If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks. –Leo Burnett
While many business owners view search engine optimization as a complicated, technical process, any website owner can reap great benefits by implementing a few basic SEO strategies.
At its core, small business SEO boils down to finding the best keywords to attract your audience and using them in the right places, including your URL’s content and navigation. In this increasingly mobile world, every small business website must be optimized for smartphones, tablets, and whatever other gadgets loom on the horizon.
By understanding the basic ways in which your target audience searches for local resources and information, and ensuring that your website and keyword strategy are aligned with long tail search queries, you will gain a significant advantage over your competitors.
The goal of doing keyword research is to ensure that every piece of content you publish online reaches the largest possible number of people within your target audience. This is accomplished by following a specific process that involves looking at both your competitors’ sites and the behaviors of your target customers, as well as using a fair amount of common sense. Then, we will use a very simple and organized approach to “mapping out” the keywords you should be targeting, based on the products and/or services your business provides.
1. Create Your Huge Laundry List
Your goal here is to generate a massive list of words and phrases, many of which you’ll throw away. Much like a sculptor chipping away the inessentials until the perfect figure is revealed, we need a huge pile of words to begin. To start your keyword laundry list, open up an Excel or Google spreadsheet. You’ll be using this as a tool to help you capture and manage keywords.
Along the top columns of your spreadsheet, list the main category of business you provide, followed by the categories of products or services you provide. In the example list below, I am using a printing shop to illustrate:
A sample “Keyword Laundry List”
Now comes the fun part—creating the biggest possible list of potential keywords that you can muster for each of your products or services. Use any source you can think of, from brainstorming with your customers and employees, to conducting some top-secret spy work to analyzing which keywords your competitors are using. Use no filter and make no assumptions—there are no wrong answers.
Here are several great places to find potential keywords:
2. Remove Undesirable and Irrelevant Search Terms
Now you must refine your keyword list by excluding any keywords that don’t apply to your business. For the most part, these irrelevant terms should be easy to spot.
KEY CONCEPT: When It Comes to Keywords, Opposites Attract!
Don’t over-eliminate during this refining process, as many of the keywords you assume to be irrelevant or undesirable could in fact be among your best sources of traffic and leads. For example, using our fictitious local printing shop, many folks might eliminate the term “printing wedding invitations online,” as their business offers only local printing services. However, optimizing for competitive services or products that your business doesn’t offer is one of the best ways to generate traffic from potential clients performing informational queries. Using the above example, our local printer could write a great blog post entitled “5 Reasons Why Using a Local Printer Is Better than Printing Wedding Invitations Online.”
Virtually any adjective— cheap, free, low-cost, discount—can work. Even if you sell $5,000 sofas, you may influence and attain a few new customers by writing a blog post entitled, “Why Buying Cheap Sofas Costs More in the End.”
3. Sort Your Keywords by Popularity Using Google’s Free Keyword Tool
Who doesn’t want to be popular (aside from nearly every band coming out of Seattle in the ‘90s)? Within the realm of online marketing and, more specifically, keyword research, popularity is defined as the number of searches conducted within a specific time frame (usually a month) for a given keyword. For example, with our friendly neighborhood printing company, it would be extremely beneficial to know that the search term “printing services” gets 165,000 “local” monthly searches while the term “printing shop” gets just 60,500. Measuring popularity is critical, as using the wrong keywords could result in much lower traffic!
The simplest way to measure and rank our targeted search terms by popularity is to use Google’s Free Keyword Tool. All you need to do is “paste” your keywords from your Keyword Spreadsheet into the “Find Keywords” box and hit “Search,” and you’ll see how many searches, on average, are being conducted monthly for each of your terms.
For each report you run (one separate report for each product or service category), all you need to do is download your list, complete with search volumes for each search term. To do this, just select “Download” in the space above your keyword list.
The last step is to add these search volume numbers back into your Keyword Spreadsheet. Remember to keep your keywords separated based on the primary products and service categories of your business.
KEY CONCEPT: Don’t Worry Too Much about Variations of the Same Word
A common mistake small business owners (and their SEO experts) use is to “over-optimize” websites, creating a different page and content for each variation of a word. For example, an owner of a nail salon may create unique Web pages for “nail salon,” “nail salons,” “nail spa,” “nail spas,” “nail shop,” “nail shops,” etc. This outdated tactic is unnecessary, as Google is smart enough to associate related terms and synonyms automatically. Not only is this overkill, but doing so can get your site penalized by Google for “over-optimization.”
