How Can Small Businesses Utilize SEO to Grow Their Business?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing the content across your business’ website for search engines, like Google. By optimizing your content, you make it easier for Google to identify what the content on your website is offering, increasing your websites rating and overall ranking in their system. What does this do? Well, think about the last time you searched for something on Google. There were a bunch of search results relevant to the search terms you entered, and many pages of results. However, you probably didn’t look past the first two or three results. These top results are there because, among other things, they have strong SEO strategy, and they were the highest quality content relevant to your search.
One of the goals of any business, but particularly businesses running e-commerce websites, should be to make sure their website ranks as high as possible in certain “keywords”, which are key terms that search engine users use when searching. This is an important aspect of any comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Additionally, it is something small business owners often overlook, either because they don’t think they have the time to implement good SEO strategy or they feel they don’t understand it.
However, you don’t have to be an SEO expert to implement some simple SEO practices. In fact, by utilizing just a few easy to learn SEO practices, businesses can improve their overall visibility to search engine users, driving organic traffic to their website, influencing more potential customers, and ultimately generating greater revenues and profits. In this article, we will go over SEO tips for small businesses. Most of these are easy to understand and actionable SEO insights that can help you start improving your website’s SEO today.
1. Research and Utilize Keywords Smartly and Efficiently
The backbone of search engine optimization (SEO) are keywords. Keywords are what make it possible for search engines to crawl your site and match search engine users’ search queries with high-quality results. Understanding keywords and how to use them will enable you to craft your website’s content to make it as visible as possible to potential customers searching for products that correspond with your business’ offerings.
There are a few things you can do to identify keywords. First, and most importantly, you can do keyword research. Keyword research will allow you to understand how many searches certain keywords are getting a month, as well as what the competition for those keywords is. Competition for keywords comes from other businesses who are also trying to rank for your keywords. There are a number of tools out there to research keywords, as well as perform various SEO tasks. However, these are often expensive. If you are looking for a free alternative, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner. Though it is not as advanced as many of the SEO specific tools out there, it is a good starting place.
2. Understand and Use Long-Tail Keywords
Long-tail keywords are very important when creating content for your website. Basic keywords help Google identify what your website is offering, but it is hard to gain high search rankings for a keyword like “tea”, especially for a small business. Long-tail keywords are where small businesses can make a real impact, as they mirror longer, more specific search queries. Let’s take the prior example of tea and say you sell specialty blends of organic oolong tea. Sure, it may be difficult for you to rank for “oolong tea”, but there is certainly a chance your business can begin to rank highly for a long-tail keyword like “organic sustainable oolong tea”, if that is indeed a long-tail keyword. The idea here is to think about what your potential customers are most likely entering into Google’s search bar. You should then research the long-tail keywords to see which ones are being searched for the most. In doing so, you can help drive relevant organic search traffic your site.
3. Avoid Duplicate Content
One of the most important things for any e-commerce business to understand is that Google and other search engines will penalize your website if it has duplicate content.
Many businesses have duplicate content on their websites inadvertently. For example, if your site is creating printer friendly versions of your content, it is possible that it is doing so through unique pages that have the same words and content but in a printer friendly format. Google and other search engines do not know that this duplicate content is only there because you are offering a printer friendly format, and they will penalize you.
Another common issue for e-commerce businesses arises when they sell items that are sold by multiple businesses, such as a line of clothing or board games. Often, the manufacturers will provide businesses with a description. However, if you use this description, it will be a duplicate of the description that multiple other websites are displaying. This will hurt your website.
4. Write Interesting Descriptions with Strong Headlines
Building on the aforementioned issue with duplicate product descriptions, if you are able to, it would be a good idea to use your own description for products, or rephrase the descriptions you have been provided to make sure they are not duplicating content on other businesses’ websites.
Make your product descriptions compelling, and make them detailed. What unique aspects or functions does your product provide? What does it look like? What kind of material is it made out of? Try to think about what consumers are actually searching for. What would you search for if you were looking for a product like yours? Use those words. Remember, small businesses can’t rank for large, single-word keywords like “furniture”. But what about a product page with a tile like “Navy Blue Half-Circle Ottoman”? That’s different. You could certainly rank for a long-tail keyword like that. So make sure your product title conveys in detail what exactly it is you are offering. Remember, details are key here, and don’t forget to do a little keyword research in the process.
