Small businesses need an online presence. And you’ll want to use the most efficient digital marketing tactics and strategies to get there.

Did you know that 32 million small businesses account for 99.9% of the US economy?

And as the interest in opening up new businesses grows—especially since the start of the pandemic—you as a small business owner are facing two challenges: 

  1. accelerated digitization of products and services (all thanks to a growing number of consumers who prefer to shop online); 
  2. growing competition from both bigger and smaller brands that are succeeding online.

Keep reading to learn how to use search engine optimization (SEO) to rank higher in Google search and get more site visitors—who can be turned into paying customers.

Why Choose SEO 

You may wonder why SEO is worth your time and resources.

Well, it’s hard to compete with bigger brands that have substantial marketing budgets and can invest more into ads, social media, and savvy marketing specialists.

Search, on the other hand, is built on algorithms that you can learn. By mastering a few principles, you can achieve high rankings on the search engine results pages (SERPs). 

SEO also provides a long-term growth strategy, as it can help you be visible to users even when you cut down on your ad dollars or social media content.

Of course, it’s not easy to get the top SERP positions when you’re competing against more established players. Your organic visibility might take time. But investing in SEO will continue to pay off.

SEO will help you appear in front of your potential consumers right when they need you. So let’s get started!

Start Establishing Your Online Presence

SEO is often regarded as a pretty technical aspect of digital marketing. You have to deal with Google algorithms, keywords, site speed, and other things that make up the non-creative side of marketing.

But when you manage a smaller site, you don’t have to have a large technical SEO team, especially if you do things right from the start. 

This means that the foundation you lay for your online presence will pay off in the long run, helping you spend a few hours a week on SEO instead of requiring a dedicated team.

The following steps will help you build that foundation with SEO best practices. 

Psst.. I’ll mention various tools that will help you along the way. As Semrush is a known small business-friendly solution for managing all things online visibility, you’ll see it more often than the rest.

#1: Build an SEO- and User-Friendly Website

First, you must ensure that your website has a clean architecture aligned with mobile-first principles. 

A well-built site structure simply means that you have links between your pages (interlinks). This helps web crawlers and users smoothly browse through your site with no pages left disconnected. 

Here’s a site architecture that won’t likely lead to top rankings:

Image source: Backlinko

And this is what you should aim to build instead:

Image source: Backlinko

The image above shows a clear site structure where your main page connects to subpages (typically subcategories) that then lead to smaller pages that elaborate on your subtopic.

Tip #1: Create a sitemap that will help bots go through the site and index your pages. If some pages are for internal use only and shouldn’t appear in search, make sure to highlight this in robotst.txt

Tip #2: Make sure all of your pages have internal links leading to them. Having an orphaned page (a page that’s “hidden” after too many clicks) can result in your page never being found by bots or visitors. And that means losing out on traffic you could have gotten. 

Website auditors like Semrush’s Site Audit tool can help you easily spot such pages and troubleshoot. 

Source: Semrush’s Site Audit tool (internal linking report)

#2. Set Up Your Analytics

It’s Google’s results page you want to be visible on, so no SEO job can be performed without analytics and performance stats coming from the search engine itself.

So make sure to have everything set up within Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Chances are you have these automatically connected, but make sure to double-check this. These two Google-native analytics tools gather and collect valuable website info that helps to make more data-driven decisions about your future strategy:

  • Google Analytics data helps you precisely monitor your site performance—you can see everything from traffic dynamics to conversions. You can also use it to better understand what kind of users visit your site.
  • Google Search Console reflects how you are doing rankings-wise. You can use it to guide your crawling and indexing roadmap and explore performance-hindering site issues.

Tip #3: While Google Search Console shows some of the biggest problems with your site, it’s not able to fix all your site issues. To ensure full-on site health, you need to use a comprehensive site auditor to get your site through all checks imaginable. Semrush’s Site Audit tool identifies all issues and shows you how to fix them.

Source: Semrush’s Site Audit tool

#3. Claim Your Spot in Local Results

As we’re talking about small business SEO basics here, having a Google Business Profile (GBP) is an absolute must.

