Building a business website is now more important than ever. But many small business owners make the mistake of thinking having an online presence ends there. The truth is, getting their website live is only just the beginning.
Enter search engine optimization (SEO). This common online buzzword may be unfamiliar to some, and that’s OK. This letter will help lay down the basics of SEO and why it is essential for every website and business owner.
This letter is for everyone—especially micro and small businesses that only want to appear where their customers are looking.
Budding entrepreneurs may be surprised to learn how cost-efficient opening an online store is compared to a physical store. But it will all go to waste without proper online visibility.
This is where SEO comes into the picture. SEO involves a series of actions or optimizations to get search engines like Google to show a webpage on its search engine results pages (SERPs). Otherwise, an online store will not appear on Google despite a relevant search query.
It isn’t surprising to know that the number one spot on Google results gets around 26% to 32% of the clicks. The chances are much lower for the following results. A web page can rank high on the SERPs and drive traffic to its site by applying good SEO practices.
So how do search engines work? It’s crucial to understand how Google works before learning to do SEO.
When a web page goes live, it doesn’t automatically appear when a user looks for it on Google unless they type the exact URL. Google needs to index it to its database first before it does.
To do this, Google sends out bots called “spiders” to do three primary functions:
- Crawl. Spiders scour the internet for new content and look over the page’s structure and code.
- Index. Any new content found will then be organized and stored. Once a page is indexed, it’s one step away from appearing on the SERPs when a user makes a relevant query.
- Rank. Google then ranks these pages based on relevancy. The most relevant answer for a query gets the highest ranking.
Now that we know how search engines work, it’s time to learn how to get Google to index and rank websites. But is it the only way to drive those clicks?
SEO is an excellent way to drive traffic organically, but small businesses that want to gain online traction as soon as possible can leverage the power of paid advertising.
SEO is a constant process of optimizing a website or page to keep its ranking on Google. On the other hand, paid advertising, also known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, allows businesses to bid on certain keywords for a sure spot on the SERPs. It’s a fast and effective method to get potential customers to visit a business or e-commerce website.
Marketers often list ads to boost marketing campaigns or promos on top of an ongoing SEO strategy. But that’s easier said than done.
PPC advertising requires constant monitoring, strategizing, and optimizing for a campaign to be successful. While a small business can do the work in-house, it’s more cost-efficient to hand over the work to an expert PPC agency that understands the complexities of paid advertising.
Google follows a long list of ranking factors to determine where a web page should rank on the SERPs. But no need to get intimidated. Here are the basic to-dos that will easily get site owners on Google’s good side:
Keywords are crucial to an SEO strategy. Web users enter keywords on search engines to find answers for their specific query, whether that’s best pizza places near me or how to fry an egg.
For small businesses, their web content must contain the exact keywords their customers are looking for. Otherwise, they won’t appear on the search results for that particular query. They won’t be getting those clicks and sales, either.
These steps will help them get started with keyword research:
- Make a list of relevant topics about their business. For a fashion retailer, that may be women’s fashion.
- Identify specific keywords that fall into those topics. Some keywords that apply to women’s fashion may be women clothing brands, trendy fashion ideas, or best women’s clothing website.
- Understand the intent behind these keywords. Users looking for best women’s clothing website are more likely to purchase than those looking for trendy fashion ideas.
- Use keyword research tools. Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, and SEMrush are free online tools that provide popular keyword ideas.
When writing SEO content, remember to write for users first, Google next. Google is all about providing its users with the best, most relevant content based on their queries. So if a piece of content is false, inaccurate, or incomplete, it’s less likely to grab the top spot of the SERPs—or even show up in them at all.
As part of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, a rule of thumb is to follow E-A-T, which stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. These tips will guide website owners to follow these guidelines:
- Tell visitors who the content creator is to prove they’re legitimate.
- Work with experts to create content.
- Make the purpose and the context of the content clear.
- Update the content regularly to keep its relevancy.
- Link to reputable sources.
Also known as on-site SEO, this practice involves optimizing elements of a website to get Google to rank it higher on search engines. Keyword research and content creation are part of on-page SEO, but it also involves more technical methods, including the following:
- Page load speed
- Page navigation and structure
- Page URL structure
- Title tags
- Duplicate content
Ultimately, the goal of on-page SEO ties back to Google’s promise—to provide a great user experience. Improve the factors above to practice effective on-page SEO.
Off-page or off-site SEO, as the name implies, refers to actions done outside a website that impact its search rankings. Off-site ranking factors also contribute to a website’s relevance, authority, and trustworthiness.
Building backlinks is at the front and center of off-page SEO. That’s because Google considers backlinks—links that point back to a website—great indicators of a website’s content quality. If a website links a business on its page, it must have relevant, useful content.
But having a stream of links connecting to one’s website isn’t enough. Google also depends on link equity or “link juice” to determine whether or not a backlink has value and authority. Some factors that contribute to equity are as follows:
- The linking website’s popularity and trustworthiness
- Relevance of the linking site’s content to the site being linked to
- The anchor text used by the linking site
- The number of links present in the linking site
- The authority of the linking page
- The freshness of the link
Other off-page SEO methods include social media marketing, guest posting, influencer marketing, and brand mentions. Since these heavily rely on human interaction, off-page SEO requires more time and effort to yield positive results.
Now is the right time for small businesses to start taking steps to optimize their site. With more and more brands popping out of nowhere, competition has never been tighter. Gaining Google’s favor and a loyal online following does not happen overnight, but it always starts with that first step. Good luck in your SEO journey!