Learning about SEO. Googling SERP, KW, DA, and a bunch of acronyms. Trying to figure out what “backlinks” and “meta info” mean to the rest of us. All to move our website to the top of search results.
Somewhere there between the acronyms, the jargon, and all the conflicting advice, I had an amusing little thought. “Aha! I’m asking Google how to rank my website higher on Google.” 😝
SEO stands for search engine optimization, a long-term process of increasing both the quality and quantity of non-paid (also called “organic”) website traffic. It involves tactics such as keyword research, page optimization, adding meta descriptions and link-building so your website ranks higher in search results.
That’s a lot of jargon in just two lines, but here’s an easy example to illustrate SEO in action.
Most people reading this article are on Google. They search for “SEO for small business” or “SEO tips” and see a preview on page one or two of the search results. They click, and cash registers start ringing everywhere around the world.
The process of getting this article onto page one of Google search results (for those specific search queries) is pretty much what SEO is all about. It’s just repeated for every page of your website.
SEO is how you make sure people searching for your business on the Internet find you. It’s how you get more visibility to your website or blog so you have more visitors, which means more leads and revenue for your small business. If you have a web presence and want customers to find you on the web, you need SEO. Period.
Before we go any further, know that SEO is not a quick fix that instantly doubles website traffic. It’s a bunch of little changes—optimizations—that add up over time with repetition to make your content show up higher on search engine results and attract the right visitors to your website or blog.
Keyword research, creating SEO-friendly content, adding in the right meta information, link building, featuring in “featured snippets”—that’s a lot of little things to do. So you’ll need to hire a professional to handle it all as your business grows. But you can get a head start and build a strong foundation for your small business website with some simple DIY strategies for SEO.
In many ways, SEO is about people and not search engines. You want to understand what your prospects are searching for online—what they seek, their intent, the words they use, and the type of content they consume—so you can offer relevant solutions in their own language, making your website more attractive, more real, and highly engaging.
Modern search engines already do half the job for us. It used to be that you had to be exact with your search queries to get the right results. Today, you just google a word or a phrase, and magic happens even with typos. Google will autocorrect your query, show you a featured snippet from a webpage that other people searching for the same thing found useful, show related questions that people ask—all before showing you the actual search results (or ads).
When you think about SEO for that next blog post idea, start by googling it to discover what answers people currently find useful and what related questions you could answer for them. Look at articles that rank higher in search results to see which format serves your prospects the best. Comprehensive explainers, listicles, infographics, or something else is also where your keyword research starts.
Those search queries we just talked about? Keywords. That’s how search engines know what your website or blog post is all about.
As you identify relevant search queries for your content (it can be a website, a blog post, or even a YouTube video) and review the first page of search results, you understand the words and phrases that your future customers (and your competitors) use. Including these keywords (without overdoing it) in your product descriptions, page titles, and blog posts improves your organic search rankings.
Keyword research is also a way to narrow down what content you should publish by identifying gaps where your website doesn’t rank as well as two or more of your competitors’. Keyword gaps are simply opportunities to create engaging, high-conversion content.
Sounds like a lot of work? It is, but there are lots of free and paid SEO tools in the market that make keyword research and identifying keyword gaps easier. From browser plugins such as SEOQuake to Moz’s excellent set of free SEO tools to full-featured services such as Ahrefs and SEMRush, there’s one for every need and budget.
Measurement is key to improvement. That means configuring search analytics so you know how much traffic your website receives, where that traffic comes from (organic search, social posts, ads, etc.), which pages on your site receive the most traffic (and which the least), and even demographics such as geographical locations of website visitors and whether they accessed your site on a mobile device or a desktop.
Enter Google Analytics. It’s free and fairly easy to set up for your website or blog and immediately gives you a wealth of information about your website visitors so you know how your SEO efforts are panning out.
Meta titles and descriptions are how you tell search engines and your prospects what your content is all about. Each page on your website needs a dedicated meta title and description, and that is what shows up on search engine results pages (SERPs). Short and catchy is the golden rule (without being too clickbaity), which means limiting your meta descriptions to 120 to 150 characters.
