An Introduction to SEO for Small Businesses

July 23, 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 and not
  • 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.

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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,, 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

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.