Small businesses have limited marketing budgets and are unable to spend thousands on SEO.
If you’re not sure what is SEO, please read this article: What is SEO?
I developed this simple checklist to help small businesses to get started with SEO. If your industry is highly competitive, there is no other choice than to hire a freelance SEO consultant or an SEO agency to handle your SEO efforts.
If you follow everything in this list, you will see steady growth in organic traffic from search engines.
These are the things we will cover in this SEO checklist for small businesses:
- Buyer Persona Development
- Tools Setup For SEO
- Keyword Research
- Basic On-Page SEO
- Basic Technical SEO
- Content Guideline for SEO
- Google My Business Setup
**Disclaimer: I do not guarantee first page rankings on search engines if you follow this list. It’s just a simple guide to get you started.
Before implementing any SEO strategies to your site, you need to perform in-depth research on your industry and competitors. Implementing SEO blindly without a plan will hurt your business.
Buyer Persona Development
You need to come up with a buyer persona (customer profile) before getting started with SEO. Answer the following questions to identify your buyer persona:
- Who is your buyer/customer? This question will cover demographics such as age, gender, education, race, nationality, and many more.
- What are the problems they are facing? This question will help you identify the problems they’re trying to overcome that are related to your products and services.
- What influence their purchase decision? Determine the factors like price, quality, and after-sale support that influence their purchase decision.
- Where do they find information? Identify the primary sources (online sources) they use to get information before making any purchase.
- What are the common reasons for objection? Find out the reasons why your product and services get rejected by potential customers.
Once you come up with your customer profile, it will be relatively easier for you to plan out your SEO strategies.
But, you need to set up some important tools before getting started. And please don’t forget, you need a website. Responsive website, please!
If you don’t have a website for your small business, please get one developed right away. The website is your business asset.
If you’re not willing to invest in getting a website developed, you’re going to lose out on competing with others in your industry.
You don’t have to hire a development agency to develop your website, just go to platforms like UpWork and hire a developer. Look for developers who can get your site developed for less than $1000.
WordPress is the best platform for your website.
WordPress powers up to 30% of the total websites on the Internet. It is easier to optimize WordPress sites for search engines.
These are some of the best features of WordPress that help to optimize it for SEO:
- Top-notch SEO plugins like Yoast SEO
- Easy content marketing platform
- Faster loading speed compared to other CMS (Google ranking signal)
- SEO-friendly templates
If you implement every element in this checklist, you will get more organic traffic from search engines.
Tools Setup for SEO
Google Search Console Setup
One of my favourite free SEO tools.
Google Search Console was developed by Google to help track the performance of sites on the Google search engine.
Google Search Console is the first tool you should set up when you’re starting with SEO.
How to Get Started with Google Search Console
- Sign in to your Google Account (make sure to use your business-related Gmail)
- Visit Google Search Console
- Enter your site URL and click Continue
- There are three ways to verify your site ( GA Tracking Code, Google Tag Manager, and HTML Tag). Go for HTML Tag.
- Download the HTML file. Upload the file to the root location of your website, you can log in to your hosting CPanel to do it. If you’re having difficulties, ask your developer to do it for you.
- Click on “verify” once you’re done uploading the HTML verification file.
Congratulation. You’re verified now.
These are the things you can do with Google Search Console
- Find pages that get high search traffic
- Monitor your impression, CTR, and keywords position on Google
- Identify the total number of your web pages been indexed
- Find out index errors and learn how to fix them
- Identify AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) errors and fix them
- Find out mobile usability issues
- Keep your site health in check with security and manual actions
- And many more
Bing Webmaster Tools Setup
Although Bing is not as popular as Google, it’s still worth optimizing as 1/3 of global searches are done on the Bing search engine.
I won’t dive deep into the setup process of Bing Webmaster tools.
You can learn how to add your site to Bing Webmaster Tools here:
Google Analytics Setup
Google Analytics helps sites to identify the sources of their traffic. It’s a free analytical tool that offers great features like:
- Check out traffic from different channels like search engines, social media networks, and referral sites.
- Identify pages on your site that bring in the most traffic
- Compare the monthly, weekly, or daily traffic performance of your site
- Check out audience demographics, page views, bounce rate, and average time on site.
Many site owners are not aware of this super useful strategy in connecting Google Analytics with Google Search Console to identify keywords the site ranking for, impressions, and CTR of your main landing pages.
How To Get Started with Google Analytics? (For WordPress sites only)
- Sign in to your Google account. Go to Google Analytics
- Sign up for Google Analytics. Insert your website URL and fill in all the other required fields
- Once done, you will be shown the Analytics tracking code
- Install Google Analytics Dashboard Plugin to your site. You will be requested to authenticate your Google account
- Make sure to stay logged in with your Google Account.
