Are poor search engine rankings holding your business back? They don’t have to. Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most effective marketing strategies for winning new customers. but, many small businesses shy away from actively managing their website’s search rankings because they don’t understand SEO and they don’t have money in the budget to hire a professional. In this blog, we’ll help you understand the value of SEO and we’ll walk you through some of the most valuable activities you can do yourself to improve the online visibility and search engine rankings of your business – for free!
What is Search Engine Optimization?
SEO is the process of getting traffic from the “natural,” “free,” or “organic” search results listings. There is no fee to rank on search results pages as there is with paid ads or paid advertising.
Why invest in SEO?
When you google something, how many listings do you read? One? Two? Maybe five maximum? Do you even go to page two of search results when trying to find something you need? Probably not.
We are a ‘’get-it-done’’ convenience-oriented society that relies on finding what we need – fast. Even though you may have a better solution than your competition, your customers aren’t going to scroll through multiple pages to find you when your competition is easily visible on page 1. Hence the fierce competition for coveted first position rankings.
SEM vs. SEO
Paid media and search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns are a sure way to drive traffic to a site – however, they’re not a substitute for SEO. According to a Moz study organic search results are 8.5x more likely to be clicked on than paid search results!
SEM campaigns are important in certain situations such as the first launch of your business or when you want to supplement your online marketing with ads targeting the keywords you aren’t ranking for. However, it is almost always the case that SEO investments generate a higher ROI in the long run. A good way to measure the value of an SEO campaign is to compare the cost of the traffic earned if you had paid for it with search engine ads instead. Another great benefit of SEO is that you continue to see rankings improvement for up to a year after an SEO campaign ends, whereas ad campaigns have no residual value.
How can I improve my search engine rankings?
There are many ways to improve your search engine rankings. We’ve created a list of the 10 most valuable SEO activities that you can do on your own, without breaking your budget! Many of these activities can be done in 15 minutes or less!
1. Optimize your Google+ profile.
Arguably the single most important part of your local online presence is your Google+ profile because it is the key contributor to your local Google Maps presence and your Google Knowledge Graph (the premium spotlight of your Google+ page which shows up in the top right corner of the page when users search for your brand – example here). As a result, optimizing this page should be your first priority. Here’s how to optimize your Google+ profile:
- Claim your custom page URL. In order to do this, you’ll need to verify your listing and link your website, which Google offers a number of ways to do. When you create your custom URL, make sure it reflects your brand name and possibly also your location. Don’t try to use this as an opportunity for keyword stuffing because it has very little to no SEO value and it will look unprofessional. If you don’t have a Google+ listing, you can create one at https://plus.google.com/pages/create.
- Optimize your page for online search. Make sure your Business Info is fully up to date and listed correctly, including Address (check the Map to verify!), Contact info (including your linked website), Categories, and Introduction. You can only choose one Primary Category, so make sure you choose one which reflects your core line of business. Your Introduction should include some target keywords but also be reader-friendly. After doing this, add Photos to each photo category (profile image, logo, cover image, inside building photos, outside building photos, work photos, team photos, and any other photos which will contribute to your Google+ brand).
- Engage your audience and ask for customer reviews. Google places a lot of weight on your page activity, including follower size (leverage your personal audience to gain new followers!), review count and rating (you need at least 15 reviews for your rating stars to show up in Maps and Knowledge Graph), and post frequency. The better your page activity, the better chance your Google+ page and even specific posts will be included in top ranking spots. When you do post, make sure the first 45-50 characters of each post are keyword optimized, as these will become the title tags that show up in the search engine results.
2. Optimize your Bing Places profile.
Due to Apple’s partnership with Microsoft, Bing is the premier search engine for mobile devices, and it is becoming more and more impactful as local searches on mobile device become more and more dominant. Similar to Google+, your Bing Places profile is the key contributor to your Bing Maps presence, and Bing also displays a large snapshot of your profile in branded searches, very similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph. Optimizing your Bing Places profile is easy and very similar to Google+. Here’s how to do it:
- Claim and verify your listing. If your business is new or you don’t see your business listing at bingplaces.com, create a new listing (but make sure you’re not creating a duplicate!). Next, you’ll need to fill out your profile (see below) and verify your business listing. Bing provides several verification options, including by phone and text message.
