Oh, how we all wish we knew the secrets to getting your business’s website to the top of search engine results. Yes, you can pay for the right to be on top, and I’m not saying that isn’t worth trying if your budget allows, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

Clutch recently surveyed some small business owners about their SEO strategies, and here’s what they found.

Small business owners know SEO matters

More than one-third (36%) of small businesses have an SEO strategy, and 38% more plan to invest in SEO in the future, according to the survey. The most common SEO tactics used are:

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

How much does each of these tactics matter to your search results and which ones are most likely to pay off? Here’s a closer look.

Social media marketing

Social media marketing can help raise awareness of your business, but the jury is still out on exactly how much it contributes to your SEO, Clutch notes. While it’s an important part of your overall marketing strategy, relying on social media marketing as your number-one SEO tool—as many small business owners seem to be doing—is a mistake.

Mobile-friendly websites

A mobile friendly website is essential to good SEO. That’s because Google uses mobile friendliness as a factor in its search rankings. You can test how mobile-friendly your website is here. It’s also important for your website to load quickly on mobile devices.

Keyword research

The Google Webmaster Guidelines to improving your search engine ranking primarily advise you to make your site informative and rich with the keywords that searchers would enter when looking for businesses like yours. Keywords are simply the words most searched on and vary for every type of business website. For example, for my small business website, our keywords are small business ideas, small business opportunities and so on.

The secret is to use keywords in your content but not to overdo it. Search engines know if you’re throwing keywords in just for ranking, and you’ll be penalized. And don’t even think about using sneaky tricks such as cloaking and doorway pages to improve your SEO.

To find out the keywords for your industry, you can use tools such as Google Keyword Planner, which is free, or pay for a tool such as Wordtracker or Keyword Spy (both have free trials so you can test them out). Be sure to follow the other tips in the Google 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

Once you’ve identified your keywords, creating high-quality content around them helps attract users to your website. Another good way to come up with content: Figure out the most common questions your customers have and create content that answers them.

For example, if you own a hair salon and your customers want to know how to do French braids for an event, you could post a video showing how to do French braids. If you own an auto service station and your customers ask how often they should bring their cars in, post a cheat sheet of how often cars should be inspected or serviced and what needs to be checked when.

Optimizing your website for voice search

A relatively small percentage of small businesses are doing this, but they’re smart to get out in front of the trend. As voice-activated smart devices become more common at home and in business, people are increasingly searching by speaking natural language queries (“Where’s the closest restaurant that delivers?”) instead of typing in search terms (“restaurants nearby that deliver”).

Creating content and using keywords to fit voice search means understanding user intent, Clutch notes. For example, someone asking their smartphone, “Siri, where can I get lunch?” wants to get an answer about nearby restaurants, not grocery stores. Understanding the types of information people seek when using voice search will help you attract these users.

How to measure SEO results

How do you measure the success of your SEO efforts? Small businesses in the study rely on traffic from search engines (25%), leads and conversions (19%) and backlinks (14%). Clutch notes, however, that these aren’t necessarily the most important metrics to follow.

Getting search engine traffic is kind of like getting people to glance in your store window. They’re visiting but not necessarily buying. Your lead and conversion rates are more valuable because they show you the percentage of visitors who become leads or actually take the next step to purchasing. Clutch also suggests small business owners should measure search traffic retention—in other words, your bounce and exit rates—to see if people are spending significant time on your website. Finally, don’t just track the number of backlinks, but their quality as well. Backlinks from sites with high domain authority (DA) are the only ones you should care about.

Paying for SEO

Online pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can improve the results of your organic SEO efforts. Six in 10 small businesses that have SEO strategies also use PPC advertising, up 15% from 2018, Clutch reports, and an additional 17% plan to add PPC advertising this year. 

As Google has added more elements at the top of search engine results pages (answer boxes, local search results maps, videos, etc.), plain old organic search results have gotten pushed down the page. The problem is exacerbated when users search on mobile phones with limited real estate. Using PPC advertising helps make your business more visible “above the fold”—that is, without the user scrolling down.

You can also use what you learn from your PPC efforts to improve your organic SEO, Clutch notes. By tracking which ads users click on the most, you can get ideas for content, meta tags, and keywords to use on your website.

Getting help with SEO

Not surprisingly, more than half (54%) of small businesses in the survey rely on in-house staff to handle SEO services; just 28% hire an SEO agency. Agencies are cost-prohibitive for many small business owners.

Fortunately, there’s a middle ground between DIY and paying for SEO. One of the most enlightening conversations I’ve had about SEO was with a local SCORE mentor. Seriously, these people know their stuff. In addition to being free, their advice is personalized and actionable. It’s one thing to read advice and another to get it explained to you in plain English. And when it comes to SEO, plain English is not always easy to find.

About the Author(s)

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and SmallBizDaily.com.

CEO, GrowBiz Media
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