The following is a guest post by Michael Hayes from Darby Hayes Consulting
SEO can be transformational for businesses. Business owners know this from experience: When the phone is ringing, everyone is happy. In an increasingly digital world, more and more customers are taking to Google to find solutions for their needs, and this includes local services and businesses.
Getting that visibility on the Google SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) means the difference between the phone ringing, and not so much. That much becomes obvious after a short time serving a local market, but the everlasting question is: How can I rank in Google?
Enter SEO. The field of “Search Engine Optimization”, which has grown to unprecedented levels in recent years, largely due to the immense value that can be attributed to search engine traffic (as well as the rising costs of advertising directly with Search Engines, i.e. Google Adwords).
Most business owners go to the services of SEO or Internet Marketing agencies to help improve their Search Engine rankings and traffic. However not everyone is in the position to take on the services of an agency (the quality ones, i.e. the ones that deliver results, can be pricey), so they can attempt to handle it themselves. While not easy, it’s certainly possible.
So, what is a business owner to do when they want to take their SEO into their own hands? One of the most common bits of advice given to business owners:
“Optimize your title tags and meta descriptions. Use a WordPress plugin like ‘Yoast SEO’ to do this.”
And that’s about it. That’s the limit to most peoples (well-meaning) advice. But there is a lot more that business owners can do. This article will go over some common tactics that business owners can take advantage of to benefit their SEO initiatives.
But first, let’s go over some SEO fundamentals to make sure we are all on the same page.
The 3 crucial elements of ranking in search engines are:
- Crawling and indexing – Search Engines consume your site by “crawling” it, i.e. loading pages like a user might, and following “links” throughout your site to all your content. Once it has crawled the pages, it can choose to include them in the “Index”, i.e. it will become searchable on Google.com/Bing.com/etc.
- If you are using WordPress and have your pages linked via a navigation menu, chances are you will be fine in terms of crawling and indexing.
- On-Page Ranking Factors – This is where Yoast comes in handy. Each page will be relevant for a specific topic (and a topic can include many different keywords). Formulating the correct on-page factors can help Google see what the page is relevant for, and return it for relevant queries on Google.com. Ranking factors include:
- Naturally written, long-form content.
- <title> tags, Meta Descriptions.
- Images with proper alt text.
- Outbound links to relevant resources.
- Off-Page Ranking Factors – This is where Yoast can’t help you. Off-page ranking factors generally come in the form of “backlinks”, i.e. a 3rd party website that is linking to your website.
- Think of backlinks as a “vote” for the relevance, authority and/or trust of your website/webpage.
- While on-page factors tell Google what you think about the page, backlinks tell Google what an impartial 3rd party thinks about that page.
- This is how Google separates the mediocre from the good, and the good from the great (and ranks them accordingly).
So, what can a solo business owner do, besides writing title tags and meta descriptions, to help improve their SEO? Let’s take a look!
#1 – Leverage Partners
Virtually everyone that runs a business is going to have regular partners and vendors that they maintain positive relationships with. It’s possible to leverage those relationships by getting listed on your partners’ sites. This could take the form of:
- Vendor Lists – Do your partners/vendors have a place where they list their reputable vendors or dealers? Get listed, along with a nice, do-follow backlink, and if possible your Name, Address, and Telephone Number.
- Blog Posts – Being in the same industry you probably have some helpful insights that could be put together in a blog post. Pitch a few topics to your partners and see if they take you up on it. You’d be surprised how many people are eager for quality content.
- Reciprocal Links – Old school, but still worth it. Get listed on your partners “Links” pages, and chances are they will ask the same from you. Albeit this isn’t the most creative approach (blog posts are better), but take what you can get.
- Reviews – Reviews can really help your Google My Business rankings (but not your organic rankings). Reach out to your partners to get them to say a kind word.
#2 – Local Events
I’m going to let you in on a little secret here:
A lot of what SEO’s call “white-hat link building” is just a nerdy word for “getting press coverage”.
Stop thinking about websites and HTML code for a sec, and just think about what it takes for a small local news outlet to cover a story. They aren’t swimming in content opportunities, so are always open to pitches. They also aren’t into advertorials promoting your company for no good reason.
This is where a local event makes a lot of sense. Whether it’s industry-specific (networking events, for instance), location specific (block parties or neighborhood events), or for a good cause (fundraising for charities), these are all newsworthy events that can get picked up in local newspapers.
Now, don’t go crazy and spend time and money on organizing an event to just get links. You should be looking to leverage it for all types of benefits, like networking, fundraising for charity, building a good rapport with your community, AND on top of all that you get links from local newspapers that will help you crush it in the SERPs.
Pretty good deal, eh?
Be sure to prospect out all your link opportunities and send them a pitch way beforehand. Journalists and bloggers will love to get the inside scoop ahead of time. After that, you can leverage the news for a press release, which has some moderate SEO impact as well.
#3 – Industry Associations
Being a real company has some advantages over the standard SEO spammer. You can get listed among other real companies on very relevant industry associations and organizations. From the generic Better Business Bureau to the very specific associations (both local and national), these are all great exposure and link opportunities for your website.
Some might come with a hefty cost, but most hover around $300 a year or so. I would recommend leveraging them for more than just your backlinks. Just like the events above, make sure to squeeze whatever benefits you can out of these memberships, including networking opportunities and “social proof” (i.e.: BBB Accredited badge on your website).
#4 – Become an Expert Contributor
This one isn’t an easy “trick”, it’s more of a long-term and work-intensive strategy that has long-term pay-off. BUT, it will also get you links which is what we are aiming for in this post. Here’s how it works:
- As a business owner, you have the experience and knowledge that is valuable to other people in your industry.
- Lots of outlets are eager for experts to provide them with content, these include:
- Local newspapers
- Industry/Niche Specific Blogs
- Niche forums
- Quora and other “ask the expert” style sites
- Get a few writing samples published online (use your own blog and/or ask your partners to publish articles of yours on their sites). This gives you proof that you are a “published author”.
- Approach owners of sites with a friendly and honest pitch to write for them, for free.
This can end up being as simple as a few “guest posts” on blogs (which are an effective link building method), all the way to a regular contributor to local newspapers (I have a lawyer friend who did this for years, writing a legal column for the local newspaper).
This strategy sounds great, and it is, but it’s also a lot of work. Writing articles that are well thought out and provide real value takes time and significant effort. However, once you’ve done it, it pays off for long after it’s been published (both from the link value and from the exposure you get as an industry expert).
Of course, if you have knowledgeable people on your staff, you can always attempt to delegate this. However, make sure you are willing to put your name on anything they write.
SEO can be frustrating and confusing, even for the most experienced marketers. However, if you face it with some fundamentals in place and the right mindset, you can make headway, especially in local niches (which are generally lower competition).
However, you will make absolutely ZERO progress if you don’t take any action. So, if you remember just one thing from this post, it’s that you should shake off whatever is keeping you from taking immediate action and JUST DO IT. Whether you “succeed” or “fail” is irrelevant, you will have learned something about your situation and strategy, and you can’t put a price on that kind of experience.