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An Introduction to SEO for Small Businesses

by Kristi Hines  |  July 23/2013  |  ,

small business seo

As an entrepreneur, freelancer, or small business owner, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is critical to your business. When done correctly, search can be your biggest referrer of traffic. However, if it’s done wrong, it can cause a debilitating loss of traffic. In this post, we’re going to cover the SEO basics that you need to know to ensure that search optimization for your business is done correctly from the start.

Keyword Research

Keyword research should be the first step of any online marketing strategy as it creates the foundation. It doesn’t just affect your website’s SEO—it affects the keywords you use in your social media profiles, content marketing, and paid advertising.

There are lots of in-depth ways to do keyword research, but most small businesses do not have to deep dive into them. Your goal should be to find a few good keyword phrases for the main pages on your website, i.e. the homepage and your products/services pages.

Let’s look at the keyword research process for a freelance web designer. You can start by entering freelance web designer and a few variations into Google Keyword Planner. To use this tool, you will need to create a free Google AdWords account. You don’t have to create an ad – just sign up to access it.

small business seo

Here, you’ll see the search volume for your chosen keywords, as well as the competition level for them. There’s no doubt that freelance web designer and developer have enough traffic to make them the main focus keyword for your business.

But what about the other pages on your website? This tool will also give you related ideas based on the keywords you entered.

small business seo

As you look through these related ideas, you’ll find even more phrases you can use on key pages on your website. For example, you could add web design quote to optimize your contact page. Or, to draw in your target customer base, let’s say restaurant owners that need websites, you could create a blog post entitled 15 Web Design Ideas for Restaurants to draw in these potential clients to your site.

One good thing to do is to export all of the keyword ideas to a spreadsheet.

small business seo

You can then look at each of the phrases individually and make notes on what pages to use them or content pieces you could build around them.

small business seo

If you’re stuck on keyword ideas, try doing a little competitor research by going to sites/businesses similar to yours and see what they are using on their website. A good tool for this is the Moz toolbar for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox browsers. Once installed, you can go to any website, click on it, and see the SEO optimization for that page.

small business seo

Websites that have been properly optimized usually have their main keywords in the title of the page.

On-Site Optimization

Once you’ve chosen your keywords, your next goal is to optimize your web pages and content for those keywords. To do this, you will want to make sure the main keyword phrase for each page appears in the following places.

  • The SEO Title – This is the most important on-site optimization element. Not only that, but it shows up in search results, in the tab when someone is viewing a particular page, in the bookmark when people save your page on their browser, and in the social share of the page if they tweet it, like it, or bookmark it online. In short, it’s seen just about everywhere that page is referenced.
  • The URL – If possible, make sure that your website’s URL structure uses your keywords. For example, your web design services page should be yourdomain.com/web-design-services and not yourdomain.com/p=1139.
  • The Meta Description – While this isn’t important as far as ranking for your keyword phrase, it does show up in almost as many places as the SEO title, which makes it important regardless.
  • The Content – You don’t want to go overboard and mention your main keyword phrase in a way that seems unnatural. But you do want to make sure the content on your page represents the main keyword phrase and is mentioned within it. At bare minimum, it should be in the opening paragraph on a page. Also, try to use it in a header tag (like H2, H3 tags).
  • The Image ALT Tag – If you have an image on your page (which you should), include the main keyword in the image’s ALT tag. So if you have a photo of yourself on the homepage, ALT tag the photo with your name + your keyword like John Smith, Freelance Web Designer.

Proper on-site optimization will tell search engines what each page is about, and help ensure that they earn better rankings for those keywords.

Also, be sure to consider on-site optimization for your social media profiles. Primarily, you will want to add your main keyword phrase to your social profile’s about section, introduction, or bio. Also try to use your main keyword phrases naturally in status updates. Both will help more people discover your business through social media.

Tips to Avoid Penalties

Don’t over-optimize on your website or your social media profiles. The most common form of over-optimization is keyword stuffing, or using your keyword phrase an unnatural amount of times on a page. This is generally frowned upon by Google and could hurt your search rankings if discovered by Google’s algorithm changes.

Local Search Optimization

If your business has a local focus, such as a physical location that customers visit or offers services within a specific area, you will also want to optimize your website for that location. Go back to your keyword research and see what locations you can optimize your pages for.

small business seo

Depending on the location and your keywords, you may want to broaden your phrases. In the above example, you can see that we removed freelance web designer to get more search volume for local areas like Phoenix, Mesa, and Scottsdale.

