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Small Business SEO: 17 Tips from Experts on Competing with the Big Guys

Running a small business is tough.

It’s not for the faint of heart.

You need confidence, strength and endurance.

Also money.

I mean, small business life is like constantly jumping over a neverending series of hurdles.

As soon as you’ve leapt over one obstacle, you spot the next one up ahead.

Sometimes you have trouble clearing those obstacles. Yet, you keep on going.

It’s in the nature of a small business owner to suck it up and keep plowing forward.

 

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Having a digital presence is easily one of the most cost-effective ways to get the word out about your business and help new customers find you.

When it comes the basics of digital presence, building a website and creating social media profiles are only the first little hurdles you’ll need to jump.

The SEO tasks you’ll need to complete, so that people can find you on search engines, present countless more hurdles. You’ll need to learn about everything from keywords to backlinks.

The rewards of mastering SEO are sweet. How does it sound to have people see your business front and center on Google when searching for the products and services you provide?

To me, it sounds like a big ca-ching.

 

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It’s okay that SEO competition is tough. As a small business owner, I’m willing to bet you’re more than a little competitive. We’ll harness that to get you up and running with small business SEO right away.

To propel your farther, faster in the online world, you can take your cues from the experts—people who’ve been there and done that, succeeded and failed, vaulted all the hurdles and seen real results.

We asked 17 small business SEO experts to give us a hand with this one. Each expert has shared their best SEO tip for small businesses, just to help you out with your own endeavors.

When you’re a massive success, be sure to pay this forward and offer advice to small business SEO newbies.

17 Tips from SEO Experts That’ll Help You Compete With the Big Guys

1. Make SEO a Priority

When you’re starting a small business, you might feel overwhelmed by the many marketing strategies available. Shane Barker, a digital marketing consultant, told me all about why SEO should be a priority.

“A common challenge faced by budding ventures is to stretch their time and resources for multiple key activities. All in a bid to take your business to the next level.

And it’s easy to get lost in this sea of tasks, trying to figure out where to start.

SEO often takes a backseat when setting priorities, and it shouldn’t. SEO can help you:

1. Establish the authority of your brand

2. Improve brand awareness

3. Increase leads generated

4. Engage a wider audience”

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2. Conduct an SEO Audit to See Where You’re Starting From

So, you know that SEO should be a priority for your small business. Ross Simmonds, a B2B digital strategist, shares how an SEO audit should be your next step:

“For a new business just starting out with SEO, I think the best starting point is to ensure that you have your SEO House in order. Meaning, you need to ensure that the foundation is laid when it comes to the technical and structural elements of your site.

For example: Do you have an SSL certificate installed? Do you have Google Analytics installed? Do you have Search Console set up? Are you using WordPress? Have you installed Yoast?

All of these things are important to consider when you’re first getting started. From conducting a backlink audit to diving in and analyzing your competitors’ websites—research is what will help you uncover exactly what you should be doing in the months to come.

This process is essentially taking the time to conduct an internal SEO audit.

There’s a wide range of websites and articles that highlight the steps you can take to conduct an audit, but it’s certainly the first step I would recommend any business taking as a first step.”

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Source: Curvve Media

3. Set Realistic Expectations

Whether you’re DIY-ing your small business SEO strategy or hiring an agency to do it for you, Donna Duncan, SEO and Content Marketing Consultant at B-SeenOnTop, encourages you to be realistic about what you can achieve.

Here’s her advice:

“New businesses starting out with SEO should start by setting realistic expectations.

If, for example, you want to rank in the top 10 search results for NYC accountant, then your website content and backlinks are going to have to be as good or better than that of the current first page incumbents.

Why? Easy-to-find and helpful information satisfies website visitors. It encourages lengthy and repeat visits, and earns additional exposure in the form of backlinks and social mentions. Visitor engagement and high-quality backlinks signal popularity and authority to Google.

All things being equal, the better your metrics in these two areas, the higher you will rank.

A good SEO company should be able to share metrics that quantify the gap between where you are today and where you want to be.

If the gap is too wide, then you will either need to buckle down for a long ride or try to rank for something less competitive.

Too many small business owners are misled into believing they can skyrocket to the top of search results with minimal time and effort. This is misleading and often results in abandoned efforts.”

 

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4. Know What You’re Measuring

You’ll need goals and KPIs to measure your SEO efforts. Andrew Cock-Starkey, the founder of Optimisey, explains how knowing what you’re measuring will kickstart your small business SEO strategy:

“My #1 tip for new businesses, starting out and feeling their way in SEO is: Get solid measurement foundations in place.

