Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not only the hottest trend in marketing strategy, the internet practically revolves around it now. SEO refers to the practice of optimizing your website content to get it to the top of the page.

When most people hear it, they think of keyword research and content marketing, but it’s so much more than that. It’s in the bones of your website. It’s in making your website as easy to use as possible so search engines will prioritize it. Google is typically thought of as the standard setter for SEO as it’s by far the most popular search engine, but it applies to less popular search engines like Yahoo and Bing as well.

Follow these SEO tips to get your small business website to the top of the SERP!

How SEO Benefits Small Businesses

Search Engine Optimization is on every marketing professional’s mind. But can it benefit small business owners? Short answer: yes. Long answer: here are some ways it can:

Save Money

Paying for ads can get expensive. With digital marketing you pay more for more people to see them. For competitive keywords, Google Ads can cost up to $20 per click. SEO allows you to reach customers without paying a hefty price.

Increase New Leads

Optimizing your content for search engines brings people to your website who might not have otherwise found it. If you’re really good at it, the value of those leads can even surpass what paid ads bring in.

Compete With the Giants

Your small business may not have the robust marketing department that the big chain companies have, but online marketing allows you to compete with them. With small business SEO strategies your website can even outrank a giant corporation’s on Google without coughing up money that’s a drop in the bucket for them but a much bigger deal to you.

Pile of dollar bills

Small Business SEO Vocabulary

SEO has a lot of jargon. If terms like keyword research, organic traffic, and SERP might as well be another language, here are some definitions to help you out.

Keyword Research

SEO revolves around keyword research, or the act of researching how popular search terms are on your search engine of choice and creating a list of target keywords. You can do this with a tool like SEMRush, Moz, or Google Adwords.

Content Marketing

When many people hear SEO, they think of content marketing. Content marketing is basically ads that don’t look like ads. Content can include:

  • Blog posts
  • Landing (sales) pages
  • Social media posts
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Charts or graphs
  • White papers and eBooks
  • Case studies
  • Webinars

Content is not only a great opportunity to use more keywords than a typical web page. It also lets you entertain your audience, teach them something new, and establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Landing Page

A landing page is a web page that presents a call to action. Depending on the campaign, landing pages often encourage purchasing an item, following the brand on social media, and opting in to a contact form. They always include an incentive for the visitor such as a discount, an entry into a contest, or a free download of an ebook.

The call to action from this Magento landing page is to view a report.

Rich Snippets

Rich snippets are the excerpts from articles that Google sometimes shows near the top of the SERP. Getting chosen for a rich snippet gives your content an advantage by giving it more real estate on the page than competitors. There is no way to guarantee being chosen for a rich snippet, but using structured data can better your odds.

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This snippet gives a short answer to the search query “how to get rid of ants.”

Link Building

Other sites linking to your site not only brings more traffic to your site, but it increases your search results rank. Link building is the act of offering a link to a collaborator’s website in exchange for a link to theirs.

Schema Markup

Schema markups are what allow search engine bots to crawl your website to understand the content of the page. You can add one using a generator.

Local SEO

Local SEO refers to SEO related to local search results. The results that come up when you type, say, "pizza near me" into Google are called local search results. In these results, local businesses appear alongside even the biggest chains. The results are full of Google My Business listings.

The main factors that determine local SEO performance are:

  • Distance
  • Relevance
  • Prominence

You can make sure the distance is accurate by including your location on your website. You can improve your relevance by using accurate, popular keywords. Prominence increases with business citations across the internet, reviews on places like Yelp and Google Reviews, and your website’s position in search results. Local search results are a place on Google where small business owners can shine.

This is the results page for “pizza near me” searched from Sav’s Chicago office.

On-page SEO

On-page SEO refers to anything on the page that optimizes the page for appearing higher on search results. This includes:

  • Content
  • User experience
  • Page structure
  • Meta data
  • Descriptive URLs
  • Image optimization
  • Internal linking

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to SEO factors unrelated to the content on a website. Building up off-page SEO is an important way for small businesses to gain ground over larger competitors. It includes:

  • Site performance
  • Backlinks
  • Domain authority
  • Signals created by social media channels directing traffic to your site

Technical SEO

Technical SEO factors are anything that users can’t see on the front end that improves communication with search engines. These factors include:

  • Mobile friendliness
  • Site Speed
  • Data Structure
  • Site Structure
  • Management of indexing and crawling errors

E-Commerce SEO

SEO works a little differently for businesses with E-commerce shops. Your goal is to get your specific products in front of people who are looking for them. With the domination of Amazon over the E-commerce world, that can be hard to do, but these factors can increase your chances:

  • Keyword research
  • Unique page descriptions
  • Unique product descriptions
  • Descriptive URLs
  • Intuitive formatting
  • Image optimization

Paid Search

You know those search results that say “ad” in tiny letters next to them? That’s paid search. If you have the budget for it, you can purchase ads that appear at the top of the SERP and mostly blend in with the rest of the results. This practice is called Search Engine Marketing (SEM). SEM and SEO are cousins and a lot of businesses use both of them in their digital marketing toolkit to create a winning strategy.

