Updated: Apr 10, 2022
In this guide, I will show you what it takes to rank your pay monthly website and where your hard-earned money gets spent.
Every website is different. Some are big, some are small, there are those in between, and those websites all began at varying times. The small business SEO strategy required for a small microsite founded in 2018 differs from the requirements of an extensive eCommerce website design that started three or four years ago.
Hence, SEO is ART (in the artistic sense) because merely applying science in a formulaic fashion is a waste of resources and budget.
The website development work already done dictates which jobs get promoted to the top of the to-do list,
No two websites are the same, and the approach is always different depending on the SEO work already carried out, which dictates the jobs that get promoted to the top of the to-do list.
To begin with, insist on an SEO report of work done and do not accept glib generalisations. Every decent SEO exponent worth their SEMrush subscription knows how to produce a site report for search engine optimisation. Small business owners need to know where their money is being spent!
Working Within Your SEO Budget
Your budget is a significant factor because you can create unlimited content with an unlimited budget.
With unlimited cash, you can generate endless clicks. With infinite links, you can have unlimited website traffic. You can become One with Google.
We all have budgets to work with, some bigger, some smaller and all of us have deadlines by which we expect a return on our investment.
With pay per click marketing, you can easily measure the return on investment through conversion tracking, but this isn't the case with search engine optimization (sic) and organic search results. Seeing the benefits of small business SEO work can take several months to take effect.
The good news is that robust SEO work lasts for years and doesn't disappear overnight, unlike your PPC campaign budget which has to be continually refreshed.
What Is Search Engine Optimisation?
Your SEO strategy is a core part of your online marketing effort. The goal is to increase visibility in organic (as opposed to paid for) search results resulting in more traffic from a user search.
Search engine optimization (sic) encompasses the way your site is structured (technical SEO), on-page elements (page titles and descriptions, alt tags and content) and off-page elements (link building).
You should also consider the overall usability of your site as part of the SEO process because an easy to use website retains visitors, reduces bounce rate and increases session time. All of which may contribute to your search results today but definitely will in the future.
Identifying the correct keywords for your site and identifying the pages that will serve those keyword searches also comes under the SEO umbrella. Yep, there's a lot to learn for small business owners, and in this guide, I will concentrate on "on page" elements with a follow up to cover "off-page" shortly.
White Hat v Black Hat SEO
At this point, it would be a good time to talk about those infamous shortcuts and how easy it is to rank by cheating the Google algorithm. Otherwise known as Blackhat SEO.
I started working on the internet in 2000. So I have seen a lot come and go. When I made my first website, all you had to do was keyword stuff the page title and description, and you were good to go.
However, then Alta Vista became a victim of Google, and in turn, it was harder to fool Google. Stuffing your pages full of keywords became a guaranteed SEO technique to ensure plummeting search engine rankings.
In c2009, I joined a link network where everyone pooled their links with other network members' websites. It was known as link-vault, and the more pages you had, the more virtual voltage you had to spend. Everything was working great until Google devalued sitewide footer links, and the system was suddenly put on life support, eventually dying a desperate death.
In the early days, I did my share of silly things, and the reality is that trying to clean up a messy backlink profile is very difficult once it has gotten out of hand.
If you try to gain an advantage by targeting a search engine's blind spot, you are setting yourself up to fail. Once you start getting search engine traffic and begin building a business by it, you will be devastated when it all falls apart.
Of course, there are many more examples of people trying to gain a quick advantage. Some are crude, like keyword stuffing or generating hundreds of pages for similar search terms (gateway pages). Some are complex, like setting up many blogs on many different servers to create a link network.
What is inevitable, though, is that eventually, they will all fail or become too time-consuming to manage. Google improves its search results algorithm daily, and significant updates are becoming less frequent in favour of logical evolution.
As Blackhat sites tumble down the search engine rankings, the Whitehat sites inevitably rise to take their place. There is no future in gaming the search engine.
