small business seoWhen it comes to small business SEO, many businesses feel as though they are at a great disadvantage. There are many reasons for this, but often the cost of hiring an SEO agency is simply beyond the reach of most small business advertising budgets. What’s worse, is the thought of doing your own SEO work is a frightening thought, to say the least. Never fear, however, as we are about to tell you 5 steps that will put your website on a path to steady increases in traffic, using the simplest of SEO principles and some good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Preface: To grow traffic to your website, you have to be able to publish content on your website. Generally, this requires a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla, etc. If you do not have a content management system for your website, or are not able to manually create HTML web pages, then we would invite you to read through this post – but talk with your web design provider about implementing them properly.

Step 1: Learn what SEO is.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of optimizing a piece of content (a blog post, your about us page, etc.) so that it appears in search engine results when a would-be prospect types their query. For instance, if your company manufactures rubber playground balls, and the title of your about page is “How we developed the best rubber playground balls”, then when a prospect searches google for “best rubber playground balls”, your page is likely to come up in the search results. There is more to it than this – but at the core, SEO is about being mindful of what a potential customer might be searching for, and making sure that you have content built around those search phrases.

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Step 2: Learn what SEO is NOT.

SEO (although it used to be) is NOT about tricks and gimmicks. Sure, if you pay an SEO firm enough money, they can make your home page show up in the top 5 listings – but it is only there as long as you are paying them. SEO is not stuffing every keyword you can think of into hidden tags. SEO is not just about having META and ALT tags filled in. Google works really hard to create their software to foil the best efforts of the tricky SEO consultants, giving the prime search result space to content that is well written, relevant, and authoritative. Hard work truly pays off with SEO and any results gained from trickery will be short-lived – and expensive!

[callout width=”400px”]Assignment: Learn how to spot the bad guys by checking out this article from the guys over at Hubspot: 10 Signs Your SEO Firm Isn’t Worth The Money [/callout]

Step 3: Understand the anatomy of a search result page.
When you search for something in Google, the page that comes up is called the SERPs (or Search Engine Results Pages). On this page, you will see 1-3 paid listings at the top, followed by 8-10 organic listings. You might see more paid listings in the sidebar and at the bottom. The organic listings are where you WANT to be. These listings are there because they are worth it, and not because someone paid for them to be there. When looking at a listing, there are 3 parts. First is the title, and this comes from your page’s <title> tag. Next is the description and this comes from your page’s <meta> description tag. Lastly is the URL which is the link to your page. The TITLE is the hook – it has to be interesting enough to get the readers attention. The description is your pages “elevator pitch” and is designed to convince the reader to click on the URL to visit the page.

Assignment: Go to google and search for phrases related to your business. Does your website come up? Make note of your competitors that DO show up and look at their pages to see what they are doing right. Google Adwords

Step 4: Know what your customers are searching for.
The easiest thing you can do is go to Sign in (if you have a google account) or create one if you don’t. Under Tools and Analysis, click on the Keyword Tool. Here, you can type in phrases that you imagine your customers would be typing into google. When you submit your list, you will get instant feedback on each keyphrase – how many searches per month, how much competiton there is, and also – organized suggestions of other phrases you might not have thought of. The key is to find the longest, most specific phrases, that get the most searches, with the lowest competition.

[callout width=”400px”]Assignment: Make a list of 10 search phrases that meet the criteria above. These will become key parts of your page titles, so make sure that a customer searching for one of these phrases would be highly likely to do business with you![/callout]

Step 5: Know how to WORK the Title, Description and URL
Here is your million-dollar SEO primer. Take one of your keyphrases you selected from your research in step 4. Go ahead and outline a blog post related to that search phrase. Ideally, the phrase describes some kind of consumer or business problem that your company can solve. Title: Structure the title to include the keyphrase in its entirety. The further it is toward the front of the title, the better. Description: If your CMS has a description field, or if you are editing your META tag directly, write a blurb, in about 150 characters or less, that sells your article. Next – write the article. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your entire keyphrase is mentioned in at least one or two headings on the page. Also, make sure that it is worked into the paragraph text in the opening paragraph, closing paragraph, and maybe another time or two within the article. Do NOT force it – the keyphrase needs to make sense in the context of the article, or you will lose your reader. Finally, name the page using the keywords IN the file name. For instance, instead of about-us.html, name it how-we-make-the-best-rubber-playground-balls.html. This gives you another leg-up in search result placement. There you have it – the anatomy of a well optimized content page. If you place any images in the page, be sure to include alt tags in them with your keyphrase represented in the alt tags.

Assignment: Take your list of keyphrases and develop a blog post, or a content page for each of them. Use Step 5 as a guide to optimize each page for the specific phrase. You don’t have to do these all at once, set a goal to write one per week. As you add content, google will index it, notice that your site is on the move, and you will be rewarded with better search engine results placement and ultimately, MORE TRAFFIC!
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Now, what do I do with all of this traffic you ask?? We’ll get to that next time when we talk about conversions and lead generation. Stay tuned!