Growing an online business is nothing short of exhausting work.
But it can be rewarding, too.
The challenge lies in identifying and pursuing the strategies that deliver a high return on value for your time, while offloading everything else so that you can focus your energy.
And when it comes to standing out and gaining visibility in both crowded niches and upstart industries, there’s nothing that moves the needle quite like a well developed and strategically implemented SEO link building plan. This is the most critical aspect of small business SEO, but it’s not the only important component.
Do you know where to start with small business SEO?
Table of Contents
What is SEO?
In the most basic sense, SEO – which stands for Search Engine Optimization – is the practice of making website pages more visible to search engines like Google in an effort to generate organic traffic (which is basically another word for free, passive traffic).
Google has a complex algorithm that it uses to rank websites, including hundreds of ranking factors. Some of these factors are known – like keywords, site speed, and a variety of onsite technical elements – while others can only be speculated. Either way, SEO is about making Google happy.
And why does making Google happy matter?
Well, it’s all a numbers game. If you want to siphon visitors to your website, you need clicks. And if there’s a sure-fire way to get clicks, it’s to rise the SERP (search engine results page) rankings. Social media platforms just aren’t an effective way to generate traffic – at least, not like you can with small business SEO.
- The number one organic result for a Google search query has an average CTR of 31.7 percent.
- The number two, three, and four organic search results receive CTRs of 24.7 percent, 18.7 percent, and 13.6 percent, respectively.
- The number one result is 10-times more likely to receive a click compared to a link in the number 10 spot.
- On average, moving up a single spot in the search results increases CTR by 30.8 percent.
- Just 0.78 percent of Google users will click a link that appears on the second page.
In other words, SERP real estate is precious. And much like the real estate you can touch and feel, it’s all about location, location, location. Finding a way to get onto page one – and then climbing to the top of the page – is challenging but worthwhile. And proper SEO is the only way to do it. This process applies to all search engines.
For more detail on SEO, please take a look at our SEO guide for beginners.
Why Invest in SEO as a Small Business?
There are a variety of ways to drive traffic to your website. So you might be wondering, why do small businesses need to waste time and money on SEO? Can’t they just generate website traffic in other ways?
The answer to that latter question is yes, but you probably don’t want to stop there. While it’s possible to get clicks and website visitors via paid search (like PPC ads), social media, email marketing, and other reputable sources and mediums, each of these methods takes work. And if you aren’t actively working on them, your website traffic dries up.
To acquire website visitors via paid search, you have to pay per click and constantly optimize to ensure you’re paying a competitive rate. With social media, you need to post several times per week (if not per day) and engage with your audience – like, commenting, and sharing their posts.
With email, you must constantly build your list and then nurture those subscribers with the right mix of content. (Too many emails and you make people feel like they’re being spammed. Too few emails and you don’t get any traffic.)
Small business SEO is the holy grail of SEO
There’s nothing wrong with paid search, social, or email – we recommend including all three in your marketing mix – but they don’t hold a candle to small business SEO. Here’s why:
- SEO is more efficient. When compared to other options, SEO doesn’t require the constant hand-holding that typical marketing investments do. The work on the front end can be significant, but once you start to see results, they cascade it. And unlike paid search, which dries up the moment you stop footing the bill, SEO continues to deliver value.
- SEO is more effective. At the end of the day, when people want to find information on something, they aren’t opening up their email inbox or tapping the Facebook icon on their smartphones. They’re going to Google. Thus an investment in SEO is far more effective. You’re going where the people are and, when done properly, you’ll be rewarded for the hard work.
- SEO is more sustainable. As mentioned, paid search ceases to provide value after you stop paying. With social media, you’re always dependent on the latest trends and fads. (Notice how quickly popularity is transferred from one platform to another.) And with email, people can always opt out. With SEO, you enjoy a purely organic link placement that can help you generate traffic for years.
Now if you really want to amplify your small business SEO results, you need to combine SEO with aforementioned tactics like paid search, social, and email marketing. In doing so, you’re able to implement a comprehensive strategy that leverages the right mix of organic and paid exposure. Over time, this will lead your business in a better direction.
Different Options for Getting Started With SEO
As we mentioned all the way back at the beginning of this article, the challenge for small businesses lies in determining where to start with SEO. There are a variety of paths you can go, but not all of them are as cost-effective or rewarding as they should be.
