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SEO tips for small businesses

A good SEO strategy establishes your authority, attracts potential customers and drives traffic to your site

11-minute read

If you’re like most businesses, your number one goal is to bring in new customers. That means finding the people or businesses looking for your product or service.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website to improve its visibility and ranking on search engines. The goal is to improve organic traffic to your website, making it more likely that potential customers will find your company.

SEO is one of the most cost-effective means of marketing your company.

What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

SEO is a technique that helps your website rank higher in Internet searches. In turn, this drives organic (non-paid) traffic to your website.

SEO involves various techniques to improve the performance of your website, including:

  • Keyword research
    SEO starts with identifying relevant keywords and phrases that users might use when searching for information about a website’s content or services.
  • Web page analysis and optimization
    Elements of your web pages, such as title tags, meta descriptions, headings and content, must naturally include target keywords. Your content must also be of high quality, providing value to users while being informative, easy to read and shareable.
  • Internal and external link-building
    Acquiring high-quality backlinks from trusted sources outside your website is essential for SEO success. Search engines view backlinks as a vote of confidence in your credibility and authority. One high-quality backlink can often do as much to boost your traffic as several low-quality links.

    Purchasing links is not recommended. You’ll want to link to a site where your readers will find valuable content, which is not often the case with purchased links.

    Internal linking is also key to success as it improves the user’s experience on your site, distributes a page’s authority across your site, and establishes a hierarchy and structure for your website.
  • Technical optimization
    To rank high on search results, you’ll need your website to be mobile-friendly, provide a secure connection (https) and properly use header tags. It should also load rapidly for users.
  • Local SEO
    For businesses targeting local customers, optimizing for local search by creating a Google My Business profile, getting online reviews and ensuring consistent business information across online directories is essential for success.

At its essence, SEO focuses on ensuring your website is relevant and attractive to search engines such as Google, Yahoo! or Bing. Google is the most popular search engine, accounting for 92.4% of Internet queries in April 2023, according to data research firm Statista.

“A lot of searches are questions asking how to do something,” says Jean-François Monfette, Specialist, Digital Marketing at BDC. “The user wants to find an answer and the search engine is trying to offer helpful content. If you provide the most relevant and helpful content, it has more chances of landing at the top of the results page.”

Monfette warns that a vital part of this exercise is to offer what you are promising.

“If you’re saying you’ll answer a how-to question, you need to answer it. And when the reader finishes the article or video, they’ll know how to do what they were hoping to do.”

How does SEO work?

Search engine optimization capitalizes on a search engine’s ability to find, classify and display information posted on the Internet.

Search engines use Web crawlers to scour the Internet, looking for the most relevant information for what someone has typed into its search bar.

There is also a human element involved in the process. For example, Google uses third-party Search Quality Raters to help improve search results.

Google and the other search engines determine which websites best address queries on their platforms. That’s done by assessing how comprehensively and authoritatively the subject is covered and by searching for keywords and relevant subject matter in the body of the page, the headings, URLs and back-end descriptions.

The relevance of the images and videos on your pages, credible sites linking to your content, your site’s user-friendliness and the speed at which your pages load are also factors that influence the search results of a page.

The user wants to find an answer and the search engine is trying to offer helpful content. If you provide the most relevant and helpful content, it will be featured at the top of the results page.

Why use SEO?

SEO is an essential part of marketing your products or services. It will help you rank higher in search traffic, making it more likely that potential clients will click on the link and end up at your website.

Depending on the keywords you are targeting and the results you obtain, SEO can be cheaper than paid search ads for attracting clients to your website. Page speed optimizations, clear call-to-actions, and improved display for all types of devices will also improve conversion rates on your site.

SEO can also play a role in familiarizing prospects with your brand. Clients will more likely interact with your sites if they are easy to find. Users often perceive websites that rank high in organic search as trustworthy.

“You need to match your website to what your potential customers are looking for. You want to be providing helpful information. So, if they have a certain problem, you are providing a solution,” Monfette says.

Finding out what terms and questions your clients are searching for will also let you know what challenges they are facing and what they value.

What is EEAT?

EEAT stands for experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. It is important when assessing how well your website will rank on a search engine query.

EEAT is particularly important in fields where expertise is crucial (such as medical or financial subjects). In such cases, you can showcase expertise and experience through author bios and credentials, authoritativeness through valuable backlinks, and trustworthiness through transparent sourcing and the accuracy of the information. You can establish trustworthiness with user reviews or testimonials on third-party sites.

