What Small Businesses Need to Know About SEO
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What Small Businesses Need to Know About SEO
Ah, SEO. It’s a term cloaked in mystery and misconceptions about how to best make websites appear in search results. Thankfully, you’ve downloaded this guide. We’re going to review everything you need to know in order to help improve how your website is discovered online so you can grow your business.
In this guide, we’re going to cover:
- Why you need SEO.
- What SEO is (and isn’t).
- What counts as black hat SEO.
- How it helps Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
- How long proper SEO takes.
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Chapter 1: Why You Need SEO
Two Ways to Add SEO to a Website
Before we dig into the details surrounding how to properly use SEO on your website, it’s important to cover why your website needs SEO. By optimizing how your website is designed and structured, you can improve how often it appears at the top of search results.
SEO also helps your company’s discoverability in non-branded searches. This means that when people search for “Atlanta lawyer” instead of “Smith & Smith Attorneys”, your website has a higher chance of appearing.
There are two ways SEO is added to a website:
- Website text and structure
- Regular blogging efforts
Your website’s text and structure doesn’t change often, so it’s important to optimize it properly. This includes proper white hat techniques that we’re going to cover shortly. The second way SEO is added to your website is through regular blogging. Publishing at least two blogs per month keeps it regularly updated while adding high quality content that relates to your top keywords.
This increases your chances that your website will appear in search results for those non-branded searches. If Smith & Smith Attorneys posts an article on five ways to prepare for a divorce settlement, that article has a higher chance of appearing for searches related to that topic than their Services or About page. It’s another way to improve your company’s visibility online when paired with other marketing efforts. The same principles of website SEO apply to blogging, so you’ll be well equipped after finishing this guide.
Now that we’ve established why SEO is important, lets dig into more about what creates an SEO strategy.
Chapter 2: What Is It?
How Does Your Website Get Found?
At its core, SEO is how websites are discovered through search engines like Google and Bing.
There are four key ways this is done.
- Website structure
- User Intent
Keywords are like the glue that holds website text together. It could hold without it, but adding the right keywords to a web page will help it stick together and rank better. These words or phrases relate to the topic the text covers. For example, a key phrase for this guide could be “small business SEO”.
The better you choose your keywords, the better your page will rank. Irrelevant keywords added just for the sake of visibility will actually hurt your SEO performance. We always recommend focusing on two to three keywords that fit your topic in order to support the best performance possible.
Backlinks are basically a fancy way of saying that another website links back to your own. They build your website’s authority, which in turn helps your website ranking. Think of it like the adage, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” By attaching your website to another with authority, you can improve how both websites rank.
Be sure to always focus on high-quality backlinks. If you associate your website with “link farms”, or websites devoted to linking many types of websites without concern for quality, your SEO ranking will suffer.
Your website’s structure also plays a role in how your website is discovered. Google’s search engine algorithm crawls through your website, following the same path a user would. The better your website is structured, the better Google can crawl your pages and rank them for different searches.
In 2019, Google’s John Mueller, their Webmaster Trends Analyst, recommended a topical website structure. He explains, “In general, I’d be careful to avoid setting up a situation where normal website navigation doesn’t work. So, we should be able to crawl from one URL to any other URL on your website just by following the links on the page.”
Topical structures group website content by, you guessed it, topics. Your services would be one topic, while testimonials and completed projects would be another topic. It’s easy to overthink this, though.
As long as your website is logically organized by topic with links to each in the navigation bar at the top of each page, you have a website structure that supports healthy SEO.
Have you ever noticed how Google always seems to know what you want to search for? This is user
intent at work.
When SEO first originated, search engine algorithms only focused on the keywords on a page. If they were there and had authority, that website would win a spot on the first page. The significant downside to this process, though, is that companies started writing websites for search engines, not people.
Over the last few years, though, Google, Bing, and others have started prioritizing user intent over keyword placement. Their search technology can gather intent from users and the websites seeking that coveted first page placement, which then improves user experience by placing a higher emphasis on content written for people, rather than algorithms.
Keywords are still important when writing for SEO, but small businesses now also have to account for a strong user experience. You can do this by writing for people first, machines second. Place your chosen keywords in headings and then sparingly throughout the paragraphs. Focus on user experience and your topic, and you’ll be well on your way to a user-intent optimized website.
Chapter 3: What's Not SEO
SEO is not a way to quickly and artificially make your way to the first page of Google. These artificial techniques are called black hat SEO, and can get your website de-listed by search engines.
Compared to the white hat techniques listed above, black hat SEO will give you only temporary results
by breaking search engines’ Terms of Service.
- Common black hat techniques include, but are not limited to:
- Placing text in the background of websites.
- Keyword stuffing with chosen keywords. (Using them very frequently throughout a web page.)
- Multiple pages of the same content.
- Using link farms for excessive back linking.
- Proper SEO takes time, which is why some are tempted to use these black hat tactics to quicken the pace. However, the risks of using these tactics with the sophisticated algorithms used today aren’t worth it.
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Chapter 4: How SEO Supports SEM
Even though SEO supports how your website appears through organic (unpaid) website support, is can support how well your Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns are working. SEM is any paid advertising you use with search engines, including Pay Per Click (PPC) marketing.
PPC ads are what you see at the top and bottom of search results. These ads are displayed based on an auction system where companies bid on certain keywords, similar to how these companies choose keywords to focus on for their websites.
While strong SEO isn’t required in order to start SEM, it does help improve performance. The better the keyword optimization on the website, the more likely you’ll be to win the auction and have your ads displayed. Both can also impact the type of website traffic you get. The higher quality the website traffic, the more likely people are to convert into customers for your business.
Chapter 5: How Long Does SEO
Take to Work?
Now for the question that’s likely been bouncing around in your mind this entire guide: how long does SEO take? Anything good doesn’t come quick! If you’re using white hat techniques, it will take some time to begin to see results. When done well, you can begin to see results in as little as 3 months of consistent work.
As with most things in life, that timeline will only work if you’re willing to invest in a thorough strategy. A less thorough strategy will take longer to yield results, since you aren’t able to complete as much at once.
Here is what you’ll need at a minimum:
- A user-first website with a proper structure.
- Fast website load times.
- Optimized meta tags and meta descriptions.
- No past black hat tactics.
If your website needs an SEO overhaul, it will likely take closer to six months to see results while your website is updated and proper techniques are implemented. This may seem like a daunting task, but it’s important to start now in order to grow. Putting the time in now will help your small business succeed online in the future.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
When it comes to SEO, there is plenty of lore surrounding what works and what doesn’t. We hope this guide clarified what you do and don’t need from an SEO strategy, what it isn’t, and the core areas to get started.
If you’re looking for an agency partner who focuses on helping small businesses maximize their website’s potential with SEO, let’s talk. I’d be happy to discuss your current search efforts, where you feel you could improve, and how we can help you achieve your goals.
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