With all of that being said, let’s explore the different options most small businesses have:
- DIY SEO. The first method is the DIY approach. With this strategy, you roll up your sleeves, learn the ins and outs of SEO and tackle it yourself. The benefit of this approach is that you’re able to learn how SEO works from the ground up and you don’t have to pay someone else to do it for you. SEO basics are fairly easy to learn.There are even free tools to help you with keyword research, backlink building, site speed, and on page SEO. The obvious negative is that it sucks up so much of your valuable time.Although some people can accomplish DIY SEO, as a small business owner without SEO expertise you’ll struggle with SEO tasks in some key areas. For instance, when it comes to link building through content marketing, you’ll have to build relationships with publishers if you want backlinks on relevant sites. You won’t be able to generate the backlink profile required to rank high in Google search results – at least not quickly.
- Freelance SEO. The second option is to hire a freelance SEO specialist. You can find them on freelance job marketplaces, LinkedIn, or anywhere else freelancers congregate and look for work. The benefit is that you get expertise on demand. Freelancers with experience in search engine optimization for local SEO are valuable and can really help you with your on page SEO, off page SEO, and business listings.They can also help you get more customers from organic traffic.The potential negative is that you have to weed through a bunch of options and take a risk handing your SEO off to someone who isn’t heavily vetted.
- Hired SEO. Want someone who is dedicated to your business? You can always hire an in-house SEO who will work on your business in a full time capacity. This is obviously a much more expensive option and might be out of the budget for small business owners, but it provides a higher degree of accountability.
- SEO agency. The fourth option is to hire an agency. This is definitely more costly than the first two options, but is generally considered a superior choice to hiring an in-house SEO. It offers many of the same benefits, but without the wasted costs and fairly limited resources that a full-time employee often brings. When you work with an agency you can start with SEO audits for your websites to see where you could use some help.
All four of these options have their place. But when it comes to the average small business, there’s one choice that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The Benefits of Working With an SEO Agency
An SEO agency is basically a company that offers customized SEO services. The goal of an agency is to help businesses, like yours, improve their online visibility so that they generate more traffic and grow the bottom line.
Benefits of working with an SEO agency include:
- Improves your website. An investment in a comprehensive SEO service will dramatically improve your website. From website copy and navigation to page loading speed and design, a good agency will ensure everything is cohesive.
- Access to expertise. When you’re doing SEO on your own or working with a single SEO “specialist,” you have a limited knowledge base to pull from. With an agency, you have a team of experts who can combine their unique experiences and shared knowledge to produce cutting edge strategies that position your business in the best light. You need SEO expertise powering your small business SEO services.
- Provides strategy. It’s one thing to make a couple of tweaks to the backend of your website or start incorporating a few keywords into your blog posts, but if you want to reach and maintain high search rankings, you need a big-picture strategy. An SEO agency can provide that for you.
- Advanced analytics. If you’ve ever spent time in your Google Analytics account, you’ve probably found yourself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data. You know there are gold nuggets in there, you just don’t know how to find them. A good agency will take a deep dive into your data and pull out robust reports that analyze metrics like bounce rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and other key performance indicators.
- Saves time. Outsourcing SEO to an agency lets you focus on the tasks that you do best. It enables you to home in on your core competencies and offload the SEO portion of your marketing strategy to professionals that spend all of their time specializing in search.
You can see why so many small businesses turn to SEO agencies to get off the ground and running. When approached from the right perspective, it can yield a long list of benefits.
Potential Challenges of Working With an SEO Agency
Working with an SEO agency isn’t right for every small business. You have to approach the decision with the right context, otherwise you could end up doing your business more harm than good.
Here’s a look at some of the potential challenges and/or risks associated with hiring an SEO agency:
- Budgetary concerns. SEO agencies range in cost from very cheap to very expensive, but the cheaper you go, the more likely you are to run into quality problems—which could actually drop your rank instead of building it up. While not all small businesses have a problem with access to capital, it is a common plight, especially for startups. Marketing is important, but spending thousands of dollars a month on an SEO program isn’t exactly efficient when you don’t yet have a reliable revenue stream.
- Too early. There’s nothing wrong with building an SEO campaign from scratch—thousands of new startups do it every year. But if your business is so small that you don’t have any web presence to speak of, it may be too early to start working with an agency. It’s often better to get started on your own, gaining a bit of momentum, then enlisting the help of an agency for a little extra juice. When you’re new you may find yourselves in an uphill battle for several years. Some have referred to this as the Google sandbox, but it’s really a vesting and trust component of the algorithm.
- No in-house representative. Small businesses have limited personnel, so most aren’t able to hire or keep a dedicated SEO expert. Some aren’t even able to hire a dedicated marketing representative. This isn’t necessarily a pain point for hiring an agency—I’ve worked with several small businesses with no dedicated marketing representative who were able to use an SEO agency with great success. However, having a dedicated point of contact at the company who can help brainstorm, guide, and give feedback ensures a better overall experience.
