Nail Down Your Small Business Digital Marketing Strategy
Taking on small business search engine optimization alone is what I would imagine a chicken running with it's head cut off feels like. I have been studying, filtering through sketchy tactics, applying the principles and measuring SEO efforts since 2002 when I developed my first website.
Google's mega engineered standards (and 230+ website ranking factors in place today) are built around having a clean, organized, accessible website and more than one person contributing online. Jumping from one package, platform, or one agency to another is not going to fix a fragmented online experience that is making customers look elsewhere.
There's basic website and company SEO requirements to be properly indexed in search, which we will cover next. Today, another layer of personalization is added to what comes up in each individual's search feeds. Search results are custom based on your keyword query, location, websites you've visited or brands you've purchased from before.
Algorithms for ranking websites are not in your control, and never will be. Below you'll find a complete website SEO guide that is kept up to date that encompasses the big picture of how to optimize your website and improve your online performance the best that you can.
Every page on your website needs a title tag. This is pretty basic. The title tag is a really short title for your entire page, and should match the website page names in your website navigation like Home, About, Services, Menu, Contact, etc.
It is a best practice to add your company name into title tags, so a page will read as "Anxious Creations - Home." Most website content management platforms will pull whatever you named the website page and make that the title tag, but may or may not include your company name.
Each clickable link to a page that comes up in search engine results is via a title tag. Title tags are also displayed in the top of your browser in your browser tabs, so you can see what company's website and the name of the page you're on.
In addition to the title tag, every page and article published on your website needs a meta description to help search engines describe what content is on the page when you come up in search results. This description should be no more than 160 characters in total and each description needs to include a long tail keyword that is relevant to the page you are describing, the content that lives there, your business and search trends. Typically you can write and insert meta descriptions yourself in your website content management platform (WordPress, Squarespace, Weebly, Shopify, etc.) under the page settings in your platform.
One of my favorite tools to find long tail keywords being searched is Answer the Public. By typing in one primary keyword related to your business (i.e. marketing, injury law or cashmere), you can see categorized keywords, questions and even filter keyword search queries by country. You can download a visual image of all the keywords. Below is an example of the type of graph you can get at no cost from Answer the Public to help you with keywords.
I recommend Answer the Public as an SEO starter tool for keyword research because other tools show a multitude of search volume and competition metrics that may intimidate or discourage you from getting started. The best thing you can do for your small business website SEO is start creating great in-depth content, educational resources and answer questions both asked by real people you encounter and questions asked in search engines. This approach will not only help boost your website traffic and business leads, it will save you a ton of time in answering frequently asked questions when you have a link to the answer on your website!
Moving on, a H1 Tag on a website page has two benefits. First, an H1 will emphasize the most important, prominent headline and be the first thing users on the page see. The H1 on this page is found just above the article title and URL, stating "Learn What Matters for your Small Company's Website and Marketing Strategy." H1 tags should be 70 characters or less, and a lot of mine for Anxious Creations are cutting it close. The H1 tag is classified in your websites HTML and stylesheets as <h1>.
The H1 tag has a noticeable difference in font size, and can be the difference whether someone decides to stay on your website to see what information follows, or leaves. A way that I like to instruct people to write H1 tags is to ask this question: if each website page were an essay you had to come up with a title for, what would the headline be?
For SEO purposes, a website that has no H1 tags on pages and has H1 tags added in may see a significant increase in traffic in only a couple of weeks time. Why? I have no idea, but I believe SEO expert Neil Patel on this topic, and in traffic data, both local and afar, from my own clients after we've audited what's missing and put H1 tags into their sites. Each H1 tag should be unique, as duplicated headings and content can be a search engine penalty.
The H2 tag is for any secondary section or serves as a headline of additional content you'd like to highlight. In this article, the H2 is the article title, "An Up to Date Small Business Website SEO Guide." Think of how the front page of the newspaper is laid out to understand headings and how they need to function on your website. You will see today's main story and headline <h1>, followed by other story headlines <h2> and even smaller headlines that separate content <h3>.
The numbers sectioning off each category of this SEO post you're reading right now are in a H3 <h3> format, and some sites will continue headings and formatting all the way to H6. Keep any title and heading you use under 70 characters for best results with search engines and easy readability for users.
The alt tag is a short description that shows when someone hovers an image. When you upload an image into your website content management platform, it will set a default alt attribute, such as the name of the image file or the word picture or object. You need to change this tag to properly describe the image. When you hover images on a website or in a blog post, you will often see a short description come up, and properly named alt tags are a user experience and search engine enhancement. Alt tags are important to SEO as they provide an opportunity to come up in the images section of search results, and if your image displays, people are likely to click-through the image to your website to find additional information.
Now it's time to see headings and descriptions in action in a search engine. Imagine you are running a restaurant, and have a menu page on your website with multiple categories (i.e. appetizers, entrees, desserts, sides). When you label each category of dining options with an H2 heading tag on the page, this structure will help your menu conveniently show up in search results on Google, without the user having to click into your site, or on Urbanspoon, Yelp, and click a few more times from there to get to your menu. See an example below of what a combination of a proper meta description, H1 and H2 tags did for Allyn's Cafe in Google after letting Anxious Creations design their restaurant website and take over SEO.
Newer to SEO, schema data markups are fun for developers to tinker with and put into website pages, but their impact on SEO is still to be determined. Schema provides a way to make your search listings stand out or be more compelling and interactive than your competitors. There is no evidence today that schema impacts or increases rankings in any way, but schema may have an impact on both SEO and conversions down the road.
