Small Business SEO Guide
I imagine when many business owners hear the term SEO it reminds them of The Wizard Of Oz. At least I know this is what I thought of it years ago when I became aware of it. These days it can be very hard to take SEO seriously when every business owner receives so many spam emails and phone calls trying to sell this seemingly elusive digital marketing service.
Even I receive these spam emails, and it clearly states on my website that I am an SEO expert. My kindness quickly goes out the window when I receive these emails and phone calls. But what happens to the unknowing business owner that gets seduced by these vultures?
How do you know what is legit and what is not? This article is here to help you understand how to not get taken advantage of by explaining what SEO is simply.
What is SEO…Really?
SEO is the act of improving search engine rank through various factors. It is what drives traffic to your site and is the skill that gets your page highly ranked for specially researched keywords that your customers are using to find what you offer. SEO is an art, a technical art at that, but there is no cookie-cutter recipe for success. The competition for your specific keywords, geographical location, and the On-Site and Off-Site SEO health of your competition all play a role in the best strategy to rank.
What works for one industry can vary greatly from what works for another. In this post, my goal is to leave you informed and immune to hoodwinking by sham SEO con men trying to take your money and giving you no real benefit. In fact, their antiquated ways can leave you banned from Google and your site barren of visitors.
On-site SEO; where it all starts.
Every SEO strategy needs to start with a thorough SEO audit followed by a complete renovation of certain elements of a website’s structure. The major search engines take many different aspects into consideration. Here is a breakdown of what they want from your site.
It may sound strange, but your website’s loading speed is a growing factor in how it gets ranked. The faster the better. A good SEO strategist will go to great lengths to make your page load as fast as it can. Google puts emphasis on site speed to help the consumer be happy with the content they are seeking. A good web host is imperative to have a fast-loading site.
The longer it takes a page to load, the more tempting that back button looks. If your site takes over 3 seconds to load, you will lose over 60% of your visitors. Site speed is no joke. Google looks at the site speed but it goes deeper than that. Google looks at bounce rates and time on site. As infuriating as Google can be, it really is just trying to deliver the best results for its searchers. When a website takes too long to load people hit the back button, and Google gets a signal that this site wasn’t a good fit.
Having a website that is responsive to mobile devices is not just an aesthetic need, it is a technical need. Sites that are not mobile-friendly get knocked down in search rank. Google knows that people are searching on their phones and tablets and do not want to give high rank to sites that will not work and are unreadable on these devices. So if you are not responsive, it is time to mobile up.
Especially because as of now, Google has been rolling out Mobile-First Indexing. This means that instead of Google crawling your desktop version and figuring out your mobile rank from that. It is now indexing your mobile version as the main determining factor for your rank. If your site is not mobile responsive that is a problem.
Some will say that the domain name itself does not matter. But in my experience, this is not true. It is best to have one of your goal keywords on your main URL. Not just this, but how old your domain is matters, as well as how long you have renewed it for. This shows Google the brand’s credibility. Spam sites change domains often, and will only buy them for a year at a time. A domain that has been owned for a few years, and that is renewed for another few years shows Google that this site is here to stay. While it is good for SEO to have keywords in your URL, it is also smart to just have a branded URL. It is a decision to make if you don’t already own your domain. I chose radiantelephant.com to have my branded URL, as opposed to buying something like njwebdesigncompany.com, which would rank easier but does nothing to improve my brand.
On-site Optimization Assets:
Another major factor a good NJ SEO specialist will analyze is your on-site assets. First is your URL structure. How many times have you gone to a site, clicked on a page, and looked at the page URL and it looked like gibberish? A strange and confusing mix of letters and numbers. This is a big SEO no-no. Google wants readable, clean URLs that reflect the page’s content and focus. This is a big factor for upping your rank. Matching your page URLs to include the keywords you want to rank for is the best option. I have found URLS to be a pretty big factor, especially concerning local SEO.
Many times when performing an SEO audit I see sites that do not even have a Meta Description. This is a very important aspect of search rank. It is ideally written for humans but optimized for Google, as the saying goes. This is not a place to stuff keywords, but a place to explain in proper English the focus of the page. You know when you google something and under the page title is that nice little 160 character page description? This is the Meta Description, and it is an important step towards ranking high. Google uses this, but people read it. So it is best to include the keywords for the page but also write in a way to entice the reader to click.
More and more Google is putting clout on the actual content of the pages it crawls. What this means is that you need the proper keyword density while offering unique, informative, and original content on each page of your site. It is important to analyze your competition. The pages that rank high for your keywords. How much content do they have? Is it optimized well, or over-optimized? You want to pepper in your keywords in a natural way that makes sense for the reader. Google has been implementing more use of NLP (Natural Language Processing), where AI can understand more of the content’s intent through learned analysis of things like syntax. The more natural your content reads the better the ranking possibility.
Schema Markup is a micro-data that search engines use to understand your website in a deeper way. There are many different types of Schema that can be utilized, from the broad local business schema to recipe and article schema. Local Business and Organization Schema helps to verify your hours, info, and your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) which are important for local SEO. If you are a cooking bog, having the Recipe Schema set up will help your recipes to rank and render better within google search results.
