SEO can be challenging for small businesses. Hiring an agency is often out of the budget or it may be hard to find an agency with a proven track record of success. Doing it yourself may feel overwhelming and frustrating. And we often see the DIY approach add up in cost with business owners signing up for multiple SEO tools and softwares.
Good news. SEO doesn’t have to be challenging, expensive or overwhelming. You don’t need to be an expert. You just need a process - a step by step map to go from lost to found in Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Why do small businesses need SEO?
In today’s world, it’s a fact, customers are searching before they shop.
72% of people that performed a local search actually visited a store within five miles. (WordStream)
46% of all Google searches are local. (Hubspot)
Small businesses need SEO...
- to build trust with customers.
- to see return on investment from their website.
- to grow their business.
Read more about why small businesses need SEO in our recent blog post.
What is an SEO process?
An SEO process is a series of steps taken in order to achieve the desired results. Most SEO software lacks such a process and even some agencies do. After ten years of doing SEO on thousands of websites, we found a series of steps that can easily be applied by businesses small to large that drive measurable results. We call it our SEO process and it starts with a checklist.
Small Business SEO Checklist
Step 1: Establish Your Baseline
Without metrics, it’s hard to know if you’re making progress in SEO. That’s why we recommend tracking the results of your online marketing initiatives, including SEO, with Google Analytics (GA).
GA is a powerful, free web analytics platform that tracks visitor information, including how a person reached your website, what actions they took once when they arrived and their general demographic information. For privacy reasons, Google Analytics doesn’t share names, email addresses, or other personal details with those using it.
Sign up for Google Analytics and add the GA script to your website. You’ll start collecting data immediately and have a baseline of where you are starting your journey.
Step 2: Put Your Business on the Map
Google Maps that is. A listing on Google Maps is the best place to start when it comes to small business SEO. It’s free. You don’t even need a website. The goal is to ensure that your business name, address, and phone number are accurately and consistently displayed.
56% of local businesses haven’t claimed their Google My Business listing, according to Local Business Institute. This gives you an opportunity to have a leg up on the competition!
Go to www.google.com/mybusiness. Follow the steps to verify your business information.
Here are a few tips:
- Fill in as much information as possible. Google My Business goes beyond name, address and phone number. It’s essential to also share hours of operation, photos, business category and more.
- Log in to Google My Business once a week. Review updates and ensure all data remains accurate. It takes three minutes a month and ensures that prospective customers don’t get misinformation about your location, hours of operation or contact information.
Step 3: Know Your Audience
Understand who your audience is and what solutions you provide them. In other words, put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
Let’s say you are a fishing guide service in Aspen, Colorado. Write down what you know about your past customers because they are indicative of who your larger target audience is.
- Majority are visitors to Aspen
- Live all over the country
- 75% male, 25% female and kids
- Love fly fishing or the idea of fly fishing
- High net-worth individuals that can afford to hire a guide
- Need to rent gear
- Most have fished at least once or twice
Then, define how you solve your audience’s problems. In this example, that list may look like this:
Problem: Not knowing where to go fishing in Aspen.
Solution: Guided fly fishing in Aspen.
Problem: Going fishing and not catching fish.
Solution: Hire an expert.
It’s likely that in designing and developing your website, you’ve already done this step as your website speaks to your audience. If not, circle back around and start thinking like your customers so you can speak to them using language that resonate with them.
Step 4: Keyword Research
The goal of SEO is to drive quality visitors to your website. In order to do this, it is essential to target keywords that will make that possible. Keywords are the words and phrases your prospective customer enters into Google, Yahoo and Bing.
First, brainstorm a list of potential keywords. Knowing your audience will help with the list. Google Search Suggest will too:
For small businesses, it’s likely you serve a local area. Your keywords in turn will include variations of city or region + service or product. For example, “Boston restaurant” or “Houston painter.”
Once you have a list, you’ll need to research search volume. This is the metric that tells us how many people are searching for a specific keyword on a monthly basis. Your goal is to identify which keywords have the most volume while still remaining within reach of your business (not too competitive). Pathfinder SEO includes integrated keyword research tools. There are also other great tools on the market such as the Moz Keyword Explorer.
Step 5: Set Up Communication Channels with Google & Bing
Google Search Console (GSC) and Bing Webmaster Tools (BWT) are platforms that allow you to review your website’s health and address critical issues. They create a communication channel between you as the search engine marketer and the two largest search engines.
To setup GSC and BWT, you’ll need to prove that you own or manage your website. This is called verification. Once you verify your site, you will gain access to the powerful analytics these platforms provide. Learn more about how to use the Google Search Console.
Step 6: Check Your Robots.txt
Before a search engine robot (a.k.a. crawler, spider, or bot) explores your website, it checks the robots.txt file to find directives that tell it which portions of your site to crawl and which to avoid. Crawlers may not always listen to these directives, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still provide them.
We see a common mistake in robots.txt files for some small business websites. They have accidentally and unknowingly told the search engines not to index their website. This means, they’ve told Google that they don’t want website traffic. If your website is live and you want business, make sure you haven’t made this mistake.
If you can’t find your website anywhere in the search results, this may be the problem. Another telltale sign is when your site appears in the search results with this text under it:
Go to www.mywebsite.com/robots.txt.