Just as with virtually every other aspect of SEO and Google-friendly Web design, common sense rules. If you write high quality content aimed at real human beings, you’ll seldom have to worry about the technical details of each new algorithm change. In fact, you’ll probably benefit because all Google is trying to do is create a better user experience by linking folks to high-quality content.
KEY CONCEPT: Why You Shouldn’t Include Your City Name When Doing Keyword Research
Many people “localize” their keywords too early in the research process, by adding local-based keywords to their targeted keywords (“Denver printing services”). This is a mistake, as these long tail searches don’t get enough volume to be measured and reported by Google. This doesn’t mean that ranking number one on Google for “divorce lawyer in Branson, Mo” isn’t a good thing, just that it would be below the radar.
If you include localized terms in your target keywords, you may be led to eliminate your most important keywords based on seeing “0 searches” in the keyword tool.
The best way to overcome this lack of available metrics is to assume that the most popular keywords in the country are also the most popular in your town. Outside of a few particular regional exceptions, like “DWI” vs. “DUI,” or “soda” vs. “pop,” this approach works extremely well. If “printing services” gets three times more results than “printing shop,” it’s probably most lucrative to optimize your website for “Dallas printing services.”
In short, leave location-centered phrases out during the initial research process and add them in later during keyword deployment (discussed later).
4. Finalize Your Keyword Map
This step will result in a final, super-refined, and relevant, traffic-generating list that will become the “map” that will guide you through setting up your website pages, blog posts, and even online listings and advertising. All you need to do is choose the best keywords and place them into two bins based on which end of the buying funnel they reflect: Informational or Transactional.
I recommend you practice a “less is more” approach, using the most popular and relevant search terms. You can always expand your list later to capture more “long tail” phrases down the road via blog posts and videos.
It’s time to take your ultra-refined Keyword Map and put it to use by “deploying” your keywords—placing your target keywords in all the proper places, both on your website and elsewhere.
Where to Use Your Targeted Keywords: Everywhere!
The following are some of the most popular and important places to use your keywords/targeted search phrases:
Quick Steps to Keyword Deployment
1. Use Keyword-Rich URLs
It’s important that not only your root domain (website address) but also each Web page on your site includes the keywords you have deemed important to target. Many websites, especially those using older, outdated content-management systems or languages, may use “ugly URLs,” presenting “un-friendly” URLs to render Web pages (e.g., http://www.OaklandBarberShop/page_ID=3635?.php). “SEO-friendly” URLs clearly reveal the topic of the page the URL belongs to (http://www/OaklandBarberShop.com/mens-hair-cut-pricing).
WordPress comes with friendly URLs right out of the box, as each Web page or blog post you publish uses “permalinks” to allow for URL configuration and customization. If you’re managing your website yourself, simply check out YouTube for videos on how to do this.
2. Add your keywords to your page titles
Every Web page and blog post on your site has a page title. This title, also referred to as a “title tag,” tells both Google and people browsing your site what each page is about.
These page titles appear in the top bar of your Internet browser and are also shown as the titles of your Web pages in the Search page results. You can easily view this page by doing the following:
This is one of the most important ranking factors as well as being one where most small business websites fall short. Quite often, you will see “John Doe Law Firm,” or, worse yet, “Home” used as a title tag. Unless you’re trying to rank on Google for “Home,” this is not good.
Here’s a short list of best practices related to page titles:
RESOURCE: Use the Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin to Make On-Page SEO Simple
If you’re using WordPress or intend to do so, I recommend you use the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin, which allows you to configure and make changes to virtually all aspects of your SEO (page titles, meta descriptions, site maps, permalinks, and more) from a very simple, non-technical dashboard.
Once you download and activate this plugin, be sure to go through the “free tour” that pops up at activation.
3. Add your keywords to the headings and content of your Web pages
This should be one of the simpler concepts to grasp: you need to ensure that every piece of content you produce is focused on a single topic and contains your target keywords that are focused on that topic.
Although many SEO experts speak of complicated formulas for measuring “keyword density,” all you need to do is write high-quality, original articles that are focused on a single topic (ideally 5 words or more), including your target keywords, frequently but naturally.
As with all aspects of SEO, focus on the users—the people who will actually be reading or interacting with your content.
Just like this book, a restaurant menu, and most other forms of written communication, Web pages make use of hierarchical headings to organize and make content more readable. These headings are created using html code, which you’ll likely never see, as most of today’s CMS systems like WordPress make use of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editors that make writing and publishing content as simple as using Microsoft Word.