Search engines recognize sites that post regularly on a specific subject and offer fresh information. Posting regularly on matters related to your field of work will help you rank higher, giving you what’s referred to as domain authority.

“To have domain authority, you have to have shown expertise on the subject,” says Monfette, who adds that Google will factor that in when ranking web pages, along with the experience, authority and trustworthiness mentioned above.

Many government, university and media websites will have a solid overall EEAT, since they have published information, research or articles on many topics.

“Stick to what you know,” says Monfette, who adds that you can then go deeper into the subject to gain a strong EEAT.

Examples of good SEO

Below are examples of how five companies figured out what their potential customers would ask in a Google search.

The first column identifies the company’s industry; the second is a popular question that gets Googled; the third is the decision each business took to be ranked number one for that particular question.

Business Popular question What the business created to rank high
Kitchen countertop maker Are marble countertops still in? An article on the year’s top countertop trends
Cosmetics company Which lipstick colour is best for dark skin? FAQ section that includes a question on the best shades of lipstick for various skin tones
Manufacturer of temperature-controlled trucks Does a refrigerated van use more fuel? A blog entitled “How economical is it to run a fridge van?”
Industrial lighting manufacturer What voltage are stadium lights? A blog entitled “8 factors on LED stadium lights.”
Data management service How do I create a network disaster recovery plan? A step-by-step guide to creating a disaster recovery plan

As you’ll see in the above table, search engine results may not perfectly match the questions asked.

For example, Google could interpret from the question, “Are marble countertops still in?” that the inquirer would be interested in trends. And, in the same vein, when someone asked the specific question about gasoline, “Does a refrigerated van use more fuel?” the strongest ranking answer was something more general, namely the overall costs associated with refrigerated vans.

How much does SEO cost?

SEO does not cost money beyond the resources needed to analyze, create and implement an efficient SEO strategy. It can also take time for results to appear.

While you can likely do much of this work yourself, most business owners hire internal resources or work with an outside firm to maximize their time.

David Girolami, Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services, offers an estimate: “If you are hiring a firm or consultant, you should prepare to pay approximately $3,500 per month—and you would need at least six months to see it through. If you are hiring an individual SEO specialist, expect to pay $75-$100 per hour* and sign a three-month engagement.”

SEO vs Paid Search

Monfette says that some business owners will prefer to put their money into pay-per-click advertising. Gaining new visitors that way, he warns, requires continual payment.

“As soon as you stop paying, the results stop. Compare that to SEO, where you pay at the start with your time and resources. But you’ll see permanent results with SEO.” He also adds that the pay-per-click rates are higher in more competitive industries.

On the other hand, some search queries are so popular that achieving a high ranking through SEO will be very difficult, even with time and effort. Sometimes, you have no choice but to pay if you want visibility on these searches.

Monfette says you’ll need to check your results regularly to see if the investment has been paying off through organic traffic or pay-per-click.

How to track and measure SEO

Don’t expect users to flock to your site immediately. A long-term approach to SEO is vital, says Monfette.

“Great results take time. You can write something new and not see any results for six months.”

Monfette suggests that you keep an eye on your progress. Various web analytic tools will help with that and point out how your website and those of your competitors are doing.

You can start by using Google Search Console to check if your pages are visible on the search engine. It lists the number of impressions and clicks you’ve received. (Impressions are the number of times your pages were shown in the search results, with clicks being the number of times people clicked on the link in the search engine to land on your site.) It also gives you your site’s ranking position for various queries.

“Seeing if you are getting traction with your content is valuable information,” Monfette says, adding that Bing offers a similar tool called Bing Webmaster Tools.

Digital analytics software shows you the following:

  • if search engines brought visitors to your website
  • session duration, bounce rate and pages per visit
  • a high-level view and a comparison of traffic sources.

Tracked conversions are another key way to measure impact. For example, you’ll want to see if visitors submit contact forms, subscribe to newsletters or download key content. If those conversions are low, you can optimize your website to try and achieve more.

Your visitors will often need many touchpoints with your brand before that conversion takes place and turns into a lead; SEO traffic is one of those touchpoints.

Your SEO content will also bring visitors from different stages of the marketing funnel, each with different conversion points. A successful visit from a visitor at the top of the funnel will differ from someone at the bottom of the funnel.

Understanding the customer journey of both the user and your business is key to building the right reports for SEO.  Learn more about analyzing your website traffic with by reading this article : How to conduct a website analysis.

Next step

Discover what it takes to build a successful brand online by downloading the free digital marketing guide for entrepreneurs, Attracting and Selling Online.

*2024 estimates

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