Search Engine Optimization for Small Business

Updated June 8, 2018

Introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

“Every website is like a little piece of internet real estate.”

Your customers find you through three primary avenues: Search, social, and sales. All three customer acquisition channels are important to your business development approach. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of exercises you can use to get found via internet search. Search algorithms are constantly changing, but these basic principles should hold true regardless of what intricacies Google and other engines decide to introduce. Building the right content should be part of any business’s CORE workout.

Internet Real Estate

Every website is like a little piece of internet real estate, and the pages within that site are rooms and other features that create the overall property value. For the most part, your internet real estate will appreciate in value if the content on the page provides value to those who visit. Search engines discover and explore your website and determine what it’s about. Web pages that are well structured and maintained are valued more highly. Having authorized online sources vouch for your site (through linking to your page) also increase its value.

Registering Your Website on Search Engines

To make it easier for search engines to take notice of your site, you’ll want to submit your sitemap to Google and register your website on Bing. Your sitemap is usually, but may vary based on the web platform you’re using. Once you’ve submitted your sitemap to Google, you will be prompted to verify that you own the domain, add all versions of your site (www vs. http:// vs. https://) and select which version is preferred. The version you choose is simply a style preference and will not affect search performance. You will also select the focus country for your site.

On Page SEO Tactics

On page SEO refers to the content you put on each web page and the format of that content. If you’re just getting started with SEO practices, it’s best to begin with on page SEO because you control it. Creating web pages optimized for search involves using keywords and phrases your visitors would likely search for and placing those phrases within the content on the page. You don’t need to take a scientific approach to keyword selection in the beginning. Simply consider keywords, related terms and phrases that a person would enter into Google to find you.

What Are H Tags?

H tags are part of HTML language, a language that is spoken by any browser. You can use H tags to note the importance of content on your web page. Think of H tags similarly to alphanumeric ‘tags’ you would use in an outline. H1 tags are heading or title tags, and you likely only want one on each page. H2 tags are for subtitles or chapters, H3 are a step down from there, all the way to H6 tags. Normal paragraph text is the meat that surrounds the H tag bone structure. The content in normal paragraph text should outweigh the the volume of H tags on a page. It would be odd to read a book or article with more chapters and titles than the actual story! Use various keywords and formats of those keywords in different areas of your content. You should use your most important keyword phrases in the most important H tags. For example, consider snickerdoodle recipes. A person may search for ‘snickerdoodle recipe,’ snickerdoodle recipes,’ snickerdoodle cookies,’ snickerdoodle cookie recipes,’ ‘best snickerdoodle recipe,’ ‘easy snickerdoodle recipe,’ ‘snickerdoodles for kids,’ ‘vegan cookie recipe,’ and many more variants. When writing about your snickerdoodle recipe, you’ll want to consider those options and include singulars, plurals, different syntax order, and specific target audience terms (e.g. for kids, for vegetarians).

This is an  H1 tag, it's the title: My Favorite Snickerdoodle Recipes

This is normal text which is the filler between the H tag headings.

This is a Header 2 Tag: What are Snickerdoodles?

Header 2 tags are like subheadings, depending on how long your article or page is you should match the ratio of subtitles to the overall volume of content.

This is a Header 3 tag: Snickerdoodle Ingredients List

When using HTML code, this is what each heading looks like. CSS is a styling language that dictates how these HTML elements are displayed by default. If you have the ability to add code to your site, try copying and pasting this code to see what it looks like:

<h1>Heading 1</h1>

<h2>Heading 2</h2>

<h3>Heading 3</h3>

<h4>Heading 4</h4>

<h5>Heading 5</h5>

<h6>Heading 6</h6>

<p>paragraph text</p>

Add Meta Descriptions

Each webpage also has a meta description, which is what users see on Google search results pages. In Squarespace the meta description can be updated in the 'Options' section, and in Shopify the meta description is at the bottom of the page near the url slug (click 'edit page SEO').

Don’t Forget Alt Text

Each image and link on your page has the option to add Alt Text, which is alternative text for if your link or image does not load. If you hover your mouse over an image or link, you can preview the alt text on any page. Because alt text is less visible on your page, you can use alt text to use shorthand keywords. For example, some might search ‘cooking class chi’ instead of ‘cooking class Chicago,’ but you wouldn’t grammatically want to include the former in your page title or paragraph content.

Customize URL Slugs

Each web page has a unique URL address, and you can customize the url slug (the end of the address after your domain name) to include keywords. For instance, we could call this article, or we could call it or another rendition that caters to our key customers.

Local SEO Tactics

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If you have a brick and mortar location or want to rank more highly within a geographic area, you should be mentioning regional locations and phrases within your content. For example, if you were hosting a cooking class in Chicago, you might also mention Illinois, the Windy City, West Town, River West, Chi Town foodies, and other phrases that will attract those looking for a cooking class in Chicago. In addition, add your business to directories like Google My Business and Yelp.


Off Page SEO and Link Building Tactics

Off page SEO includes variables that improve your search ranking that don’t exist on your website. Link building is the most important element of off page SEO because each website that links to your site is vouching for your site’s value. That said, we don’t recommend buying backlinks. Generating links by providing valuable content will be the most successful (and most, if not all times free) method to improving off page SEO. If you have a blog, for example, sites you mention and contributors who write blogs for you will benefit from linking to your page. Performing direct outreach about sites you mention and sharing your content on social media are good methods for building links. While the links you share on social media won’t necessarily count as backlinks, the exposure and engagement you gain as your social following grows will increase your chances of obtaining backlinks. Add your website URL to your social media profiles, conference attendee profile, email signature, and anywhere you can gain exposure. It’s generally better to have multiple sites linking to your site rather than one site linking to your site multiple times. In addition, the more valuable the web real estate of the pages linking to you, the better for your site - think of it as building the value of your neighborhood. 

Creating Content and a User Experience Worth Visiting

Attracting visitors to your site is an important first step, but what happens once a user reaches one of your web pages? On-page actions taken by site visitors can also impact your SEO performance, and if a user immediately clicks ‘back’ after choosing your page on search. This bounce back effect (aka pogo-sticking) can hurt your ranking for a given keyword phrase.  Creating a positive user experience is important keeping visitors on your site and lowering your bounce rate. There are a few free UX resources we like for monitoring and testing user experience.

free user testing.png

Free User Experience Assessment

Peek user testing offers  free video feedback sessions for your desktop and mobile sites (free videos may vary but last we checked 1-3 per month/email address). Peek users are asked three simple questions about your site and you can see the video of them using your site and audibly answering the questions.


On Site Recordings

Hotjar has free and paid versions and allows you to record user sessions on a specific page, embed a survey or poll to collect opinions about your page, and a few other fun tools.

Mobile vs. Desktop SEO

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The content that appears on a mobile search is different than a desktop search. For example, advertisers can choose how they advertise on each platform. Similarly, Google will suggest search result types based on device. If a user is searching on a mobile device they may receive app suggestions, while a desktop user would not. Most platforms like Shopify and Squarespace are optimized for mobile, and you can confirm that your site is mobile friendly within Google Search Console.


Analyzing Keywords and Performance for SEO

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You don’t have to run paid ads to get a Google AdWords account, and once you sign up for AdWords you have access to the Google Keyword Planner. You can also see the keywords your competitors are ranking for (as well as a quick snapshot of your own) on SEM Rush. Try it out!