Google’s major Penguin, Panda, and other algorithm updates over the past few years haven’t significantly changed the search engine optimization (SEO) game for small businesses. And while SEO can feel very much like a moving target, the goal has been—and still remains—to consistently post quality content on your site and to get other websites to link back to yours.
However, Google’s search engine updates have changed some of the tactics you should use to achieve those goals. These 10 tips will help you stay ahead of small business SEO.
10 Small Business SEO Tips You Must Master
1. Publish Quality Content
We’ve all heard that “content is king.” But it’s time to amend that to “quality content is king.” In fact, the quality of the content on your site is one of two top on-page content ranking factors, according to Search Engine Land’s 2015 Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors (available as a free PDF).
At a high level, Google describes quality content as “useful and informative,” “more valuable” than similar content on other sites; and credible, engaging and unique, among other factors. For more, read the Content Marketing Institute’s April blog post on how Google judges content quality.
2. Use Keywords Appropriately
There’s some disagreement in the SEO community regarding the importance of keywords to search engine ranking. In years past, adding relevant keywords to your content in strategic locations (such as HTML title tags) was indisputably essential to getting your content found in search queries. But given Google’s changing search engine algorithms, some experts believe it’s more important now to optimize your site for a specific meaning rather than one or more specific keyword phrases. Read Jayson DeMers’ Search Engine Watch blog post to learn more about this line of thinking.
On the other hand, the aforementioned Search Engine Land’s SEO Success Factors ranks keyword research as the second of its two top on-page content ranking factor in 2015.
Bottom line: You can’t go wrong using the free Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool to see which keywords have the most search volume. As always, use keywords in your content sparingly and judiciously and use synonyms where appropriate.
3. Keep Your Content Fresh
The Google search engine has a “freshness” algorithm that, beginning in 2011, played a heavy role in ranking content in search results based on the assumption that people often look for the latest information on a topic. Over time, freshness seemed to become a bit less important in Google search rankings. However, freshness is back again, as WebProNews and others have recently reported; indeed, “fresh” is one of Search Engine Land’s top on-page content ranking factors.
In SEO terms, freshness is about keeping your site updated regularly with new, valuable content. A company blog is the ideal place to weigh in on newsy, trending topics of importance to your core audience. Just don’t forget to focus on quality of content versus quantity.
4. Publish a Variety of Content to Keep Visitors Engaged
In its search rankings, Google tends to promote sites with images, videos, news, and other types of content over those that don’t offer much variety. For example, rich content such as video helps keep visitors on your site longer and can contribute to a lower “bounce rate” (the percentage of visitors who click away after looking at only one page). When visitors linger and explore multiple pages, it shows Google they’re engaged with your site, which can indicate quality content.
5. If You Haven’t Optimized for Mobile, do it Immediately
On April 21, Google began adding a “mobile-friendly” notice to search results displayed on mobile devices. For instance, if you use your iPhone to Google the phrase “San Francisco life coach,” you’ll primarily see links to websites that have been optimized for easy viewing on a smartphone or tablet display. The reason: Google assumes, and rightly so, that mobile device users will have a better experience visiting sites they can easily view on a small screen. And like any business, Google wants to deliver the best user experience possible.
The flip side is that websites that are not optimized for mobile get pushed down in mobile search results. This has immediate as well as long-term consequences, because mobile devices are growing in importance compared to desktop computers. Research firm comScore recently said mobile-only Internet users exceeded desktop-only users for the first time in March 2015. Between Dec. 2010 and Dec. 2014, smartphone use increased 394 percent and tablet use jumped 1,721 percent, according to a different comScore study.
For more about mobile-friendly website optimization, see Moz.com’s Mobile Optimization checklist.
6. Check Your Website for Technical Errors and Fix Them
If Google’s bots can’t easily index, or “crawl,” your website, your visibility in Google search results can suffer. Use Google Webmaster Tools to identify technical issues with your site so you can fix them.
Also, keep in mind that the speed with which your website loads pages is another SEO ranking factor, as is duplicate content issues—yet more reasons to make sure your site’s infrastructure is solid.
7. Earn Quality Backlinks
Google continues to heavily weigh links to your website from trusted, authoritative, quality websites as an important quality signal. That’s the good news. The bad: Getting these links isn’t easy. And if you take an easy route—such as paying for links—you’re likely to get penalized in Google rankings.
Simply put, the safest links are earned links. And you earn them by consistently posting quality content and publicizing it via social media.
You might also engage in some old-fashioned public relations. Let journalists and bloggers know about your company. If you give them something to write about, you’ll potentially earn more links to your site.
8. Stay Active on Social Media
Whenever you post new content online, publicize it on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or any other social network that your customers and prospects frequent. If nothing else, tweeting a link to your new blog post, especially if you use relevant hashtags, will help draw traffic to your site. Even better, others may share your social media updates with their followers, potentially attracting yet more traffic to your content.
Also, Search Engine Land’s SEO ranking chart lists social media reputation (“Do those respected on social networks share your content?”) and shares (“Do many share your content on social networks?”) as important factors.
9. Use (or Switch to) an SEO-friendly Publishing Platform
Many businesses—including The New York Times—use WordPress’ open-source blogging platform for all or part of its website’s content management system (CMS).
WordPress is a favorite among small businesses because the CMS is free to use, though you’ll need a Web hosting provider. (Bluehost is a popular choice for WordPress site hosting; DreamHost is another.) Also, there is a variety of free WordPress plug-ins to help improve your content’s SEO, such as the aptly named WordPress SEO.
10. Think like a publisher. Think like your customers
If you have a website or blog, or even just a Facebook business page, you’re a publisher, so think like one. Create an editorial calendar of topics. Keep the quality content pipeline flowing as much as time and costs will reasonably allow. Assign blog posts and other content to people in your company, based on their interests and knowledge.
Most importantly, always try to think like your customers. What are their concerns and challenges? What are the keywords they’re likely to use when searching for content like yours? What engages them most? What turns them off or causes them to click away? If you can crack that code, the links, likes, and shares — as well as the Google love — is likely to follow.
For more, check out SEO in 2015: Trends and Tips for Small Businesses.
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