Like it or not, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become part of business. With the majority of customers carrying an internet-ready device in their pockets, it’s easier to do a Google search for a business than it ever was to look one up in a phone book. That’s why it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re ranking in online search results. The problem is, not every business is big enough to field a team of marketers and SEO specialists to help make that happen.
That’s where this list comes in. We’ve polled our Small Business SEO team and asked them for the 26 most important tips for improving SEO performance. Their responses are consolidated here, to help any small business that wants to improve their SEO, but doesn’t know where to start.
Note: our list is categorical, not hierarchical, so feel free to approach it in the order that works best for your company.
Your Own Website
SEO starts with your company’s website. A website with poor design or structure can be a death knell for SEO, so if your layout or user interface is a little underwhelming, cleaning house might do wonders for your rankings. Here’s the advice our experts gave us.
- “Get your website done right the first time. Don’t get it done for free from your neighbor, or using a free website builder, it can hold you back in the long run.”
The best way to deal with the hassle of revamping your website is to have it done by professionals in the first place. Paying to have a web design team put together a polished website may seem like an unaffordable expenditure, but you’ll reap some serious benefits on the other side of that investment. Google and other search engines prefer well-designed sites and reward them with higher rankings.
Users appreciate a professional look, too. Your website says a lot about you, and how serious you are as a business. An underdeveloped website makes you look small-time and short-sighted, leaving customers wondering if you’re really what they’re looking for.
If you’ve already built your site the “easy” way, consider making the investment in web design now. Revamping your website will boost your rankings, and will communicate to users that you’re actively involved in improving and growing your business.
- “Schema is a great opportunity to include some of your business information directly into the coding. What kind of business you have, address and other details can all be included, if done correctly.”
Schema markup is a set of agreed-upon microdata tags that can be used to include pertinent information into your website URL. It allows web crawlers like Google and Bing to list relevant information about your business or product in the search results. They enable things like rich snippets. While this doesn’t necessarily have an effect on search result rankings (at least not yet), there is evidence that says it increases click-through rates, meaning users are more willing to click on them when they see these enhanced results.
If you’re looking to learn how to use schema markup to your advantage, visit schema.org, specifically the page listing the various schema types.
Google My Business
It’s hard to overstate Google’s value in the SEO game. Especially with services like Google My Business, you’d be remiss to ignore what the digital giant offers in the way of boosting your ranking in SERPs. Here’s what the experts had to say.
- “If one hasn’t been set up yet, do it! This is one of the most important things that can be done for your Local SEO.”
With Google at the forefront of search engine usage, being ignored is not what you want. Make sure you’re as visible as possible by filling out a Google My Business listing. Then be sure you validate your business, and optimize like crazy. Be warned, Google My Business is occasionally evolving: sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. It’s a moving target, but be sure to chase it in any case. You’ll be glad you did.
- “Be sure to utilize the Menu URL. The Menu URL is where restaurants can add a link to their menu. The Menu URL can be used as a link by other businesses for a services page.”
The Menu URL is a place on Google My Business for businesses to link to a specific page on their website. Originally used as a way to direct potential customers directly to a restaurant’s online menu, it can also be used by other industries, linking directly to a services page, or the like. Be sure to put the tool to good use.
Here’s some other Google My Business advice:
- “Accessibility is a newer feature in which features for businesses can be added such as wheelchair accessibility, restrooms, etc.”
- “Make sure your business has a Tagline. This is can be a slogan, or a sentence to two words about your business.”
- “In the introduction, add original written content that describes your business working in a keyword or two. Be sure to include a hyperlink to your website as well centered around your branding.”
Online directories, like Yelp, Foursquare, and Angie’s List provide an opportunity to cite your business and get your name out there. These are very important in securing a good rank. Here’s the word from our specialists.
- “You can’t skip citation work and expect to see great results in Google’s local search results. In general, make sure to get listed, updated, optimized, and cleaned up on at least the top 30-40 citation sites.”
There is a growing consensus among the SEO community that citations don’t matter as much as they used to. They still form the foundation of local search, however, so doing your due diligence is important. Refer to WhiteSpark’s Top 50 citations list to see what those top 30-40 sites are.
If you plan on going further than that, and put yourself on more citation sites, just be sure to follow the advice of WhiteSpark’s founder, Darren Shaw: “Top 50 sites, top 5 industry-specific sites, any local-specific sites, and that’s 85% of the way there. The next top 30 sites will get you to 95%. The rest is of little importance. There are much higher ROI activities than working on cleanup on the remaining sites.”
- “Look at where your competitors are listed. If you are a lawyer and your competitor is listed on Avvo.com, but you are not, that is a problem.”
