3 Proven SEO Strategies for Small Businesses
2020 has been a year of surprises for businesses scrambling to adapt to change inflicted by virus lockdowns. PPC media spends across many platforms have shifted towards more predictable organic search engine optimization efforts. Most businesses are confident they can come up with shareable content. But, before you start spinning your wheels with a DIY effort, understanding which activities will bear the most fruit in the shortest period of time will prove indispensable.
Every year, Google releases hundreds of algorithm updates. Not all are newsworthy and most go unnoticed. After two decades of analyzing SERP patterns following an update, I can tell you that the best way to navigate these updates is to understand Google’s main goal: Google’s AI technology strives to mimic human behavior. So, take your mind off the tricks of the moment and focus on the long-term benefits of building an authoritative website for real people.
1. Study and Learn from Successful Competitors
Some business owners become obsessed with their competitors. If your website is brand new, it may take time, even years, to catch up to competitors in your space. If you need leads and sales immediately, your best bet is to allocate a portion of your marketing budget towards PPC ads. When a website is new, it takes longer to rank for keywords and picking easy keywords is essential to gaining any momentum. Setting realistic expectations is important. SEO does still work well, but there’s no magic trick to conjure up traffic overnight.
If your business has been around for a long time, you may see a new site emerge in the search results from time to time and find yourself perplexed at its ability to rank for keywords you’ve worked so hard to rank for.
Breathe. Lousy sites don’t win in the end. Google tends to give them a little taste of the spotlight before tossing them into an abyss, likely hoping they will turn desperately to Google ads to regain their short-lived traffic. Stay focused on protecting your brand by building high quality content to interest your website visitors.
What to Learn?
Don’t focus on copying everything your competitors do. When you do, you may also copy what they do wrong. Instead, pay attention to the individual webpages that rank high in Google for the specific keywords you want to rank for. Every niche is different, and you need to identify the characteristics of pages succeeding in yours. And, different keywords in your niche will vary in difficulty. Do your due diligence for every keyword focused page.
If you answer the following questions, you can create a strategy to rank for those keywords, too:
a. What is the domain authority of the ranking website? You can use this free tool from Moz to look it up: https://moz.com/free-seo-tools Domain authority is a number between 1 and 100. Is your domain authority close to that of competitors’? If not, you will need to build high quality, relevant links to your website.
b. What is the page authority of the ranking page? (Use the same tool). Sometimes a website with a high domain authority can rank with little effort.
c. How many incoming links are pointing to the ranking page? (Same tool).
d. Visit some of those backlinks. Are they high quality, relevant links?
e. What is the length of the content on that page?
f. Is that content informative – does it provide good responses to the query?
g. Is the keyword used in the URL, meta data, and headlines?
h. How is the page formatted?
i. How many images or videos are on the page?
2. Home Repairs
You probably wouldn’t lay new tiles down on top of carpet, would you? Of course not. When you think of something familiar, the answer is more obvious. The same line of thinking applies when it comes to your website. If it has errors, those errors could hold it back from ranking well. Trying to build keyword search volume while ignoring errors is akin to climbing a descending escalator. Sometimes a few fixes result in a big boost in rankings. You just never know. The most common problems websites experience are:
a. Broken links – If you deleted a page or redesigned your website, links to those old pages could still exist somewhere in your content or from another website. Redirecting those pages to the most appropriate page on your website may recover lost link equity and reallocate it.
b. Thin content - A blog page with nothing but a company picnic photo on it is thin content. A page with a few sentences is thin content. Decide if you’re going to add more content, delete the page or combine related content from multiple pages. Whatever you do, don’t leave it the way it is. It’s not helping your website and an abundance of it can certainly hurt it.
c. Duplicate content – Years ago, having more than one version of a page on a website resulted in a Google penalty. Today, Google will choose the version it thinks deserves to show in search results. That version may not be the one you’d prefer. If your developer is working on a new version of that page, make sure to block search engines from crawling it. If a duplicate page must exist on the website for some reason, you can choose which version appears in search results by applying a rel canonical tag in the header of the page you don’t want in the results. This tag will tell the search engines to credit all the content of that page to the page referred to in the tag. This tag will look like this: <link rel= “canonical” href=”/page-you-want-to-show-up” />
d. Missing or Duplicate Meta Data – Meta data includes the meta title and meta description. The meta title appears as the first line of text in search results and should indicate what kind of content is on the page. This is where you’ll want to insert your page’s main keyword phrase plus the brand name. Although the meta description doesn’t factor into rankings, it does provide information to the potential website visitor about the content. Use this space to entice the visitor to click your search result.
e. Remove spammy links – Did you rank for many keywords at one time and then suddenly your website dropped into oblivion? If so, one possible cause is a history of low-quality incoming links. If you hired a SEO company in the past that focused on building links at a fast pace, you may need to review your backlinks for quality. You can request the webmaster removes the link from his site. If you don’t receive a response, add that domain name to a list you’ll tell Google to ignore. To upload a disavow file to your Google search console, follow Google’s guidelines to add it to your account: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2648487?hl=en
f. Improve page speed – Mobile-friendly pages are already important. This fall, Google plans to make the transition to mobile only search results. Page speed is a major factor in mobile friendliness. If your page load times exceed 2 seconds, it’s time to make some changes. If you use Google Analytics, you will find timings for all your pages under Behavior > Site Speed > Page Timings. Some fixes are easier than others; you may need your developer to help you address some issues. Some common culprits are scripts from plug-ins and large images files. You may be able to update the images with smaller files on your own, but some of the technical work can only be done on the backend of the website. This is a great tool for identifying issues to address: https://tools.pingdom.com/
3. Recalibrate Your Expectations
If a few months go by and you don’t see movement on your keyword phrase in the SERPs or incoming traffic to the page you built, you need to reassess your approach to make sure you didn’t neglect something that could help the page improve.
What are the most commonly asked questions about that keyword? Did you know that over 50% of all traffic results from voice search? Adding Q&A information could help boost that page for some commonly asked questions.
Build internal links to that page on your own website to distribute more link equity and indicate its importance to the search engines. Many people use blogs to build content; however, eventually those pages get buried in the website architecture.
Do your images have alt tags? If not, be sure to add them.
Consider adding a video to the page. Engaging content will keep the visitor on the page longer, reducing the bounce rate (one of many factors influencing rankings).
SEO is constantly evolving to keep up with new technology and an infinite number of results for every search query. Ranking fluctuations from week to week are normal and do not indicate you’ve done something wrong nor should you panic. Sometimes updates roll out and the results are such poor quality, Google will release a correction a few weeks later. If your goal is building high quality content across the net, just stick with it; your efforts should reap rewards in the long run.