Without proper measurement and analytics in place you’ll have no idea if what you’re doing is working—be that SEO, social media, email or anything else.

This can be as simple as getting Google Analytics (with proper Goal tracking in place) and Google Search Console set up for your site. And it needn’t be as complicated as you may think that is.

There are lots of great guides out there about how to do this, with walkthroughs, videos, etc. Here’s my step-by-step guide to setting up Goals in Google Analytics.

When I’ve worked with new or small businesses many of them look at me blankly when I ask if they have Google Search Console set up.

Google Search Console (a.k.a. GSC or sometimes its old name: Webmaster Tools) is Google themselves telling you what people searched for when your site appeared in the search results. And where it appeared in those results too (first, second, ninth, ninetieth, etc.)”

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“It’s easy to set up. It shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes (here’s my how to set up Google Search Console guide) but it doesn’t have a time-machine function. If you don’t start recording data here from day one, it’s gone. You can’t get it back.

This data is invaluable. You can see what customers are looking for and when Google thinks you might be a ‘good’ answer. If you’re not appearing in search results where you think you should be, that can help you focus your content plans and site structure.

As an example, just using this data I helped a small photography business, local to me in Cambridge, laser in on where they could offer great value and where that overlapped with a significant number of people looking for that service.

Within a month we had them ranking on the first page of Google for a host of terms related to: [x service] in Cambridge and the number of leads and calls they were getting shot upwards.

SEO can seem scary, complex and intimidating. At times it can be. But starting out as a new business or start-up, it needn’t be.

Get some keystones in place, build solid foundations and work out how you can track if you’re doing this well/badly. Just having that information can make a world of difference—because then you can do something about it.”

5. Keep Things Simple (and Get the Basics Right)

If you can’t afford the best SEO tools when you’re starting out, don’t worry. Malcolm Slade, head of technical SEO at Epiphany Search, tells us how keeping things simple is the key to small business SEO:

“Keep things simple and get the basics right. Many large business are being held back due to over-complexity and a lack of fundamental SEO.

Firstly don’t over-complicate your technology. Early on, Google isn’t going to spend much time looking around your site so you need to ensure that you feed Google what you want it to see efficiently.

Avoid JavaScript unless you use progressive enhancement or similar and stick to feeding Google complete reliable HTML initially. Ensure said HTML features all of the necessary elements Google uses to assess structure and relevance that relate to you including:

  • Human readable URLs that convey structure
  • <title> elements
  • <meta name=”description”> elements
  • Schema using JSON-LD if you can
  • Standard HTML links featuring useful anchor text
  • Images featuring accurate ALT text
  • HTML 5 structural information
  • Textual content devoid of marketing / internal jargon
  • Text explaining what makes you different from everyone else

With this in place, start building your online brand presence as you grow, ensuring that all activity does its best to drive users to your website, instigated discussion about your brand and hopefully starts people using Google to search for you directly rather than relying on the hope they will click on your listings within generic search results pages.”

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Source: Nine Stats

Jordie Black, content marketer at Copy and Check, agrees. She explains how the basics are key to SERP success:

“As a small business owner looking to delve deep into the world of SEO, the first thing you need to understand is that ‘SEO’ is complex and involves a lot of moving layers all working together correctly.

Before you start thinking about link building or analytics, I would suggest you make sure your site is put together properly with the right architecture that lends itself to search engines effectively being able to crawl your site.

Implementing this involves ensuring your website has an easy to understand structure and architecture so both your audience and search engines are able to find the information they need easily.

Doing on-page SEO optimisation such as adding proper page titles, meta descriptions, image alt tags etc, will be the best starting point to getting to grips with SEO and put your website and your business in the best possible starting position to seeing great results.”

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6. Know Who You’re Targeting

If you’re writing a blog post, you know who you’re targeting. That concept applies to SEO for small businesses, as explained by Jordan Kasteler, SEO director of Hennessey Consulting:

“Understand your audience. By this, I mean truly understand their needs and desires, with the products or services that you’re offering, so your site can fulfill them.

Start by polling or surveying your audience.

If you can’t do that, ask your sales team what are common pain points that people have.

You can do further research with Google Analytics, DemographicsPro and Facebook to understand the demographics and psychographics of your audience.”

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Source: Search Engine Land

7. Focus on Local Searchers

Our next small business SEO tip comes from Ryan Scollon, SEO and PPC freelancer at ryanscollon.co.uk. He says focusing on local searchers is the best way to see success—and proves it.

