The Five Steps of SEO for Small Businesses
When small businesses tackle search engine optimization (SEO), many want to dive in and start activities right away. Before you do that, it’s helpful to first take stock of what you want to do. In particular, it helps if you have a fuller understanding of the following:
- What keywords do you want to rank for and what’s your strategy to get there? (What you want to accomplish.)
- How do you want to accomplish it, including the resources needed to do the research, create the landing pages, and promote it?
- What tools do you need?
- What will your tactics and implementation look like?
- How will you measure and optimize your results?
For us at Marketing Nice Guys, this is where our five-step PATIO Framework can come in handy. PATIO stands for:
- Planning & Strategy. The plan includes outlining your goals and what you want to accomplish through SEO in terms of page rank.
- Approach. This includes how you’ll do it, what resources you need (whether you do it yourself or hire an agency), and figuring out the keyword research.
- Tools & Tactics. SEO, as with other marketing areas, requires certain tools to you’ll need to get it done well. There are also numerous tactics, both on-page and off-page you’ll want to consider.
- Implementation. This piece, for SEO, is really execution and attention to detail. Many of you, for example, might know the best practice but if you don’t do it, it’s not going to be helpful.
- Optimization. After you’ve done the work, it’s time to monitor and analyze the results, improving upon what you’ve done for the next round.
What we like about this framework in particular:
1. It covers all the key steps and processes that best-practice digital marketers follow in SEO, and includes the considerations and decisions they have to make on tools, technologies, and how those can be used most effectively.
Using Our 5-Step PATIO Framework for Your SEO Initiative
Here’s our walk-thru of all your SEO activities, from planning to optimization:
Step 1: Planning & Strategy for SEO
First, we urge you to be realistic. Typically, most small companies we know identify anywhere from 10-20 key terms at a time that they: a.) Want to rank for on page 1 of Google results, and; b.) Have the resources to make the necessary SEO adjustments. If you’re doing it by yourself or even if you’re hiring a SEO agency, our advice is to start out slow and give yourself a chance to finish most of the updates during the course of the year. Also, remember, SEO changes can take from 6 to 12 months before they take effect so what you’re essentially doing is investing in the long-term health of the business.
Second, we’ve talked quite a bit on these pages about doing the research on your audience personas upfront. Part of any plan you put together here should aim to understand the language your customers use when they search for things and what their core challenges and behaviors are that they need solutions for (that you can help them solve.) Once you understand those, you can create the plan to tackle those topic areas, getting additional eyeballs to your site. In other words, figure out what you need to do to create any additional content or landing pages that you currently don’t have (or enhance what existing pages you already have). The persona research may also guide you to additional keywords you will need to rank on.
Lastly, it’s important to figure out your areas of focus. No one has unlimited resources. SEO is often put on the back burner because of the longer-term nature of how it works, but it’s often a critical component of driving lead generation and revenue on a sustained basis once you get it going. The important thing is sticking with it and creating a plan for resourcing to do it.
Step 2: Approach for SEO
Based on your plan and your goals, you have to set the approach, which includes:
- Doing the keyword research.
We’ll cover more of the tools below that can help you do this. For volume searches, we often use Google Ads (which has a built in Keyword Planner – just go to Tools & Settings in your Ads account. Note: Even if you don’t currently run advertising on Google, you can access the planner with any gmail account.) Once there, you can adjust your search there for geographic location and add up to 10 different keywords at a time. A few questions to ask yourself or get answers to from Google Analytics:
- What are the terms that drive the most traffic now?
- What are the terms with the biggest potential? (this might not mean the biggest traffic driver, but the most relevant in-market audience). What are the terms you want to be ranked on?
- Where are your competitors beating you at this?
- What are trending terms?
- What are the terms that reflect those core audience challenges mentioned above?
What many companies do is use a combination of free services and paid competitive search platforms to do research. As mentioned, we’ll cover more of these tools in the next section.
- Developing the content approach.
This includes accounting for the development of any new landing pages you might need – or understanding if the focus requires enhancing the existing pages. What’s the voice of these pages? How will you balance the SEO needs with user experience needs? The latter is a key question as you think about the goals of a website. Companies can often go to either extreme but the best sites will balance both needs.
- What resources you will allocate to this.
