Search engine optimization (SEO) best practices are an ever-moving target. For example: during 2015, Google pushed out a mobile-friendly ranking algorithm that caused "Mobilegeddon" worries, and it also released another algorithm update called RankBrain.
If you don't understand or haven't heard of these two updates—and you care about driving as much traffic to your the your website as possible—read on. Online marketing experts offer the latest SEO tips and best practices for small business owners, managers, and marketers.
Top SEO Tips and Best Practices for Small Business
In this article we cover the following small business SEO tips:
- Optimize your website for mobile devices
- Double down on relevant, helpful content
- Align content and keywords
- Prioritize PR over link building
- Local SEO remains crucial for small business
- Keep small business SEO simple
1. Optimize your website for mobile devices
In April 2015, Google expanded its "mobile-friendly" search result rankings, which it said would have an even bigger impact on search engine rankings than earlier algorithm updates.
With RankBrain in play, websites that don't display well on mobile devices have lost search engine result ranking in searches conducted on mobile devices. A Stone Temple Consulting study from June found that nearly 50 percent of URLs that didn't deliver a mobile-friendly user experience dropped in search result rankings.
On the flip side, sites that are optimized for small screens often move up in mobile searches. When you—and your customers—are on a smartphone, Google wants you to have a good user experience, so the first search results it will present will be relevant Web content that displays well on your mobile device.
Even if your website traffic largely comes from desktop search engine queries, you should heed this SEO best practice and make your website mobile-friendly. For one reason, a lack of visibility in mobile search results could affect your desktop search rankings too, according to Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom.
That's because Google considers links to your content an important ranking factor. If people who might link to your content can't find it on their mobile devices, your content may not acquire as many links as it might have obtained otherwise.
For another reason—simply put—mobile is the future. "Mobile queries finally outnumbered desktop queries in 2015, and that's only going to continue," says Jared Murawski, SEO specialist at Bisk Education. If you don't yet have a sizeable number of visitors coming to your site via mobile devices, it's only a matter of time before you will, he says.
The good news: Depending upon how your website was built, making it mobile-friendly can be easy and cost you nothing. For example, there are various free WordPress plugins, such as WPtouch, that can make a WordPress website mobile-friendly within minutes.
2. Double down on relevant, helpful content
In fall 2015, Google's RankBrain—a new component of the overall Google search engine algorithm—set the SEO community abuzz. Its release has implications on small business SEO best practices in 2016.
RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to make the search engine better at guessing how to match the most relevant content to long or never-before-seen search queries. The most-often quoted search query example of how this works is, "What's the title of the consumer at the highest level of a food chain?" RankBrain helps Google quickly figure out that the answer to this ambiguously worded query is "predator."
RankBrain "forces content marketers and digital marketers to consider the direction that Google is, and has always been, working towards: the ability to carry on a conversation with its users," notes Geoff Hoesch, principal at Dragonfly SEO, Inc.
"That involves the ability for Google to understand what users are asking based on context and then responding in the appropriate manner," says Hoesch. "Content, therefore, should be focused on answering questions at numerous points in this conversation, always considering the three main types of queries: navigational search queries, informational search queries, and transactional search queries."
If you're already producing great content that answers current and potential customers' questions clearly and concisely, you're good to go with RankBrain—and probably any other Google algorithm update coming down the pike.
"I don't think digital marketers who follow best practices need to do anything differently as a result of RankBrain," says Brock Murray, SEO specialist at SEOPlus+. "Continue to develop high-quality content that gets shared socially and drives backlinks."
3. Align content and keywords
As always, small businesses should make sure their website content is relevant to their desired keywords. "The most important thing you can do to rank is to provide the information people are looking for when they type in your desired keyword," says Eric Lancheres, traffic and penalty expert and owner of Lan Publications. "You can't believe how many people want to rank for 'X' but then write about 'Y,'" he explains.
Sure, you'll bring visitors to your website who searched for 'X.' But when they don't see what they came for, they click away immediately. That increases your bounce rate, which can be a negative influence on your website's Google rankings.
4. Prioritize PR over link building
Many small businesses, knowing the importance of links to overall search engine rankings, buy links or otherwise engage in questionable tactics to gain links to their content. Google's Penguin algorithm update notoriously penalized such sites for spammy link tactics.
So what SEO best practices will help you get links? "Don't think about links and link building at all," advises Samuel Scott, director of marketing and communications at Logz.io. "The best links are natural by-products of good marketing in general and of publicity specifically. Get the media, bloggers, and the public to talk about you, and the links will come naturally."
5. Local SEO remains crucial for small business
Local SEO simply means that if, for example, you own a San Francisco pizza restaurant, you've optimized your website so that it appears prominently when someone in San Francisco googles 'pizza restaurant.' You aren't trying to attract pizza lovers in Chicago; you just want local pie aficionados to find you.
Local SEO involves a lot of different elements, such as maintaining a Google My Business listing; having a consistent name, address, and phone number across your entire website, and using Schema.org markup to help search engines display that information correctly; and getting reviewed on Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor (if appropriate) and other relevant sites. Search Engine Land's guide to local SEO offers plenty of small business SEO tips.
6. Keep small business SEO simple
Ultimately, following small business SEO best practices in 2016 is simple—at least in principle. "If you develop content that helps your customers or potential customers, and you do it in a way that's transparent and easy for search engines to crawl and index, then your content will weather any future algorithm changes just fine," says Kevin Gamache, senior strategist at Wire Stone.
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