Even though schema does not impact or boost your rankings today, it's something you're beginning to see while conducting common searches in Google or Bing. Have you ever typed a question, and a big box at the top of search results comes up with a source and answer? That's displaying via schema. See an example below of what happens in search results when you Google a query like "what is the capital of Ohio." What displays, is the power of schema, and we will update this post as we know more about it.
With schema, there are over 100 categories of things you can markup to display and customize your search engine listings. You can make the star rating and reviews of a book come up under the link to buy the book. You can make a recipe expand underneath a search result. You can make reviews from Facebook and your Facebook profile come up under a search for your company, like I did for Anxious Creations, using schema. As with anything new, schema is not going to make any sense to the majority of people, business owners, marketers, developers and SEO specialists for some time.
4. Website Speed and Performance
Your website should load in three seconds or less as a benchmark for speed. Considering the attention span of the average human is seven or eight seconds, a fast loading website makes sense for SEO. You can test your website speed and performance here (and no, you don't have to give or enter your email address to proceed). The biggest culprit that will slow down your website speed is high resolution photos that have not been compressed to render fast online. Other culprits to website speed are unused plugins and apps within your website.
5. Index Your Website in Search Engines and List Your Business
On to Bing. Why is Bing still important? Bing is the default search engine on many smartphones, tablets and Internet Explorer. Between 10% and 15% of all online searches are conducted via Bing. Sign up and submit your company URL to Bing Webmaster Tools. You'll also need to submit your sitemap while in Bing Webmaster Tools.
Yellow Pages, like the HUGE paper phone book directories that used to show up on our doorsteps are still thriving and for the most part moved online. Yellow Pages makes it simple to list your small business for free and expand your company listing to other relevant directories. Over 60 million people in the United States find general services and places to visit via Yellow Pages. You can quickly submit and verify your listing here, as long as you have access to pick up your business phone number.
With all of your listings in check and sitemap submissions to Google and Bing search engines, every time you refresh content or add new content to your site, you will signal the search engines. In return, if your content is relevant, in-depth and has the proper tags as mentioned above, you will see additional traffic come in and have more opportunities to convert.
6. Build an Active Presence on Social Media
Why does social media matter for SEO? Tweets, Linkedin and Facebook pages are all indexed in search engines. Instagram makes it extremely convenient for people near you to find you while exploring the app. Pinterest makes it easy to find inspiration for projects or buy products. The more engagement and activity you get, the more social media marketing will do for your business in terms of SEO and expanding your online footprint.
Consider your resources and stick to one or two social media platforms that you can be consistent on. It's okay to not have a lot of followers, and you don't necessarily need to advertise to get them. Use the insights tools available for small businesses right in the social media apps or in your web browser when logged in. Just be there and check in with updates, offers, product photos, industry news and things going on a few times a week. Respond to any messages or reviews your company page receives.
Your friends, family, employees, partners, customers and all of their friends are the best place you can start to build your social media audience. If you're the business owner, invite your Facebook friends that support you in your business endeavors to like the page and follow you on any other platform you decide to participate in. A share here and there from a follower goes a long way into other's networks and who your business is able to reach.
7. Real Customer Reviews
Reviews are tricky. There's a lot of fake ones, purchased ones, and only a small chunk (around one fifth) of the population has ever left an online review in general. The customer with a negative experience is much more likely to go leave a bad review than your happy customer going to leave a review after they depart your location, finish up business or close out a tab.
You will have to remind your customers to leave you a review time and time again and get over the fact you think you are being annoying! Like anything else in our online world, it can take seeing something numerous times until it sticks or any action is taken. The warm and fuzzy things that customers say about working with you while at your business or on the phone need to get online, and they won't unless you start asking and instructing how, repeatedly.
Honest, real customer reviews hold a high weight for SEO, because they are what other people turn to and want to see. Customer reviews will drastically move you up the list of local business and search listings. Consumers turn to customer reviews to feel good and validate whatever it is they're getting into, where they are visiting, or what they are buying.
To be respectful of the time it takes for your customers to leave a review, show them how easy it is and where they can leave your business a review. If that's not enough, offer a coupon, small freebie, special promotion, review sign, print it on the menu or return the favor in leaving your customer a review or recommendation (depending on the context of your business). You can also put a link to leave a review in your email signature for the next time you have a tight deadline, stay up late or complete a deliverable that made a difference for a customer.
Measure Up Your SEO Efforts with Google Analytics
Google Analytics is completely free to setup so you can analyze what's happening on your website.
Even if the number of visitors to your website means nothing to you, you or another team member can find insights that may be valuable to you with a little digging.
Google Analytics makes it simple to see demographic information about your website visitors, such as what city or neighborhood they come from, how they got there, what pages they viewed while they were there, their gender, age group and beyond. You can also pin down how many people in your target demographic are new visitors, vs. returning visitors. Returning visitors are good, because odds are they are already a customer or thinking about your business each time they come back.
If anything, use analytics to check in, compare trends over time and see what happens as you conquer website and SEO improvements, like all of the ones mentioned in this post you're reading. I use Google Analytics to validate that majority of the people visiting my website are regional, spend some time on the site and are not bogus (or fast to bounce) traffic. As your company and customer base grows, your website traffic will have similar synergy and patterns.
If you want to reference this small business website SEO information again later, you can click here or on the button you'll find below to download the summary of this post as a PDF, no email or information about you is required to do so. As things change over time, so will this post!
Please be sure to ask any questions you have about SEO in the comments below, or share this post with any friends running a small business, website or working in digital marketing. We've made it simple to share any content by Anxious Creations via social media, email, or text if you're on a mobile device. Until next time!
P.S. Anxious Creations and #dailywebsitetips are on Instagram @anxiouscreations513
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We are a paperless company and 100% owned and operated by women in Cincinnati, Ohio.