“My #1 SEO tip for a small business is to create areas covered pages for surrounding towns/cities. Once you are visible and ranking well for your main location, the next step is branch out further. This has worked extremely well for most of our small business clients, with some seeing a 120% increase in traffic and extra 30 enquiries a month.

But don’t just assume that you can go ahead and create 30 pages all with the same duplicate content. My advice would be to start off small, with just 2 or 3 pages and make each page as unique as possible. You may find that you repeat yourself when talking about your services, but that should be okay.

One great example of this tactic is from a tradesman located here in the UK. He ranked well for his main location, but it was not driving enough traffic/enquiries so they had no other option but to run a PPC campaign to reach surrounding areas, spending around £1000 per month on click spend.

With the implementation of the areas covered pages, organic traffic grew from 30 visitors a week to 120, and enquiries went from 3 a week to around 12 or 13. Due to this, they have been able to pause the PPC campaign too, allowing them to pocket that £1000 a month. This has worked so well, they have been able to recruit an additional member of staff to keep up with the demand.”

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Source: Elvin Web Marketing

8. Submit to Local Directories

According to Sam Allcock, Managing Director at Custard Online Marketing, small businesses can improve their SEO strategy by submitting to local directories. He says:

“Once you’ve optimized your site for local terms (i.e. video production Manchester), make sure your website has pictures and text that are optimized for the users search query.

If someone is searching your keyword, ask yourself: what are they hoping to find? If you can create a page of content for that search term with images, case studies and helpful text, that’s what you should do.

Then, create a Google My Business listing, optimized for your business name and keyword. Make sure there’s a link to your website in your directory listing; this is a great way to link them together and make them visible to Google.

You should also submit your business to other local directories, making sure that the name, address and telephone numbers match.

If you do all the above, you should achieve page one rankings for your keyword.

Check out JukeMedia; they rank highly for video production Manchester—a term that sends them 10 visits a week to the website. All they did was submit local Manchester Directories, optimize their website and Google Local Business Listing.”

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9. Get Local Reviews

Once you’ve grabbed yourself those local directory submissions, Joe Goldstein, director of SEO at Contractor Calls, shares why you’ll also need reviews:

“If you’re serving a local market, start by asking your customers for reviews on Google. Each additional review on your Google My Business listing will help you rank a little better, persuade a few more shoppers, and help bury any bad reviews you may have.

Unlike Yelp, Google rarely filters legitimate reviews, and they actually encourage businesses to ask their customers for more.

There are a lot of ways to systematize growing your reviews, but you should start by taking every employee who might be involved in the process and encouraging them to leave reviews for other businesses.

This will help them get a better feel for customers’ perspectives while also giving them a little hands-on experience with the process, to help confused customers through it.”

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Source: PixelPoynt

10. Make Your Site Mobile-friendly

So, you’ve made your site visible to people near your local area… but what happens next? Anna Lebedeva, head of media at SEMrush, explains why your website also needs to be mobile-friendly if you want to stand a chance of seeing big results from local SEO:

“No website that is willing to rank high in local search can afford to be non-mobile-responsive.

More and more people (especially, in the developing nations) are using smartphones and mobile internet to access the web.

And there is something about mobile search that is game-changing: People conduct most of their searches on the go, which means that a big chunk of information they need is very local in its nature and they expect some immediate and relevant results.

No one wants to type in (or use voice search) a shoe repair search query and receive results that are useful for those who live hundreds of miles away.”

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Source: Gary Ting Design

11. Know the Difference: Human vs. Bots

Although SEO a technical field (Google literally uses billions of data entries to suss-out where you should be ranking!), Dima Midon, CEO and founder at TrafficBox, shares why you should focus on targeting humans and bots:

“Give to robots what belongs to robots, and give to humans what belongs to humans. SEO is for robots and all the technical part which is already known by every developer must be at disposal of the robots from the first moment of your websites life.

Give them text containing your target keywords, give them meta tags, clean code, precise instructions in robots.txt, and a map to follow your site further.

Robots need to be managed, and if you give them right instructions and wrong data they won’t help you. Be cool, smart and precise. Robots are made by humans.

Humans like stories. Start with a story to tell humans. Tell people what specific skill you learned from this story and what problems can you solve with it. Keep it warm, give everything and never save anything for the swim back.”

 

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12. Create Industry-leading 10x Content

10x content isn’t just a fad that huge companies can take advantage of. Alan Paul, co-founder of Detailed, shares how you can do it as a small business:

“My absolute top tip for new businesses starting out with SEO would be to rank their niche. Especially in the case of a small business who may have a limited budget or experience.