Experts Who Claim To Know The Search Engine Algorithm
Moreover, for those that claim to know the secret to the Google Algorithm or how it works – how could they? We know many things about how Google displays search results, and we can determine pretty much what works and what to avoid, but understand how the algorithm works?
Has anyone successfully made anything that remotely tastes like Coca-Cola? Does Bing give as good a return for a search query as Google? If anyone wanted to know the secret sauce recipe, it would be Microsoft?
Why work on something for hundreds or even thousands of hours only to jeopardise it by trying to take shortcuts? Being the recipient of a site exclusion message in Google webmaster tools sends a shiver down the spine. Getting a penalised site reincluded is a fraught process. Don't let that be you.
The way forward is to be entirely Whitehat. Completely spotless, unspoiled by anything possibly interpreted as spammy. Stay away from paid links, particularly in the early days when you have not yet established a natural link profile. Those links will stick out like Eskimos on the beach at Blackpool until you have enough genuine cover to make them hard to find.
Let me be clear that I do not condone the practice of buying links. Of course, many websites do it, and that's how they maintain high search engine rankings across the board, but it's flirting with disaster, and you want to sleep easy at night, don't you?
Doing The Search Engine Optimisation Basics Right
The goal of small business SEO is to help people who are looking for your product or service find you.
That is it; that is small business SEO in a nutshell. Your job as a website owner is to optimise your website pages and the website to be spidered easily by a search engine. Once the search engine has all websites in its database, it ranks them according to its algorithm to determine the placement of each site in the search results and the easy way to see this is in Google search console.
In this way, each search engine can have the same amount of websites in its database, but the output of each varies because they all have different algorithms with which to benchmark the results. Different algorithms used by various search engines are why your site ranks in different positions depending on the search engine.
Your job is to tell the search engines precisely about each page on your website. More importantly, you have to match your pages to the search subject.
Keyword Research: Finding The Right Keywords
Keyword research is a cornerstone part of small business SEO. If you get this bit wrong, then everything else you does becomes a struggle. You have to know which keywords have a high search volume and which keywords are trigger keywords.
Trigger keywords are those that carry purchaser intent. For example, searching for "which UK eCommerce platform is the best" indicates that the person searching is early in the research process.
Someone searching for "EKM v Shopwired" is a lot further down the research path, and the last search ", EKM Review" is loaded with purchase intent. Think about how you do the research for your purchases and how you refine your keywords.
The aim of keyword research for an entirely new website is to find keywords with a high monthly search volume and trigger keywords. It is fruitless to rank for high volume keywords that don't carry purchaser intent.
It does not end there, though. You also need to find keywords that don't have a high amount of competition to improve your chances of being visible on the front page.
A good starting point for keyword research is Google's Keyword Planner and Google search console.
Discovering Long Tail Keywords
Finding high volume, low competition keywords that also convert into paying customers is the objective of keyword research, but that can be a challenging prospect, especially in saturated markets.
High competition is why targeting low volume, high trigger keywords can be more profitable, but it takes more work to unearth them.
Long-tail keywords are those that people take the time and trouble to type in because they know what they are looking for.
“UK eCommerce website builder that supports eBay and Facebook.”
“UK website builder for multi-channel selling.”
A good keyword strategy is a mix of both higher volume and long-tail keywords. Attracting long-tail keyword traffic is also a by-product of great content marketing.
Creating Content And Optimising Your Pages
Once you have chosen your keywords, it is time to begin writing and weave them into your content.
By incorporating keywords from your research into your professional blog content, you begin to tell a story to the search engine, but watch out! You are not writing for the search engine; you are writing for real people.
You can always tell when content has been written purely for search engines because it is stilted and devoid of emotion. Write with your reader in mind and try to answer the questions they might have for you. Your content will flow naturally, and you don't have to manufacture sentences to cram in your keywords.
