SEO Checklist for Local Small Business Websites

Hard to believe, but it’s been almost FIVE YEARS since I wrote my original primer for small business SEO basics. Now, the below information is intended to be extremely basic.

Local business ownerIf you run an e-Commerce store, dynamically generated website, affiliate website or large website – or if you target very competitive or national terms – the information below isn’t going to do very much for you. You’re likely in need of a professional and custom SEO analysis if you’re in need of SEO help.

This information is intended for very small business owners, like a local landscaper or painter or maybe a daycare establishment. A business that will likely never be able to justify the ROI of hiring a competent and professional SEO. And quite frankly? Likely doesn’t need to.

Now before anyone’s panties get in a bunch, let me state that I am an SEO. I obviously understand that SEO can be complicated and requires real knowledge and skill. However, hiring a professional SEO and spending thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars per month for your five page website offering up your daycare services in a small town is like hiring a heart surgeon to put a band-aid on for you. Most times, these are the kind of websites that can see big benefits from small – and basic – SEO implementations. As with the last guide:

This is aimed at the small mom and pop that doesn’t make their living online, but rather would like to gain a few leads here and there from generally non-competitive geographical + keyword combo terms by putting up a website consisting of a handful of pages – in addition to providing useful information to all visitors to their sites – whether they come from search engines or local offline marketing efforts.

With that understanding? Let’s get started.

Basic Building Blocks

Register your own domain name for several years

With actual .com domains being under twelve bucks these days, there’s no reason you shouldn’t register your own domain name. I remember seeing a guy about a year ago who spent the money to have his URL printed on his truck, but the URL was that of a “free website” he doesn’t own – who could change his address or shut down at any time. Additionally, it’s easier (for a lot of reasons you probably don’t know or care about) to rank a website on your own domain in most cases. Don’t wrongly assume that “you can always get a real domain later.” For SEO purposes, changing the address of your website is something you want to avoid if at all possible.

Pay for hosting

Plenty of web hosting companies offer affordable plans for under ten dollars per month. As a small local business, you’ll likely never get enough traffic to make a plan that costs more than ten dollars a month anything other than extreme overkill. I’d also recommend you pay the 1-2 dollars extra per month for a unique IP address (your host will know what that means).

Set up an email address using your domain

Your hosting plan will come with a minimum of one free email address and your host should have instructions on how to setup and configure your mail client to check that email. me@mybusiness.com looks much more professional than me432@yourisp.net.

Make a good first impression with your web design

If you don’t know how to make a “great website” either hire a web designer (for a small site spanning only a few pages, the cost should be quite nominal) or keep it simple with a basic background color, fonts and real life pictures (if applicable) in HTML. You can also go the WordPress route and install their blog platform (100% free) and then only use the “pages” to create a small website. Using WordPress means you can buy a premium theme like the Thesis theme (I use Thesis here on Sugarrae) or the Genesis theme and customize it without knowing any actual “website code.” Your website is your first impression with potential customers who find you online. If it looks sloppy, cheap and archaic, they may assume your work or services are as well – like it or not.

Secure your online brand

You should definitely register your business brand on social networks and the like. There are SEO reasons for doing so (to keep it simple: search engines give some extra points for sites with a social media presence) in addition to online reputation management reasons (social sites will rank well for your brand name, allowing you to keep the results for “your business name” to be as many pages controlled by you as possible.) You can register the social profiles yourself or you can pay a service like Trademarkia or KnowEm to do it for you.

Crafting Your Homepage

Now that you’ve got the basic tools you need, here’s what you need to have on the website to cover the basics:

What needs to be on the homepage

Make sure your business name, what you do, where you do it, who you do it for, when you do it (hours of operation) and why you’re the best at it all appear on the homepage in text. Be short and sweet (they can visit other pages of the site for in depth information on those topics) but also be descriptive.

Your homepage should also include your address, phone number and email address on every page in text. Be sure to list this information in full, including street address, city, state and zip code. List the phone number with area code. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit a site that does business in a locale I’m not from that lists their phone number without an area code – and since I’m not local, I have no idea what it might be.