You’ll see code that may look like this:
User-agent: * Disallow: /wp-admin/ Allow: /wp-admin/admin-ajax.php
In layman’s terms, this translates as:
(User-agent:) Hello: (*) all crawlers
(Disallow:) Please do not crawl: the /wp-admin/ folder
(Allow:) Please do crawl: the /wp-admin/admin-ajax.php file
What you don’t want to see
User-agent: * Disallow: /
This translates as:
(User-agent:) Hello: (*) all crawlers
(Disallow:) Please do not crawl: (/) all files on the site
Yikes! Not the directive you want to apply. Why? Because search engine crawlers need to be able to crawl files your website to index it and show it in search results. In this step, check your robots.txt and fix it if you aren’t communicating clearly.
Overwhelmed by SEO? Try a
Step 7: Create a Resume for Your Website
Consider an XML sitemap to be your website’s resume. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview without a resume. We feel the same about providing the search engines with an XML sitemap. It’s not essential, but it sure is helpful as a means of communicating what content is important to you.
An XML sitemap is not a user-oriented page, but rather, it provides the search engines with a roadmap on how to crawl and index your website. The goal is to get your website into the search engine’s rolodex.
XML sitemaps look like this:
Depending on how your website was built (what CMS you are utilizing), it’s possible you already have an XML sitemap and just don’t know it. The search engines most likely don’t know it either. Research how the CMS you utilize creates an XML sitemap and where it’s located. Once it’s been properly configured, submit it to the Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Here’s a helpful resource regarding XML sitemaps in WordPress.
Step 8: Customize Your Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
Have you ever seen a page title with “Home” appear in the search results? It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it isn’t super helpful, is it?
That’s why it’s an SEO best practice to create descriptive page titles and meta descriptions. Customizing them allows you to clearly communicate to search engines and users what a page is about and why it’s valuable.
Here’s an example:
When thoughtfully-crafted page titles and meta descriptions generate more clicks, they improve an important Google ranking factor: click-through rate. When ranking a page, Google also takes into account how well a page title is written and what keywords it contains.
Needless to say, page titles and meta descriptions are essential ingredients of quality on-page optimization.
Return to your keyword research in step 4 and start crafting your page titles and meta descriptions in a spreadsheet.
Here is how we like to lay out the columns in our page titles and meta descriptions spreadsheets.
Once you have crafted page titles and meta descriptions for every page on your website that you want to see appear in the search results, apply them to those pages. That oversimplifies things quite a bit.
Writing page titles and meta descriptions is an art and a science. At Pathfinder SEO, we walk you through our process for completing this step and then we come along as your guide by reviewing your work for you.
There are other helpful resources as well:
Step 9: Pick Up a Few Strong Links
Link building is the process of acquiring links from other websites that point to your website. These links allow people to seamlessly navigate the web by going from one website to another with a simple click.
Search engine algorithms calculate your website’s position in the search results in part by reviewing your website’s quality. They also factor in your business’ presence on other websites by evaluating the quantity and quality of links pointing back to your website.
Since links pass authority, they provide the search engines with additional metrics to compare web pages. In the simplest terms, links act as votes of confidence from one website to another. The higher the trust and authority of the website granting the link, the higher the value of the link for the receiver.
Link building tips for small businesses:
- Don’t buy links. That’s against the search engines’ guidelines.
- Focus on quality over quantity. One good link outweighs a thousand bad ones. Think of link building in the context of a neighborhood. You don’t want your website hanging out in a bad neighborhood. This means you don’t want links from spammy or irrelevant websites pointing back to your website.
- Sometimes you’ll unknowingly pick up great links. More often, it takes a little effort. Typically that effort is as simple as asking.
In this step, start simple. Make sure your business has a listing on the local chamber of commerce website and that the listing includes a link to your website. Then, brainstorm other websites that you may be able to get links from down the road.
Step 10: Get Reviews
You created a Google Maps listing in step 2. Let’s circle back to it. The listing includes verified information about your business. That information was provided by you, the business. Now, Google and prospective customers want to hear from your customers. How many stars will they give your product or service? Any comments? Feedback in the form of reviews gives credibility to your business.
Just like link building, you may already have reviews in Google Maps naturally. But, we want to take that one step further. Ask customers for reviews.
Tips for getting reviews in Google Maps:
- Don’t try to get 10 reviews in one day. Instead, spread out your requests to customers over time.
- Ask the right customer so you get a positive review.
- Ask at the right time. If you are a plumber and you receive a nice email from a customer thanking you for your service, then turn that around with a “Thank you. Would you mind echoing that sentiment on my Google Maps listing?”
- Listen to what customers are saying. As the business owner, be sure to respond to negative reviews. You can do so directly in Google My Business.
There it is, 10 steps your small business can follow to get up and running with SEO and start getting found in search results.
Pathfinder SEO includes a more detailed checklist with the what, why and how to complete each step in our process. Steps include video tutorials and documentation. And the best part, we come alongside as your guide. You’ll have a dedicated SEO coach to meet with monthly to review questions, results and talk next steps. We call our solution “guided SEO”. Check it out.
Lindsay Halsey is a co-founder of Pathfinder SEO. She has over 10 years of experience working in SEO with small to large businesses. Lindsay focuses on teaching business owners and freelancers how to get found in Google, Yahoo, and Bing via a guided approach to SEO. Stay in touch on Twitter - @linds_halsey.