As a busy small business owner, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) might seem like unnecessary extra work, particularly if you’re not familiar with where to start, let alone knowing how to apply best practice. But don’t let the jargon put you off — the concept of SEO is quite simple and it can be a powerful tool when it comes to getting free online traffic from organic search.
When you undertake any search online, search engines like Google and Bing sift through the web and present you with the websites they have cataloged in the past, and which are most relevant to your query.
Search engines rely on a variety of factors when deciding which sites are to be displayed in a hierarchical order from position 0 to position 100. Ideally, you want to appear as close to position 0. If you obtain a 1-10 position in the SERPS (search engine results positions) this would be a first-page display. Search Engine Optimisation focuses on optimizing the content (whether its text or images) and metadata for particular topics to create relevance and authority on said topic.
Whether you’re a start-up, small business or a large company, the principles of SEO remain the same. However, there are several proven quick wins that can help small businesses get better results and rise up the ranks against larger competitors. Here are five top tips to help you overcome the search engines algorithm.
1. High-quality content is key
It’s important to make sure any content you put out on your website is of the highest possible quality. Your written and visual content should be informative, engaging, credible and provide information on subjects your competitors haven’t started writing on. This could be a really in-depth article on the ins and outs on various topics. This presents to Google that you are a credible source of information therefore an authority figure in your niche.
If your articles have well-laid out written content with headings and subheadings, Google is able to sift through the information more easily and will boost you in its search rankings. You’d be surprised how often this gets overseen, potentially giving up the digital limelight to your competitors instead.
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2. Consider using long-tail keywords
Whenever you are searching online, you are using search terms also named keywords. Let’s say you have a flower business. If your customers search for the keyword ‘rose bouquet’, Google then flicks through the web to find relevant authoritative pages that mention rose bouquets. The problem is these kinds of keywords are hot property – top floristry companies will likely have a monopoly on the top spots as they have the time and money to invest in PPC advertising and SEO.
What you can do to counter this is choosing to focus on long-tail keywords which are formed of 3 or more words. If your customers Google ‘rose bouquets for first dates’ and you have written a quality, in-depth blog post which covers that specific topic, you have a better chance at getting a first page ranking for this ‘search phrase’.
As a small business, by finding niche relevant subtopics and using long-tail keywords that correspond with them, you’re targeting different searches and maximizing not only the chance of customers finding your website faster and more easily, but also your authority as a trusted source.
3. Include next generation images formats
This tactic is often overlooked by more than 80 percent of websites and it’s probably the easiest step you can take to improve your site performance, loading time and image search traffic. It’s easy to wrap your head around and will help boost your SEO traffic from image searches with minimal effort. Most websites will include some type of imagery and it’s a helpful way to give more context about your business, team or founding people.
The key here is to focus on next-generation image formats, those that offer better quality with lower file size. There are multiple types of next-gen formats such as JPEG XR, JPEG 2000 and WebP, which are all favored by Google. The smaller size of these images has a direct impact on your website performance while still offering high-definition quality for end-users.
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4. Ensure your website has both internal and external links
You can think of a search engine as a spider moving along a web, the more links your pages have to other pages, the more easily the spider can move along and find more nodes. If there are lots of links to your page, the spider will end up there more often. This is usually referred to as backlinking.
If Google can see that your page is referenced in many places, it will transfer some of the authority of the linking pages to your own property or page. This is usually referred to as ‘link juice’.
As a small business, you may only have up to 20 or 30 pages on your site, so it’s easy enough to insert internal links into each page and in doing so you make sure the ‘spider’ can reach all pages. It’s also important to make sure you add internal links in relevant parts using buttons, navigation menus and in-text links.
Step one is to make sure you don’t have any ‘orphan pages’, these are pages that are only accessible through the URL and don’t get linked from anywhere else. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to stick to 2-3 internal links per page within sections that include content.
For example, including internal links on the ‘about’ page that lead to the contact page is a good way of moving from who we are to how to get in touch. Similarly, if you have a blog post about how a certain routine is good for your health, it’s a good idea to link either internally to your own products or services or externally to information sources or documentation, which prove you are telling the truth.
You might choose to include links on the category page to the best-selling products as a way of directing users to areas where sales are likely to occur. You’re effectively creating a map directing users, and the search engine, to where you want them to end up on your site.
Ensuring your site is linked to from external sources is also important when you’re focusing on getting better SEO results and more first-page rankings. The more notable places your companies’ links appear in (think relevant online magazines, newspapers, blogs, niche experts) the more this will cement your authoritative status, boosting your SEO ranking through association and frequency of appearance.
5. Maintain Google’s performance requirements
It’s essential that small businesses look after their website’s page load times and performance. Performance for websites nowadays impacts not only rankings but also sales. Think of it this way, we live in a fast-paced world where buying something is usually done within a minute. You open your phone, do a quick search and you’re probably going to end up on a product page and checking out is as easy as 1-2-3.
Moreover, Google is now taking into consideration overall website performance from loading times to how fast your server responds to requests and gathers performance data from users (called field data) and by using specially created tools to measure specific parameters (called lab data). As of August 2021, Google measures speed against a new set of performance KPI’s called Core Web Vitals which has been revealed to be a direct ranking factor.
The better your page measures up to these KPI’s, the more likely the site is to be shown higher in Google search results, sending more traffic and increasing sales and revenue.
A quick fix is it ensure you are hosting your website on a platform that provides fast loading times, and ideally will host your website in the country you operate. Find out more about your site’s performance and tips on how to improve it from Google.
While these are proven quick wins, there are many more advanced activities you can implement that will require the need for coding and specialist know-how. If you’re in a position to, it may be worth considering bringing in an SEO specialist to help you along your SEO journey.
As with other areas of business, if you can bring in people who can focus on areas you don’t specialize in, you can hone in on other important areas of your business. If you’re thinking of taking more of a hands-on approach however, there are plenty of free online resources to help you get your head around the ins and outs of SEO, such as Moz.com and Ahrefs.com.
Ultimately, you don’t need to be a pro to start making small but important differences. By following the steps laid out, you can establish the foundations required for great SEO results, not only helping customers find you tomorrow, but weeks and months from now without paying a penny. Be patient with the process and prepare to reap the rewards long-term.
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Anthony David Sladariu, SEO and Content Manager, Fasthosts
Anthony David Sladariu, SEO and Content Manager, Fasthosts.