An internal link is a link from one page to another on your website. Internal links are important for SEO because your customers won’t know a specific page exists if it doesn’t have a link to it somewhere on the website. Search engines have a difficult time indexing and ranking such orphan pages. Finally, the number of internal links pointing to a page is how search algorithms know which pages on your website are more important than others.
While there are no official guidelines from Google on internal links or where they should be placed, some best practices include building a linking strategy using locations such as the primary navigation, sidebar, and footer of your website. That is where you want to add links to your most important pages (about you, products/services, pricing, contact info, etc.).
Adding relevant inline links in the body of a blog post that point to other content on your website is a great way to increase their organic visibility. Strong interlinking allows you to point search engines to more pages, bring in more visitors, and reduce bounce rates (visitors who come to your website and click away).
Have you heard of backlinks? It’s a fancy word for an external link (also called an inbound link)—a link to your page from another website on the Internet. Search engines consider the number of links pointing to a page from external websites to be a measure of quality, relevance, and authority. As more reputable websites link to your content, you get a bump in search rankings.
As Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs, writes in his excellent guide to link building, “Links are the currency of the web. Websites that have plenty are deemed ‘authoritative’ and are rewarded with high search rankings, while websites that don’t are bound to obscurity.”
So link building helps you boost the “authority” of your pages in the eyes of Google. That ranks it higher and brings in more search traffic.
The first step is to have useful and share-worthy content that people want to link to. A research survey, a case study, maybe a cost calculator, a how-to video, a comprehensive blog post—these are relevant to your prospects and acquire backlinks from reputable websites. Do this by creating a list of websites you want links from and manually reaching out to them to request links. It takes time and a lot of follow-ups, but then you’re building a relationship, not making a transaction.
Eight out of 10 people search the web from their phone, so it’s essential that your website loads up fast and displays well on smaller screens. Mobile users scroll differently than desktop users, so even minor optimizations to your website can impact traffic and conversions.
Here are a few elements to consider when optimizing for mobile devices:
Make sure your website’s layout (and every page on your website) automatically adjusts to screen size, orientation, and resolution.
There’s never enough reading space on mobile devices, so keep your page URLs, titles, and meta descriptions short yet informative.
Looking for more information on optimizing your small business website for mobile devices? Here’s a great guide on mobile SEO by Moz.
Believe it or not, an astonishing 93% of consumers use the Internet to find a local business.
If you are one (or you serve customers at a business address), creating your Business Profile on Google helps you take control of what people see when they search for your business (your business description, hours of operation, contact info, website, etc).
It’s free and takes a few minutes to set up. You can also add a Google Maps location for your business and rank higher for local search results, which is much easier for a small business.
In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini writes, “Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway, or how to eat the chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important in defining the answer.”
Something similar happens when people look up products and services on the Internet. They search first for what others say about your business. More and more prospects look for user reviews before making a purchase. Where do they look? Your Business Profile on Google (for local businesses), your product reviews on Amazon (if you’re into that), your Upwork profile (hello, freelancers), or a review site like G2 and Capterra (if you’re building SaaS like us).
Marketers love social proof because it works like nothing else. Not convinced? Consider the following stats on social proof from our friends at HubSpot:
So the next time a customer has good things to say about your business, ask them to add a review on your Google Business Profile. Showing off these user reviews also bumps up your local search rankings.
You’re now doing your keyword research and using it to create relevant content. You’re adding meta titles and descriptions for every page. You’re building links and optimizing for mobile. You’re even showing off customer reviews front and center in search results. Great, but that’s only half the game. Remember when we said SEO is a long game? Tracking is the other half.
At this point, you’ve already set up Google Analytics for your website, so you have a baseline. But now you want to monitor how your website optimizations move the needle on metrics such as search rankings and traffic, user sessions, backlinks, bounces, page speed, and conversions. You want to know which keywords are bringing in the most people to your website (at the lowest cost) and identify opportunities (keyword gaps) to double-down on.
There’s more, of course. Most of what we’ve covered here is on-page SEO, things you can do by yourself with relative ease. Then there’s technical SEO focused on site structure, managing Google tags, optimizing image sizes, and optimizing code for faster page speed. Like we said earlier, you need an SEO professional at some point to do it all, but these 10 handy DIY tips should help your small business get a head start.