I like to write to picture a particular customer of mine and compose the article as if I was informing them of the subject, talking one to one. Don't think about writing for a broad audience; focus on the one person you have in your mind's eye, and your words will flow smoothly.
When considering pages as a whole, keep in mind that search engines can only understand written text. Video, flash and audio files cannot be "read" by search engines. The inability of search engines to spider this content is why it is a good idea to offer full transcripts and the video itself on the page.
On-Page Search Optimisation
You need to pay attention to five different areas of each page and "optimise." There is an explanation for each element, and then I will give you an example at the end to show you how they all come together as a whole.
Page Title Tags
Your page title is a significant indicator to a search engine of your page content. Be creative when writing page titles and strive to pique the reader's interest. The most compelling titles and descriptions gain the most click-throughs when faced with a wall of text from which to select in the search results.
Always include a heading on your page, and this heading should duplicate or reflect your browser page title so that you are consistent in informing the search engine what your page is all about. Then you should use headings to break up your page, introduce white space, and make your text quickly scanned.
This Is Heading One
This Is Heading Two
This Is Heading Three
This Is Heading Four
Meta tags used to be the place for you to stuff all your keywords, but now they are used much more subtly to improve CTR (click-through rate). Pay particular attention to the meta descriptions, as most search engines use this text to display under your page title.
Image Alt Tags
Often overlooked, ALT tags are there to describe an image. If that seems counter-intuitive, then bear in mind that many people used to browse the web with photos turned off to save on bandwidth costs. ALT Tags would help those people understand the page.
Filling in all your ALT Tags is the best search engine optimization practice, so don't overlook them.
To make it easier for people to access your content, you should link to critical pages on your site where it is relevant. Don't overdo it, though, because too many links can make a page unreadable. It is good practice to link to your essential internal pages where applicable and make them as accessible as possible.
Internal links also tell search engines what pages on your site are all about, so don't miss out on the opportunity to link to your key pages.
Let's Simplify The Nine Basic Website Marketing Strategy Elements:
1. Keyword research means discovering how competitive keywords are to rank in the search engines; this is the foundation on which you build your business.
2. Website design and build means navigation structure and making sure pages are easy to find.
3. On-page search engine optimisation is a "do once" necessity. You need the right mix of keywords in your content. The correct page titles maximise your traffic. Paying an expert to do it optimally is a worthwhile investment.
4. Off-page optimisation means sourcing excellent links. It is an ongoing monthly process. It covers link building methods like guest posting, online press releases and building relationships with other website owners in your niche to solicit links. If you are paying a search engine optimisation company a monthly retainer, this is generally the bulk of the work they should be billing you for.
5. Pay per click marketing is a method of paying for advertising on search engines or other sites. Can you write headlines that attract clicks? Make landing pages that convert? Doing it better than anyone else is the key to making it work.
6. Content marketing means adding insightful blog writing and meaningful pieces that add to the value of the overall conversation.
7. Social media marketing means engaging in the ongoing conversation using your choice of media channel.
8. Email marketing means building a subscriber list.
9. Conversion rate optimisation means integrating all the above into a well-oiled marketing machine that attaches value to an action. (Lead, sale, subscriber).
Everything else is fluff. Smoke and mirrors.
Now Let's Build Your Digital Marketing Bonfire:
Doing keyword research will create a match. The better your match, the more chance you have of lighting a fire.
Your product is the kindling with which you get your bonfire started. A better product means the bonfire will catch and burn more quickly.
Building a beautiful website design will create a bonfire skeleton. The bigger, the better.
Adding excellent core content means the bonfire will burn more brightly for longer.
On-page, SEO will ensure the bonfire has plenty of oxygen and will breathe life into it.
Off-page SEO will bring constant and steady wind to your bonfire.
Pay per click will add more logs to your bonfire.
Content marketing will throw giant trees on your bonfire.
Email marketing will bring rapid bursts of accelerated growth to your bonfire.
Social media marketing will pour gasoline on your bonfire and make it dance ecstatically.
