As a small business owner, you’ve heard the term Search Engine Optimization or SEO. If you built a website and it isn’t showing up on Google — meaning your customers can’t find your company, products, or services — you need to improve your SEO.

What is SEO and why is it important? How can you get started? When is the right time to hire an SEO expert? Below, we cover the basics.

SEO Defined

Search Engine Optimization is the practice of increasing the number and quality of visitors to your website from search engines (such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others).

The term refers to “organic” (free) search engine results versus paid ads. When your site ranks high in search engine result pages (SERPs), you'll receive much more organic traffic than if it's buried several pages deep.

SEO is often thought of as optimizing for Google as they hold over 80% of the total global market share.

Why is SEO Important?

SEO is important if you want your website to appear when a search engine user enters a given phrase. If users can find your business website easily in the search engines, they are more likely to visit it. For example, if you're a dentist in San Francisco, you want your website to appear when a user searches for a "dentist in San Francisco" or "San Francisco dentist".

When your website is properly optimized, it can help drive highly qualified traffic to your offers. For example, if your business sells widgets and ranks well for the keyword phrase "where to buy widgets," the visitors your site attracts are actively looking for exactly what you are selling.

Effective SEO offers several benefits including better rankings, increased web traffic, and greater visibility — all of which can translate into a stronger bottom line. And because it can be accomplished without hard costs, SEO can deliver a higher return on investment (ROI) than other marketing initiatives.

How Search Engines Work

The goal of search engines is to provide web searchers with the best, most relevant information. They do this by sending crawlers or “spiders” out to comb the web and then catalog what they find, based on popularity and relevance.

Search engine algorithms use various data points to rank the content they discover. Google's algorithm has an estimated 200 data points, with things like keywords, tags, links, content length, and site performance all taken into account.

In their effort to continuously improve the results they return, Google tweaks their algorithm periodically — meaning what worked before the last update may not work as well today. While it's essential to stay informed about and respond to updates and adjustments, it is more important to learn how to create great content that speaks to your ideal customer.

Can I do SEO myself?

Yes, depending on how complex your site is, optimizing your website yourself can be a realistic option. SEO has changed over the years, but the fundamentals are still valid.

Keep in mind, Google frowns on shortcuts and if they perceive that your site has attempted to manipulate the algorithm unfairly, their punishment can be extremely damaging. So if in doubt, hire a reputable SEO expert or consultant.

White Hat SEO vs Black Hat SEO

In the past, strategically placing keywords in website content and getting a large number of inbound links to your site were sufficient. But as search engines have become more sophisticated, they no longer reward sites with the most keywords or links. They now look for a variety of signals and high quality content.

If handling your own SEO, follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to ensure you use white hat SEO (i.e. good) best practices such as quality content, relevant keywords, and natural backlinks. You will want to avoid black hat SEO (i.e. bad) tactics like keyword stuffing, hidden text, and doorway pages.

Optimize Your Small Business Website

Most small business owners want to take advantage of free, qualified search engine traffic. As such, ranking for some topics can be highly competitive.

Below are a few tips to begin optimizing a business website. These tips are by no means a complete primer on SEO, but they can make a big difference for your site.

Note: We suggest having an understanding of SEO best practices for your particular CMS platform: Squarespace SEO, Webflow, Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, Shopify, etc.

  • Perform basic keyword research. Learn how to find relevant keywords and phrases for your business.

  • Provide quality content around the search terms discovered in your research. Keep your posts informative and topical. Write for site visitors first and search engines second.

  • If you are a local business, learn more about Local SEO strategies.

  • Encourage sharing, liking, and comments on social media sites.

  • If you create enough buzz around your content, this will lead to natural incoming links from related websites. Search engines take note when relevant, quality sites link to your pages.

  • Setup Google Analytics and Search Console so you can track your efforts.

Keep in mind, as Google places more emphasis on searcher intent, they are looking at factors other than keywords, including a user’s previous searches, location, apps, and personalized information. This will be especially true for voice search. Understanding searcher intent and how Google is responding to it will position you ahead of your competitors in the future.

When designing or redesigning a website, SEO needs to be considered from the beginning. These are just a few SEO steps you can begin to implement on your own to build a website that brings you clients.

For further SEO help, contact us for a consultation.

Additional Reading

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