These issues aren’t necessarily prevalent for every small business, but they are something to be aware of. The more you have them on your radar, the less likely it is that you’ll fall into a situation that’s detrimental to your larger business objectives.
6 Tips to Help You Choose the Right SEO Agency for Your Small Business
In most cases, hiring an agency is the right move for a small business that wants to enjoy benefits like more visibility, better traffic numbers, and a more cohesive marketing strategy.
If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to be intentional with how you narrow down your options and select the right agency. Here are some suggestions:
1. Know What You Don’t Want
The quickest way to narrow down a list of potential suitors is to get clear on what you don’t want. This means identifying the warning signs of bad SEO agencies and giving them the stiff arm.
As a general rule of thumb, be wary of cheap SEO agencies that make promises and guarantees (other than money-back guarantees). If a company is promising to have you ranking number one on Google in 90 days or less, they’re full of it. Nobody can promise a number one ranking under any circumstances.
It’s also wise to think about your budget and cross off agencies that far exceed the price you’re able to pay. (There’s a case to be made for stretching your budget slightly to get the right fit, but if you’re having to 2X or 3X your budget, you’re searching the wrong aisles.)
2. Define Your Goals
An agency can help you refine your objectives, but it’s wise to begin with a list that you’ve developed independently from them. This will help you filter out agencies that don’t align with your direction. It’ll also give you more information to use when vetting and interviewing potential fits.
Part of defining your goals should include allowing your agency to define some goals for you. For instance, an Agency will know exactly how to create relevant content that appeals to users based on search intent, which will help when you build links with content marketing.
Local SEO goals
Local businesses can use local optimization to generate local customers through search traffic, business listings, local business directories, backlinks on relevant sites, Google search results, and a Google Business profile. To take advantage of these opportunities you need an agency.
Agencies have the best SEO tools and know the best SEO strategy for local businesses to rank for competitive keywords and generate relevant, organic traffic. Getting to the top of local search results is an important part of small business SEO and if your small business website isn’t showing up in local search results, an agency will help you rank.
Agencies understand niche markets. When it comes to local SEO for a small business website, an agency will set goals based on your specific market or niche. They’ll optimize your web pages for SEO basics like technical SEO, site structure, title tags, internal links, on and off page SEO, site speed, meta title, and your meta description. When you set local SEO goals and target your local area, you’ll get more customers, more sales, and you’ll increase your online visibility.
Small business SEO is a requirement for local businesses
Search engine optimization for local businesses focuses on generating local website traffic by publishing relevant content. It’s easier to rank for competitive keywords using local SEO. Even when other businesses seem to “own” certain keywords you can’t rank your website for, you can generate traffic to an optimized Google Business profile.
Make it your goal to rank with local SEO keywords
When your goal is to rank your pages at the top of Google search results for any specific target keyword, an agency will define specific goals that will get you the best results possible. Beginning with keyword research, an agency will figure out which competitive keywords you can rank for and will optimize your site accordingly. For instance, they might optimize your service pages or a blog post you’d like to get more search traffic for.
3. Focus on local SEO
Small business SEO is most effective when you specifically target leads in your local area. Sure, it’s important to focus on technical SEO like getting the right target keywords and optimizing your meta descriptions, meta titles, title tags, and meta tags. And you’ll definitely want to fix your broken links and publish high quality content to use in a backlink campaign to rank higher. However, if you run a local business, your ideal potential customer also be local.
There are three ways you can get visibility in the search engines.
Paid ads will get you visible in the SERPs
The first method is by using paid ads. With paid ads, your ads will show up in the search results before the organic results. They’ll be marked so users will know they’re ads, but the advantage is they will give you visibility even if your website doesn’t rank.
Optimize your Google Business listing
The second method is by optimizing your Google Business Profile for the right search terms to capture clicks from relevant queries. When users perform searches related to your business, and your local business listing shows up in the search results, you can reach your target audience without having to rank your web pages.
Keep in mind that there are various local directories, but to get a listing with Google you must have a local presence. You don’t need a physical location, but you do need to do business with the public somehow. You can’t get a Google Business Profile for an entirely online store.
Make local business SEO your priority
The third method is through local SEO. This is a long-term strategy compared to the first two, but it’s critical to employ. Your best potential customers are just a click away, and local SEO will help you rank your web pages in the search engines to be seen by those potential customers.