Conversion rate optimisation will make sure your bonfire is always manageable.
Why Doesn't My Website Rank In Organic Search?
You've spent a lot of money on your new website design and added excellent blog content; however, the red needle stubbornly refuses to move to the right. You will wonder why there is no juice to seduce or ignition for your mission.
Let me give you some tough love, honey. Top search engine rankings come from hard work and copious amounts of virtual heavy lifting. Those links won't refer themselves, don't you know?
The barometer by which you should measure your search engine ranking is an answer to this simple question – where do you think your site deserves to rank on its own merits?
When you take away your blinkered prejudice and properly examine what makes a top search engine listing, you'll see that merely existing is not enough. Milk in the tea will always be mixed, but cream in the coffee rises to the top.
Here are answers to many of the most common questions as to why your website does not currently rank highly in search engines:
1. Your Site Is New
A site that is three months old or less hasn't had enough time to breathe.
The analogy with fine wines is great because websites age gracefully with consistent application of effort.
A vital element of all successful sites is that the owner had patience and persistence in the early days of a website's life when zero traffic meant it was easier to give up. The lower reaches of search engine listings are littered with the indifference of the impatient business owner.
2. You've Missed The Small Business SEO Basics
Giving every page a unique title and adding a page description is the minimum effort required.
Create a spreadsheet listing all your site pages and add all the page titles, article titles and page descriptions.
You will have a record of your site architecture to hand off to an SEO expert if required, but you'll also have created your guide to internal linking, one of the most influential and underused SEO strategies.
3. Substandard Content Is Letting The Team Down
I referred to your site as having "excellent" blog content in the opening paragraph, but that's not nearly enough. You need creative copywriting and striking imagery if you plan to ascend to the throne of the content king.
Do not substitute quantity for quality. Writing ten 500 word articles is counterfeit to crafting the precise and surgical authoritative ten thousand word guide that provides cornerstone blog content for your blog. Resist the temptation to skip the research and cite sources.
4. Your Site Is Not Mobile Responsive
The standard content management systems (CMS) and cloud-based website building software have mobile responsiveness built-in or templates that support it.
If you use a software platform that doesn't support mobile devices, you'll be behind the eight ball. Google is rapidly switching to "mobile-first" indexing, which means that if your website doesn't display correctly on mobile, you are likely to suffer the ignominy of anonymity.
5. You Don't Have Enough Inbound Links
Each link you gain from another website acts as an indicator of value to a search engine. The more links you have pointing to your site, the more the perceived value and the higher you will rank.
One great link from an authoritative website is worth many average links.
Do not be seduced into thinking that the volume of links will create your shooting star. In many cases, a handful of decent links are good enough to make your site appear among those of your peers.
The top spots are reserved for those that gain the juiciest, most luscious and precious links. Around forty-five per cent of search engine traffic goes to the top three Google positions.
6. You Need To Give Precedence To Long Tail Keywords
Ranking for short tail (one or two keywords) high volume terms is an obvious but flawed search engine strategy. Firstly there is just too much competition, and secondly, those high volume keywords are not the ones your website will convert into paying customers.
Long-tail keywords (four or more) confirm searcher intent and are much more likely to bring potential buyers burdened with the weight of credit card and e-wallet moolah from which you must relieve them.
7. Your Competition Is Outworking You
If this is the case, then I suggest you avail yourself of a copy of Grant Cardone's 10x
Small Business SEO Strategy Summary
Small business SEO is straightforward; you do your keyword research using a keyword planner to identify those keyword phrases that you can realistically hope to rank for when you first launch your website. After that, make each page of your site reflect a keyword term for which you want to appear in the search engine results.
You would pay an SEO expert to do this job for you because they are experienced in digital marketing and finding the low hanging fruit - those keywords that will convert into paying customers but don't have excessive competition.
Of course, this is becoming harder every day, with more people building sites than ever before continually raising the bar but with consistent effort those high spots are acheivable.