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.
If 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. email@example.com looks much more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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.)
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
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
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.
- Yahoo Local
- Dmoz (in the Regional section)
- Local.com (try to resist wanting to beat the guy talking to you… to DEATH)
- Angies List
- Dex Knows
- Insider Pages
- Judy's Book
- CitySearch (CityGrid)
- Foursquare (a pretty awesome mobile application)
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!