5. Don’t Forget that Product Images Can Drive Traffic, So Optimize Them As Well
One thing that every product page has is an image. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Often times, e-commerce business owners forget that product images can be optimized as well, and often times failure to do so can be extremely detrimental.
Every image has what is called an “ALT tag”. This serves as the description of an image. You can’t see it on the page, but search engines can see it when they are indexing images and crawling your site. When businesses are using a site like Shopify, or other easy-to-use website builders, and they insert an image, the image usually comes with a poor ALT tag. Sometimes it is as bad as “image-5”. This is not good, because your image won’t show up when people are searching for products on Google images.
Take the following example. It is not uncommon for shoppers to utilize Google images to look for certain products. Going back to the previous furniture example, if a shopper is looking for a “Navy Blue Half-Circle Ottoman”, there’s a good chance they will use Google images because it will allow them to see visually multiple ottoman’s at once. If the image of your product on your product page has the ALT tag “Navy-Blue-Half-Circle-Ottoman”, there is a good chance it will show up. If it has the ALT tag “image-5”, it won’t. So make sure you are optimizing your product images. It will pay off in the long run.
6. Monitor the Effectiveness of Your Keywords
It can be difficult to track keyword effectiveness, especially if you aren’t utilizing fancy SEO tools. However, there are some methods that are easy and free. Every business should have a Google Analytics account. It is free and allows you to monitor the traffic on your site. This can be particularly useful in analyzing conversion rates, meaning website visitors who turn into paying customers. Driving organic traffic to your e-commerce site is only useful if it is leading to conversions. Obviously, conversion rates can vary, and what rate is a good rate is different depending on the store. As a general benchmark, a good conversion rate is around 2% to 5%. If your conversion rate is 0.025%, this could mean that, while the keywords you are using are driving organic to your site, they don’t match your e-commerce store’s product offerings correctly, leading to a lot of visitors who have no interest in your product. A good conversion rate can indicate keyword usage and SEO strategy that mirrors what you are offering correctly. That way, you are not only driving organic traffic to your site but you are driving relevant organic traffic and reaching your target audience.
7. Avoid Broken Links at All Costs
One of the worst things you can have on your website is a bunch of links that lead to the result “404 Page Not Found”. When search engines crawl your site to rank it, they pick up on these things. Having a lot of these can be a very bad for your ranking. It is also bad for your customers in general, as nobody wants to shop on a site that is hard to navigate. Plus, potential customers, meaning those that have not purchased from your site before, can be easily turned away by them.
While broken links are bad, they are actually fairly easy to prevent. You can use Google Search Console, which is a free tool offered by Google that helps businesses monitor their SEO score in Google’s search engine, to track 404 errors.
8. SEO Practices are Relevant in Advertising Campaigns
Have you ever set up an advertising campaign with Google AdWords or Facebook? If you have, odds are you are familiar with keywords. Content optimization works in much of the same way as ad optimization. You are focusing on keywords that you think potential customers will search for. So if you are familiar with ad campaigns, think about how the practices you have used in the past to run successful ad campaigns can be utilized to help optimize the content on your website.
9. Improve Website Navigation
Making your website navigation clear and easy helps bots crawl your website. Plus, it makes for a seamless user experience for your customers. Potential customers shouldn’t have to work hard to find the products you are offering on your website. Make sure everything is clear and easy to understand, and, as mentioned before, avoid broken links.
Remember, good SEO practices will naturally lead to a site that is easier to navigate for customers and creating a site that is easy to navigate will naturally lead to a strong foundation for good SEO strategy.
10. Optimize Your Title Tags
Title tags are an element of HTML, and they serve as your page title. Whatever you type in for your H1 title will be what search engine users see on the search engine results page (SERPs) that is generated by their search query. Search engines place a premium on keywords that are in title tags, since they are seen as the outline of the content that is being presented by the webpage, and you should utilize H1, H2, H3, and even H4 title tags in any well-organized piece of website content.
