How to Use SEO to Make Your Business Website More Successful
If nobody can find your business website, you might as well not have one. That's where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. By mastering some SEO basics, you can help generate more traffic to your website.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It encompasses strategies that aim to make your website show up on search results pages for relevant search terms. When that happens, you get traffic to your website, called organic traffic. (Organic traffic contrasts with paid traffic, which is when you pay for attention through search ads.)
Why you need SEO
The reason SEO matters is because of how search engines work. It goes like this:
- Search engines crawl the web to find new or updated web content.
- Then they add that page to their index, which is like a huge database.
- When people type in what they're looking for, the search engines show the most relevant results.
SEO is important for small businesses because it aims to ensure that your web pages show up for search terms that are relevant to your business. SEO often focuses on Google, which accounts for 62% of US search queries,1 but you can also optimize for other search engines.
If you don't look after SEO, then it's harder for your target customers to find your business when they search. That means less traffic -- and likely fewer leads and sales.
But it's not just about showing up on search engine results pages (SERPs). It matters where you show up. That's because most people only look at the first page of search results, and the top three results get more than half of the clicks.2
On-page vs off-page SEO
SEO tactics are usually divided into two categories: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Off-page SEO encompasses off-site tactics (like having other reputable sites link to yours) to improve your website's search ranking. You can learn more about off-page SEO optimization here.3
The rest of this article focuses on on-page SEO, which is all about optimizing your site pages to help both search engines and your visitors see your web pages as relevant, useful, and authoritative.
How to do your own on-page SEO
When you're just starting your small business, you might have to do your own SEO until you can outsource this work to an agency.
Here are some good ways to start.
1. Do keyword research.
Keyword research is an essential SEO task. Keywords are words and phrases that people use to find your business, like "car dealer" or "health food store." When these phrases are included on your web pages and blog posts, then both search engines and visitors know they are in the right place.
Keyword research will tell you:
- Which keywords your site is already ranking well for.
- Which search terms people are looking for related to your business that aren't in your content.
You can also find out whether people are looking for information or are ready to buy, depending on the search terms they use.
You can get started with keyword research by using free keyword research tools,4 but eventually you may want to upgrade to one of the market leaders like Ahrefs or SEMrush.
2. Include keywords in content.
Once you find keywords that are relevant to your business, it's time to include them in your content. You should include keyword phrases in these locations:
- Page title, which is the first line of a search engine entry
- Meta description, which is the content of a search engine entry
- Title of a blog post or piece of content
- Body of your content a few times
- Image file name Image
- alt text (the text that describes the image for assistive devices)
When searching, most people only look at the first page of search results, and the top three results get more than half of the clicks.
3. Add a sitemap to Google Search Console.
Google Search Console is a Google tool that helps you improve the search performance of your website. One easy way to do that is to ensure that the search engine can crawl your site. That means you need to submit a sitemap, which lists all your pages.
If your site runs on WordPress, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin to create a sitemap automatically. Alternatively, you can find a free XML sitemap generator online. Once you add your sitemap to Google Search Console, you'll get search performance reports and can see what you need to optimize.
4. Ensure your site is mobile-friendly.
Almost half of all web browsing5 takes place on mobile devices, so it's essential to have a mobile-friendly website. Luckily, Google Search Console has a built-in mobile usability report that identifies mobile-friendly pages and flags issues that create a poor user experience. There's also a link to Google's Page Speed Insights tool, which identifies other issues slowing your site down.
5. Take care of local SEO.
Local SEO (which is SEO that focuses on helping your web pages rank higher in particular locations) can also be crucial for small businesses. Mobile device users often try to find businesses near their current location. A good way to get started with local SEO is to claim your Google My Business listing.6 You need to include your business name, address, contact details, and opening hours. This lets happy customers leave positive reviews.
Questionable SEO tactics to avoid
If you're doing your own SEO, there are a few tactics you definitely need to leave out. These include:
- Keyword stuffing: This is the practice of trying to shoehorn in a bunch of keywords into your web pages and content to artificially inflate search rankings. It no longer works, and can result in reduced visibility in search results.
- Thin content: When writing SEO content, don't phone it in. Make it rich and valuable. Thin content with little substance will hurt, rather than help, your search ranking.
- Link schemes: Google frowns upon buying and selling links, cross-linking schemes, and any attempt to artificially inflate search engine rankings. Ideally, you'll earn links to your site through great content that other people will want to cite.
How to measure SEO success
When you optimize your site, you can check how your SEO strategies are working by:
Paying attention to organic traffic and conversions.
- Checking Google Search Console to see how your site is performing in search.
- Checking Google Analytics to see if people are engaging with your site (for example, when they follow a search result back to your site, do they stick around for a while or bounce away?).
- Tracking links to your site. There's a helpful links report in Google Search Console which shows the top sites linking to your website and the pages they link to.
As you've seen, as a small business owner you can handle the basic elements of getting your SEO practices set up. But SEO is a time-consuming and ongoing task, so as your business grows it may make sense to outsource SEO to a specialist who can keep on top of changing search terms and requirements.
Important disclosure information
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
- Statista, "Share of search queries handled by leading U.S. search engine providers as of July 2020 ," accessed September 9, 2020. Back
- Johannes Beus, "Why (almost) everything you knew about Google CTR is no longer valid ," Sistrix, published July 14, 2020, accessed September 9, 2020. Back
- John Vuong, "8 Proven Off-Page SEO Techniques That Can Impact Your Rankings," Relevance, updated July 4, 2020, accessed September 9, 2020. Back
- Neil Patel, "9 Free Keyword Research Tools to Help Plan Your New Site ," NeilPatel.com. Accessed September 9, 2020. Back
- Statista, "Percentage of mobile device website traffic in the United States from 1st quarter 2015 to 2nd quarter 2020," accessed September 9, 2020. Back
- Kristen McCormick, "What Is Google My Business & Why Do I Need It? " WordStream, updated July 17, 2020, accessed September 9, 2020. Back
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