Also be sure to mention on your homepage the cities you serve in your local area. For instance, I lived in Spring Hill, Florida for ten years. If you’re a landscaper located in Spring Hill then you also likely serve Brooksville, Holiday, Weeki Wachee and possibly even Hudson. In that instance, I’d recommend putting a message on your homepage that tells consumers “Located in Spring Hill, Florida we also proudly serve the neighboring communities of [insert list here].”

If you plan to use social media for your business, you’ll want to include a link to your active social profiles as well so people can choose to follow you on those sites if they’d like.

Other Site Pages

About page

This is where you go in depth on your company. Give a detailed, but not too long (think essay, not thesis), explanation on what you do, how long you’ve been doing it, what makes you the best at it and why customers should choose you above the competition. A group picture of your staff or a picture of the company owner (or both) can go a long way to providing potential visitors with a feeling of “connection” providing they’re of decent quality.

Services or Products page(s)

Tell them what you do and what you can provide to them. Add pricing information if you feel it is appropriate (or tell them how they can get a quote.) If you do something that has a “finished result” such as landscaping, pool construction, paint jobs, room additions, etc. consider adding pictures of past work – as they say, pictures (that are re-sized properly using a graphics or photo editing program) can be worth 1000 words (but be sure to add descriptions of what the pictures show in text if at all possible.)

Contact page

Tell visitors how to get a hold of you. This includes your full address, phone number, email address, fax number, additional locations (if applicable with all of their pertinent information as well), hours of operation, a map (you can easily get one online via the big mapping sites – tutorials for adding a Bing map and adding a Google map) and directions from one or two well known roads in the vicinity. Be sure you list a privacy policy (free privacy policy generator) on the site if you have any forms for users to fill out telling them what you will and won’t do with their information. Make sure you check emails often and are timely in responses to inquiries.

Coupon page (optional)

If you want to know when new referrals are coming from your website, tell people to mention that they found you via your website or mention a promo code you only list on the website for a nominal discount.

Ex: “Mention promo code 1STTIME for 10% off your first lawn cutting service!”

Getting Your Website SEO Ready

Title tags

Make sure the titles tags on each page are unique and include some keywords you think people would type into a search engine while trying to find your site. I.e. if you do landscaping in Clearwater, Florida your homepage title tag might be: be: “Professional Landscaping Services in Clearwater, Florida – Your Company” (no quotes). Every page on your site should have a title tag that reflects the content specific to that page. Your title tag should never simply be “Home” or “About.” Your page title is the strongest signal you can send to Google as to what you think your page should rank for.

Meta description tag

Make sure the meta description tag on each page contains a sentence that serves as a mini-advertisement for your company that makes people want to find out more as it may appear at times under the title of your website in Google and other search engines. Be sure the description is not only promotional, but informational about your company and website. If you’d like a full explanation of how title tags and meta description tags affect how your site shows up in the search engines (as well as some info on some even more advanced aspects of a site’s listing in Google) you can watch the video – made by a Google Engineer named Matt Cutts – below. However, I’ll absolutely warn you that it is likely way more information than you need or want to know. ;-)

Ensure SEO friendly navigation

Make sure that the designer you hire (if you end up hiring one) doesn’t use flash (for the entire website) or JavaScript links to navigate your site. For a myriad of reasons you don’t care about, I assure you this is very bad if you have any hopes of people finding your website in the search engines. It looks cool, but it won’t matter because people won’t be able to find you in the search engines.

Link to awesome resources if applicable

Add some links to your website that are useful to people looking for information about your services. I.e. if you belong to an association (like an attorney would to the bar), if you have a partnership with a related business (you build pools, so you list a few recommended pool maintenance companies), if you can refer people to sources of additional information (such as an accountant pointing to various documents on the IRS website that may be helpful to consumers) – these are all great links to add to your site. You can work these links into your regular pages or create an additional page for resource links. If you’ve heard linking to other sites from your website can harm you as far as ranking in the search engines go, know that it’s not true.

Add Google Analytics to the site

Google Analytics is absolutely free. It is a tracking program that will tell you how people are finding your website. While it has extremely advanced capabilities, it can also be useful to the absolute novice user. Google themselves offers tons of video tutorials on their Google Analytics video channel. I’d recommend that you start with Google Analytics for Beginners. You can find what is basically a full course to learning Google Analytics here. If you want to become “more involved” in the online marketing efforts of your website, I highly recommend you learn analytics so you understand how to monitor the effects of the many “causes” you can create – good and bad, intentional and non – by practicing SEO.

