search engine optimization

By Zeus Kerravala

For small businesses, establishing a strong online presence goes beyond simply having a website. With so many other tasks to manage, many business owners’ website approach becomes “if you build it they will come.” You see it all the time – an outdated, clunky website for a local restaurant, or a confusing beauty salon site missing basic information.

As a small business owner myself, I can tell you that a website is just a building block to getting a business noticed online and getting customers in the door. And if you don’t have a website yet, the first step to getting one is to search for and register a domain name. To get the most out of your Web real estate, below are five tried and true techniques that can help your site rise above the competition and to the top of search rankings.

1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

According to a recent survey conducted by, 85 percent of consumers used the Internet to find local businesses in the past 12 months and one-in-six consumers use the Internet every week to find local businesses. I can say firsthand that search engines are one of the main drivers of traffic to my business’ website, making search a valuable tool if you know how to optimize it. Small businesses can take advantage of the trend with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to help increase Web traffic and help new customers find them. By using strategic keywords on a website, people using search engines are more likely to see your business at the top of the results. Customers are more likely to click through to results higher up on the page, and from personal experience, we all know that no one’s going to flip through pages of results to find a pizzeria. Using the right keywords and phrases will help people identify what your brand is all about. For example, a pizza shop in Boise, Idaho, could include phrases like “best pizza in Boise” as that is a commonly searched for phrase by Boise locals looking for pizza. Simple steps like this can really get a small business noticed online. Taking SEO to the next level can be a little more complex, but short workshops and tutorials can also help you implement a basic SEO program.

2. Mobile Optimization 

One tenet of marketing will always be true – be where your customers are. Consumers now rely on their mobile devices, sometimes even more than PCs, to find the things they need online. Always on the go, they use mobile search to find information on local businesses, such as the locations or phone numbers. Yet, less than 10 percent of SMBs have websites that are mobile-compatible. In many ways, mobile search is made for local businesses: it weighs local results more heavily, it now includes one-touch contact information, and it can be used while wandering around a local neighborhood. So, for local businesses, the mobile space can be a great opportunity or a weakness. Mobile traffic is now moving beyond mobile search, and customers are beginning to make purchases from their mobile devices. According to Forrester Research, by 2016, mobile commerce will reach $31 billion. If your website isn’t already mobile-friendly, you could be left behind quickly, and miss out on new customers and future sales. There are many services available through your registrar, such as Verisign’s Mobileview, that will automatically grab key info from a website and set it up for mobile devices.

3. Social Media  

Social media can be a great way for a small business to increase online presence, find new customers and stay connected with existing customers. But, just as every business is unique, so is every social network and its users. Small businesses need to spend time looking at which social networks make the most sense for their businesses. Many attempt a “one size fits all” approach and simply try to be on all social networks, even where their customers may not be, leading to a less targeted approach, more upkeep for the business, and weaker overall social strategy. Pinterest is great for driving traffic to single product pages while Facebook is great for connecting with customers and building a culture around your brand. No matter which channel you choose, the key to driving small businesses success with social media is to post relevant information – i.e., coupons, sales, specials, news, etc. And, as even the big brands have learned, regularly engaging and responding to followers on social media can go a long way to creating brand loyalty.

4. Local Review Sites 

Customers trust other customers. In fact, 52 percent of consumers reported that positive customer reviews make them more likely to use a local business and that they trust online reviews from strangers just as much as personal recommendations .That’s why, for many, before heading to a restaurant or other local business, the first thing they do is search on Yelp, Google Places or other local review sites. If your small business does not have a profile on these sites, you are missing a huge opportunity. They are the new word-of-mouth, a double-edged sword depending on the positive – or negative – experience of the customer providing the review. But, the greater the number of reviews, the better, and the more trusted it is by potential customers. The easiest way to get more positive reviews is to simply ask customers: Put a sign by the register asking for reviews or ask your best customers next time they drop by. You can also post a link to your local review site on all of your social media accounts and ask followers to write a review.

5. Contact Info/Business Hours 

This may seem like my most obvious recommendation yet, but I can’t count how many times businesses either forget to include this essential information, or bury it in a “contact us” page. Make it as easy as possible for potential customers to get the essential information about your business, or they’ll lose interest and move on to a competitor. Every single page of your website should feature your contact information – your address, phone number and email address – somewhere in the upper half, whether in the header or sidebar. Hours of operation should also be easy to find, and will prevent lost sales from customers assuming you were open when you weren’t. It also helps to reduce distracting phone calls from customers, so you can focus on your core business.

By taking these next steps beyond simply having “a website,” your business will likely see an increase in traffic both online and on the ground.

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to the following constituents: End user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers. He also regularly contributes to Network World.