Small businesses today recognize the importance of digital channels to attract and engage customers. This is especially true as the havoc and disruption triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic places even greater reliance on these channels.
A GoDaddy poll cited in the New York Post revealed that 23% of business owners said that they’ve created a website or updated their old one since lockdown began. The poll also found that 57% of consumers have shopped online with a small business since the pandemic started and 47% of those respondents indicated it was their first time doing so.
These findings underscore the importance of SEO as a key component of any small business’s marketing strategy. As small businesses navigate operating in a pandemic environment, a strong SEO program designed to drive more website traffic becomes even more critical to business continuity.
What is SEO?
SEO is essentially the process of optimizing a website so that the algorithms of search engines drive organic or unpaid traffic to the website through search result rankings.
Search engines like Google deliver and rank results to user queries based on 200 or more factors. Google tries to determine the highest quality answers, factoring in considerations such as the user’s location, language, and device (desktop or phone) to provide the best user experience and most appropriate answer.
Why is SEO important for small businesses?
There are more than 1.8 billion websites on the world wide web today. With the massive amount of information available, business that want to be found online need a strong SEO strategy to stand out among thousands and thousands of websites in their industry.
SEO is a powerful tool that can improve a company’s ranking in search results in the more than 85,000 searches per second Google processes. Without an SEO strategy, a business won’t be found in the 93% of online experiences that begin with a search engine or by the 4 in 5 consumers who use search engines to find local businesses.
A strategic SEO program can help small businesses generate more revenue, build a more impactful website that ranks higher on Google and more effectively reach their target audience.
How can small businesses improve SEO?
To improve SEO, small business owners should start by optimizing their websites to enhance user experience. Optimizing the company website to net better search engine rankings is less about focusing on quality in terms of the look and feel of the website and more about function. The quality of web design is important (websites should have a clean, uncluttered, navigable design), but what is more important is ensuring that the company has a quality website as defined by Google. Why? Because over 70% of all internet searches are processed on Google. If Google determines that a business has a quality website, the company will show up in the search rankings when consumers are searching for that product or service.
When it comes to ensuring websites are “Google optimized,” small business owners should:
- Make them mobile friendly
With the number of smartphone users in the United States estimated to reach 275.66 million this year, optimizing the company’s website for mobile viewing is no longer a nice-to-have but a must have. The fact is, mobile optimized websites fare better in search rankings. Last year Google announced mobile-first indexing for all new, previously unknown to Google Search, websites which means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of webpage content for indexing and ranking.
Small business owners should focus on ensuring that visitors to their websites have the same high-quality user experience across all devices including smartphones. This involves developing a mobile-friendly website that is functional and aesthetically pleasing on mobile devices, automatically adjusting sizing, layout, and proportions to display easy-to-read website content on these devices.
Optimizing websites for mobile viewing can have bottom line impacts for a small business. Consider that mobile makes up 84% of all “near me” searches and 28% of searches for something nearby result in a purchase.
- Ensure they are fast loading
Load speeds can make or break a website. The longer it takes a webpage to load the higher the bounce rate and high bounce rates have a negative impact on a company’s search engine rankings. Site speed also has a direct impact on the bottom line. A survey conducted by Retail Systems Research revealed that 90% of shoppers will abandon a site if it is too slow.
- Keep them updated
Keeping websites up to date with fresh content and complete business information including current operating and contact details can improve SEO. Websites that are not updated frequently are downgraded by search engines and sink in the rankings.
- Include keywords
Small business owners should understand the search words and terms potential customers would use to search for their product or service and use these key words in their website content. Using relevant keywords in content makes a website more appealing to search engines and boosts it in the search rankings. Local business owners should also make sure to include the local area as a key word.
A word of caution on key words – overuse of key words may get a website flagged by Google. To avoid being flagged for “keyword stuffing,” make sure key words flow naturally in content.
- Create backlinks
Backlinks are simply a link from one website to another and are critical to SEO. Search engines analyze a website’s backlinks to understand how important and popular a website is. The more external sites that link to a small business’s website, the more relevant that site becomes in the eyes of a search engine. Thus, building links to the company’s website will have the net effect of boosting it in search engine rankings and increasing website traffic.
It is also important to note that Google makes a distinction for local websites and businesses that support a local community by looking for a different type of backlink called “citations”.
These citations are still backlinks that go to the company’s website, but they are citations from a host of websites that Google has identified as directory sites (i.e. Google My Business, Yelp, Yellowpages.com, etc.). There are more 1,000 of these directory sites and they change all the time.
- Bring in outside expertise
Small business owners wear many hats including CEO, CFO (chief financial officer) and COO (chief operating officer). With all those responsibilities it is challenging for business owners to devote time and mindshare to developing an effective SEO program. This becomes even more challenging considering that SEO is a moving target, characterized by constantly changing search engine algorithms and evolving technology.
Today, small businesses can turn to a digital marketing solutions company, offering
low-cost, one-stop-shop digital marketing services that include tailored SEO optimization plans designed to improve search engine rankings. This approach can take all of the SEO guesswork and specialized knowledge out of the equation for small business owners.
SEO can help small businesses build brand awareness, generate leads and boost conversion rates. As reliance on digital channels increases and an increasing number of consumers (over 239 million to date) in the United States use search engines to search for information, small businesses need to focus on SEO strategies to make sure they appear to the searchers looking for their product or service category. Ensuring websites are mobile friendly, fast loading and feature keywords and backlinks is critical to effective SEO and are all strategies a digital marketing solutions company can tackle for small business owners stretched too thin by a host of other responsibilities.
About Steven Clayton, CEO of NetBlaze: Steven Clayton worked in the Information Systems field within Corporate America for 19 years. He had many roles during that time including: Chief Information Officer for a public company and ended his corporate career as a Vice President for a Fortune 500 company. After leaving corporate, Steve became a serial entrepreneur. He started and/or co-founded six different startups, four of which are in business today (the two oldest are now over a decade old) and running profitably. His companies employ more than 60 people all around the world. To learn more about NetBlaze, visit www.NetBlaze.com.