- Choose the right GA profile of your site and you’re done.
You can use the following resources to implement Google Analytics if you’re using any other platforms for your site.
Yoast SEO Plugin Setup (For WordPress only)
There are a few SEO plugins for WordPress sites. But, the Yoast SEO plugin is the best among them.
Yoast is extremely user-friendly and doesn’t require you to have any technical knowledge to utilize its full potential for SEO efforts.
If you have the budget to spend $89 per year, I would suggest you get Yoast SEO Premium. A small investment that will help you get great results.
The search engine algorithm is constantly changing to provide the best experience for the users. One thing that stayed consistent over the years when it comes to SEO: keyword research.
The need for keyword research has been there since the inception of search engines. But, how to do it has changed.
So, what is keyword research?
Keyword research is the method used to identify keywords or phrases that people enter into the search engine. The ability to identify the right keywords that represent your products or services can drive qualified traffic to your site.
There are different types of keywords. According to Search Engine Land, there are 7 types of keywords that can help boost SEO strategies. But, I will include the important ones that you should focus on.
- Market-defining keywords – broad and generic keywords and phrases that talk about your businesses and industry.
- Customer-defining keywords – keywords and phrases that indicate your target audience and elements around them.
- Product & Service keywords – keywords and phrases that describe the products you sell or services you offer.
How to Perform Keyword Research?
You’ve developed your buyer persona. It will help you identify relevant topics related to your customers and business offerings.
You might not be interested in using premium paid tools to perform keyword research with a limited marketing budget. If you have the budget to use paid tools, you can use the following tools:
In this article, I will show you how to perform keyword research using the Google search engine and Ubersuggest.
We will use the Google search engine to get keywords searched by users with Google Suggest and insert those keywords into Ubersuggest to check out their volumes and difficulty level.
Just type the keyword you’ve listed so far into Google.
I will use “social media blogs” for this example
These are exact terms searched by users with Google. When users are searching for them, these keywords surely get attention. You should optimize your site around these keywords.
Let’s take this keyword and check it with Ubersuggest.
Go to Ubersuggest and enter your keyword. The result from Ubersuggest will show the volume of the keyword, the difficulty to rank on Google (Free and paid), and Cost Per Click (CPC).
When you scroll down, you can keyword ideas (suggested and related) to your primary keyword. Click on “View All Keyword Ideas”.
You can check out the list of related keywords listed.
On the right, you can see the search result for each keyword.
Ubersuggest is not a perfect tool like other paid alternatives. However, as a free tool, it really offers great value.
When you use tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs you’ll be able to get more detailed information on keywords.
So how to incorporate these researched keywords into your website?
By developing high-quality content.
To develop high-quality content you need to change your keywords into questions, comparisons, and prepositions.
Answer The Public is one awesome tool that can assist you in identifying questions related to your keywords.
Just enter your keywords and the tool will generate what you need.
Once you’ve got a rough idea of the type of questions you need to answer, it will be relatively easy to develop content.
IMPORTANT TIP: Keep an eye on your competitors and the keywords and phrases they are ranking for. Identifying what keywords your competitors ranking for will help you leverage them.
Basic On-Page SEO for Small Businesses
Once you’re done with the setup of basic tools and keyword research, it’s time to optimize your website content with proven on-page SEO strategies.
So, what is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO is one of the fundamental practices of optimizing website elements to improve search engine ranking. This method focuses on content and web elements.
Implementing on-page SEO techniques will be sufficient enough to rank sites for keywords with little to no competition.
So, let’s move on to the on-page SEO techniques.
Add Primary Keyword to Page Title
The Page Title is what appears on the search results. Even when you share specific content on social media networks, it will use the page title you’ve added.
You should avoid stuffing all your keywords on Page Title and focus on coming up with a persuasive page title. It should be attractive to both humans and search engine bots.
The following tips will help you create the right Page Title:
- It would be great if you include the keyword at the beginning of the page title.
- The title length should be between 50-60 characters.
- As the title creates the first impression for visitors, make it catchy and persuasive.
- Don’t stuff keywords into your title.
- Don’t include special characters and emojis
Your title will define what your content is about. If it does not provide value, potential customers will move away to other sites on the search results.
If you’ve added Yoast Plugin, you can preview how your title tags appear in the search engines.
Not using WordPress, you can use Moz Title Tag Preview Tool to check the appearance of your title.
Add Keyword to URL
URL of pages on your site helps search engine bots understand what your page is all about. This is one of the main reasons to add keywords you’re targeting in your URL.
For example, I’ve written an article with the target keyword “SEO pricing in Malaysia”.
So my URL for that specific article is https://navenpillai.com/seo-pricing-in-malaysia
If you’re using Yoast SEO Plugin, you can modify your URL in the slug section.
