A NEW CEO’S GUIDE TO SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
Saw Bruce Vahn’s post a few weeks ago regarding SEO help for small businesses, and that got me thinking about writing a short checklist for business owners to go through. I’ve worked on and off with SEO for a number of years, and see that there’s a ton of misinformation out there, so figured this will at least help some of you in evaluating SEO vendors.
SEO consists on optimizing a website so that your content ranks higher organically (aka below the ads) in search engines, mainly Google. SEO is generally SLOW - it'll take months of consistent work to see meaningful traffic improvements, but the benefit is that traffic can keep trickling in even if you stop investing in it, unlike Google and FB ads which dry up the second you stop spending.
There's a bunch of factors that Google takes into account when determining where to rank you, and this pretty much sums all the factors into one neat graph: https://images.sparktoro.com/blog/wp-content/uploads[redacted]ranking-factors-2019-ranked.gif . It's important to note that all the info on SEO out there is based on experimental and tribal knowledge, as Google doesn't actually share much information at all as to how their algorithm works.
The main factors by far are content and links. By content I mean that your site has quality, trustworthy, and relevant content that answers whatever query the user is searching for. Many small business websites are basically just a one page brochure for the business, so they are typically very thin on content. Starting up a blog section where you provide some helpful content relevant to your customer interests should pay dividends in the long run.
The second most important thing are links. Links are basically the proxy that google uses to determine trustworthiness and authoritativeness on any given topic. Let's say three sites have the exact same content regarding average mortgage rates. One site has a link to it from the Wall Street Journal, one has a link from Vogue, and the other has no links at all. Google will, all things being equal rank the one with the Wall Street Journal link first, the Vogue one second, and the one with no links last. There's a lot more that goes into it, but that's basically the gist of it.
The good news for you is that most small businesses compete in nichey areas where there is a) not a lot of good content on your specific niche on the internet and b) your competitors are likely not super sophisticated in these areas. This is important because starting from scratch, there is basically no way to rank for a term like "best credit cards" because the first 10 pages of google search results for that query will be filled by domains which have thousands of backlinks. Ranking for "best pressure washing service in minnesota"; however, is very doable in a month or two.
Ok, let's get to the actual checklist:
1) Is the site on Wordpress? If not, I would get it on Wordpress just because it will be easier to get support for it and maintain it later down the road.
2) Does the site have a mobile friendly template, or if you pull it up on your phone it's just a super zoomed out 1990s version of the desktop site? If it doesn't have a mobile friendly template, install one. Just install any recent free Wordpress theme and that should do the trick. Google crawls site mobile firsts and I have seen huge moves just by doing this.
3) Is the site 'secure'? By 'secure', I just mean wheter it shows the little lock in your url bar in the browser. Secure sites start with https:// whereas the old standard is http://. If it's not, just install the "Really Simple SSL" plugin and turn it on. This will also provide you an easy boost.
4) Look up your site's score on "Google Page Speed Insights". If you get a bad red score, go through your plugins and delete any you're not using. Try to also resize your images and see if things improve.
5) Now you're ready for some keyword and competitor research. First, assess the strength of your current domain by plugging your site into AHREF's backlinck checker: https://ahrefs.com/backlink-checker . Anything above a 30 for Domain Rating is good, but you should still be able to rank for nichey stuff with a[redacted]score.
6) Go to ubersuggest.com and type in some keyword related to your niche and you'll get a list of related keywords. Go through the results and try to find something that has a combination of volume > 10 searches a month and an SEO difficulty less than 30. AHREFs.com is way better for keyword and competitor research than ubersuggest but it costs $99/month.
7) Get somebody to write content related to those keywords, or write it yourself. Make sure it's at least 500 words or longer. Blast it out to social media every time you publish something new.
8) Aside from the keyword guided content, write also some content that you think will be really useful for your consumers. Put even more effort into this content, and try to make it snazzy with an infographic or something like that. This is the kind of content that will get you links, as nobody is going to link to your "best pressure washer in minnesota" page. If you have contacts with other reputable folks in the industry and can get them to link to your content, then this will really boost your rankings.
9) Make sure your business is listed in Google Maps and that your site is linked to it. For many local search results, Google will show a map before the actual search results.
That should get you 80% of the way there with SEO. Best of luck.