By Christa Fletcher, contributor at The Underground Group
- Growing your business requires a solid SEO strategy that increases traffic to your organization's website.
- Search engines will index your website and increase traffic to your webpages if you clearly describe your business and services: Offer meaningful content that serves the intent of a user’s search query and is relevant to your core business.
- Beyond that, get users to engage with your website through reviews, comments, social media posts or ecommerce options.
As a small business owner, you know the value of having an online presence; it's your digital calling card that allows consumers to learn about your company.
But, merely launching a site isn't enough to attract an audience or even the right audience. If you want to manage a successful website, you also need to know the importance of search engine optimization (SEO), which, done right, can increase traffic and make your site more accessible and searchable to potential customers.
With the million other things you need to do to run your business, it can be hard to keep up. We get it. We’ve been in your shoes. The SEO process can be confusing, especially when search engines like Google change their algorithms a couple of times a day as they improve their efficacy (yep, it’s true, this video is amazing).
“Like all technology, SEO is always changing. It’s always new and different,” says Erika Mamber, Los Angeles-based SEO and organic search consultant.
Building an SEO strategy is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and patience to cultivate a plan that will yield long-term results, says Mamber.
To save you time and help you avoid potential pitfalls of building an SEO plan, here are expert-recommended, tried-and-true ways to rev up your strategy and get your business noticed.
1. Focus on your name, keywords and descriptions.
If you're starting a new business, choose a name not being used by another company.
“You should rank for your name,” says Mamber, who has worked in the SEO space for 20 years. “Common names are tough to get ranked. Always search your name before starting your business.”
If you’ve already selected your business name, make sure the copy on your website describes what you do and offer to potential customers. For example, if you sell clothes, make sure you include words to describe apparel and the type of clothing you sell.
“Having really good keywords that make sense for your business and then optimizing your site around those keywords – that is the core of SEO, and that never changes,” said Pamela Petrigliano, cofounder of 7th Floor Digital, a digital marketing agency specializing in helping brands with SEO, site development, branding and content growth and strategy.
When you use accurate keywords and descriptions for your website, search engines can crawl these terms and determine where to index (or rank) your site in search results.
2. Know that matching user’s intent = rank.
It’s simple; you must create relevant and crawlable content. Search engines look for helpful and useful content on a site. Useful content is more likely to snag a top-ranking spot for a person’s search query.
“They’re [search engines] making it more difficult for bad content to rank well, and that keeps it exciting,” says Mamber, who builds enterprise SEO strategies for brands.
If your site’s content satisfies and accurately relates to a person’s intent, search engines will place your site higher in search results.
“You also need to make sure your website is crawlable,” says Mamber. “Google needs to ‘see’ the content on your pages. You can’t just have a pretty image with words on it. If Google can’t read or crawl, your content, it can’t understand what your page is for and, you can’t rank.”
By using proper keywords and page-linking structures within your site, Googlebot (search crawl software) can crawl your site. And, when you organize your content and use precise keywords, titles and descriptions, crawlers learn your site is relevant for users.
3. Use Search Console.
Search engines want you to succeed. They want the best and most relevant businesses for their results. By using webmaster tools, you will have concrete guidelines to get started.
According to Mamber, “When your site is live, you'll want to get it verified with these types of tools (like Bing Webmaster Tools) which provide valuable SEO intel, but also valuable information about your site in general.”
For example, if your site were to get hacked, a tool like Google Search Console would send you an email telling you, says Mamber.
4. Optimize for mobile first.
Ask yourself: What device do I use to search for businesses online? The answer: Probably, your cell phone. Search engines notice this, too. They are now ranking sites based on mobile searches, more so than desktop searches.
What does this mean? You must do mobile optimization.
“As a user, we are all shocked when a site isn't mobile-friendly," says Mamber. “That creates SEO problems because more than half of searches are on mobile devices, and Google is now moving to its mobile-first index."