In a sense, small business SEO is local SEO because small business owners benefit most from targeting local users. If you haven’t started local SEO work for your local business, it’s time. Even big businesses rely on local SEO for traffic, leads, and sales.
Local SEO audits are helpful
If you haven’t gotten an SEO audit, if you want to rank higher you’ll benefit from this service. Audits are usually part of small business SEO services, but you can also use free tools to see where your existing pages stand compared to other websites in your niche. You can also use keyword tools to find long tail keywords to help you with semantic search.
Free tools can help with your audit
Using free tools to conduct an audit will help you with several aspects of technical SEO (like suggestions for your meta description, meta title, and finding 404 errors) and can help you find long tail keywords and identify ranking factors that your competitors have, but you’re missing. Free local SEO tools are a great way to find out how your competitors are doing in the search engines, and you can find new link building opportunities by finding out where they have backlinks.
If you’re looking for a great resource on link building, please take a look at our step-by-step beginner’s guide to link building for SEO.
You can also perform part of your local SEO audit without tools by checking up on your Google Business Profile to see where your marker is on Google Maps. If your listing is getting clicks, but you’re not getting many customers, it could be because of a misplaced Google Maps marker. It happens to business owners all the time. As a local business, you’ll be able to make corrections to your marker(s) and have those corrections approved fairly easily.
4. Get References
It’s easy to get swept up in different online marketing and advertising campaigns. And unless you’re using some sort of private browser or tool to mask your online activity, you’re going to get hammered with Facebook and YouTube advertisements from hundreds of agencies. The only problem is that 75-80 percent of these agencies are full of it.
The best way to avoid entering into the wrong relationship is to start your search with a list of references from people you trust. Preferably, other business owners. In other words, don’t Google, “Who is the best SEO agency?” Instead, ask your network that question. You’ll get a variety of responses and you can then continue the vetting process with greater peace of mind.
5. Ask for Case Studies
Any agency can make promises. You want to work with companies that already have results. While past results aren’t always indicative of future success, they certainly provide a strong starting point.
When interviewing agencies and whittling down your list, ask for case studies. A detailed case study with data, analytics, and supporting evidence will help you see if the agency is actually capable of getting the results they advertise. Even if the case studies are for big businesses, you’ll know the agency can get results.
6. Pay Attention to Communication
Finally, how is the agency’s communication? Do they respond to your emails right away? Do they pick up the phone? Are they transparent in how they answer questions?
An SEO company communication will tell you how well they respect their clients and pay attention to the details. If there’s any friction here, it’s a sign of future troubles.
SEO tips for small businesses
In addition to working with an agency, there are several things you can do to improve your SEO results. The first thing you can do is improve your site performance. Clean up broken links (404 errors) and create permanent 301 redirects to your home page for each of them.
Start with technical SEO
Next, make sure your technical SEO is on point. Make sure your menus follow a logical structure that makes it easy for search engines to crawl and visitors to view. Perfect your meta titles, meta descriptions, and meta tags. If you haven’t looked into schema markup, this will be an important part of your SEO efforts. And, although it may not seem SEO-related, having descriptive alt text for your images is a ranking factor. It’s not easy to rank highly without good technical SEO.
Prioritize content creation
Once your technical SEO is on point, focus on creating content for SEO purposes. For instance, great content published on other sites can generate more leads and get you high quality links to your site. Remember that search engines still use backlink profiles as one of the many factors involved in ranking, even for local results. You want as many high quality, authoritative links to your site as possible. This will help you generate even more organic traffic.
Don’t ignore your Google Business Profile
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of local search engine optimization (SEO) is optimizing your Google Business Profile, formerly known as Google My Business. A Google My Business listing will come up in local results at the top of the page. If you’re a new business, get your listing right away. Be sure to list your business name and opening hours correctly because this information will come up in search results. If your hours are wrong, you could lose customers.
Your Google Business Profile won’t show up in other search engines, but that’s okay. Google has the largest market share of all search engines, so you don’t want to skip this important step. Being listed in Google as an official business is one of the fastest ways to build visitor trust.
Partner With SEO.co
If you’re the owner or a marketer in a mid-sized business and you aren’t already using an agency to help you get the most out of your SEO link building program, consider enlisting the help of one. Working together, you can create a plan that works for your budget as well as your goals.
At SEO.co, we specialize in providing our clients with full-service small business SEO and enterprise SEO solutions that are laser-focused on driving organic visitors and growing revenue. We do this through comprehensive strategies that are centered around keyword-driven, long-form content, custom graphics and video, and SEO-friendly link building.
Want more information on how we can help you enhance your brand visibility and grow your business? Contact us today and we’d be happy to cast some vision for you.