If you’re new to search engine optimization (SEO), it can seem complicated with technical details. However, mastering some SEO basics is really quite simple. Here are some of the easiest ways to ensure your small business website is visible to all the search engines.
1. Help customers find your physical location
If you run a brick-and-mortar small business, you want to make sure new customers come to your store. A great way to encourage drop-ins is by making sure your physical location is front and center. That means adding it to several places on your website, as well as registering it online.
Start by adding your address to the footer of your website so that no matter which page a customer lands on it’s easy to find you. Also include it on your Contact page. Make sure that you use text blocks, rather than an image. Search engines crawlers can’t read the information within images.
2. List your website in directories
According to a Google research study, 50% of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day, and 18% of those searches lead to a purchase within a day. To avoid being invisible online, create listings on several online directories. They’re the phonebooks of the digital age. Plus, they help increase your rankings by bumping up the number of backlinks to your website. (Getting links from other websites is important for SEO.)
Start by adding your business listing to Google My Business. It’s a free service, and it will ensure that your business shows up across the internet, including Google Maps and Search. Besides Google there are hundreds of other online directories, and it’s worth doing your due diligence to get listed on all the big ones, like Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, YellowPages and TripAdvisor. Once you’ve covered those, it’s also worth considering using paid services, which push out your information to hundreds of additional online directories at once. When you’ve got a new website, this is another good way to boost your backlinks.
3. Select the right keywords
Keywords are the words and phrases that people are searching to find businesses like yours. Choosing good keywords for every page on your website is a fundamental part of SEO. Without them, you’ll practically be invisible to search engines. You’ll use keywords across your website—in your titles, headings, image ‘alt text’, meta descriptions, and text—to help tell the search engines what your website is about.
To get started finding the best keywords for your business, brainstorm a list of the top words and phrases that you and your customers use to describe your products and services. You should also check out your competitors’ websites to see which words and phrases they use. Keep in mind that factors such as location and niche markets can play a big part in determining the best phrases to use. For example, let’s say you run a hardware store. Ideally, you’d choose between regional terms like faucet, spigot, pail and bucket to describe your merchandise.
There are a host of online tools for helping you select the best words for your business. Google Keyword Planner and Wordtracker can help you with finding ideas for the keywords. Moz will show you the keywords that rank well for your competition.
4. Include good title tags and meta descriptions for every page
When you do a Google search and get a list of search results, title tags are the main headline links; meta descriptions are the short paragraph of descriptive text appearing underneath them. Together, they inform users and search engines about the content of every page on your website. They have a direct bearing on your ranking because the more descriptive, attractive, and relevant they are, the more users will click-through. A good click-through rate improves your ranking.
The trick for writing them is to use good keywords with a relevant and quality description. Don’t “keyword stuff” (i.e., list multiple keywords one after the other in a non-complete and nonsensical descriptions). Google will penalize you. Make sure to keep the most important keywords first and the least important last. And you’ll also need to ensure they’re easy to read and descriptive.
Here are some best practices:
- Title tags should be 50-60 characters long, including spaces. Meta descriptions can—and should—be longer. Aim for 145-160 characters, including spaces (anything more will likely be truncated by the search engines).
- Do not duplicate title tags: They must be written differently for every page. Duplicate tags negatively affect your search visibility.
- Make it relevant: Title tags and meta descriptions must accurately describe the content on the page. If they don’t, your users may click your link and then immediately bounce off your website. You don’t want a high bounce rate.
- Make your headline (<h1> tag) different from the title tag: This is another opportunity to vary the keyword phrasing of your page and increase its chances of appearing for different search intent.
5. Add ‘alt text’ to images
Although search engines are sophisticated, they can’t actually “see” images. And this means you have to tell them. Alt text is the description of an image, which you can see when you hover over it. Search engines use it to identify what an image is displaying so they can include it in search results, such as Google Images. Alt text influences your ranking because they’re another great place to add relevant keywords that tell search engines what your website is about.
Ideally, you want to make sure that the alt text of the images on every page matches the content of that page. That way, if a user finds your website via an image search function they’ll also find relevant content. In order to write good alt text, keep it short (under 125 characters), use keywords (but avoid keyword stuffing), and describe the image as specifically as possible. For example, if your image is of a butterfly on a wildflower in the forest, write all that out. Avoid just using “wildflower.” For this example, good alt text would be: <img src="wildflower.jpg" alt="Butterfly on a wildflower in the forest">.
6. Structure your content with headings
Along with titles and meta descriptions, search engines typically give a higher priority to headings when deciding what your pages are about. Make sure to use headings across your website. It’s not enough to simply bold your headings, though. Search engines won’t identify them as headings unless you make sure they’re called out with <h1> or h2> tags in the page’s HTML. There’s no need to add these tags manually. Simply use the text format drop-down menu when you’re creating content. A good rule of thumb is to use a new heading for every 150 words, or about three paragraphs.
When writing big headlines on your pages, make sure to follow best practices. You need to make them specific to the subject of your website, otherwise the search engines won’t recognize them. So, instead of writing a headline like “Welcome to my website,” use “Welcome to Mike’s Hardware Store – NYC’s Local Destination for DIY Projects.”
7. Update your site frequently
Search engines want to know that your website is active and that it will provide current and relevant information for visitors. The best way to communicate this is by showing them—by adding new content to your website regularly. This explains the popularity of blogs, which provide a way to keep content new and fresh.
Plus, a big bonus for adding more content to your site regularly is that it offers the opportunity to add more keywords, titles, meta descriptions, and headings. The more content, the better your chances of improving your SEO rankings.
8. Get social
Blogging and fresh content offer another benefit: their appeal to social media. If you’re serious about online marketing, you probably already have a social media presence for your brand. You can easily share all your newest content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and everywhere else to help build links back to your website.
Make sure to feature social share icons so that visitors can easily share your content with others. While social sharing doesn’t directly contribute to your SEO rankings, they can make your content more visible and increase the likelihood that someone will create a backlink.
Keep in mind
If you’re competing with websites that have put in 10 times the effort into the practices above, they’ll rank 10 times better. Plus, don’t get discouraged when your rankings don’t improve overnight. It takes time. Once you optimize your website, you’ll need to gain trust from search engines. Just stick with it and in time all your good work will pay off.