Optimizing your web pages with keywords isn’t enough when it comes to local. You’ll also want to add your physical address and local phone number to each page of your website, perhaps in the footer. Add this as text, not as an image, so search engines can follow it. You should also add your address and phone number to your contact page.

Once your website is optimized for local search, you should continue to build local visibility for yourself by creating listings for your business on local search, directory, and review sites. Some of the most popular include Google+, Yahoo Local, Bing PlacesYelpUrban Spoon, and Trip Advisor. You can refer to Get Listed to find more local search networks based on your industry and location.

Link Building

Link building can be tough and time consuming, depending on the nature of your business, but it is necessary. The easiest way to make sure you are getting quality links is to think of not just SEO value, but to think of traffic value—you want your link to be on a website where you know it will get some clicks.

One of the keys to ranking for your target keywords is anchor text. This is where you use your target keywords with your link. As a freelance web designer, you will want to mix it up by using anchor text like freelance web designer, your name, your business, website, yourwebsite.com, etc.

There are tons of different link building strategies out there. Here are the easiest ones to start with.

  • Business Partners – Do you work with suppliers, vendors, or other businesses? If you have a good relationship with them, they have a website, and they have a partner page, see if they would be interested in linking to your website. You might need to create a partner page of your own to link back to them, but it could be worthwhile.
  • Guest Blogging – If you write quality content for your business blog, you can write quality content for other blogs in your industry. Aim for those whose audience is filled with your target customer base, and those that have a lot of social sharing/engagement. You will generally get a link back to your website in the author bio.
  • Quality Directories – Not just any directories, but ones that are well recognized and respected. These include ones like DMOZ (free to request, but impossible for most to get into), Yahoo Directories ($299 per year), and Best of the Web (starting at $149). Industry specific directories are valuable as well, like Access Dance for the dance industry or The Knot for the wedding industry. Basically, you want to go for directories that don’t allow just anyone in, regardless of payment. Also, look for directories that already rank for your keyword phrase and list your business on them.
  • Good Resource Pages - These can be tough to find, but they are golden if you do. Look for very specific pages that list resources for your industry. You can generally find them if you do a searches for your keyword plus resources like keyword inurl:resources or keyword intitle:resources.

One of the best ways to discover link building opportunities for your business is to see what links your competitors have. We’ll look into some tools that will help you with that in the next section.

Tips to Avoid Penalties

Don’t buy packages that try to sell you on cheap, bulk links, as these are always low quality. Don’t try to build a ton of links all at once—this is a big tip off. And just like on-site optimization, you don’t want to over-optimize by building too many links with the same anchor text.

Tools of the Trade

So, what are the best SEO tools that fit a small size budget? Here are some of my favorites and what they are used for.

  • Google Keyword Planner (Free) – Use this to perform keyword research.
  • Google Webmaster Tools (Free) – Use this to get on-site optimization tips, see your backlinks, monitor your site’s top content and keywords, get messages from Google about your site’s health, and much more.
  • Google Analytics (Free) – Learn more about your traffic and website visitors, including how many come from search engines and by what keywords.
  • Authority Labs or Whoosh Traffic (Starts at $49 per month) – Monitors your website rankings in search for target keywords.
  • MajesticSEO (Starts at $49 per month) – Great for link building research, including looking at competitor’s backlinks.
  • Link Prospector (Starts at $27 per month or pay as you go) – Discovers link building opportunities for you based on type of link and keywords.

If you need to just do some quick research and don’t have the budget to spend on a monthly subscription, you can also try some powerful SEO tools for free for a limited time or pay for limited access without a subscription. These include the following.

  • Moz (30 days, then $99 per month) – Great for link building research, particularly access to their Open Site Explorer.
  • CognitiveSEO (14 days free, then $99 per month) – Great for link building research, particularly access to their visual link explorer.
  • SEMrush ($79.95 for one month access) – Great for researching organic keyword rankings for competitors, Google AdWords advertising for competitors, and the pages that rank well for competitors.

In Conclusion

There is a lot to learn when it comes to SEO, but these are the basics that will help you get going in the right direction, or at least help you make sure you are paying for good service. For further research, consider reading Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

Do you have questions? If so, please ask in the comments.

About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, professional blogger, and social media enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.


  • Front2Back Studio

    Thanks for sharing. Keyword research for me is the most taxing because I have to compare the competitiveness of a keyword vs the amount of search volume. Any suggestions on how to pick the best keywords?

  • http://www.techofweb.com/ Atul Bansal

    usefulvery useful article.. I wud say its not just for small business sites.. Its for big site owners too…..

  • Scott Worthington

    Why would you write about the Adwords Keyword Tool when it is about to be phased out? On May 20 Google debuted the Keyword Planner and announced that the Keyword Tool would be retired “in about 60 days”. It seems to still be alive, but is surely on it’s last breath.