These are paid search ads for “best electric toothbrush."

Organic Search

Organic search results are the content that comes up without any paid promotion. It’s basically anything that isn’t paid search results.

Organic Traffic

Similarly, website traffic that did not originate from paid advertising is called organic traffic. It does not exclusively apply to search traffic. A page with high organic traffic numbers is a page that is doing well with SEO.

SERP

The Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is the page that comes up when you perform a Google search. The goal of SEO is to get your website as far up the SERP as possible for as many keywords as you can.

Google results page for Things to Do in Chicago

This is the SERP for “Things to do in Chicago”

Core Web Vitals

Google prioritizes websites that meet a certain standard for performance. The metrics that make up this standard are called the core web vitals. They are:

  • Loading performance
  • Responsiveness
  • Visual Stability

Small Business SEO statistics

  • 45% of small businesses don’t have a website
  • 53% of shoppers always do research before they buy to make the best choice
  • The 1st result in Google’s organic search results has an average click-through rate (CTR) of 31.7%
  • 46% of all searches on Google are seeking local information
  • 97% of people learn more about a local company via the internet
  • 78% of local mobile searches result in an in-store purchase

How Does Google Choose Its First Page?

The details of the Google Algorithm is a mystery to most of us, but here are some ranking factors they have shared:

  • Meaning of your query
  • Relevance of web pages
  • Quality of content
  • Usability of web pages
  • Context and Settings

Most people associate SEO with keywords, but they’re only one key ingredient in the process of aligning your content with those factors.

Google search results page numbers

How Do You Find the Right Keywords?

Speaking of keywords, finding the right ones isn’t as hard as it sounds. Follow these steps using a keyword research tool like SEMRush, Moz, or Ahrefs.

  • Perform keyword research to find the top keywords.
    • Is relevant to the main topic or theme of the content.
    • Is regularly searched for by your target audience.
    • Is within your site’s competitive power.
  • Choose one primary keyword for your content.
  • Make sure the primary keyword isn’t assigned to another piece of content.
  • Choose three to five related keywords for your content.
  • Add schema markup for rich snippets

Magnifying glass on blue background

Use a Descriptive URL

How you structure your URLs matters. They’re the first place where you can use keywords. Using descriptive URLs will make your site more organized and intuitive. It’s easier for other people to link, reference, and visit coolwebsite.com/blog than coolwebsite.com/12408347.

Use Header Tags

Header tags make website content easier to follow and easy for you to prioritize where keywords go, especially for longform content. Use an H1 tag for the title and H2 to H6 title tags for subheadings. Headings and subheadings should also stand out to readers. Make them bigger and bolder than the body text. You can even add a little color if you want.

Use a Meta Title and Description on Every Page

Meta description and titles tell search engines what a page is about. They are also what users see on the SERP. Every page should have a meta title and meta description that is unique and accurately describes the content of the page.

Here’s a meta description about meta descriptions. Isn’t that meta?

Get an SSL Certificate

An SSL certificate prevents data that is displayed or collected by a website from being corrupted. Not only is it an important feature to have for the security of your business and customers, but search engines rank sites with it higher than sites without it. SSL-protected sites have https:// instead of http://.

Get Social

Social media is a powerful tool for brand awareness, lead generation, and even selling products to customers directly. The encouragement of sharing content posted by others also makes it a driving force for promotion and getting people talking about your company. After all, marketing doesn’t end when someone makes a purchase. The goal is for loyal customers to become promoters. Gaining a positive reputation on socials has SEO benefits.

Get Local

Local search results are an opportunity to shine for small businesses. To make sure you don’t miss out, create a Google My Business profile including the following information:

  • Your website
  • Business hours
  • Your location
  • Phone number
  • Email Address
  • Any other relevant contact information
  • Photos of your business

An example of a Google My Business page.

Keep it User-Friendly

A positive, intuitive user experience is a major ranking factor for search engines. Not only because user-friendly websites are worth promoting, but because a website that is easy for human users to navigate is also easy for search engine bots to navigate and decide where to rank it.

  • Use intuitive navigation and layouts
  • Improve load speed
  • Include a sitemap
  • Remove broken links and pages

Measure Results

Tools like Google Analytics, Moz, and SEMRush allow you to measure your site’s SEO performance and find out more information about your visitors. Use metrics tools to improve your SEO strategy over time.