Essentially this consists of creating a piece of content that is ranking the top blogs in your niche by various scoring methods. You could choose to do this by traffic volume, social media followers, backlinks, post frequency or even content quality.

A site can put together this report to showcase who is doing great things in their industry, which is a way of sharing your appreciation of other sites within your niche, as well as positioning yourself as an authority in your field.

So not only will this allow you to share your knowledge and admiration, it can also be a great way to drive backlinks and awareness back to your site via this article. If you featured say 50 sites in your niche, within your report. You could reach out with a very personal email to congratulate them on their success in making it into your report, and letting them know the specific reasons (if any) you admire what they do.

This could well result in a relationship going forward with this site, but could also mean that the other sites share their new found recognition with their audience. Of course your new resource could also be linked to naturally also, as a way of sites referring to the top blogs within their niche.

This is something we have done with great success at Detailed, and are ranking for various associated search terms as a result.

Another example of this came from Modest Money who created their own list of the top blogs in finance, which is still picking up links back to their site as people cite their resource whilst linking to the top financial blogs post.”

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“This method will take time and research, but it is a fantastic way for any small business to gain relationships, recognition and links to their site.”

13. Be Consistent with Your Blog

10x content is valuable, but there’s one thing you still need to conquer: Consistency. Gabe Roy, co-founder and COO of Magnified Public Relations, tells us how this not-so-tiny element is key when it comes to blogging:

“With an intimidating number of factors that contribute to your website’s search rank, mastering the evolving art of SEO can seem like an impossible uphill battle. Well, this isn’t necessarily true.

While Google continues to update its search algorithm, there are a few practices that have stood the test of time—one being blogging. Blogging is one of the powerful and simple tools we keep in our arsenal which has helped propel our pages high in the ranks.

Maintaining a consistent blog is beneficial for plenty of reasons.

Firstly, search engines recognize and reward the websites that keep up fresh content for their audience. Websites that go stagnant will eventually see decreases in their search visibility and fall behind their competitors.

Blogs are also incredibly shareable through social media, which not only opens the door for added web traffic but increases your opportunity to be referenced on other websites via backlink. When authoritative websites reference your work, your website’s Domain Authority subsequently increases.

However, don’t stress too much about the logistics of what MIGHT happen with your blog—have fun with it! While it can be helpful to use a keyword planner, focus on using the blog to capture your small business’ unique voice and share knowledge on the subjects you are most passionate about.

Before you know it, you’ll be working your way towards that coveted #1 spot in your niche!”

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Source: SlideShare

14. Share Your Content with Influencers

So, you’ve created your 10x content. Tom Whatley, CEO at Grizzle, tells us why 10x content is the perfect fuel to see SEO results from working with influencers:

“Create insanely value-driven content. I’m talking about content that is ten times better than anything else out there on a topic. Figure out a theme to dominate, for example, ‘facebook marketing,’ and go all-in on that.

By focusing on creating the best content on a topic, challenge or desire, you’re likely to get the right attention from the right influencers. And these are the people who can help spread your message and content further.

In other words: the people who create backlinks.

Start by looking at which themes and topics your influencers are talking about. Use this insight to drive what you include in your content.

For example, let’s say I were to write a guide on Facebook marketing in 2018. I notice that many influencers are currently talking about chatbots. So it would be wise to include this prominently.

Tools such as BuzzSumo can show you which what is generating the majority of shares around a topic, which can be a great source of content ideas.

And don’t forget about distribution! Find the communities and channels where your audience can be found. Join in on the conversation, become a known figure, and then share your content to them (within the context of how that community works).

We once worked with a B2B marketing services provider offering a very niche service. As a result, no-one was searching for what they offered. So we created content around other relevant B2B marketing topics.

At the time, journalists and influencers were talking about trends for the new year. But nobody was showing how to implement it.

So we created a 6,000+ word guide on the top 5 strategies and, in less than two months, we were #1 for our target keyword.

This, in turn, boosted the SEO results of other pages of the website.”

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Find who’s given backlinks by using the Monitor Backlinks tool. Here’s a link to grab your 30-day free trial!

15. Show Off Your USP in the SERPs

Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) shouldn’t just be a small section of your business plan. I asked Fili Wiese, SEO expert at SearchBrothers to share some advice. Also an ex-Google engineer and senior technical lead in the Google Search Quality team, he says:

“For a small business with limited resources there’s just one thing to do: Demonstrate your business’s unique selling proposition, both on landing pages but also throughout your snippets. That way you are increasing the chance for users to respond positively throughout the honeymoon period when Google tends to rank brand new sites high, in order to assess how they perform.