Promoting Your New Website

Be sure to claim and optimize your local listings

First and foremost, claim and optimize your Google Places listing. Also list your business with Localeze and InfoUSA (via ExpressUpdate) – two companies that are heavy “feeders” of all the other local websites on the Internet. Next up, I’d suggest you claim your listing with the sites below. Many are free. Regarding the paid ones, you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to spend the money on the listings. I’d recommend starting with the free listings and moving on to paid listings if you don’t get the results you want.

Traditional word of mouth marketing

Talk with friends, family, businesses you have partnerships with that have websites and any associations you may belong to (such as a chamber of commerce) to see if they would be willing to link to your website to help promote your business. Remember to promote your site offline as well by mentioning it on all your marketing materials and to current customers. Ask friends and family to “like” your business on Facebook or follow it on whatever social profiles you registered as previously advised above.

Wait… And Get Back To Regular Business

Once you completed all of the above, you need to give Google a few weeks to a couple of months to figure it all out. If you don’t live in a big city and don’t see yourself ranking where you want to be after three months, then you’ll need to start putting in some further link development effort. Be sure to subscribe to my blog AND subscribe to my newsletter (different content goes out to each) so that you don’t miss upcoming posts and information on that topic!

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:

Comments

  1. Rae this post is great. I’ve got a few clients that are small and want to do SEO, but just can’t afford it/me. I’ll be sending this through to them so that it can help in the education process of some do’s and don’ts…like the @yourisp.net emails and that homestead url on the trailer is priceless. I think that people just don’t understand how affordable these things are and just what a level of professionalism it adds to the business.

    I’m happy to see that you’re posting more regularly and that the content, as usual, is of high quality. Looking forward to the next nugget.

  2. This is great information that helps keep the power in the business owner’s hands. When you are creating an online presence for your business, you should never feel as though you are being held hostage by your designer / developer / SEO company, so having a basic understanding of what you need (and what you don’t!) is critically important.

    Also glad to see you posting more often :)

  3. Great post. Really informative. Great starting point for pursuing strong SEO

  4. In a situation similar to Marshall. The immediate area sees a lot of small businesses come and go really quickly, as they don’t get the proper exposure to be able to survive. Seems lots of people don’t even know they exist until after they’re already gone.

    So we try to offer some basic website, SEO and Google Places services to those types of businesses in the area to help give them a chance. However, some of these businesses have such low ROI it makes it difficult for them to afford it and still be worth the effort on our part. Though that kind of bad business planning is probably which will lead them to fail, but that’s another topic and out of our control.

    So I’d still like to offer them something, even if they cannot afford or aren’t interested now. Because down the road as having a web presence becomes increasingly necessary and they want to expand, they’ll know where to go. In the mean time, will direct them here and hope all goes well for them.

    Glad to see you writing more as well, your posts are always lush with detail and from a clear perspective, without the fluff.

  5. This is healthy dose of what we all hope will become common sense. I recommended the old version many times and will gladly pass people along to this version as well. As a freelance developer who focuses exclusively on these types of businesses, I’d recommend a couple additional steps/tips.

    You mentioned it above, but it’s so important to get the ownership issues right. Domain name, Hosting account, Google accounts, Directory accounts … all should be registered in the business’s name. I constantly run into small businesses that have let their local “computer guy” or an employee (guaranteed to be a former employee when the mistake is discovered) register the domain name and other important accounts in their personal names. It’s so easy to get this right, and so expensive if you get it wrong.

    Develop a professional, web ready logo. This should be common sense, but in reality many small businesses didn’t need this in the old world. On the web a simple, distinct logo is critical. Make sure one portion of it fits into a square… so many directories and services allow uploading a logo or image, but it is often limited or displays best if it’s a square. If it’s a simple design, it will also translate well to a favicon which adds a nice professional touch to a website.

    I would also add Merchant Circle to the list of directories to sign up with… it’s a free one too. They have greatly improved the local networking process and are offering kind of hybrid local directory/social networking site. It has proven an effective resource for many of my clients.