    And link building? Seriously? Isn’t that becoming irrelevant? It seems that a better strategy is publishing quality content on-site as well as promoting sharing through social media which you didn’t even mention.

    I believe that there are fundamentals that don’t change, but your techniques seem to be a bit dated.

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Hi Scott!

    I just realized I submitted this article almost two months ago, about two weeks before they started warning devoted users like myself that it was being replaced by Google Keyword Planner. They work somewhat similarly though, with exception to the screenshot on exporting keywords.

    I don’t believe link building is is becoming irrelevant at all, just that the tactics are changing. And let’s face it, a lot of content marketing is done to build links – either to attract links to your website or to build them on other sites.

    On a side note, I didn’t really get into content marketing here because that is going to be a separate guide altogether. :)

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Atul! :)

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Sometimes, it’s more about figuring out intent. For example, someone searching for web designer or web design company is more likely to hire you than someone looking for web design, as the latter person might be looking for information.

    Then, you have to consider long tail phrases. Instead of just going for web designer, maybe consider going for ecommerce web designer, affordable web design, custom web design, small business web design, mobile web design, corporate web design, etc. They have lower search volume, but they are also less competitive and more likely to bring you your ideal customer.

  • http://www.getspokal.com/ Alexandra Skey

    Agree with your follow up Kristi. Link building won’t disappear, but how we do it and why will, as it gets more integrated into the bigger inbound marketing picture.

    It seems time and time again, when people and businesses create amazing content we love, and stop trying to “trick the Google system,” they’re rewarded for it. Anything less will eventually be phased out. Now, tomorrow, or sometime in the not so distant future.

  • http://www.getspokal.com/ Alexandra Skey

    Krisit, fantastic overview. Love the resources and format. I’ve scheduled a few shares on Twitter :)

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Alexandra! That’s why I always suggest people think of guest blogging as the chance to share quality content with their target customer base on other sites as opposed to “look for the blogs with the highest PageRank” and similar tips. :)

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks so much! I definitely appreciate the social love! :)

  • http://www.bigideamastermindtoday.com/ Horvath Tamas

    Amazing post. As I see never not enough to read and learn about this theme. Mainly nowaday when a lot of tools have changed and disappear. Thanks for posting and sharing!

  • http://www.getspokal.com/ Alexandra Skey

    Completely agreed Krisiti! Readers (myself included) don’t care about page rank, Alexa ranking or anything else. If the content is good and relevant to me, I’ll come back.

    While it’s amazing to build a blog of 5,000 or 20,000 or over 100,000 regular followers, most small business owners don’t need that many fans. So, by focusing on creating and sharing relevant content to readers instead of “growing like crazy,” I imagine they’ll get more clients from their blog, especially if they provide a local service.

  • http://www.esparkmarketingwsi.com/ Valerie Marbach

    Kristi, nice job here! As someone who works in the SEO/Internet Marketing business, I felt like you took a complicated subject and simplified it greatly!

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome Horvath! :)

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Valerie! I find that if I can explain SEO to my clients simply, they’re more interested in getting it done. :)

  • kiran

    that was a bold article…you added here thanks for adding such a good thing which is very much useful to new as well as existing small and large scale business people.

  • http://www.roi4my.com/ Chris von Nieda

    Scott, the Google Adwords keyword tool is not “phased out”. It’s been renamed and changed but is still a useful tool. You just just have to learn how to use the new interface. I was a bit confused and frustrated at first, but I get it now.

  • http://www.roi4my.com/ Chris von Nieda

    Kristi, I am dealing with a situation with a client in which I am trying to decide how big a role the back link profile of their main site affects their Google places listing, Would it be safe to say, if they had some spammy backlinks to their main site, their Google places listing may not do as well or the two are independent of each other? Anyone else feel free to chime in too thanks!

  • http://www.seoidiots.info/ Sujit Kumar Lucky

    really nice read through .. the way you represent the blog post , really helpful for all seo’s ! using perfect images makes easier to understand !

  • http://web-tasks.com/home/pricing Small Business SEO

    My day completes with your tricks with your post, thanks for news, this is like a great place for me to do SEO research, regards “Web-taaks – We Get you Found”.

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Thanks Kiran! :)

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Glad you liked the images Sujit! :)

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome! :)

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Hmm, that’s a good question Chris. The things I usually read about having an affect on Google local listings include changing the address on the website but not the listing, having duplicate listings, etc.