- Optimize your page for online search. Like you did with your Google+ profile, make sure your business information is up to date and search optimized, including your address (check the Map to verify!), categories, descriptive text, and photos. After verification, Bing will allow you to further edit and customize your profile, so take advantage!
3. Create a review generator handout – or email!
Reviews are a crucial part of your company’s web presence, as they contribute to your search engine presence AND establish your online reputation, which is often the first piece of information that potential customers seek out before a purchase. As discussed earlier, you need at least 15 Google+ reviews before your review rating will begin showing up underneath your company name in Google Maps and Knowledge Graph. In order to successfully get reviewed (and reviewed positively) by your customers you have to do 2 things: 1) You have to ask. 2) You have to make it really EASY. If you never ask customers to leave a review about their experience, you’re actually incentivizing negative feedback, since dissatisfied customers with an axe to grind are much more likely to leave reviews than happy, satisfied customers. And if you don’t make it easy, you’re not going to get much of a response. So, here’s some ways that you can ask and make it easy for your best customers to review you online:
- Create a review generator handout. You can easily create a branded, single page PDF handout which tells customers exactly how they can leave a review on your Google+ page in around 3 minutes, right here. It’s seamless and easy to hand this to customers at checkout or after delivery of services, and it looks great, too!
- Create a review generator email. In addition to a paper handout, you can also create a review generator email template, with direct links to your Google+ page and other listings of your choice. Although Google+ is probably the most important page to use for customer reviews, if you already have a bunch there and a great review rating, you can start getting more value from your online reputation by boosting other listing profiles such as Yelp, Yellow Pages, Angie’s List, or Facebook. Creating an email template will require you to be a little more tech savvy, but you can easily do it with an email marketing platform such as Mailchimp or GetResponse. Review generating emails are even more effective if you operate an online store and pair them with an autoresponder campaign to automatically send them out to your customers a few hours, days, or weeks after making a purchase.
4. Make sure your website is “Mobilegeddon” friendly.
Google updated its search algorithm on April 21st to include a test to check if web page designs are mobile friendly. The internet marketing community aptly coined the update “Mobilegeddon”. Web pages without a mobile-friendly design have been heavily penalized, and now, it’s practically impossible to rank competitively without clearing the mobile-friendly hurdle. You can find more details via our recent blog on the Google Mobilegeddon update – . To check if a webpage on your site is mobile-friendly, use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, or you can check the status of your entire site through the Mobile Usability Report in Webmaster Tools. *Cue dramatic music.* If you discover that your website HAS been penalized, it’s probably a great time for a responsive web design!
5. Set up Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster. Setting up these tools will allow you to effectively track and manage your website traffic and search engine presence. You can find setup instructions for Google Webmaster Tools here, and Bing Webmaster here (Protip: the easiest way to verify your site is by adding new DNS records to your domain). There are a lot of advanced user features in these tools, but it’s important to at least get them set up so that you can a) submit sitemaps (instructions for Google Webmaster Tools here and Bing Webmaster here), b) optimize site links (Google Webmaster Tools only – instructions here), and c) track changes over time in your traffic and traffic sources, including keyword searches from search engine referrals. If you have any trouble with this, feel free to shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or drop a note in the comments and we’ll be happy to walk you through it.
6. Research and focus on your HOT keyword targets. Google AdWords Keyword Planner is hands down the best free tool for this. Look for keywords for your product or services niche that have high traffic relative to competition. If you’re targeting multiple locations, you might want to perform separate research for each location, since keyword competition and traffic will vary by location. I recommend using an Excel spreadsheet to track your keyword targets.
7. Focus on the most valuable keywords. Once you have a keyword list, narrow down your keyword targets by making them more specific and adding medium-traffic, long-tail keywords For example, if you sell children’s toys online, your competition for this general term is going to be huge, and it will be almost impossible to beat out major brands for top spots – even locally. However, if you can specify your target market to children’s sensory toys – you can slice your competition thin and increase your opportunities for top search engine rankings.
