Search engine optimisation checklist for small businesses: business skills
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a way to try and make sure that your website has a good ranking when people use Google/Yahoo/Bing etc to search for a keyword that’s related to what you do.
Here’s a quick explanation of what I mean by keywords and rankings if you’re not familiar with the terminology - a keyword is a word or phrase that people search for that’s relevant to your business. Let’s use the example of a florist in Leamington Spa: relevant keywords might be ‘florist Leamington Spa’ or ‘flowers delivered Leamington Spa’. Your ranking is where you come on the search engine results page (SERP) e.g. first on the page, second, third etc.)
If you optimise your website for search by targeting specific, well-chosen keywords, you’ll get higher rankings which will mean more visitors to your site.
If you have an online shop it’s pretty obvious why this is important. However, even if you don’t do ecommerce, SEO can have a positive impact on your business. If people need a product or service it’s very likely that they’ll go online to look for it, even if they intend to buy it in person. For example, to go back to our florist in Leamington Spa, if they were to rank at or near the top of the list when someone searches for a ‘florist Leamington Spa’, they could expect greater footfall in their shop because of the increased exposure their business gets.
SEO is big business and it can be complicated, so naturally, I can’t explain all the ins and outs in one blog post, or give you a definitive set of rules for SEO success. Instead, I’ve put together a checklist to help make sure you get the basics right. I’ve tried to keep things simple, but if you’re not technically-minded you could run through this list with whoever built or manages your website for you.
Make sure you’re using Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
These tools are free and easy to install and use. They give you lots of information about your website’s performance, for example how many people visit it, how long they spend on the site and how well you rank for different keywords. With Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools you’ll be able to see the difference made by any chnages you make. Google Analytics has a nice feature called annotations which lets you make a note on the timeline if you make a change to your website - this makes it even easier to keep track of your progress.
Make and submit a sitemap.
If your website doesn’t already have a sitemap then you should make one. Once you’ve done that, submit it to Google Webmaster Central and Bing Search Webmaster Tools. This is an important step to help make sure your website can be found by search engines.
Find out what people actually search for.
Use Google AdWords Keyword Tool to see how many people search for different keywords in the UK. It will suggest keywords you might not have thought of. One tip - make sure you check the box that says ‘exact’ and uncheck the box that says ‘broad’.
Use your keywords in the right places.
Once you’ve researched your keywords and chosen the ones you want to target, you need make sure you’re using them in the right places on your website. You should try and include your keyword(s) in the:
- title tag,
- meta description,
- H1 (the title),
- the text on the page itself,
- image filenames,
- alt tags on images.
You shouldn’t just cram in keywords all over the place though - the search engines are smart and can penalise you for trying to cheat. Also, the most important thing is to make sure your website is interesting and makes sense to real people - they won’t click on your link on the results page or stay on your website for long if you’ve got a lot of meaningless phrases instead of real copy.
The title tag and meta description are arguably the two most important things to get right because they act as an ‘advert’ for your website on the results page. In this example, I've searched for 'flowers delivered Leamington Spa' - the keywords are all there but the title tag and meta description are readable too, plus there's the offer of free delivery as an extra encouragement to click:
Make sure you’re included in local search.
If there’s a local element to your business then it’s a really good idea to add your business to the local listings of the major search engines. The most important one is Google Places. With Google Places you can really help your business to stand out - your address and phone number will feature on the results page, you can show up on Google Maps, you can add photos, videos or special offers and customers can leave reviews. And it’s all free!
Add interesting, relevant content.
More content means you can target more keywords and there will be more chances for people to find your website. It might be a good idea to create a few pages dedicated to targeting important keywords. Try to add content that your customers need or will find interesting - think about what questions you get asked and what’s important to your existing customers. So for example, our fictitious florist in Leamington Spa, knowing that potential customers are searching for ‘wedding flowers Leamington Spa’, could create a page all about wedding flowers, explaining what they can provide, with images and customer testimonials.
Get people to link to you.
The number and kind of links you have coming into your website will make a big difference to how well you rank for your chosen keywords. Think about who you can ask to add a link to your website from theirs - friends, family, trading associations, other businesses you work with. The anchor text (the words that they use to link to you) are important - try to make sure that whoever links to you uses your business name or one of your keywords as anchor text, rather than something like ‘click here’ which doesn’t relate to your business.
So that's my checklist of SEO basics, if you found it helpful I'd love for you to share it. If you've got any SEO tips or advice of your own, leave a comment.
As I said at the start of the post, this is really just an introduction - here are some more articles and tools that might be useful:
- SEO tips from Google - straight from the horse's mouth
- SEOMoz's excellect beginner's guide to SEO
- Advice on SEO for small business sites
- Google AdWords Keyword Tool
- Google Analytics
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Google Places
- Bing Webmaster Tools
Use the following link to trackback from your own site
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