Small businesses have always had a unique challenge when it comes to growing and competing against the bigger and better established brands within their niche. Not stopping there, small businesses have to compete against what seem like never ending budgets and massive marketing and sales teams.
Fortunately, small businesses are quicker to adapt to new marketing tactics and can excel from being more nimble. With this in mind let’s look at five things small businesses can do to get started with online marketing and SEO.
Search Friendly Website
It goes without saying that small businesses must have a professional website that will give the proper impression to prospective customers who land on their page. What many small businesses neglect to do though is to ensure it is search engine friendly. Because search engines use software to crawl websites, often called bots or spiders, small business owners should ensure that their website is crawlable by these bots.
Owners can accomplish this by doing the following:
- Avoid having “splash” pages that are primarily flash based. Instead, ensure your home page has plenty of static text communicating both to the user and the search engine what your page is about. Owners should balance the need between usability and conversion and search engine friendliness.
Tell The Search Engines Where You Are
Hand in hand with a crawlable site is actually telling the search engines about your website. You can do this in a couple of ways:
- Create a HTML sitemap. This is simply a page that contains HTML links in hierarchical nature of your entire site. Not only will this help search engines crawl your entire site but it is very useful to visitors. Owners should place a link to the sitemap page in the footer so it is easily accessed by the bots.
- Create an XML sitemap. Similar to a HTML sitemap, an XML sitemap provides information directly to the search engines. Your web developer or designer can help you set this up. Owners should ensure that it is set up in the root folder of the website. i.e. www.site.com/sitemap.xml. This sitemap will not only communicate where pages are located but how often they are updated. This lets spiders know that blog pages for example are updated frequently and should be crawled often. This XML sitemap should be submitted to both a Bing and Google Webmaster tools account. These accounts are free to set up and encouraged by the search engines as it makes their job easier to find and crawl new websites.
Basic Site Optimization
Small business owners should ensure that their main pages have basic SEO optimization done on them. This includes the following:
- Keyword Research: By using the free Google Keyword Tool owners can find out which keywords people use to find the products they sell. These keywords will form the foundation of your on-site optimization efforts.
- Title & Meta Tag Optimization: Owners should write a descriptive and unique title tag and meta description for every one of pages. If you’re site is large, focus first on pages that produce revenue. Ultimately though all pages on your website should have a unique title and meta description. Title tags will help with rankings and a good meta description can increase the click through rate when your site appears in the search results. For example, for a company selling blue widgets that are used for big houses and commercial buildings an owner could write the title tag and meta description as pictured below using SERP Mofo which helps you stay within character limits.
Free Business Listings
Owners should take advantage of free online business listings offered by websites such as Yellow Pages, Brownbook, etc. This will help both with search engine rankings as well as prospective customers who may use those websites to find local businesses to buy from. There are multiple tools that help you find where you are or aren’t listed. After using the websites listed below, simply go to each website and set up your free listing by filling out your business information such as name, address, phone number, description, etc.
Alternatively, if budget allows, some of these services justify spending the money to let them submit your business to all of these sites. Either way, small business owners should ensure that the name, address and phone number (commonly referred to as your “NAP”) used are exactly as they are listed on your Google Local page as well as your website. The consistency of your NAP counts just as much as the quantity of citations that include your NAP across the web. It provides consistent information not just to human searchers but also to the search engines.
Blog Implementation and Content Creation
One of the most valuable ways to increase online visibility for small businesses is to implement a blog on the website and to begin to blog regularly. While using free platforms such as Blogspot and WordPress.com are easier and quicker to get set up, they are less valuable in the long run. Ideally, a company’s blog is located on the same domain as the company website.
For example, your blog should be located at a URL such as this: www.company.com/blog and NOT blog.company.com or blog.blogspot.com. This will ensure that all the natural links, social shares and traffic generated from your content will point to your actual website and not another stand alone website. This will provide long term SEO value as well as the value that comes from attracting qualified customers to your website.
The best way to do this is use WordPress to manage your blog. This platform can be added to your site in order to blog regularly. WordPress is a SEO and user-friendly platform that will make blogging easy.
Depending on your current site’s platform and technical set up it may be easiest to hire a 3rd party web development company to set one up for you. Though this will present a one-time cost up front if small businesses consistently blog then it easily repays itself over the long term.
As digital marketing continues to grow in influence and importance small businesses must adapt and start to learn more about online marketing to thrive. Following these five basic tips for online visibility will create a solid foundation for any small business to increase visibility and drive traffic to their website to supplement offline efforts.
About the Author: Nelson James is COO and Co-Founder of Signs.com. Signs.com produces custom banners and signage for small businesses and other customers seeking a custom signage solution. Nelson also previously helped grow small businesses including his time as VP at Lendio and Co-Founder and President of SEO.com.