Something I run into all the time with small to mid-sized business owners is their fear that they need to be focused on (and spending money on) SEO.
There's a huge misconception about what SEO (search engine optimization) is and what businesses should pay for it. In nearly all use cases, small business owners shouldn’t pay a dime extra for someone else to manage their SEO.
If your website is hosted through Squarespace, Shopify, Wordpress, Wix or virtually any other website builder, all the SEO tools you need are built into the platform already. In the settings for every page or blog post on your website you can customize the title, description and other SEO settings. That’s the basic fundamental concept of search engine optimization.
Now let’s get a little more specific… But before we do, let’s clarify what SEO really is. In essence, SEO just means “optimizing a website for search engines.” So SEO is about making sure your business shows up in a Google search. Let’s walk through a few free steps you can take to improve your business’s SEO.
1. Understand Who Makes Up Your Target Audience
Do you know who your target customers are? This is the very first (and perhap most important) step to take before you can master your business's SEO. If you don't know who your target customers are, how could you market to them?
Let's pretend you sell a shaving subscription box delivered straight to your customers' doors. Who are your target customers? A quick guess would be tech-savvy 18-35 year olds with some disposable income to blow on subscription boxes. And if you market only to men, that would be yet another filter to segment your audience into a smaller group.
With proper target audience information in hand, you're now ready to ensure your website contains phrases and search terms your target audience is using. More on this in the next step.
2. Ensure Your Site Contains Phrases People Search For
As mentioned, once you understand your target audience/customer, you can do a proofread of your website copy to make sure you're including the right words and phrases that your target audience uses.
Using the same example as before, if you were selling a shaving subscription box, you might consider using phrases like "best shaving kit" or "cheap razors" or "monthly shaving subscription." If you need help identifying the best keywords to reach your target audience, Google and other companies have analytics tools available to help you.
Of course, keep in mind that search engines like Google are always focused on showing the right information at the right time, so only add words and phrases to your website where they make the most sense. If someone does a Google search, clicks a link to your website and then quickly leaves or do no other interaction on your website, it's possible that your website didn't provide them with what they were looking for, so your site will drop in the rankings.
3. Do a Quick SEO Health Check of Your Site
So we already talked about making sure the writing on your website makes sense and aligns with your target audience, and that's a huge part of good SEO, but you also have to keep an eye on some of the nitty-gritty stuff, too.
First, check each URL for your website. So if you have an 'About Us' page, make sure the URL ends with /about-us or something similar. Generally, you want each page to include the primary keyword for that page. So if you have a page all about pricing, the URL should end with /pricing or if you have a page about your dinner menu, make sure the URL ends with /dinner-menu.
Other things to keep in mind are the images on your webpage. Generally. images help keep readers interested and on your site longer, but an image isn't easily searchable by search engines so be sure to add what's called ALT text for each image, which is basically a brief description of the image itself. The information in the ALT text gets picked up by search engines so it's good to always populate your ALT information. All of the major platforms allow you to customize the image's ALT text and other metadata.
Another trick is to make sure any outbound links are pointing to high-ranking websites. This is less of a concern since search engines continue to deprioritize links, but it never hurts. Make sure you're linking to the best information possible so you can help your audience find what they're looking for.
And finally, it's always a good idea to include social media share buttons on blog posts or other highly sharable pages like a product page. Search engines notice highly-shared content and will prioritize those posts over similar posts without the same level of sharing.
There are many other health checkup type tricks you can do to improve your site, but for now these are good places to start. And there are countless tools out there to help you improve your SEO, many of which are completely free of charge. In fact, did you know that Google can analyze your website and make you aware of any issues it finds? This is more about page speed and performance, but is another great area to explore when trying to improve your website.
4. Get Other Sites to Link Back to Your Site
When multiple places across the internet reference your website, that means you're doing something right. You're providing information that other people want or need. And that's what Google and the other search engines love - sending people to whatever it is they're looking for.
So, if you write great content, or provide a valuable product or service, chances are high that you'll start to see inbound traffic coming from sources beyond direct website visits and search engines. All of this helps Google and other search engines understand that you have valuable content, and you'll rank higher in search results. But keep in mind, simply getting people to link to you isn't enough. What matters more is where your traffic is coming from. A Wall Street Journal article means much more than a small-time blogger. Like most things related to SEO, quality makes a difference.
5. Use Social Media as Another Point of Exposure
I mentioned this previously, but you definitely want to be using social media so you have one more place to get exposure to your target audience, and also make it easy for people to share your business's updates and news to their own followers. In addition, Google has recently started to prioritize social media content in search results, so even if your website doesn't show up as one of the first few search results, there's a good chance your social media posts might.
6. Bonus Tip - Use Google My Business!
As a final tip, make sure you are using the great features Google offers as part of its My Business service. Google My Business is basically where you manage your business's Google listing that shows up in search (on the right-hand side) or in Google Maps. You have full control over what shows here, so take the time to make sure everything is correct. If your business hours change, make sure those changes are reflected on your Google listing. It's just one more place where you have control over your brand, an it all needs to be in sync!
So, long story short, stop paying someone else to do your SEO! Especially if you're a single-location business or you bring in less than $1 million per year. You can even manage search engine advertisements yourself, too, but we'll save that for another post!