For the most part, any SEO initiative is labor intensive. What we mean by that is the keyword research, the on-page activities, and off-page activities you do will need to be executed in a detail-oriented fashion. A good SEO agency (or someone you might hire to do this) will need to be careful about everything from small image alt text to writing great meta descriptions. The point, is that such attention to detail takes time and you’ll want to make sure you allocate the right manpower (and enough of it) to any task you take on. To give you a simple example, to just audit a landing page and provide SEO recommendations can take sometimes a few hours.
Step 3: Tools & Tactics for SEO
As mentioned, a number of companies do keyword / competitive research that will help inform your SEO approach. Here are a few that can help in this area.
- SEMRush: https://semrush.com
- SimilarWeb: https://similarweb.com
- Moz: https://moz.com
- iSpionage: https://www.ispionage.com/
- Spyfu: https://spyfu.com
- Answer the Public: https://answerthepublic.com/
- Check My Links (Chrome extension): https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/check-my-links/ojkcdipcgfaekbeaelaapakgnjflfglf?hl=en
- Keywords Everywhere (Chrome and Mozilla extensions for looking at keyword search volume and competitive data): https://keywordseverywhere.com/
For tactics, here are couple things we recommend that you do:
- Set workflows that optimize SEO and copywriting on page. It’s critical to make sure your keywords are embedded into different aspects of the page, and that there are no grammatical errors. We’ll cover more of what you have to do in the implementation section.
- Determine the off-page tactics (social, link building etc.) We’ll discuss link-building approaches below but certainly think about this in terms of the resources you have available. Where are you going to post the content? How are you going to reach out to other websites? Where will you distribute the pages (promote them?)
Step 4: Implementation for SEO
Based on your plan, content approach, and the tools and resources you have available, it comes time to implement. We can’t stress enough that your primary role is to create compelling and robust page content – it doesn’t matter if it’s your home page, a blog, or another landing page. The best implementation for SEO will always be great content that people want to read, watch, or listen to. That said, much of what you can do here for SEO purposes focuses on the on-page optimization, though as mentioned, there are several off-page tactics that you can also execute. One tip: Attention to detail probably matters most of all in SEO. That’s because you have to make sure you’re consistently inserting the core keywords into URLs, headlines, body copy, title tags, images, image URLs, meta descriptions, and other areas of the page. You can download our SEO Checklist for copywriters, but here is a synopsis of the on-page elements you’ll want to focus on every time you publish a page:
- Title Tag: The title of the page. It’s important to make sure the title tag follows the recommended structure: page title (under 60 characters) | site name. Title tag should include the keywords people are searching for.
- URLs: The URLs should include page title (which should have keywords people are searching for, separated by hyphens).
- H Tags (aka Heading Tags, esp. H1 but H2 and H3): Every one of these should be keyword driven or use correlated keywords focused on what the page is about. (Example: If the page is about digital marketing, a correlated keyword headline might be “SEO” or “email marketing”). Note: Only use 1 H1 Tag on a page.
- Related Keyword Usage (topic models): Ensure the text has correlated keywords. If the page is focused on leadership, for example, it’s important to include keywords related to that – emotional intelligence, change management, vision, ethics, responsiveness, etc.
- Link Text (on-page pointing out, especially in article body): Linked text on the page should include keywords that the page is about. (Example: If this is a page about motivational speakers, the link text pointing to other pages should probably also be about motivation or motivational speakers or correlated keywords.)
- Meta Description: It does not influence page rank but is helpful as this is the description Google will often use this when describing the page. (It may also just choose its own snippet on the page.) It’s important to make sure the meta description has the keywords embedded into it and makes any searcher want to come to the page.
- Image Alt Tag (describes images, equates to link text): Make sure the image alt text includes all the keyword or keywords that the page is about and accurately describes the image.
- Image URL: Similar to the page URL, name the image so that the URL for the image location (all images are published to an imager server with a unique URL) has the keywords in it. Use hyphens to separate keywords.
- Typography: Bold or italicize the core keywords and correlated keywords on the page. You can also put those high-value keywords in bullets to highlight points on the page, or change font sizes.
- Inbound links and link text: Certainly, one big aspect of rank is Google looking at the “authority” of sites linking to your site. And to generate those links requires what many agencies help small companies do – link-building campaigns. Mainly, this is done through email and a campaign to exchange links on your site with other, related reputable websites. One tip: Try to identify sites that already mention you or your company, but may not link to you, and ask them if they would be willing to link to you on that reference. Also, pay attention to the relevance of the text on the links from external sites, as well as links from the rest of your website. The more those inbound links have text that resembles the user’s query or keyword, the more relevant Google determines the site to be. So, if your website is about commercial real estate loans, and the inbound link says: “commercial real estate financing” that’s better than an inbound link that just says: “more” or “click here.” (One tip: With any page of your website, make sure you have at least 5 other pages linking to it. After all, if you don’t link to the page yourself, Google thinks the page isn’t important enough for it to rank.)
