERP”). So for any given search phrase, sites on the first page tend to get 75% of the traffic available for that phrase, with almost 20% going to the first result.
We all do that from time to time. As site owners, though, we need to focus on the next step in most searches.
If the first page doesn’t prove useful, rather than clicking on the next page, many searchers refine their search. Usually by adding more specific keywords to their search term.
This has several knock-on effects.
Why Long Tail Keywords Are Important
These more specific searches are often called “long tail” keywords, because they are numerous but far less popular than the most common searches. So they form a long “tail” on a graph of keyword search frequency.
However, because these searches match the searcher’s goals more accurately, they are more likely to lead to sales. They imply more “buying intent” than shorter phrases.
Long tail keywords are also so numerous and variable that there is less competition for each search phrase. So it is easier to reach the first page of SERPs for these terms. You may still face tough competition for those that show the most buying intent, but even the largest firms can’t dominate every long tail keyword related to their niche.
Small Business SEO Simplified
Still, over time, changes to your site and business will affect which terms it is best to target. Figuring these out isn’t a matter of guesswork. It requires serious keyword research. That involves collecting stats from your site and search engines over several months and analysing them for trends.
At first, it helps to focus on search phrases that your site naturally ranks for. If you’re lucky, it may appear on the second page of results for a few long tail terms with fair traffic. If so, boosting those onto the first page can offer relatively quick wins.
There are two main ways to do that – called “on-page” and “off-page” SEO.
On-page SEO covers the factors you can fix by directly changing your website. There are lots of these factors, ranging from content readability and structure fixes, to tweaking your site’s code and the server it runs on. The second group are also called “technical SEO”, for obvious reasons.
The content edits are usually the easiest to get started on. Once you know what keywords you’re targeting, review your existing content. Does it even mention those keywords? Using them too often won’t help, but not using them at all is worse.
Also, have you really written the content for your target audience? Most small businesses assume their readers know more than many do.
Similarly, the average adult reading age in the UK is about 9. The Sun targets a reading age of 8, and the Guardian, about 14. So unless you’re exclusively targeting academics, use readability tools (like the one in Word) to make sure a child could understand what you have written.
Off-page SEO deals with factors outside your site that affect its search positioning. These reflect the authority other people think your site has — often called Domain Authority (“DA”). The lower your site’s DA, the harder it will be to rank well for competitive keywords.
The main factor in this is the quality and number of backlinks from other sites to yours. Links from sites with higher authority are better. However, they also tend to be far harder to earn.
Still, the more pages of useful, original content your site has, the easier it becomes to get backlinks. So blogging can help with both on-page and off-page SEO.
Two other off-page factors are particularly important in “local SEO”. Customer reviews and your entries in online business directories (often called “citations”) both improve your site’s ranking for location-specific search terms, like “dentists in Cardiff” or “vets in Bristol”.
Finally, social media activity can indirectly boost off-page SEO, too. Broadly, the more your brand is being talked about online, the more its Domain Authority gradually grows.
So small business SEO isn’t a one-off quick-fix. It’s an ongoing strategy of investing in the overall quality and authority of your online presence. That can be focused on specific keywords and groups of keywords, but a stronger site helps you rank for other search terms, too.
Unless you run paid search ads for specific keywords, the main goal of SEO is to get more visitors to your site. So it’s often best to start on keywords that offer the most traffic for the least effort. As your site improves, more competitive keywords that offer more traffic get easier to rank for, too.