8. Review your website URLs and Meta tags. Now that you know which keywords to target, you’ll want to make sure they’re represented on your website. To quickly do this, create a sitemap of your website at https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/ and download the .TXT file version. Copy the URLs and paste them into a meta tag extractor such as http://tools.buzzstream.com/meta-tag-extractor, and then review your URLs and meta tags for keyword accuracy. This a rough analysis, and you’ll also want to perform an analysis on the keyword density of your text content and H1 tags, but this is a great start since your page title tags and URLs are a big contributor to search engine rankings. If you want to do a complete analysis, there are a number of free on-page optimization tools that you can access online.
9. Build local citations (business listings). Creating profiles on local citation and business listing sites such as Yelp, Yellowpages, Expressupdate, and the many other listing sites in your industry and local niches will add a significant boost to your local rankings. While your Google+ and Bing places listings are major contributors, it’s important to create and optimize others as well. Follow the same tips and strategies outlined above, and make sure your listings include your keyword targets and a link to your website.When you’re creating these listings, make sure to remove any duplicate listings and correct listings with incorrect data, as these will hurt your rankings. We highly recommend creating these citations manually, as using data aggregators such as Axciom and Localeze tend to result in a lot of duplicate listings and listings with incomplete / incorrect data (which are much harder to fix or get rid of than creating the original citation manually). Depending on your location and industry niche, it’s useful to have 60-120 relevant listings per location. For a complete guide on building local citations, check out this blog by Moz.
10. Monitor your website’s rankings. Perhaps the most important part of your SEO strategy is to know how you’re doing! If you’re serious about ranking well, we highly recommend purchasing an inexpensive tool such as AuthorityLabs that monitors your search engine rankings for your keyword targets on an ongoing basis. As you perform these SEO activities and others (see below), you’ll want to know when and where the benefits are being realized.
What to Expect
Like many areas of business and marketing, success in SEO is relative, and it takes time. Search engine rankings are earned media – you have to earn them! And, in doing so, you need to be better than your competition and near the top of your local market in order to generate significant business from online searches. But, when you’re at or near the top of Google for your keyword targets, the return on investment is ridiculous.
These 10 recommended activities are extremely important for laying a winning SEO foundation, and you should begin to see ranking increases within a few weeks. Once you finish these, you’ll want to hit the following areas:
- On-Page Optimization: If you haven’t already, perform a detailed optimization of your website architecture, content, URLs, meta tags, interlinks, and site speed. Getting your on-page optimization right is essential to maximizing the reach and contribution of your content marketing and link-building efforts.
- Regular Blog Posts: Keep fresh, keyword-relevant content updated on your blog on a regular basis. If you don’t have a blog on your website, you’ll need to set one up! Feature audience engaging content and interlink related blog posts with a good balance of keyword-rich anchor text and non-keyword-rich anchor text.
- Leverage Social Media: Share blog posts and relevant media (including videos and interesting photos) with your social media audiences, especially via Google+ and Twitter. Search engines use your social influence and post engagement as indicators of how relevant your content is. When you share your blog posts and other media, and it in turn is shared widely or responded to with high engagement, Google and other search engines will identify you (and your post) as a credible source. In addition, the wide reach that is generated by successfully creating and promoting interesting content will likely result in other blogs and social influencers linking to your post, further boosting its credibility for targeted keywords.
- Inbound Link-building: Reach out to bloggers and social influencers in your industry or local area for link-building and audience building. Getting your content in front of new audiences is critical to getting it ranked well and growing your marketing audience. Seek out opportunities to leverage the audience of another website, blog, social media influencer and generate backlinks to your website and blog posts.
- Digital Public Relations: Send out press releases to local journalists for newsworthy events, and seek out PR opportunities in relevant publications. Landing a backlink from an authority site or getting your company listed in a major local publication will provide a tremendous boost to your rankings, traffic, and audience.
Top search rankings have the potential to bring you more business than you can handle or ever thought possible, but they require a focused strategy and consistent effort to obtain. If you’re serious about optimizing your website for search engines, I also recommend this great post by Neil Patel. And if you don’t have the resources to keep up with the routine content creation and management of online marketing, ask me about our local SEO campaign services!
I would love to answer any questions you may have about search engine optimization (SEO) – just post your question in our comments section or drop me a quick message. And if you loved the post, I’d certainly be grateful for a share!