    Thanks again for a great post, I look forward to more.
    JW

  6. Thanks for the input JW! I agree there is no harm in claiming your Merchant Circle profile… however, I don’t feel comfortable recommending them on the list above based on my past experiences with Merchant Circle. :)

  7. Very good playbook, Rae! One thing I would like to emphasize is that “full address” includes city and state. And “telephone number” has to have an area code. Local businesses have to think global now.
    As far as tools, I do like GetListed.org for the basic business listings. And to track reviews – Yext.com is a good tool.

  8. Some great advice there Rae.

    I think this post applies to website developers as well as business owners. I’ll be reading over this to use in my own workflow and putting it on my recommended reading list for clients too.

    Glad to see you are posting again. Keep up the good work.

    Thomas

  9. Very good, comprehensive post. I particularly like the idea about having a coupon page to offer a “special”.
    In fact I am going to make one now..Thanks

  10. Wow – very detailed post and great for those who are trying to get a grip on the fundamentals. It seems that most small businesses dont even know what SEO is and usually end up getting ripped off. A little bit of research, and stumbling across posts like this, goes a long way to empowerment!

  11. @Lyena – actually, that was already in the post under what should appear on the homepage. :)

    Be sure to list this information in full, including street address, city, state and zip code. List the phone number with area code. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit a site that does business in a locale I’m not from that lists their phone number without an area code – and since I’m not local, I have no idea what it might be.

  12. Nice post, Rae! (As always) I have a question and it actually came up with a colleague a couple of days ago. You recommend getting a dedicated IP address for your website. Why? Does it help SEO, and if so, how?

    Thanks!

  13. Thank You Rae! Great info as always.

    Outbound Links, thanks for stressing that. On each of my sites I have created a page that lists nothing but resource links and it out ranks the pages in many cases that are the actual resource.
    It’s a very valuable tidbit that most people don’t take advantage of because they are scared to give juice to the inbound side. I believe Google views a resource directory more valuable than the resource sometimes.

  14. Awesome post. Very high-level where a business owner that is not super web savvy can understand. Thanks!

  15. This is an excellent primer for anyone looking to establish a business presence online. I’m going to bookmark this post and refer it to anyone who asks me for advice on setting up or optimizing their business site.

    There so much information out there on this topic it becomes overwhelming for the first timers – we need more concise and informative articles like this. Great job!

  16. Excellent post Rae – I wish I had seen it a few months ago as I was looking for a kind of checklist on SEO.

    I do have a question about DMOZ – some experts still put a lot of weight on their authority, and others say that is it something that is not a small part of SEO – as google/search engines have moved on. What do you think?

  17. @PR Agencies – for me, Dmoz is “submit it and forget it” – if you can get a listing, great, it’s a nice link on an aged site that doesn’t link to everyone. If you can’t, no big – you can find ways to get the same kind of links – IF, in the case of a small local business – you even need them (local business SEO wise) after getting the rest of the above links. :)

  18. Great post Rae! I work with nonprofit and collaborative projects and your post hits the major points I’m constantly promoting to organizations.

    While geared toward mom & pop biz, I will definitely be pointing them to this article as an excellent resource!

  19. Great article! Very useful information that can be implemented straight away pretty much. You star!

  20. These are some great points Rae! I’ve already sent this post to several local businesses to use as a checklist. I especially like the advice on what to put on each individual page – it seems obvious to have your address and contact details on every page…but a lot of local businesses tend to leave this out!

  21. Great post .. i would always make sure any new business starting in SEO is carefully picking the keyword targets they are going for. Its always better to first think about hitting long tail keywords that potentially have a high conversion rate. This will allow for initial SEO spend to have a much better chance of turning a positive ROI.

  22. great post. Google citations is efficient technique that helps to improve local business. In recent times when working with local clients in US, citations really helped to improve rankings in google maps. Only problem with citations is its very monotonous and kind of long boring process until you got VA for it do those :) .

  23. Rae,

    Your checklist is nothing less than the roadmap I needed to let my customers understand what I mean when I tell them they should have some SEO work done for their Local Business Website.
    Guess I’ll need to translate it though and have the ‘local listings’ part adapted to the French market ;)

    Best regards
    - Jean-Marie

    PS : Do you believe an ancient photographs online merchant could also benefit from this checklist?

  24. One of the most helpful, succinct “plans” for small biz getting started (or rehabbing) with their online marketing. Only thing I would add is a few tips/recommendations with regards to social and the importance of reviews. I might be co-opting this material for some clients. Great work!

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