Remember, not only do title tags help with SEO, but H1 title tags are crucial for incentivizing organic traffic to click on your page when they see it in a search engine results page (SERPs). Searchers often don’t take the time to read the meta description that displays underneath the title in SERPs, so you need to make sure that your title gets across across exactly what it is you are offering.
As a quick note, make sure your H1 title tags are between 50 and 60 characters long. Google search result pages typically won’t display more than 60 characters, which will lead to your title being cut off. If you keep your H1 title tag between 50 and 60 characters, you should be good to go.
11. Don’t Forget to Optimize Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are the descriptions that show up underneath the title tag on the SERP’s page. It is typically the second thing a search engine user will see after seeing the title of the page. Obviously, searchers have a lot to choose from, and while a lot of searchers will choose a site based solely on the title of the page, many also look at the description of the page underneath the title.
In light of this, you should take the time to write a convincing and compelling meta description that is 160 characters or less. Anything longer than 160 characters won’t display in full on Google’s search result pages. While it is currently up for debate as to the influence the meta description has on SEO ranking, with many believing it has no impact, it is still good SEO practice to optimize them, and it is incredibly important for influencing searchers to click through to your website. So while SEO specialists are debating the impact meta descriptions have on SEO rankings, one thing is for sure: a good meta description will drive organic search traffic one way or another.
12. Find Out Which Keywords You Are Already Ranking For
A good starting place when developing an SEO strategy is to look at which keywords your e-commerce website is already ranking for. You can get a general idea of what you are ranking for through Google Search Console. Once you know which words are you are ranking for, you can use them to focus your efforts.
For example, let’s say you are ranking for the long-tail keyword “sustainable oolong tea”. You should then look at all your pages that use this keyword. Often times, website pages will rank for a keyword that isn’t in any of their H1, H2, or H3 title tags. Simply adding the keyword to your H1 title tag can significantly increase your search ranking. In fact, it is not uncommon for a website that is ranking on the second page of Google to be bumped to Google’s first page of results simply by adding the keyword they are ranking for to their H1 title tag.
13. Check Your Site Speed
Site speed is a component of SEO known as technical SEO. Site speed refers to how fast your website loads. There is nothing more detrimental for an e-commerce business, or a website in general, then a slow site speed. If page speeds are low, searchers will often click away from your site before they even look at your product. Nothing could be worse than that. Plus, research has shown that websites with a faster overall site speed tend to rank higher.
Increasing site speed could be its own massive article, so while we won’t dive into it here, one easy way to increase site speed it to look at the plan you have with your website’s host. Sometimes, increasing your site speed could be as simple as upgrading your plan to a higher tier.
The problem can also be much more complex, so if that doesn’t work be sure to research the issue, as this should be a priority fix for any business.
14. Build Backlinks
Backlinks, also known as “inbound links” or “incoming links”, are formed when one website links to another. Having other websites link to your website is important because it serves as an affirmation in the eyes of Google’s algorithms that your site is providing quality content or offerings that their searchers would benefit from seeing. It is sort of like a vote of confidence.
That said, not all backlinks count the same. Backlinks are more valuable when they are coming from a site with a high ranking and high-quality content. For example, a backlink from Forbes or The New York Times is worth a lot more than a backlink from So-and-So’s Blog of Travel.
However, any backlinks are better than no backlinks, so there is nothing wrong with a backlink from So-and-So’s Blog of Travel. It just won’t count for as much in the eyes of Google as one from Forbes or The New York Times would.
Building backlinks can be tricky, since it is hard to get another website to just arbitrarily link to your site. However, there are some proven methods for getting backlinks. One of the best ways is to sign up as a “source” for HARO.
Haro is a free email list that serves the purpose of connecting journalists with the public. The way it works is HARO sends out a list of approved journalist queries three times a day. These queries explain a story that a journalist is writing and asks for companies or individuals who can provide them with information, do an interview, etc. Companies and individuals then respond and the journalist will write back if they would like to include them in the article. Responding to these queries is a great way to get backlinks, as they will always link to your website if they choose to write about you. Plus, it is used by prominent news companies including The New York Times, Life, The Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Fox News, and The Wall Street Journal. A backlink from any of these websites would be great for your website’s SEO and ranking!