Page headings range from most to least important, from “H1” down to “H6,” and often reflect this in their font weight and size on most websites. All you need to do with regard to page headings is to include your search terms within your headers, but only if doing so is natural and serves the reader. You’ll also want to refrain from using more than one H1 heading per page.
Photos and Videos Are Content, Too!
Google applies its search algorithms to virtually every form of content on the Internet. Photos and videos are no exception. Each time you publish a photo or video, it’s important to use your target keywords when naming, describing, or tagging this media. For example, if you add a photo of your office to your home page, you’d be very well served to name the photo “Dallas Business Printing Services, Smith and Co.,” instead of “Our office.”
The “structure,” or how your Web pages are laid out, is an important element of SEO. Think of your website as an organizational chart or a filing cabinet, with each “block” or “file” representing a Web page or blog post on your site. The goal of an SEO-friendly site structure is to ensure that your content is very easy to find, both for Googlebots and for your users. This can be accomplished by doing four simple things:
KEY CONCEPT: Use Your Keyword Map to Lay Out Your Site Design
The time and effort you’ve put into developing your keyword map is about to pay off: this map can serve as a ready-made template for laying out your website!
Each of the primary categories (of products and/or services) in your Keyword Map can be used as Web pages in your navigation. Each transactional keyword can then be used as a heading within these pages—for example, our famous printing shop, ACME, would use “Business Cards” as a page within the navigation menu. On this page, the page headings would be “Business Card Printers,” “Cheap Business Cards,” and “Fast Business Card Printing.”
KEY CONCEPT: The Importance of Anchor Text
According to Wikipedia, “The anchor text, link label, link text, or link title is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. The words contained in the anchor text can determine the ranking that the page will receive by search engines.” Any time you click on a link leading you from one Web page to another (called a hyperlink, which can also be used in emails to link to Web pages), you’ll probably notice that each of these links has its own text describing where the link should take you. Anchor text is simply the words used in a link to another site. If you click on a link that says “click here,” “click here” would be anchor text. Any time other websites link to yours, it’s ideal to use your targeted keywords in these links. For example, if your plumber brother agrees to link to your site, it would be much better to use the anchor text “Los Angeles Plumber,” than, “Check out my brother’s website.” Using keywords in your anchor text, both within your website and on other sites linking to yours, helps tell people and search engines that your website is an authority on the topic these keywords describe.
RESOURCE: Google’s PageSpeed Insights
To check your site speed, use Google PageSpeed Insights. Simply enter your URL and wait for a report to notify you of high, medium, and low-priority issues affecting page loading. If your website gets a PageSpeed score of 70/100 or higher, you are fine in the eyes of Google. If you’re using a popular CMS, you usually have little to worry about, as these platforms factor speed into their designs.
Google Analytics is super-easy to install using three steps:
Once you’ve installed Google Analytics, you’ll quickly be amazed by the plethora of information available: who’s coming to your site, how they got there (from Google or another search engine, or another site on the Web), what pages they’re visiting, how long they’re sticking around, and, with a little customization, even which traffic sources are producing qualified leads!
Google Webmaster Tools is another great (and FREE) tool from Google that every website owner should use. It has tools that allow webmasters to:
Your small business is most likely a local business, serving customers within a defined geographic region. Often called “Local SEO,” the art and science of maximizing online reach within a specific region has many nuances that make it its own category of search engine optimization.
While online retailers like Amazon.com or Zappos.com have their own challenges in improving search engine rankings and traffic, their efforts are often “global.” For example, zappos.com ranks number-one on Google for “men’s shoes.” They aren’t on the first page for “men’s shoes Dallas,” nor do they care to be.
According to Searchenginewatch.com
“the U.S. now has more wireless customer connections than people. There are currently estimated to be 327.6 million active wireless customer connections in the U.S. The nation’s population is estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to be roughly 312 million. This means that today there are now more active broadband tablets, cell phones, and mobile devices than people in this country.”
A quick glance around your household would likely reveal that we’re not more plugged in, but actually more unplugged than ever. One in three Internet sessions occur on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet), and searching for local products and services is the perfect resource for folks when they’re on the go and in need of information.
The good news when it comes to “Mobile SEO” is that your small business can likely do without an elaborate strategy for mobile search.
In fact, most small businesses will reap 95 percent of the mobile market potential by doing just two primary things:
Step 1: Identify the best keywords to use on your site
Step 2: Use Your Keywords in the Right Places
Step 3: Use an SEO and People-Friendly Site Structure
Step 4: Install Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools
Step 5: Localize Your SEO Campaigns
Step 6: Implement Mobile SEO Basics
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