Please be reminded to keep your URL as short as possible. According to a recent analysis conducted by Google, sites with short URLs tend to rank high on Google search engine.
Add your primary keyword at least once in the first paragraph
Search engines focus on the first paragraph of your page. To be more accurate, the first 150 words of your content.
Adding your primary keyword once within 150 words is a good on-page SEO practice.
Let’s take the same example, I’ve used previously. As I’ve used “SEO Pricing in Malaysia” as my primary keywords, see how I’ve added it to my content.
Include keywords in headers of your content (H1, H2, H3)
You can’t always incorporate your keywords in H1, H2, and H3 tags. If you have the chance to add them, do it.
It won’t affect your search rankings heavily, but there are high possibilities for you to outrank your competitors for the same keywords if you do something extra than them. If you realize your competitors are not doing it then do it.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a game of trial and error. Some SEO techniques might not work for you due to the complexity of your industry and some might work for you.
Even if you make small changes, it can bring huge changes to your search rankings.
Add your keywords to Meta Description
Survey Monkey conducted a survey on the meta description. They found that 43.2% of users click on given search results, based on the meta description alone.
Although Google has confirmed that meta description is not a ranking factor, it still plays its role in getting people to click on sites.
And, keywords added to your meta description will be in “BOLD” on the search result page. When the searched keyword is highlighted in such a way, users will click that page to get more information.
I’ve seen a lot of content without images. Images offer attractiveness to your content and keep your visitors engaged. You don’t want your visitors to keep scrolling text after text. They will get bored and leave your site.
When we see it from the search engine’s point of view, images get indexed to be shown in the image search results.
Do you know you can get visitors to your site by optimizing your images for search engines?
But, search engines are bad at recognizing images.
You need to help them understand the images by adding relevant filenames and optimizing alt tags.
So, how to optimize images?
When you planned to use an image for your site, determine the right name that describes the image.
For example, you’re using an image of people having a meeting for your accounting site.
You would want to name the image; accounting_meeting.jpg
When you upload the image to your page, make sure to optimize alt tags.
I often suggest everyone use alt text for their images as it will help search engines to completely understand the images.
Include LSI Keywords or Synonyms
If you try to do the same today, your site will be penalized.
Google has become smarter.
Instead of cannibalizing your content with the same keyword multiple times, make use of LSI keywords.
What are LSI Keywords?
LSI Keywords (Latent Semantic Indexing) are keywords that are relevant and related to your primary keyword. Most people have a misconception about LSI keywords where they perceive it to be synonym keywords.
LSI keywords are keywords that share the same context as the primary keywords.
For example, ‘Dell” and ‘XPS’ are LSI keywords because they share the same context but do not have the same meaning.
So how do you use LSI keywords in your content?
Let’s say you want to rank for ” how to start a WordPress site”.
You will mention the exact keywords for few times so that the content is optimized for the main keyword. As for LSI keywords, you can add the following to your content:
- Launching a WordPress site
- Creating a WordPress site
- And the list goes on.
You can use the free version of LSIGraph to find LSI keywords related to your main keywords (limited to 3 searches per day)
Internal links are essential for on-page SEO. You should never miss out on this one.
It is simple to implement. Only add 3-5 internal links per content.
There are two main reasons to use internal links:
- Keep your visitors engaged on your site by having them visit different content on your site.
- Tell search engines that you have organized site structure by linking internal pages.
Include Outbound Links
You can’t simply develop content without any references. Even I’m referencing other resources to write this article. Unless you’re writing imaginative stories.
Referencing credible sources is important when you want to justify the facts presented in your content.
Your site will build authority by referencing credible and trustworthy resources. When search engines crawl and identify those external links, they will identify your site’s relevance with those sources.
The number of outbound links that you add to your content depends on the length of your content. But, having 4-6 external links will be nice.
That wraps up our on-page SEO techniques that you can implement as a small business owner.
Let’s move on to the technical part of SEO.
Technical SEO for Small Businesses
I have already written an article on Technical SEO which covers every technical aspect of search engine optimization. But, I will simplify it here with the most important ones that small businesses should be aware of.
For your SEO efforts to be effective, you got to fix all the technical SEO issues your website encounters.
So, let’s get started.
Identify Crawl and Indexing Errors
Crawl Error occurs when Google search bots are unable to view pages on your site. When the bots can’t view your pages, your site will have difficulties in getting indexed and appearing on search result pages.
You don’t need any expensive tools to identify crawl errors. If you’ve created the Google Search Console account as mentioned earlier in this article, it will help you identify the crawl errors.
Just head over to Google Search Console and click on “Coverage”
Crawl error often happens when you’re blocking search engine bots from crawling your site. You may want to check your robots.txt file whether there are any tags blocking search engine spiders.
If you see one, just remove it from the robots.txt file.
