Step-by-step SEO Guide for Small Businesses
Much like most other website marketing strategies, SEO is a process rather than a set of rules. This is especially true in recent years when most marketers have started focusing on content value rather than the number of backlinks. With SEO past its infancy phase, creativity and research are the main determinants of successful online exposure development.
When combined with other website marketing strategies, SEO brings not only traffic, but also increased conversion rates and this is probably the main reason why businesses keep exploring this field. In the realm of small businesses, advanced SEO and content marketing techniques are particularly convenient because of their relative cost-efficiency. Namely, such services do not necessarily require large investments and do not burden the budget even when outsourced, while the effects are obvious.
Value proposition: SEO as a conversion booster
In relation to marketing, the often misinterpreted title allusion points to the fact that any idea innovative enough will easily find its target audience. “Build it and they will come” is a rule of thumb that may sound great, but that doesn’t necessarily work, at least not in some highly competitive market segments. Considering the fact that even the greatest web companies keep using strategic marketing to maintain their positions, it is easy to see why every idea needs a little push.
In terms of search engine rankings, the “push” translates into a potentially exhaustive process of research, monitoring and analyzing the target market. Only when all these activities are in place it is possible to offer a unique value proposition to the audience and create content that not only drives traffic, but converts as well. This is precisely where the value of SEO is most evident – organic traffic brings higher conversions because it naturally follows users’ online behavior.
Namely, regardless of a business’s target market, organic search seems to be the leading source of conversions. This is confirmed in a study by MarketingSherpa, which analyzed correlations between organic search and conversion rates to discover the value of SEO across different industries.
Similar findings are revealed in Hubspot’s 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Report, which summarizes the potential of the strategy. The report suggests that organic search brings more conversions than any other online channel such as social media, which is the second major source of website conversions. Clearly, organic search plays an important role in the wide field of website marketing, which is why it is still among the favorite business development techniques. Of course, complex as it is, SEO strategy does involve extensive research and planning in order to deliver benefits. Below are some of the most critical steps a business needs to integrate into its online development plans.
Step 1: Goal setting
SEO used to be a synonym for building links all over the web without paying much attention to either their quality or their value for business. After several Google algorithm updates, such an approach has not only become futile, but dangerous as well. This means that without a goal and a corresponding strategy, the time invested won’t bring any notable improvements.
To be able to expand their online image in a natural way, businesses first need to set their goals and identify relevant industry channels. Of course, goal setting is a process that should rely on market research and not some abstract expectations. This means that a random choice of keywords to rank for is not normally a way to succeed. Instead, proper assessment of market opportunities and carefully planned content strategy are the factors that will dictate the pace of growth.
Some of the critical steps in the process involve keyword research, competitor analysis, budget planning and progress tracking. With all these planned ahead, any SEO strategy is likely to work much better than a random link distribution.
Step 2: Keyword research
Keyword research is an excellent way to gain insight into your consumers’ behavior and the overall marketing potential. This is probably the most important step as it gives you a clear picture of what it is that people search online and how you can give them exactly what they need. Andrew Lolk from Search Engine Journal gives an excellent example of a common mistake small businesses make when choosing their keywords. Namely, he mentions possible ads for key replacement services query in order to illustrate the difference between 100% relevancy and 90% relevancy:
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Out of the two ads, however similar they may be, people are more likely to recognize the first one as a 100% relevant website. Therefore, even if you understand the similarity, your consumers sometimes don’t, which is why keyword research is the first strategic step in both onsite optimization or AdWords campaign. This is also pointed out by Matt Cutts, who gave a similar example to emphasize the importance of the proper keyword choice.
An interesting thing he mentions in the video is that inappropriate choice of keywords is one of the most frequent mistake webmasters make. Therefore, before you start with either link building or AdWords campaign, it is essential that you spend enough time researching keywords via Google’s intuitive Keyword Planner (AdWords) or a tool such as WordStream. These two are probably the most widely used keyword research resources and some of the most valuable tools for developing an SEO strategy.
Step 3: Competitor analysis
Even in some less competitive markets, there are always companies or organizations related to your niche that have already established themselves as leaders in the industry. Their websites can be valuable sources of data relevant to your business, which is why you should take some time to analyze their strategies. It is important to note here that this form of analysis can be done for any company related to your field and not just for your direct competitors. To see how they perform in Google search, you can use a tool such as WooRank that lets you understand the following:
- – Website usability (page load time, cross browser compatibility, URL structure, CTA characteristics, etc.)