    There’s this article on local ranking factors – http://www.search-motive.com/the-top-20-factors-that-affect-your-google-places-rank/ – maybe one of these could be an issue?

  • matthew

    Yes you have made it look easy, but for someone trying to do SEO this is a complicated task, small businesses should definitely leave it up to the professionals.

  • http://tinyurl.com/kxmf3lv Zack Tersh

    Anyone with a website should do SEO (or at least outsource it to places like seoclerks). SEO is critical to any webmaster but it looks like the way SEO is done is being changed constantly.

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Even if small businesses leave it to the professionals, I think they should have a basic understanding of what they need. I’m always amazed by the businesses that are buying link packages left and right, but never getting their site optimized properly.

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    Exactly – SEO isn’t a set it and forget it kind of thing anymore. It takes constant work.

  • http://www.wish111.com/ matthew

    Super important to have a optimized site.I will not run a seo campaign until the site is optimized.

  • Sharon Rigano

    Thanks for a great article Kristi. I absolutely agree that small business owners need a basic understanding of SEO. If anything, I think it would help them if they write their website content so they can try to target keywords as best as they can.

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    It’s funny – I’ve worked with three clients who didn’t have control over their own website because they use some kind of service that does everything for them. The services were all awful at optimizing their sites for SEO. So when I came in, the first thing I did with all three was suggest specific changes. And it was always a huge hassle for them to just do it, I’d assume because the service thought they knew best. In all three cases, none of the clients were ranking for their target terms in their city. One was even the only provider of their particular service in the whole city. :(

  • http://kikolani.com/ Kristi Hines

    You’re welcome Sharon! :)

  • Bruce Washington

    Thanks for the post, main the title keyword is the most important part of the site.

  • http://www.softship.com/ Ava Cristi

    There’s no doubt,keyword is very important.But you should be conscious of placing appropriate keywords throughout every aspect of your site.Putting ridiculous amounts of keywords on your site will get you labeled as a spammer so you must be strategic in using it.

  • http://web-tasks.com/home/pricing Small Business SEO

    SEO is getting costly day by day What I feel Small business man can optimize site for local business keywords. For example “Orlando Local SEO” , Local keywords and easy to work SEO on this.

  • http://www.elitestrategicbusinesssolutions.com/ Virtual Assistant Services

    Small business will surely love this one especially that they can have
    another option in helping their small business to grow bigger in the
    community by the Search engine optimization.

  • has

    Thanks Kristi. You have been very helpful to me and anyone who just started learning seo. As a newbee I have learned a lot from your blog. I was thinking if I can attach a link to this article on my blog. Would it be ok? Please let us know.
    Regards.

  • Donald_FreshBooks

    So glad to hear you’ve found the post helpful. Yes, you can definitely link to the post if you’d like.

  • http://entreb.com/ Entreb

    Hi Kristi. This is a very useful resource for small business owners to start with SEO. Keyword research is one of the most important tactics of SEO, and many small business owners have never tried to use tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner, Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Although we can get a lot of traffic without even thinking and using these tools, for me they are still important in making sure that the traffic we get are relevant and can improve our conversion rate.

  • http://web-tasks.com/home/pricing Small Business SEO Orlando

    “It doesn’t just affect your website’s SEO—it affects the keywords you
    use in your social media profiles, content marketing, and paid
    advertising.”, thanks for sharing the news..

  • http://www.elitestrategicbusinesssolutions.com/ Virtual Assistant Services

    Like this one very impressive one as a SEO professional.Thank you for th awesome content. In this tough time, local business owners are searching answers for saving their business.

  • Anandhi

    Information about the keyword research and on site
    optimization is useful. What are the factors for over optimization?

  • David Fried

    Higher Ranking in Search Engine Lead to more traffic more Traffic means more money, This all can be done using Search Engine Optimization.

  • Felix Brown

    A very well explained and
    good resource post. It’s the most targeted form of advertising. You’re only
    advertising to people who are specifically interested in your service.

  • http://www.nicholsfinancialservices.com/we-offer-accounting-services-you-can-trust/ Accounting Newark

    Great post thanks………

  • http://primegrowthmarketing.com/ Alberto Miachell

    Google provides all that supports for doing SEO effectively. Almost all it’s tools and services are helping the SEOers widely. This introduction is such a wonderful basic knowledge that could be vital for SEO beginners.

  • Michael Bian

    Thanks for sharing this great post!

  • Niki Armstrong

    Brilliant article explained in wonderful way.
    business search engine optimization.

  • http://www.techmobile.com/ Support Team

    Quite impressive post. You have explained what SEO is how it works and points that needs to be covered before starting your SEO campaign. Keep posting…


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