Check Site Loading Speed
How fast does your site load on both desktop and mobile?
If it takes more than 3 seconds to load, you don’t have a chance to rank high on Google.
As Google officially announced that site loading speed is a ranking signal used by the search engine to rank sites on search results, you got to be serious about it.
You can check your site’s loading speed with Pagespeed Insights.
A free tool developed by Google to know how fast your site loads for desktop and mobile users.
The tool even provides suggestions on how you can improve your web page loading speed. Just follow these suggestions to make your site faster.
Check For Mobile Friendliness
Google announced mobile-first indexing last year. The search engine is giving more priority to indexing mobile pages first compared to desktop pages.
You will be losing out if your site is not mobile-friendly. Just use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to find out whether your site is mobile-friendly or not.
Migrate Your Site to HTTPS
You sure don’t want to miss this. Google officially published on Google Webmaster Central Blog that HTTPS is a ranking signal.
If you haven’t implemented it yet, please do it now.
Your visitors might get turned off to see “not secure” in the URL bar. Don’t chase them away instantly.
Whenever you launch a new site make sure to include HTTPS encryption from the start.
If you want to learn how to migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS, read this guide.
Identify Broken Links and Fix It
You’ve developed your site, published content, and worked hard in providing what visitors are looking for.
What happens when your links aren’t working and show a 404 error?
Firstly, it’s extremely bad for the user experience. Users click on your link to get more information and end up on the 404 error page. 90% of them may never return to your site anymore.
Secondly, your SEO efforts will be severely affected. When search engine bots identify broken links, your rankings will decline as the flow of link equity throughout your entire site is affected.
Use DrLinkCheck.com to identify broken links on your site. The free version allows you to check up to 7,500 links per month.
There is more to Technical SEO. But, these are the fundamentals you need to keep your eyes on. Check all the listed elements and if there are errors make sure to fix them.
Next, we will move on to the Content Guidelines for SEO
Content Guideline For SEO
In this section, you will learn how to develop content for both SEO and visitors.
You need high-quality content on your site for SEO to work.
It’s no secret that SEO and high-quality contents go hand-in-hand.
Without optimized content, your site might be hidden on the 5th or 6th page of search results.
Follow these few rules to make your content stand out for both audience and search engines.
Create the best content in your niche
If you want to dominate search engine results, you need to create content better than the one currently ranking.
- Search for the top 3 content ranking on Google for your targeted keyword
- Analyze those contents and identify what is missing
- Create content better than those ranking contents
- Make sure you’re writing the content for the right people
- Maximize your content promotion on social media sites, and forums. Reddit and other channels.
According to digital marketer Eric Enge, you need to create in-depth content to rank higher on search engines.
So, how to create in-depth content?
- Write long-form contents which are 2,000 words or more (like this article)
- Research and include all the important elements related to the contents
- Look for research studies to include as a reference
Make sure your content is easy to read
When your audience reaches your content, you want them to stay and read it till the end.
You need to make sure every element of your content makes them keep reading without having a thought of clicking the “Back” button.
When your audience stays longer on your site, Google’s going to love it. From Google’s point of view, it’s dwell time, a ranking signal that measures the time a visitor stays on your page before returning to the search results.
These are the characteristics of contents that catch hold of your visitors longer:
Make sure to include all these elements in every content you produce.
Your content should convey information that people can easily understand. When people understand your content, they will stay longer to read other content.
And these are the type of content Google wants to rank.
Include High-Quality Visuals
The engagement rate of content with high-quality relevant images is higher compared to the ones without images.
Research conducted by Skywork found that content containing relevant images had 94% more views than articles without images.
When you use unique high-quality images within your content, it looks professional and authoritative in the eyes of the audience.
There are more advanced strategies for developing SEO optimized content. I won’t be covering them in this article as it requires paid tools and resources to accomplish.
With a limited budget, you’ll be able to successfully develop content that ranks on search engines. If you’re in a competitive niche, be ready to spend more money to compete with your competitors.
Let’s move on to the last section of this article, Google My Business Setup.
Google My Business Setup
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool developed by Google to help local small businesses to manage their presence in Google Maps and Google Search.
When you search for any business name, you can see the Google My Business knowledge panel showing up on the right of the search result page.
The knowledge panel will show a lot of valuable information about your business that your potential customers need to know.
I have recently written an article on how you can set up your Google My Business page. It’s a step-by-step guide on how you can create a GMB listing and optimize it for Google.
There is more to the list of SEO strategies you can implement for your small business website. But, before moving on to those advanced techniques, you need to get these basic ones in place.
This SEO checklist will definitely help you gain results. But, getting ranked high on search engines depends on the competition within your industry and the SEO strategies your competitors are implementing.
What do you think of this SEO checklist for small businesses?
Please share with me by leaving a comment below.