Unique selling proposition is really what makes your business special and useful to the respective target audience. As far as SEO goes this is the cornerstone of a successful SEO strategy that can be massively built on as business grows.

Implementation depends on the site’s niche and what the unique selling proposition is, however the process to identify snippets that includes at the very least compelling tiles and descriptions can be greatly aided and expedited by running limited AdWords campaigns just to identify which combinations tend to work best for users.

AdWords has of course no impact on SEO but the data derived from such a short campaign can be both cost-effective to gather and very useful to craft snippets that meet user expectations. Of course, landing pages still need to live up or better yet exceed that that user expectation.

There are countless examples of businesses that flourish in Google Search despite poor technical SEO, however there aren’t many greatly optimized sites as far as SEO goes that continue to do well in search without having a unique selling proposition.

What we see with our clients is that frequently both on- and off-page SEO signals can be improved, the site better understood to Google and—once improved signals are embraced—the site can tremendously grow visibility and drive up conversions.

What we do not experience are sites that fail to outline what makes their business relevant and worth user attention improving substantially, especially if they are in a competitive niche. For any business large or small standing out is really the first step to great rankings.”

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Source: Online Media Masters

16. Network Online for More Opportunities

Did you know that networking online can lead to better SEO opportunities? Eric Johnson, SEO Specialist at FeedbackWrench, spills all:

“For small businesses, the best way to get started with SEO is by implementing an online ‘networking’ strategy.

Since building authority in the eyes of search engines is so important, backlinks can be the difference maker between one small business and another.

A ‘networking’ strategy can easily work as an effective backlink strategy with just a few tweaks. Instead of conveying your expertise offline to a colleague, you can allow that same person to make use of your expertise for their own benefit online.

Providing content for someone else’s website is the easiest way for small businesses to get backlinks because it’s the most familiar method that they have at their disposal—almost all entrepreneurs know how to network!

One client of mine owns a small painting company. Although he had been in business for over fifteen years, he was setting up a website for the first time with absolutely no domain history or ability to rank on search engines. As an unestablished source, there were few immediate options available for backlinks.

By turning to other local businesses in similar industries, our client was able to establish a little bit of initial Domain Authority that allowed him to move on to getting more and more relevant links back to his site.”

17. Choose Your Keywords Wisely

A huge pillar of SEO is keywords… But you already knew that, right? Our final SEO tip for small businesses comes from Joshua Hardwick, head of content at Ahrefs. He explains how your keyword choice can have a huge impact on your SEO performance:

“Focus on keywords and topics that actually have ‘business value.’ That is, the visitors that you attract from said topics will be likely to convert to customers/clients.

Example: Let’s say that you’re a plumber based in New York. Which keyword makes the most sense to target?

1. plumbing fails — 250 searches/month.
2. plumber in new york — 60 searches/month

(These stats are from Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, by the way)

The answer is #2, because people searching for plumber in new york are much more likely to convert than those searching for plumbing fails.

So while both queries are plumbing related, the search intent for each topic is completely different. It’s unlikely that anyone searching for plumbing fails is actually looking for a plumber.

Note: This is a somewhat extreme example, as I think the right keyword to target here is quite clear to most people. But there are times when things are less obvious, so it does require some thought.

It’s really about understanding search intent, and targeting topics for which your business is the solution.

For example, we recently published a list of SEO tipsSEO tips is not a keyword with high ‘business value,’ you might think?

Well, it is for us, because some of the tips we listed rely on our toolset. So we’re demonstrating the value of our toolset to our target audience in the article.

(See #2 on the list, for example)

So although the keyword would be classed as informational (i.e., those searching for it are looking for information, not to buy something), it still converts pretty well.

Bottom line: When you’re doing KW research for your business, make sure that the keywords you choose are actually relevant. Don’t be afraid to neglect any that don’t make sense.”

 

Phew! There you have it—the only guide you’ll need to conquer small business SEO.

However, there’s one thing to remember when jumping over the SEO hurdle: It might take longer than you first assume.

Reaching the top spots in Google takes time, and it’s unlikely that your small business website will turn into an overnight success.

But, keep plugging away at it consistently for at least a few months.

Then look back to assess what’s working well (focus twice as hard on this) and what isn’t working at all (cut this out completely).

SEO is a smart marketing strategy with excellent benefits for small business in the long term!

You’ll be surprised how many people will shoot you an email or walk through the door of your brick-and-mortar and say, “I’m so glad I found your website.”

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