Use Internal and External Links

Once a visitor is on your page, what would you like them to do next? Make a purchase? Learn more? Sign up for your newsletter? Create an account? Tell them that! Call to action buttons and internal links can guide visitors through the process to whatever action you would like them to take. In fact, all pages should be linked from somewhere else on the site. Use relevant internal links in content marketing to lead readers to your website and encourage them to become customers.

External links are a great way to build your reputation. When you cite a statistic or any other facts that require verification, include a link to the source. Link to businesses you collaborate with and ask them to do the same. Get in touch with affiliate marketers. However, make sure to only use relevant links with clear purposes and come by external links honestly. Google knows when you use irrelevant links and paid link schemes.

Because Google knows everything.

Chain links on dark blue background

Create High-Quality Content

Content marketing is a popular, effective way to raise the SEO profile. Not only is longform content a great opportunity to rank for a lot of keywords, but it allows you to inform and entertain your customers, fill out your social media calendar, and establish your company as experts in your field.

High quality content is:

  • Comprehensive.
  • Useful.
  • Helpful.
  • Educational.
  • Accurate.
  • The best answer for the searcher’s query.

High quality content can take the form of:

  • Blog Posts
  • Videos
  • Social media posts (unpaid)
  • Infographics
  • Ebooks and White Papers
  • Webinars

Man taking a photo through a prism

Unethical SEO & Google Penalties

Search engine optimization is taking advantage of search engine algorithms. That means there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to go about it.

White Hat SEO

White hat SEO refers to SEO that meets the generally accepted ethical standards of the SEO community.

Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO refers to SEO practices that are frowned upon and considered cheating. These include:

  • Keyword Stuffing: using the same keyword repeatedly in a way that makes no narrative sense
  • Content automation: creating automatically generated content for no other purpose than ranking higher
  • Hidden text or links: turning links or lists of keywords the color of the background so they are visible to search engines but not to human readers
  • Sneaky redirects: a redirect sends someone to a different URL than they clicked on. Sneaky redirects direct users to a website that is unrelated to falsely inflate traffic.
  • Cloaking: showing one piece of content to users and a different piece of content to search engines
  • Link schemes: mass buying and selling of backlinks
  • Duplicate content: deliberately copy and pasting content across different domains
  • Article Spinning: using a software to rephrase duplicate content so it’s not as obvious copying
  • Abusing Rich Snippets: providing inaccurate information in structured data to manipulate Google into using them for a rich snippet.
  • Comment spam: spamming blog comments with links to your website
  • Phishing, viruses, trojans, and other malware

The penalties for engaging in black hat SEO include a negative impact on search rankings and visibility and possibly getting banned from Google.

Hacker in mask sitting at a computer in the dark

Grey Hat SEO

Grey hat SEO refers to tactics that are manipulative, but not necessarily prohibited by search engines. However, these tactics could be re-classified as black hat SEO at any time. It’s best to keep your SEO strategy on search engines’ good side as much as possible. If something seems like a loophole, you’re better off avoiding it.

Focus On What Makes Your Business Unique

The best thing you can do to increase your online presence is to highlight what you have to offer that your competitors don’t. Google search results and potential customers alike won’t notice you if you and your website are just like everyone else. When people discover your site, be prepared to let them know what you’re about and why they should choose you with

  • A detailed about us page
  • An eye-catching homepage
  • Examples of your work and expertise
  • Engaging, informative content that is relevant to your work

Be Patient

If you don’t see the results you’re looking for right away, don’t be discouraged. SEO is a long game. It could take months for your work to pay off, but once it does you’ll be glad you did it.

Shoot for #1

When was the last time you clicked to page 2 of the results of a search? This is why getting to the first page is important. Even then, the #1 organic search result is 10 times more likely to get a click than the #10 spot. It may sound intimidating, but you can get there by prioritizing keywords that are easy to rank for, even if they don’t necessarily have a lot of traffic. The keyword sweet spot is low difficulty and high traffic.

Yellow award ribbon on light blue background

How Sav Can Help Your Small Business SEO

Using a website builder makes SEO easier for small businesses by building in consistent, intuitive layouts. With Sav’s SEO features, you don’t need to be an SEO expert to dominate Google. All Sav websites come with a free SSL certificate. We’re here to help you from purchasing your domain name to going live to the day-to-day management of your small business website. Start your optimization today.

Luca Harsh

Luca Harsh

Luca Harsh is an in-house content writer for Sav. They live in Chicago with their cat, Polly. Yes, Harsh is their real last name.