- – Page layout and structure
- – Keyword consistency
- – Website meta data, sitemaps and robots.txt
- – Content analysis (keyword distribution and top ranking keywords)
These capabilities are more thoroughly examined in this post on the WooRank blog, where you can find all the necessary pieces of information about the tool itself. Although WooRank lets you analyze one website per week in its free version, it is a tool you should definitely consider using. Besides this, a part of competitor analysis can be done via Google search and competitors’ social media pages, where you’re likely to find some critical information about the industry, as well as your prospects’ behavior.
Step 4: Onsite optimization
Onsite optimization is the probably the most complex yet the most important factor of your website’s future growth. Apart from finding the right keywords and distributing them evenly across your pages, you also need to make sure the website performs well in every key aspect. This means optimizing it for faster page load, proper display on multiple screen sizes, accurate display in search snippets, etc. To give you a picture, this graphic by Rand Fishkin illustrates all the key elements that need to be adjusted to Google’s preferences.
What follows is that both textual and HTML elements on a page need to be readable by Google in order to be shown for relevant queries. The first step to being recognized by Google’s crawlers is creating and submitting a sitemap to notify the engine that your website is up and running. As for the content optimization, some of the tools you should consider using are popular plugins such as Yoast and All in One SEO Pack (WordPress) or SmartSEO and SEOSimple (Joomla!). These will let you add specific keywords and meta descriptions, as well as optimize URLs for all the posts and pages to let both Google and your visitors understand what they are about.
Of course, as illustrated on the graphic above, these are just some of the basic steps in the complex process of building a stable website whose overall performance is still the most important factor for great search rankings.Â With a professionally built website, content optimization and further online development strategies should go seamlessly.Â In fact, only when the technical parts are properly set up, you can start developing content that will make your website visible across all the relevant channels.
Step 5: Developing content strategy
Content rules the web more than ever and it is the only way you can actually send the right signals to Google. This is especially important for new or small sites that will certainly take some time to outperform the major ones. Even though it may appear that certain positions are reserved only for the already established websites, small sites still stand the chance of becoming big. After all, this was Google’s idea right from the start.
“Whatever area you’re in, if you’re doing it better than the other incumbents, then over time you can expect to perform better and better.”
Therefore, constant flow of relevant content is the most potent way to build online reputation. This should start with delivering fresh industry insights on the company’s blog, which is supposed to be the area for you to demonstrate your expertise. In addition to this, publishing reports, ebooks or industry white papers is another way to show both users and engines that your company has something valuable to offer.
Furthermore, regular creation of targeted content is the step towards generating leads via channels other than organic search. By promoting your blog on social media, you gain exposure among the widest possible audiences that may be seeking out the pieces of information you have to offer. What’s more, regular blogging should be a part of your inbound marketing strategy and not just an SEO effort, meaning that you should always create content for users, rather than for search engines.
Step 6: Monitoring and analysis
Finally, as you complete the basic steps, the key to further development is constant monitoring of how your pages perform. Again, this is supposed to give you an insight into what works best in terms of both content and conversions, so you can plan the further steps. In case you notice deviations, this should be a signal that some additional tweaks need to be done in terms of either design or content.
To track your progress, you can use Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, which are probably the two most widely used free tools for website analysis. Webmaster Tools lets you monitor keyword rankings, search queries that send most traffic to your pages, as well as potential website errors. With Analytics, you can examine overall users’ behavior on your website and see traffic sources, time on site or bounce rates. Again, monitoring their activities will help you react on time in case you notice unusually high bounce rate or worryingly low time on site, which are some of the metrics that point to negative user experience.
In addition to these two, one of the useful SEO tools is Fresh Web Explorer by Moz that enables you to track and analyze mentions of your brand and your competitors to identify the best market opportunities. This one can also help you in competitor analysis at any stage of growth. Of course, there are a number of other resources that can provide you with the data you need to better organize your activities and direct your efforts towards all the right channels. The ones we mentioned here are intended to give you an idea on how you can utilize online resources for the sake of developing the most efficient strategy.
Listed this way, the steps outlined above make SEO appear as what it really is – an activity that involves multiple strategic decisions, rather than a manipulative scheme for achieving better rankings. Hopefully, this guide should serve as a reference to businesses that either invest too much thought into all the wrong metrics or invest no thought in SEO strategy at all.