Search engine optimisation: SEO. Three letters that are the bane of many SMEs. If it isn’t the dozens of spam emails you receive from SEO agencies across the globe each week, it’s the false promises and failed attempts of an SEO ‘professional’ to get you to the top of Google’s results pages. It’s little surprise that many small companies leave SEO on the backburner, given the hassle that it can cause - without delivering results.
Additionally, SEO efforts tend to bring returns in the long term. For many SMEs, cash flow is a major issue, and giving hundreds of dollars to an agency for no short term reward simply isn’t possible.
Although it’s tempting to put off SEO until your finances are more secure, don’t give up on it immediately. There are many ways to improve your search engine rankings that don’t cost a fortune - and you can carry them out yourself, even if coding isn’t your strong point.
Google’s search algorithm tries to mimic what humans look for in a page. As humans, we want to visit a website that contains content relevant to the search term entered, has good quality information, is entirely original, is viewable on our smartphones, and features information that other users found helpful.
Basic SEO techniques try to meet these criteria. Websites publish blogs, videos and other content to draw people into their site, establish a strong reputation, and to gain social media shares (this is called content marketing). You’re providing useful information that isn’t about directly selling your product.
Link-building is another common SEO technique that involves gaining links back to your website from other domains. The more prestigious and higher quality the site, the more importance Google places on the link.
A backlink almost acts as an endorsement from another site, so Google gives you a ranking boost. Link-building is carried out in numerous ways, including guest blogging (having a blog post published on another website) and by linking content on social media. Backlinks may occur naturally when another brand wants to link to your content or your brand is in the news.
In SEO, keywords are words or phrases that make it easy for potential customers to find your site. For example, if you’re a plumber in Leeds, keywords you might target would be ‘Leeds plumbers’ and ‘plumber in Leeds’. Someone looking for a plumber might type those phrases into Google to try and find one - and if your website features these words, you’ll be somewhere amongst the search results.
If you’re stuck for keyword ideas, use a tool such as Google’s Keyword Planner or a third-party tool such as Keyword Tool. This’ll give you a better idea of what kind of phrases people search for when they’re looking for businesses like yours.
Google places more prominence on keywords if they’re in the title of a page, or in headings - use H1 and H2 tags to help Google understand where your headings are, and the title element in HTML to create titles containing a strong keyword.
The title shows up at the top of the tab, and on search engine results pages (SERPs), where keywords matching the user’s search will be bolded. Keep titles to 50-60 characters if you don’t want them to get cut off on the SERP.
Meta descriptions are the section of text below the title in a SERP. While they don’t directly impact rankings, a well-written meta description will significantly increase click-through rates. Keep them between 150 and 160 characters long.
Your titles and meta descriptions should be unique, and reflect the page’s content.
Your website shouldn’t only feature info about your brand. Use a blog section to share content that has value to potential customers. For example, if your company offers invoice financing to SMEs, don’t blog about invoice financing, blog about issues that affect SMEs.
This can be news (be sure to re-write news articles and add something extra instead of just copying and pasting), analysis, or tips and advice. Think about the content that your target market might like to read - and share.
Ensure that every post has at least 300 words of content - Google may assume that pages with any less than that are of low value.
You don’t need to pay for good content - assign your company’s best writer to produce a weekly post for the blog, and supplement this content with extra monthly posts from other staff members.
Staff could talk about subjects they have in-depth knowledge of, or recount a memory that held a significant lesson. You could also create employee spotlights, where you briefly interview staff members so that customers and potential customers learn more about them - and your business.
Create company social media accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and perhaps Instagram and Pinterest (depending on client demographics).
If you’re on a tight budget, choose one or two social media channels on which to focus. Facebook is generally better for B2C, and Twitter or LinkedIn for B2B. Remember that clicks on links to your website through social media channels will help with SEO.
If you’re short of time or money, you don’t have to do anything fancy with social media. Post content from your website or blog as it’s updated.
Share the occasional image from your business. Inform customers of company updates such as closures, changes to opening hours or discounts. Respond to customer queries as and when they appear. The key is to update your channels on a regular basis - monthly at the very least - and set up notifications so that you can respond to customers within minutes.
This rule applies to social media, blog content, guest blogging and keywords. Never spam. It may be tempting to stuff keywords everywhere you can into your content, but Google will penalise you if you go overboard - remember that they’re trying to mimic human preferences with their algorithm, so only use keywords when they fit into the text naturally.
Setup Google Analytics on your website if you haven’t already. Use it to track conversions and user behaviour. Where did your website users come from? Which social media site draws in the most users? By keeping an eye on the data, you’ll find out where your money and time is best spent in the future.
Okay, so you might not be able to give your site a mobile-friendly makeover on a very tight budget, but try to prioritise making the switch to a responsive, mobile-friendly webpage - Google penalises sites that don’t work well on tablets and smartphones.
These tips barely scratch the surface of SEO. We haven’t even mentioned ALT tags, images, sitemaps and technical SEO. As a small business with limited resources, it’s important to understand SEO basics as soon as you can. These set a solid foundation from which to launch more ambitious SEO efforts in the future.