15. SEO and Content Marketing Work Together
Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality content to drive customer action and build brand trust and reputation. Many small businesses understand content marketing and they create tons of great content on their websites for customers. It is not uncommon to see small business lifestyle brands running blogs or engaging with customers through various forms of long and short-form content. However, content marketing without SEO is a half-hearted approach. Sure, content marketing will drive some organic traffic by the very nature of its existence on your site. But, combined with good SEO practices, its potential is limitless.
If you are a small business which actively markets your business through content creation, SEO is something you need to learn about. No ifs and/or buts about it.
What If I Do Not Run an E-Commerce Business?
While we have been mostly referencing e-commerce businesses and using e-commerce businesses as examples in this article, all of these tips still apply to other businesses. Any business that runs a website of any kind should utilize the aforementioned SEO practices.
In fact, there is a whole field of SEO called “Local SEO” which focuses on good SEO practices for brick-and-mortar business, like retailers and restaurants. SEO even applies to law firms.
So just because we mainly referenced e-commerce businesses in this article does not mean your business should not be using SEO strategies. Indeed, it should be!
Remember, SEO Results Are Not Immediate
It is important to remember that the results from comprehensive SEO efforts do not show up right away. Google is not constantly crawling and indexing your site every hour of every day, so it can take time for Google’s search engine to pick up on the changes.
Additionally, search engine rankings are influenced by the volume of traffic that your site is getting. This means that as high-quality SEO efforts leads to better rankings, better rankings will lead to increased search traffic and increased search traffic will lead to better rankings in a sort of positive feedback loop. However, it can take time, so patience is key with SEO. Don’t become discouraged if your SEO changes don’t result in better rankings right away.
Other SEO Tips
The tips we have provided in this article only scratch the surface of the art of search engine optimization (SEO), and when we say “art”, in many ways SEO is an art. Unfortunately, nobody knows all of Google’s secrets, and their algorithms and how they rank websites is still shrouded in a little bit of mystery. However, as a whole, we are aware of the general things Google is looking for when their search engine crawls your site.
Beyond that, SEO is an incredibly expansive field, and there is tons to learn about. While you don’t need to be an expert to utilize good SEO practices, for those who are interested, SEO is an entire field just waiting to be explored.
For those who are looking to really dive into the SEO of their website, tools like Moz and SEMRush are great resources.
Set SEO Goals
If you have an expansive e-commerce store but you have never spent any time thinking about how SEO could impact your search rankings and search traffic, then the task of fixing your site and optimizing its content can be quite daunting. However, it is never to late to start improving your website’s SEO. Not all of your pages have to be optimized for SEO to help, so even if you just begin focusing on SEO for new pages the new page SEO optimizations should help.
Remember to set goals as well. Break down the task so it isn’t as daunting. Maybe you plan to optimize two different pages a day. If your website has 100 pages, you will be completely finished in 50 days.
Search engine optimization (SEO) can seem a bit daunting at first. In many ways, it can seem highly technical and difficult, especially for those who have no experience with it or who are not familiar with running a website. However, while there are certainly some highly technical aspects of SEO that SEO specialists know about, many SEO practices are very basic and very approachable, like the ones we described above.
Indeed, for most small businesses, weeding into the highly technical aspects of SEO is unnecessary. Some of the more simple, easy-to-do aspects of SEO will work well enough to increase your website’s ranking. It is not uncommon for businesses that have never devoted any energy to SEO to see 20% or greater bumps in organic search traffic following just a little bit of SEO work.
Plus, as e-commerce continues to grow, SEO is going to become more and more important as more and more businesses and products begin competing for the same keywords. As such, there is no time like the present to begin learning about SEO for your small business’ website and building your website’s search engine rankings.
So don’t be afraid to set aside a little free-time, do some research, and give SEO a try. It could make a big difference for your business not only today but also well into the future.