Off-Site SEO For Small Businesses
Sitemaps and Submissions:
Once the onsite is all set the work is not yet over. One of the biggest overlooked off-site necessities is creating a sitemap and submitting it to Google, Bing, and Yahoo. I have been amazed when I get clients that have had their websites up for years and realize they were never submitted to the search engines. Typically over time the search engines do find and crawl your site. But the indexing process moves quickly and gives us control over checking for errors and making sure it indexes properly.
The next step of off-site work is creating a vibrant social sharing community. Remember, the more your content is shared, the more relevant it is to Google. It is also imperative to get listed on as many business listing sites as possible. This helps create strong backlinks to reputable sites while also providing a great source of traffic from potential customers. the backlinks a website gets from social media platforms are great and should be utilized as low-hanging fruit.
Link Building is a critical component of SEO. Google loves sites that have authority. The best way to show authority is by having great backlinks. Backlinks are links to your site that are placed on other sites. Let’s say a local newspaper features you in an online article and links to your website. That’s a backlink. Ideally, you want backlinks from sites that get good traffic and have more authority than you do. This signals to Google that you are a trusted authority. There are many different ways to build backlinks and a skilled SEO will use the best methods to build your backlink profile.
Local citations are one of the best factors for improving local search rank. Local Citations are creating by filling out business directory sites. For example, the king of all citations is your Google My Business listing. But many others exist. These are listings that may or may not link to your website, but ones that feature your NAP; name, address, and phone number. The more listings you have that reinforce your exact location and business details the better you will rank for your geographic area.
5 myths of SEO:
“We guarantee you will rank #1”
You know the saying, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? Well, that applies doubly to this line. Many times this line is made “true” but by using Google Adwords to buy the #1 ad spot for the business for a few days. This is so far from ranking #1 organically, which is what you really want. Ranking #1 for ads may bring in a few leads, but once the money runs out, you are shuttled back to search rank obscurity. And this tactic is immune to the many tech-savvy that use ad-blocking browser plugins. I haven’t seen an ad on Google in over a year. It takes a lot of work to get to the number 1 position, but it is worth it. And as long as you stay on course this position can be maintained.
Black Hat Tactics still work.
There are 2 schools of SEO thought. One is the old way of gaming the system and essentially cheating called Black Hat. This includes tactics such as Keyword Stuffing, Link Farms, Invisible Text, and Doorway Pages. These will do you more harm than good nowadays. The other school is White Hat, or Pure, Organic SEO. This includes clean URLs, readable meta, relevant link building, and most importantly great original content. Black Hat can work, but it runs the risk of the eventual Google Penalty. And eventually, it will happen. A penalty will make your site disappear until you fix it. Fixing a penalty can cost thousands of dollars and then once complete your back at square one. White Hat works with Google’s terms and best practices to rank the natural sustainable and worry-free way.
SEO can be cheap.
SEO is intensive, and if you are trying to be sold on an SEO strategy for $99 or $199 a month, proceed with caution. This kind of “strategy” could really backfire on you and cost you way more money than you save. Real SEO specialists range hourly from $100/hr to well over $500/hr. Just as in everything in life, you get what you pay for. I have gotten a lot of clients that came to us for a website redesign and mention they have been paying an SEO a few hundred up to a few thousand a month and when I try to see what they’ve done, I don’t see much if anything. Cheap SEO is this, you will be paying someone to do nothing. Sometimes even if you’re paying a good amount they will be doing nothing. A good SEO will cost a good amount but they will do the work, you will get reports, updates on what they are doing, and most importantly, you’ll get results.
Proper SEO can be done without access you the backend of your website.
Nope, not true. Unless your URLs, content, and meta are already perfect hiring and paying someone monthly without access to your site’s internals is not legitimate. A true SEO person looks first at your on-site, then looks outside. worst case, these people will either not do anything, best case they’ll be sending traffic or links to a website that is not properly optimized which will greatly lower the effect of any work.
Link Building can be fast:
If someone says they will get you backlinks on 100+ sites in a month, they are link farms. Link farms are web pages that only consist of links that people pay a little to get places. It is far better to have one really good link on a reputable ranking source than 1,000 links on non-ranking spam sites. Real link building takes time because it is not just about getting reciprocal links, it is about forging relationships with relevant sites. It is about building trust with Google. Backlinks are not easy to get. They take work. Outreach and things like guest blogging take time.
In this world of spam and shoddy sites, Google and the like are not bad guys trying to make our lives difficult. They are working for the person searching to help them find relevant content for their search queries. It is easy to demonize Google, but its heart is in the right place. Imagine a world without these factors in place. You would need to sift through pages of results to find things anywhere near what you are searching for because every link you clicked would be Viagra ads and porn.
Hopefully through this post business owners can get a solid grasp as to what a true SEO strategy takes and be prepared with the knowledge to not be swindled by SEO phonies. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us and schedule a free consultation.