SEO on a budget
First of all, what is SEO? SEO stands for search engine optimization and is the method of obtaining website visits from the free and organic search results on search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo.
In my experience, however, it seems like there is great confusion from business owners on the importance of SEO, what it means to their website, and the time and effort it takes for it to be successful. For example, it’s not uncommon for a new business to launch a website, and then a week later ask, “Why isn’t my website showing on Google?”
Without going too far into the weeds, let me just say this: SEO is very complex. Many components are calculated by the search engine’s algorithm, including: the content on the website, the relevancy and freshness of that content, the architecture of the website, the quality of the code, the history and authority your website has, outbound and inbound links, location data, social data, and dozens of other elements.
And unfortunately, hiring a reputable SEO firm to analyze your website, perform competitive research, research keywords, optimize your website, build a link infrastructure, monitor your brand, etc. can be an expensive undertaking and many small businesses simply don’t have the resources to do it.
Sounds a bit bleak, right?
Well, the good news is there really are a number of things (many free or low cost) that you can do to improve your SEO and put your website in a position to rank over your competition. This is especially true if you are in a location with low to moderate competition; a position in which many of you may be.
1. Website content / keyword research
Simply put, all that search engines (i.e., Google or Bing) are trying to do is lead people who have typed in a search query to a website that is most relevant to their search. Therefore, it’s important that you understand what people are actually searching for when it comes to your business and build your content (headlines, text, images, page descriptions, etc.) around those search terms.
Google offers a helpful tool that can assist you in discovering what people are searching for in relation to your business or industry. Sign up for a free Google Adwords account to get access to this powerful tool and use a tutorial (like this one) to help you get started.
Once you discover what your potential customers are searching for, incorporate those keywords throughout your website. Make sure that you thoughtfully write out your content in a way that is clear and relevant to someone who visits your website. Structure your text in a way that makes sense. For example, use headlines to organize your content and then make sure that the text below supports and complements the headline. Use links to send people to other pages on your website such as a blog post, services page, or any other related area. And speaking of other pages, make sure that all of your page titles are descriptive and suitable to what is actually on the page.
Make the time to ensure that your content is well-written and includes/supports keywords that your customers are searching for. If you don’t have enough time to do this well or if writing isn’t a strength of yours, find and work with an employee with that skill set or hire a copywriter to help you.
I have come across too many businesses that simply don’t put in enough time and effort into this step. What a mistake!
Quality links pointing to your website is an important factor in how search engines decide the relevancy, authority, and trustworthiness of your website. Every website (including yours) is given a numerical page rank. The higher the number, the more important that website is perceived. Therefore, a link from a website with a high page rank holds a lot of weight.
I always give my clients this example: A link from CNN.com pointing to your website would have much more value than 100 links from unknown, low-traffic websites. CNN.com is proven to be trustworthy by search engines as thousands of people go to that website daily for information. Therefore, if CNN is linking to your website, it communicates to search engines that your website is also relevant and trustworthy, which in turn improves your SEO.
Now, of course getting CNN to link to your website is a bit difficult. However, there are a number of websites that you can list your website on which will help you get started.
- Google places for business
- LinkedIn Business page
- YP.com (Yellowpages)
Also, if you’re a part of an association or network related to your business, check to see if they have business listings. If they do, contact them and ask if your listing can be added.
3. Create content & build awareness
Content creation is another important component of a successful SEO effort. Regularly creating new content is a great way to keep your website fresh, reach a new audience, engage current customers, reinforce your targeted keywords, and expand the authority and reach of your website.
One effective way to do this is by creating a blog. It doesn’t necessarily need to be called “Blog” on your website. It could be called news, events, industry insights, focus on “your business segment”, etc. Whatever you decide to call it, you just need an area on your website that you can not only keep fresh, but build a history of content creation. Blogs are not only good at accomplishing that, but they are also designed to be easily shared on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which we will get into in a bit.
Beyond developing your own blog, connect and engage in related blogs. Provide thoughtful comments on posts related to your business. Doing this is a great way to network with others.
Simply stated, it’s important to be where your potential customers are. If your customers are on Facebook, you need to have a strong presence on Facebook. If your customers are on Twitter, you need to have a strong presence on Twitter. If you customers are on Snapchat… you get the idea.
Social media is a great platform for your business to make connections with potential customers and engage your current network. I encourage businesses to use what has come to be known as “The Golden Ratio for Social Media Sharing”.
30% Owned Content
Owned content is content that you have created that is relevant to your business. Examples of this could be a blog entry, an infographic, a video, a podcast, a published article, etc.
60% Shared Content
Shared content is content created by others that is related to your business. If you come across relevant and engaging content, share it on your social network!
10% Promotional Content
Deals and promotions. A primary goal of social media is to build a network by increasing the trust and confidence of your brand. Publishing more than 10% of this type of content can come across like you’re just a pushy salesman. Not helpful. Please avoid ?
Email is still an effective digital marketing technique that helps promote brand awareness. Therefore, make sure that you have tools in place that are capturing email addresses wherever you can. If you have a contact form on your website, make sure that every contact is placed onto your email list. If you’re sell products, make sure that users need to include their email address. If you’re at a trade show, give things away in return for their email address.
Once you have an email list, begin planning an email campaign/schedule. Make sure to be very thoughtful in what you are sending people. Ensure that your content is well written, well designed, and has a clear call to action that you can monitor the success of.
There are many tools out there that are designed to help small businesses build their email lists and send out professional/well designed emails. Two tools that I really like are Mailchimp and Constant Contact. Both have free and paid versions.
The bottom line is that there must be a continual effort on your end in order to have success with SEO that results in a high search engine position. Being regular in creating content for your website and social media platforms is key. If your business doesn’t have a content creation strategy yet (ex: who will produce what and when), definitely get one in place.
The pay off is that over time your efforts will create momentum, which will begin to snow ball, which will lead to higher search engine rankings, which results in more website visits, which results in more customers. That’s the goal!
But in the meantime, make sure to set realistic expectations and have patience. Smaller businesses working within a tight budget may take up to a year before seeing any results from SEO and content marketing.
Think of it as a marathon and not a sprint. Therefore, set a manageable pace that you can stick to. However, all the while you must remember that you do have competition. And if your competition is not already doing all of these things now, they likely will be in the near future.