If your mobile site isn't optimized or doesn't contain all of the content, Google and users likely won’t need to use it, she says.
5. Engage with your customers.
Consumers like interaction. They want to communicate with you. The same applies to how they engage with your site. Search engines can tell when businesses are engaging with their audience and providing useful content that causes them to stay on your site longer.
Businesses with high engagement get rewarded with higher search rankings.
"The big e-commerce companies like Best Buy, Home Depot and Target seem to lead the pack with best practices,” says Stephanie Schaub, who co-owns 7th Floor Digital with Petrigliano and Marcie Cullen. “Goop, Ulta and Wayfair do an amazing job with original content.”
Companies like these are very clear in the content they offer, and they encourage users to comment, review, rate and share their sites. Plus, they offer original content that helps users achieve what they seek to know from their searches.
6. Optimize for other sites and platforms.
Use other platforms to your advantage.
“Think about other ways people search for what you’re selling,” says Mamber.
Larger sites like Yelp, Facebook, Twitter and Apple’s App Store may rank higher than your business, so you should have a complete and accurate presence on them because it's likely where your audience spends more time searching.
For example, let’s say your business is a restaurant. You should complete your profile on Yelp so users can find your restaurant on their local map or by cuisine. Keeping current on Yelp or Facebook allows you to engage with your customers through reviews and comments. Posting on Twitter lets you connect to other businesses like yours and potential customers.
“Social media and content marketing have provided more ways to get your content in front of possible customers,” says Cullen, whose company worked with Fandango, LiveNation, Laundress and Blue Sky PSG on digital and SEO strategies, respectively. "The more shares and activity on a piece of content directly affects its rankings on search engines."
If users are sharing your business or the content you’ve created, your website will rank higher.
7. Prioritize inbound links.
That’s right; links to your site are essential. Inbound links are links from other websites to yours.
"You need links coming to your site, and you should get them early on. You have to get local links and don't be afraid to ask for them as part of your PR efforts,” says Mamber.
Going back to our restaurant example, let’s say you recently participated in a local food festival. A link from the festival website, plus newspapers and bloggers who featured your restaurant are excellent examples of helpful inbound links.
“Search engines seek out relevancy, so if people are clicking on your content, engaging with it and linking back to you in a genuine way, that proves that people who come to your site are finding what they are looking for,” says Cullen. “This is what search engines want to see.”
However, businesses should never try to game the system with spam links. There are many ways to create spam links; in fact, Moz, an industry leader who provide SEO-focused software and tools, covers 17 types of spam links to avoid.
The gist: Don't create fake blogs to link to your site or troll comment sections of other sites to post links to your business. Search engines are smart enough to see this type of SEO spam and will penalize you by ranking you lower.
8. Use Google My Business.
Make the most of your business listing that shows up in search engine results by claiming or verifying your business.
It's like making sure your business is listed in an old-school phone book; you want Google to see you as a business, and you want to show up in Google Maps or other relevant services.
9. Track your website analytics.
You track your budget and profits because it is necessary to understand how your business is performing. The same applies to your website.
Many resources can help you understand and track your audience. This includes SEO tracking and performance tools like Google Analytics, which shows you where your audience is clicking, how long they stay on the site and how they are getting to your site.
SEO blogs like SearchEngineLand provide news and details about the ever-changing online space, while dashboards, including Apptics, make it easy for you to aggregate all of your data into one place.
The more you know about how your users are searching, finding and engaging with your content, the better you’ll be able to improve it over time.
10. Be patient.
Many believe their new SEO strategy will improve their site metrics instantly, but the truth is, it takes time.
“It can vary from a week to several months after changes are implemented, or new content is added to see results,” says Mamber. “It all depends on the issues that were holding the site back previously, as well as the types of search queries the site is aiming to rank on.”
It’s not like flipping a switch; you need to follow the steps and invest in building a strong SEO foundation and improve it over time, Petrigliano says.
Trust us; your patience will be rewarded.
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