- A note about social media: Not all inbound text links are treated as providing authority or relevance. Indeed, the ones from social media, according to most experts, have no direct bearing on your SEO ranking in that links from such sites are generally discounted by Google. That said, it’s still important to link to your content and pages from your social media platforms because it aids in the discoverability of your site by Google (previously mentioned), it improves your brand awareness, and it increases the likelihood of those who see it linking to the pages directly from their own websites or from company websites.
- Paid distribution of content: Similar to social media, paying for Google or another advertising platform to promote your content won’t provide you any inbound link authority benefits all on its own but it can help to create more visibility for your page. And it may also lead someone else to link to it from one of their pages.
Local SEO Considerations
About half of all searches on Google are local. For those small businesses that focus on a local, geographic audience, here are a few things that you can do to improve your local ranking. Many of these suggestions come from years of absorbing the gospel of SEO from our friend Myron Rosmarin at Rosmarin Search Marketing.
- Get your business listed on Google My Business and other local directories,
yellow pages, local Chamber of Commerce, etc. Of all the items on the list, a full and complete Google My Business listing should be your number 1 priority.
- Make sure your name, address and local phone number are be displayed throughout the site.
- Provide hours of operations and maps and directions.
- Use the primary business name, category, city and state in prominent tags such as titles, H1/H2, URLs, link text, meta descriptions, image ALT text and filenames.
- Encourage customers to provide reviews and ratings (quantity beats stars) on authoritative guides such as: Yelp. In particular, focus on the 92% of business / category/place queries and sites such as: Urban Spoon, Google Reviews, HealthGrades, etc.
- Use Schema.org’s Local Business: http://schema.org/LocalBusiness semantic markup.
- Upload high-quality photos of the inside and outside of the business as well as photos of the products offered and people who work there.
One additional area to think about here involves hyper-local searches. For example, many individuals search “____ near me” where Google picks up the searchers’ location via IP address (or knowing where they are searching from by the network connection). For those types of searches, it may be that the city you’re located in isn’t enough to help you show up. An example of this might be the following: Let’s say you’re a local rental car dealer in Arlington, VA. But someone in, say, neighboring McLean is searching for a rental car near them. What you might want to do is set up a McLean rental car landing page that talks about how easily accessible your dealership is from McLean, VA and how they can get there from the neighboring city. Before you do this, however, it’s important to look at the data and analytics on where individuals are coming from.
Step 5: Optimization for SEO
It may seem funny that you have to optimize for “search engine optimization.” But that’s exactly the best practice that you need to implement – and not just for SEO but for any digital marketing effort. In this case, for the 10-20 terms you first focused on, a few questions to ask yourself here:
- Have you improved rank or positions? Do you have a way to track this?
- Has the competition made strides in these areas over time?
- What can you do better on-page?
- What are audiences doing if they do, indeed, land on your pages from organic search? Are they sticking around? Clicking through to other pages?
- What does the data say about where the audiences are coming from locally? Do you need to consider other, newer landing pages?
As you go, you’ll want to consider bumping up promotion in certain areas. Most of all, it’s important to keep optimizing pages that you’ve identified as critical until you get on page 1 and become the top result.
Final Thoughts on Doing SEO
Is there a magic bullet, as my friend Myron likes to ask? The answer is no. But like other aspects of marketing, it helps to have a bigger brand. A known brand name brings with it automatic authority in Google as more people search for you and more people link to your content and website. For small businesses, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg as many want to use SEO to improve the brand awareness because they don’t have a lot to spend on a brand awareness ad or campaign.
One last thing: With any SEO initiative, stay patient. The reality is you have to do the hard work day in and day out and focus on the above fundamentals, as there’s no other real way around it. It’s not sexy work but getting to page 1 for your content for particular searches is a big deal and obviously ranking #1 on page 1 is even better.
We hope this has been helpful and we wish you good luck in all your SEO endeavors.
At Marketing Nice Guys, we provide an upfront SEO Audit and Content Plan, ongoing SEO support through our marketing consulting practice, SEO half-day bootcamps and one-to-one trainings, and an SEO Help Desk if you just need guidance. Contact us to learn more. Or call us at 703-609-7091.