If you’re a small business owner who doesn’t have the budget to employ an SEO agency, you’ll need to know the following tips and tricks to give yourself the best chance of success.
Bear in mind that once you get started, it’s easy to end up spending a lot of time on your SEO strategy, as there’s always more you can do. So while you want to put in enough effort to ensure you get noticed, you should also look to timebox your SEO management each week, so you have time to focus on other areas of your business.
New to SEO? Here’s a simple breakdown to get you started.
Keyword research is the crucial first step for any SEO strategy, whatever the size of your company. Bear in mind that while you may be familiar with all of the technical terms in your industry, customers may be using other terminology you weren’t aware of. With keyword research, you will come across all of the key phrases that people are looking for online, as well as search volume.
Any business owner who plans to sell or market themselves online should learn how to conduct basic keyword research. Google Keyword Planner is free if you already have an AdWords account, so it’s worth making use of this. Übersuggest and Answer The Public are both useful free tools, or if you have the budget, you may wish to try SEMRush, which you can use for a range of tasks – keyword research being one of them.
As well as identifying the most important keywords, you will also want to look at relevant long tail keyword phrases, i.e. search terms that are four or more words, such as ‘best speakers under $50’. With these specific phrases, you can start to get a lot more competitive with your on-page targeting.
I like to keep my keyword research somewhere visible, so I have my top keywords and phrases printed out above my desk – you may like to do the same.
It’s likely that you already have a business website – if you don’t, now is the time to get on it. Your website is the digital face of your company, there to build brand equity and establish your reputation as an industry authority.
It’s important to showcase your expertise in order to create trust. An effective way to do this is by writing quality articles and blog posts based around the keywords and questions that your research has brought to light. This being the case, it’s useful if you’re able to easily add and edit blog posts by yourself.
If you choose a user-friendly platform to build your website – such as WordPress or Shopify – then you can upload and make changes to as many blog posts and listings as you like. The trouble comes when you have something highly bespoke or custom that only your web developer really knows how to navigate.
If this is the case, you might want to consider migrating your website, or even starting a new one, with a platform that gives you more flexibility. Alternatively, find an affordable freelance developer who can make updates on an ad hoc basis.
Once you’ve done your keyword research, you’ll be able to pin down target keywords to include in your pages, giving you the best shot at bringing in relevant traffic. First things first, be sure to include these important keywords and phrases in your URL, page title, and body copy.
In addition to your own research, you can also look to get keyword ideas from your customers in the form of a short web survey. This can be particularly helpful when it comes to long tail keywords. Google is evolving all the time, but you still need to help it along to figure out what your web page is about. SEO is an increasingly strategic game.
Your page titles are probably the most important thing to address first. Try to include your main keyword phrase near the start of your page title. So for example, if you sell fair trade coffee online, your title might look something like this:
Buy Fairtrade Coffee Online – Beans, Ground & Pods – Company Name
Google will usually only display the first 50-60 characters of a title tag, so I suggest using the Moz title tag tool to ensure your title isn’t too long. Every page should have its own unique title.
Your meta description will be displayed under the title in the search results. Here you have 160 characters to play with, so keep it short and sweet, and highlight the benefits right away. Each page will then have an H1 tag, which is the main heading displayed at the top of the page. Aim for a perfect balance between using appealing language and accurately describing the page to the user.
There is such as thing as over-optimization. You should look to include your primary phrase(s) only 4-5 times throughout the rest of the page — otherwise, you risk sounding unnatural and, more importantly, actually hurting your chances of ranking. Using synonyms and varying your language will help to keep the relevancy without repeating yourself.
Finally, remember to mark up your images with alt tags. These descriptions tell Google what an image contains, so it can make better sense of the page. Make use of related keywords here as well.
So you’ve addressed the on-site part of SEO with your content optimization – now it’s time to look at your off-site activities, i.e. building reputable links to your website. A great place to start is to look at what your competitors are already doing, to see what works for them. You can use Open Site Explorer’s free service to do this, or you there are a number of other tools, such as Alexa, SpyFu, and iSpionage.
Start by picking out a few link-building opportunities that you can manage yourself, for example, writing a guest post or sponsored post for another industry website. The way to get links is to provide quality content, so ensure that you put in your best effort. With a good content marketing strategy, you may also start to receive links organically.
If you’re trying to build links for little or no money, then it will take a little time, and you will need to be creative to stand out among those with larger marketing budgets. Here is an excellent guide to content marketing for your small business. You may also want to consider listing your site on relevant free directories for businesses.
Regularly updated content is an important aspect of getting your website noticed and ranked by Google. What’s more, as we’ve briefly covered, unique, informative content is a valuable asset to your online business. By producing new content regularly, you can find new ways to cover important keywords and relevant topics, as well as seasonal trends.
Start producing content and posting it on your blog (if you don’t have a blog on your website, it’s time to create one). If you’re just getting started, you won’t have much to share through your social media accounts right away, so make a point of sharing links to other useful, industry-relevant content to keep your profiles active.
You can then extend your content strategy to guest posting on other websites, but first, you will need to start building a relationship with other bloggers and website owners. Interact with them and familiarize yourself with their websites, before you start pitching your ideas.
Ensuring quality user experience is Google’s latest big thing – and many webmasters in the habit of using spammy or old-school ranking tactics are being penalized for it. To secure your place in Google’s rankings for the long-term, it’s much safer to build a foundation of quality content and good usability. In essence, the kind of website that Google wants to recommend to its users.
Google Panda is always on the lookout for sites that aren’t delivering the goods when it comes to user experience, and it’s upping its standards all the time. So it seems fair to say that to ensure success online, you need to invest not in underhand link-building techniques, but in higher quality content, an intuitive site structure, and legit marketing strategies. If not, you may start to notice your rankings dropping over the coming year.
So if you’re ready to take your business to the next level online, without the help of an SEO agency, you can follow these guidelines to get yourself off to a good start. It will take time and work – you may wish to hire a freelance digital copywriter to help you keep up with the content demands. Gradually, you will find that optimizing your website effectively becomes second nature, and you will start to receive new visitors. Just what every online business owner wants!
Read more: 6 Ways to Boost Your Search Rank.
** About the Author: Victoria Greene is a branding expert and freelance writer. She blogs at VictoriaEcommerce, helping her readers start and run their own successful ecommerce businesses.