Welcome to our bumper beginner’s guide to search engine optimisation (SEO) for small businesses!
With 5.8 billion Google searches undertaken every day, search engines can bring huge numbers of people to your website. However, with the majority of Google users not going further than the first page of results, the competition to be listed in those first few results is high – especially when you consider that it’s estimated there are 547,200 new webpages created per day.
In the realms of digital marketing, there are two main paths to ranking well on Google and other search engines: Paid ads or Search Engine Optimisation – commonly known as SEO.
Both are valid and have their own benefits and drawbacks, with both being presented differently to the person who has entered the search query. As you can see from the screengrab below, paid ads are clearly marked and shown in the top few spots.
Paid ads tend to be the faster of the two routes to the top, but also a lot more expensive. If your business is in a highly popular sector – eg online fashion, you’ll probably find paid ads to be eye-wateringly expensive over the long term.
Recent research also suggests that clicks on organic search results outnumber ads by almost 12 to 1.
Therefore, I’ve put together this beginner’s guide to search engine optimization for small businesses!
First of all, let’s look at the basics:
Search Engine Optimisation – or SEO – is a generic term for tactics you can use to help your website rank better on Google or other search engines, with the ultimate goal being the highest position possible.
Now here’s the bad news: Search Engine Optimisation for small businesses is not a one-time thing you can do and cross off the list. It’s an ongoing process.
The good news, however, is that the search engines themselves often tell you exactly what they want you to do! Google is known for regularly changing the algorithm it uses to decide what results get shown in response to the search query – often giving the updates adorable names like Panda or Penguin.
As such, if you really want to rank well for SEO you’ll need to keep an eye out for any new updates, and I’ll try to keep this post as up to date as possible.
Search engines plough lots of money and research into creating highly effective artificial intelligence systems to show people the most relevant result to the searches they carry out.
If you’re not a technical genius though, never fever! The easiest way to think of the internet is as the good old ‘world wide web.’
Google sends out ‘crawlers’ or ‘spiders’ to search the web, and any webpage they find is reported back to HQ to be indexed. Once a page is indexed, it is effectively on Google’s books and can be shown as a search result.
When indexing a page the crawlers take account of two main things: the site content and links to the website.
When the crawlers are looking at site content, they will scan all of your website’s URLs to see which topics you are covering. They will also read the HTML code and metadata to see which page is most relevant to certain topics.
When they are looking at links, however, they will be checking how many inbound links you have and where they are linking from.
Inbound links are links to your website from external sources. In essence, they act as a recommendation by telling Google other people think your webpage is interesting and should be seen by others.
It would be easy to think that the more inbound links you have the better – and indeed that it is partly true. But it is even more important where these links are coming from!
Google prioritises the quality of the links. So for example, a link to your site from the BBC will be a better recommendation than a link from an obscure blog.
Google uses a lot of factors to decide if they should rank webpages in response to a search query, however, these are the most important:
As you may have noticed there is something you cannot influence (eg, searcher location) but there are lots of factors you can!
When deciding where to rank your website Google considers the authority and the relevance of your website to the search query.
The ‘authority’ refers to the number and quality of the inbound links as we discussed above.
For the relevance it looks at the content on your site (eg text, images) and how they are formatted, eg the use of bold headers and which keywords are in the page title and body of the text. Google also takes into account the keywords in your URL.
‘Keywords’ are the words or phrases that you want to rank for, for example, ‘blue shoes’ or ‘legal advice.’
Let’s say you sell women’s shoes – chances are that you want to rank highly for the term ‘high heels.’ It is likely that all of your competitors also want to rank highly for the same term and with that much competition, it can be hard to secure a top slot.
Instead, it might be best to focus on a long-tail keyword. A long-tail keyword is basically just a longer keyword – as it is longer, it is less likely that a lot of people will be trying to rank for it.
For example ‘gold strappy high heel shoes.’
2. For a quick fix, don’t forget about the images you use! When you upload images to your site, include your keywords within the file name and alt attributes.
3. It’s also beneficial to use a good URL structure. Whilst this may sound complicated, it’s really not! Try to avoid excessive directory levels or special characters.
When creating a new web page, try to get into the habit of using ‘speaking URL’ which describe what the page is about.
To go back to the previous example, if your webpage shows gold and silver high heels shoes your URL should include your brand name and description eg www.shoesonline/metallic-high-heel-shoes
4. Last but definitely not least, consider your title tags. These are especially important as Google considers them a ranking factor!
A ‘title tag’ is the bit of HTML code that specifies the title of a webpage. They are only 70 characters long, so it is vital you choose your words carefully. You will see the best results if each webpage you create has its own title, which includes the brand name and your core keywords.
At the moment of writing this post, I’m currently curating a list of free tools that will help with your SEO so keep your eyes peeled on the blog and follow us on social media!