SEO is always evolving, and Google (and other search engines) rarely directly say what they take into account when ranking websites. But the ultimate goal of search engines is to get the right content to the right people efficiently. Focusing on this goal — serving the people who are searching for your services — will ensure that your website is well-positioned to get traffic no matter how the SEO field evolves.
Here are a few SEO tips I recommend all small businesses work on. These tips apply whether your site is built on WordPress, Squarespace, Wix or anything else.
Before we start, here’s an overview of tools available to check how you’re already doing re: SEO. Most rank checkers are paid tools.
1. Have a good website that focuses on your website user’s experience.
What’s good for SEO is generally good for your website and website users overall. When writing your website copy, aim for an 8th grade reading level with short sentences and short paragraphs.
Make sure your main menu and any footer menus/interior menus are easy to navigate and clearly describe what page they’ll take users to. Fun, creative titles sound good until a website visitor can’t find what they’re looking for on your site. Be sure your website is fully mobile-responsive, including the navigation.
If you change a page’s URL or delete a page, set up a redirect so you don’t have any broken links.
Site speed/load time is also a factor, so I recommend checking your site speed with a tool like Pingdom, GTmetrix, or Google’s Page Speed Insights. The less “heavy” or “bulky” content (large images, extra code, videos/GIFs, etc.) on your page, the faster it should load.
Your website host plays a role in site speed too. If you still have speed issues after you optimize images/content on your site, and if you’re using a budget WordPress host, it might be worth looking into changing hosts.
As of May 2021, Google takes Page Experience and Core Web Vitals into account when ranking your site in search results.
Make sure you have a properly-configured SSL certificate installed as well. Look for the little padlock next to your URL in your browser to make sure your SSL certificate is working.
2. Get traffic onto your website, especially if it’s a new site.
Google loves to promote sites that already have traffic. To get traffic to your site, work your network.
Post a link to your site (the home page, a services page, a blog post, etc.) to your social media channels. Send your website to family and friends and encourage them to check it out and share it.
Consider backlinking opportunities — backlinks (links to your site) from other reputable sites help with your site’s reputation as well. Think about any directory listings you could use like your local Chamber of Commerce or town business directory, and think about any websites or blogs you might be able to do a guest post on that would link back to your site.
3. Make sure you have a complete Google Business Profile listing.
Google is increasingly prioritizing and taking into consideration your Google Business Profile (GBP). These listings are local but can be configured for a non-local business and are essential no matter what industry you’re in. This blog post walks you through how to set up a Google Business Profile.
From an SEO standpoint, the most important things are your categories and your reviews. Be sure to select a primary category that’s as close to what you do as possible. Then select alternate/additional categories if there are relevant ones.
Google might take GBP reviews into account for search, so try to have your keywords included. I recommend sending an email inviting clients/customers to review you “for the landscape photography work we did together,” “for the ski boot fitting services,” etc. It’s also best to respond to reviews that come in, whether they’re positive or negative.
Be sure you have current photos, copy, phone number, address, etc. on the listing as well — and that the contact info is the same on your website.
4. Optimize your on-page SEO.
While the above tips all play into SEO, on-page SEO is what most people think of as “SEO.” This is where keyword research comes in and it gets a bit more technical.
Keyword research is a whole world to dive into, so I recommend most small businesses with limited budgets keep things simple. Do your best to imagine you’re inside the head of your ideal client/customer and think through what they would type into Google to find you. Think of what you type into Google to find the things you need.
If you want to do keyword research, here’s a great beginner’s guide from Ahrefs.
Many industries are fairly straightforward… “Detroit wedding photographer,” “Mammoth ski rentals,” “Squarespace web designer,” etc. If you feel like your industry is pretty straightforward, go with your gut.
Keywords should go in a variety of places on your site, but avoid “keyword stuffing” — throwing keywords everywhere just in hopes of ranking higher. You want the copy on your website to feel intuitive and natural to read. Google is trying to serve humans after all.
Where it feels natural, include your keyword(s) in your page titles (H1 tag), secondary headers (H2 tag) and main web page copy, especially the first paragraph. Some website platforms let you edit your metadata — if that’s an option, include a nice page description that includes your keywords. If you have a chance to include your keywords on an image’s alt text (if it’s truly descriptive), go for it.
Regardless of where your keywords fit, be sure you’re using good page structure with just one H1 tag (your page title) followed by H2 tags and H3-H6 tags as needed.
Keywords in your URL likely aren’t considered for search rankings, but it’s a good practice to have URLs be descriptive and user-friendly anyway. If your website structures your URLs /bkewijewa17, that’s much less helpful for people than a URL structured /seo-services.
5. Update your site regularly.
Google prioritizes websites that are updated frequently. I recommend updating your website copy (ideally on all main pages but primarily the home page) at least once a year, ideally every 4-6 months. Just a small re-write of the copy is all it takes to prompt Google to revisit your site. I also recommended reviewing your site speed at least once a year.
If you’re strapped for time to work on SEO, focus on pages that are already doing well. If people are visiting a certain page or post, focus your efforts on optimizing that page/post first.
Every 2-3 years, consider a full website redesign. Design and technology change often. A few years ago, mobile responsiveness wasn’t considered by Google for search — now it’s a must. Keeping your site looking modern and performing well as technology changes will help your search rankings.
Lastly, if you have a blog, post to it as often as you can. Blogs can be helpful SEO drivers, plus they can go a long way in helping your ideal customer/client learn more about you and/or your industry.
6. Set up Google Analytics & Google Search Console.
Google Analytics and Google Search Console are two free website monitoring tools from Google. Google Search Console will even notify you about any mobile usability issues on your site. Check out these guides from HubSpot to get started: The Ultimate Guide to Google Search Console and The Ultimate Guide to Google Analytics.
Some website designers are moving away from Google Analytics because of data privacy issues. If you work with clients/customers outside the U.S. I recommend looking into Fathom Analytics or Microanalytics instead of Google Analytics.
7. Settle in for a few months.
SEO is a long game and patience is key. Once everything is set up and optimized, move on to other projects. Most SEO changes/updates take 4-6 months to take effect and pay off. This does make it hard to measure what works and what doesn’t, but with these tips, you should be on your way to moving up in search results.
P.S. There’s another world under Search Engine Marketing (SEM) called PPC (pay-per-click). This is the paid complement to organic (unpaid) SEO. PPC isn’t my world but it’s worth looking into for certain businesses. Check out HubSpot’s guide to PPC to learn more.
Interested in more personalized help? Learn about my SEO services.