While “keeping up with the Joneses” is never to be encouraged, keeping tabs on your competition is. See what your competitors are doing to increase their rankings, and try to beat them at their own game, especially with citation sites.
Photos are important. Done well they’re appealing, informative, and they pique a customer’s interest. Done wrong, and web crawlers can’t find them. Here’s some pro tips on making them more machine-friendly:
- “As a recommendation, images should be uploaded with keyword-rich filenames. For example let’s say you sell used movies, you’d want to upload a photo named used-dvds-lot-in-city-state.jpg.”
- “Make sure prior to uploading an image that it has geo targeting of where it was taken.”
- “When implementing images on your website, be sure to give the image a relevant name with both your targeted keyword and city. Also with the coding be sure to include both an ALT and Title attribute that reflects the targeted keyword as well as city/area.”
Those were general comments, intended for pretty much any time you’re uploading a photo, whether on your site, or on a citation site. Below are some tips specific to uploading photos for Google My Business:
- “Cover Image must be a minimum of 480 x 270 pixels, but 1080 x 608 pixels is recommended.”
- “The Profile Image must be a minimum of 250 x 250 pixels”
- “Google My Business is a great opportunity to show your business in action. There are numerous types of photos that can be uploaded, including interior, exterior, at work, team, and identity.”
At the most basic level, what you need users to see is your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP). If they have at least those three things, they can visit or contact your business, allowing them to become a customer. That said, you’ll also want them to know your business hours, what kind of business you are, what you sell, if you’re open on holidays, and so forth. To make this information available, you’re going to need to put it places where people can see it. That means your website, Google My Business, citation sites, etc. Here’s how to get it done right:
- “Ensure that Business Name is properly reflective of the business and that it’s listed the same on every site.”
For example, if you’re a dentist and your business is named Acme Dentistry, don’t set up your Business Name on a citation site as Dr. John Doe, DDS – Acme Dentistry. Name your business the same as what is on the Business License, and do it everywhere. Consistency is key.
- “The same as Business Name, make sure that the listed address is the same as on the address being displayed on your website.”
For example on your website if it says your business is in Suite B, make sure it is not Ste. B on a citation site, or Google My Business. Remember, you NAP needs to be consistent.
- “For phone number make sure it is a local phone number and not a toll-free number such as 1-800-555-5555.”
The local number will help specifically with local SEO rankings and will prove to locals that you’re in the neighborhood. Again, be consistent, and make sure each listing’s basic information is carbon-copied. This is one area where Google appreciates duplicate content, so to speak.
Now, for a couple of tips specific to Google My Business listings:
- “Business Categories are another great way to gain exposure to your business. As a recommendation, don’t exceed three categories.”
- “Business Hours need to be accurate, and keep in mind if you have special holiday hours, they can be added as well.”
Filling out specific information like this helps make you easier to parse by web crawlers, and offers pertinent information to users who search for you.
Customer feedback is also an important part of your online presence. What was once word-of-mouth is now something a little more permanent, and can reach much wider audiences, so you need to be aware of the power of positive (and negative) reviews. Here are a few pieces of advice:
- “Encourage reviews from happy customers. Direct them online so others can see how awesome you are.”
- “Focus on customer service—it will pay off 10 times.”
- “People love to see responses to Reviews whether positive or negative. That being said, when there is a negative review, remember to be extremely professional when responding.”
Do what you can to provide a positive experience for customers, and to prompt positive feedback from them. And when negative feedback comes in, do your best to answer concerns, and do so in a professional manner. Being engaged in the feedback will endear you to your customers, and improve click-through rates.
Odds and Ends
We’re almost to the end of our list, and there were a couple of oddballs that didn’t fit into the above categories. We list them here because they are still valuable, and we think you’ll want to know them. They’re listed below.
- “Hire an agency to market your business, work closely with them, but don’t micromanage.”
For small businesses, it can be incredibly cost-effective to hire a digital marketing agency, as opposed to hiring your own marketing team. Tapping into an entire company’s worth of expertise and industry knowledge isn’t bad, either.
- “Don’t underestimate the power of good content that can help search engines, and ultimately users.”
Bill Gates once said “Content is king,” and he had a point. Creating content for your business, whether it be blog posts, or infographics, or videos, providing users with media to consume will give search engines a reason to rank you higher. What’s more, content (unlike business listings) can go viral. So dig in, have fun with it, and create something unique to your business.
SEO, while challenging, is something any business can succeed at, as long as they are willing to give it the energy it’s due. Hopefully, we’ve given you an adequate springboard from which to begin your efforts. If not, you can always ask us for more advice. We’re happy to help.