If you want your website – the one in which you’ve just invested a lot of thought and time and money – to be found by prospective customers, you need to understand at least the basic principles of search engine optimisation (or SEO for short).
As web developers, we’re often asked to explain SEO for business owners. For those not already familiar with the term, search engine optimisation is a catch-all phrase for improving how easily a website can be found online.
You’ll hear this referred to as ‘ranking’. You simply can’t underestimate the importance of SEO for small businesses, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to read this little guide and save it for future reference.
In the relatively short history of the web, search engine optimisation has evolved. There have always been myths and misunderstandings about what works and what doesn’t. And as the search engines (Google, Bing and so on) have become better at identifying what’s relevant to the searcher, the mystique surrounding SEO has grown.
It’s the responsibility of any web developer, not just those who actually offer SEO services for small businesses, to make their business owners aware of what matters and what actually makes a difference.
We’re going to keep this simple.
Key things to note about SEO
1. SEO is about organic search results. That’s the way your website will be found naturally, rather than clicking through from an advert that you’ve paid for (pay-per-click – PPC – or banner ads, for example). Getting more organic traffic from Google can have a significant impact on your bottom line. Imagine getting 100 more visitors to your website a month who arrive there because they’re genuinely looking to buy. All that remains is to convince them with your copy that it’s you they need to buy from.
2. SEO is complicated, but it’s not a total mystery. There are proven steps to follow that will massively increase the visibility of most small businesses on Google and other search engines. When you understand the fundamentals of small business website SEO, you’re in a place where you can prioritise marketing budgets and feel more confident about how and where you spend your money.
3. SEO is not a quick fix. The build of your website is extremely important because there are technical factors that search engines take into account. But building it right isn’t the end of the story. You’ll want an initial SEO campaign after the launch to increase your traffic results and then to manage your website content and other SEO-relevant actions over time. The good news is that, unlike PPC like Google Ads, getting the fundamentals of SEO right will have a medium to long-term effect on your rankings – and therefore the number of people arriving at your website, looking to buy. But remember, even your initial efforts take time to propagate and take effect.
4. Reassuringly, a big part of SEO is being helpful to your website visitors. That means offering them real options and useful advice and demonstrating your expertise and value. Those are just great principles for your website content and the way you conduct your business generally. Good SEO and engaging content can help with your brand and reputation.
How do search engines work?
Search engines collate a massive index of everything that’s on the internet.
Everything that they can find, that is. They send out web crawlers, also known as bots or spiders, to wander about, following the links within each website they find to analyse and detail its contents.
Each search engine uses algorithms – the precise details of which are never revealed, to stop us gaming the system – to assess the value of each website and its pages. Various things affect the outcome, from the words on the page to the way the website is built, to the value of any links outside your website which point to it.
The result of all the various calculations is how well that a given web page ranks on the search engine: where it appears in the results when you search for a particular term.
Taking Google as the leading example, something like 75% of all Google searches never involve going to the second page of results. Yet, no matter what you’re told, nobody can ever guarantee getting you on the first page of Google results. Be wary of anyone making such a promise!
For small business website SEO, Google rankings matter more than rankings on other search engines. Between April 2020 and April 2021, 92.6% of all global search took place on Google, according to StatCounter. The others matter, but all primary efforts should focus here. There’s a reason we say “Google it” and not “Bing it”.
What factors affect SEO rankings?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. And the importance of each factor varies over time.
That’s why any SEO consultant or website developer offering SEO services for small businesses will invest in ongoing training and learning for themselves.
SEO is always evolving. But the principles below will always matter.
The way your website is designed and built
- Your site needs to be carefully planned. Usability and accessibility matter to the customer experience as well as for search engine optimisation. The structure needs to be logical and equally easy to use on any device: desktop, tablet or mobile phone.
- Page load speed. Slow-loading websites lead to page bounce – visitors leaving the page or your site entirely. And heading to a competitor’s.
- A clear visitor journey through the site. Not just from page to page (and back again), but from browsing to taking action. You need to make it easy for them to take the actions you want: subscribing to a newsletter, filling in an enquiry form or sending an email, or even buying your products there and then if you sell online.
- An error-free experience. No broken links, missing pages, missing tags, broken forms or images that don’t display properly, no duplicate content, and no duplicate sitemaps.
Keywords and key phrases
- Put simply, you need to use the keywords and phrases that your customers use when they’re searching for the services you offer.
- What are those words? You can find out by using SEO keyword tools like Keywords Everywhere, Google’s Keyword Planner and WordStream’s Keyword Tool, among many others. And don’t be afraid to ask new customers exactly what they searched for!
- Use those words wisely and carefully. In the content of relevant pages. In the main title of the page, headings and subheadings. In captions or image descriptions and, behind the scenes, in the ALT tags. But it’s a fine balance. Too many and it will read poorly to real readers and search engines alike. Too few, or too poorly targeted for that page topic, and you won’t rank very well.
- Consider the long tail keyword. This means a series of words which may match a specific search. As an example, “SEO services” is a short key phrase and mind-bogglingly competitive. “SEO services for small business” will be slightly less competitive. “Affordable SEO services for small businesses” becomes even less competitive – but more targeted. This sort of phrasing is essential to good keyword research and getting the right sort of visitors.
Local search and link building
- If most of your customers come from your local area, local SEO is clearly important. It still matters for businesses with a clientele that’s not geography-specific, if only because claiming and shaping a decent Google My Business profile helps with overall credibility.
- As well as local business mapping tools like Google My Business, Bing Places for Business and Apple Maps, there are bound to be other local directories on which your website should be listed.
- The same goes for sector-specific directories. Some will have more value than others, but it’s worth finding and adding your company to any of significance.
- After those initial entries, link building is an ongoing SEO endeavour. If you don’t have a dedicated marketing person with time in the schedule, link building is among the SEO services that small business owners should consider seeking out a specialist for.
The SEO value of regular website content
- “Google likes fresh content” is one of the misleading pieces of advice most business owners will have been given. What Google actually likes is well optimised, useful, relevant content. Quality matters far more than quantity or frequency.
- That said, regular articles with genuinely helpful, expert content can attract valuable traffic, whether that’s because it gets shared on social channels and business networks, or because it gets indexed by search engines.
- But to be indexed by search engines and attract the right traffic, any new content needs to be optimised. It needs to be based around a particular keyword or phrase and it needs to solve – or at least explain how to solve – a problem that your customers face.
Monitor your progress in Google Analytics and adjust
You seldom get everything right first time and you’ll probably add more content over time. Free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console can help you understand what’s working and what needs improvement. Website performance should be monitored and assessed at least monthly.
Results are not instant!
Making changes to your site can take weeks or even months to translate into real progress in your search rankings. SEO is an ongoing project, but you’ll reap the rewards in the medium and long term.
As well as building SEO-friendly websites that perform, we offer a range of SEO services for small businesses. If you’d like help with your Google rankings, and appreciate a transparent, jargon-free and down-to-earth way of working, just get in touch to see how we can help.