improve your seo

How can you improve your SEO without spending big bucks?

By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you wish you knew the secrets to getting your business’s website on the top of search engine results? Join the club. For most small business owners, paying for the right to be on top is out of reach. Fortunately, that’s not your only option. Here’s what small business owners in a recent Clutch survey are doing to boost their SEO.

Over one-third (36%) of small businesses say they have an SEO strategy. In addition, 38% more say they will invest in SEO in the future, the survey reports. Here are the most popular SEO tactics small businesses use:

  • Social media marketing: 63%
  • A mobile-friendly website: 54%
  • Keyword research: 51%
  • Creating high-quality content: 48%
  • Optimizing website for voice search: 21%

Which of these SEO tactics make the biggest difference in your website’s search engine results position and which ones are less likely to pay off? Here’s what the study has to say.

Social media marketing

Social media marketing is an important part of your overall marketing strategy, as it can build your brand, raise awareness of your business and help get customers in the door. However, when it comes to SEO, the jury is still out on exactly how much social media marketing actually helps. That means relying on social media marketing to improve your SEO (which many small business owners in the survey are doing) probably won’t get the results you want.

Making mobile-friendly websites

Because Google uses mobile friendliness as a factor in its search rankings, a mobile-friendly website has become essential to good SEO. When you consider how many people use their phones for search, it’s clear why mobile-friendliness matters. Test how mobile-friendly your website is here and make sure that your website loads quickly on mobile devices.

Doing keyword research

Keywords are the words most searched on; they vary for every type of business website. For example, for SmallBizDaily, our keywords are small business ideas, small business opportunities and so on. The Google Webmaster Guidelines, which advise businesses how to improve search engine rankings, primarily suggest making your site informative and full of the keywords online searchers are most likely to enter when looking for businesses like yours.

The secret here is to include keywords in your website content but not to overdo it. Search engines know when you’re throwing keywords in just for ranking (“keyword stuffing”), and will penalize you. Don’t even consider using underhanded tricks such as cloaking and doorway pages to improve your SEO.

To get the best keywords for your industry, use tools such as Google Keyword Planner, which is free, or pay for a tool such as Wordtracker or Keyword Spy (both offer free trials so you can see how they work for you). Also follow the other tips in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, such as using lots of text links, making sure your pages don’t have any broken links, and submitting a site map to Google so they can learn more about your site.

Creating high-quality content

After you’ve identified your keywords, attract users to your website by featuring high-quality content related to those keywords. You can also come up with good content by identifying the most common questions your customers have and creating content that answers those queries.

For instance, if you own an auto service station and your customers ask how often they should bring their cars in, post a cheat sheet for how often cars should be serviced and what needs to be checked when. If you own a hair salon and your customers always ask how to do French braids, post a video demonstrating a French braid updo.

Optimizing your website for voice search

The small percentage of small businesses that are optimizing for voice search are wise to get out in front of the trend. With more and more voice-activated smart devices used in homes and in business, people are just as likely to search by speaking natural language queries (“Where’s the closest restaurant that delivers?”) as by typing in search terms (“restaurants nearby delivery”).

To create content and find keywords optimized for voice search requires understanding user intent, Clutch notes, not just the words. For instance, a user asking his smartphone, “Siri, where can I get lunch?” wants to find out about nearby restaurants, not grocery stores.

How to measure SEO results

To measure the success of their SEO efforts, small businesses in the study look at traffic from search engines (25%), leads and conversions (19%) and backlinks (14%). However, these aren’t necessarily the most important metrics to measure, Clutch cautions.

Increasing search engine traffic is like getting more people to look in your store window. They’re visiting, but not always buying. Instead, look at your lead and conversion rates, which show you how many visitors actually take the next step to express interest or make a purchase. Clutch also suggests measuring search traffic retention—that is, your website bounce and exit rates—to see if people are sticking around on. Your site. Finally, pay attention to the quality, not just the quantity, of backlinks, looking for those from sites with high domain authority (DA).

Improve your SEO with PPC

Using online pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to enhance the results of your organic SEO efforts is a smart move. Sixty percent of small businesses with SEO strategies also use PPC advertising, an increase of 15% from 2018. An additional 17% plan to add PPC advertising this year.

As the top of search engine results pages get crowded with answer boxes, maps, videos and more, organic search results get pushed further and further down the page. That’s a real problem, especially when users search on mobile phones with limited real estate. PPC advertising can make your business more visible “above the fold” (the part of the screen users see without scrolling down).

An added benefit from PPC: You can also use what you learn from it to improve your SEO. For example, Clutch notes that tracking which ads users click on the most will generate ideas for keywords, meta tags and content you can use on your website.

Getting help with SEO

The world of SEO changes constantly. Keep up to date by following Google’s Webmaster blog, reading about SEO and getting help from experts. This is one area where a small investment can pay off big, so don’t neglect the value of SEO.

SEO text holding pen on page stock photo from TierneyMJ/Shutterstock