Typically, it’s the most important feature for businesses with a local presence (e.g., a local laundry or a cafe). Even businesses that are online (but require physical contact with customers) can and should have a Google Business profile. 

GBP helps your business show up for local searches (e.g., “plumber near me”) and appear within Google Maps listings.

Tip #4: Google Maps may already feature some of your business info, but you can claim your business listing and have more control of what information is displayed using GBP. 

Try to add as much business info as possible, as users might make a decision based on your profile within the map results. List your product and service range, pricing, and special features (e.g., wheelchair-friendly entrance, dog-friendly restaurant, etc.)—it’s best to highlight it all. 

#4: Find Efficient Keywords to Target

The first thing you’ll see when learning how to build a successful SEO presence for your business is that keywords are a big part of the deal.

Search is essentially built on keywords. People enter something into the Google search bar (search queries), and the search engine returns results that best match the request. 

This means that if someone Googles “best plumber near me” and they are in San Jose (and that’s where you’re located as well), you should target the “plumber San Jose” keyword.

It sounds simple, but SEO can be nuanced. Broad keywords can be a difficult target, and a hard win—all the plumbers in San Jose are trying to show up for this keyword, too. So you have to run smart keyword research to find some more niche search terms that can give you the visibility and the traffic but are also feasible to compete for.

There are special keyword research tools that can help you identify low-hanging fruit.

Note: You can use your keyword tool of choice to use the following tips. But if you’re still thinking about the best option, Semrush’s keyword research capabilities and data accuracy are uncontested.

Spot keywords that competitors rank for

If you do a simple Google search for your business—e.g., “Best plumber in San Jose”—you will see a list of sites that show up for the search. 

In most cases, these sites will be your toughest competition, so you should investigate what they’re doing to win the top spots. 

With the help of the Organic Research report, you can see keywords that bring the majority of their organic success. Simply enter your rivals’ sites into the tool and go through the list of their top organic keywords.

Source: Semrush Organic Research report

Use your competitors’ top keywords as an initial idea for your own keyword strategy.

To elaborate on these ideas, you can run further research through the Keyword Overview tool. Make sure to review questions and related keywords around the original search term.

Source: Semrush Keyword Overview tool

Find the most efficient keywords with the biggest ranking potential

After this brief research, you should have a list of keywords you could target with your content.

But, it wouldn’t be too smart to target them all—allocate your resources efficiently by focusing on keywords that you can rank for more easily. 

This is where you can use a tool like Keyword Magic. It has all the metrics you need to assess the potential of each keyword on your list and make the right call. 

Source: Semrush Keyword Magic Tool

Make sure to pay attention to the following metrics: 

  • Search volume reflects the popularity of the keyword, showing how many times it was searched for in a given month. Use search volume to estimate potential traffic coming to your site if you manage to rank high for that keyword.
  • Keyword Difficulty assesses how challenging it is to rank for a given keyword, considering the competition.
  • Intent* reflects what stage of the buyer journey users are typically in when they enter a given search query.

Once you look through these metrics, you’ll be able to see keywords that have lower keyword difficulty and higher search volume, plus the right intent. This will help you target the most profitable keywords that you can reasonably rank for.

*Very few keyword tools feature this metric (Semrush does), but it’s an absolute must if you want to define your content and page strategy. Knowing users’ intent means you’ll know when to focus your content on information or products to best serve their needs.

Sprinkle those keywords across your site

Now that you have a neat list of the most promising keywords, you should add them to your site pages. In other words, your page content should feature those keywords in the right spots—page title, headings, and subheadings (your H2s, H3s, and so on), and, of course, more naturally across the copy itself.

Tip #5: Include your keywords within your pages’ metadata (meta titles and meta descriptions). To check your already published content, a tool like Semrush Site Audit will reflect whether your pages are missing metadata.

#5: Establish Site Authority

While you may target the right keywords, have impeccable site structure, and be fully local search-ready, you won’t go too far in organic search without some site authority. 

Google measures site authority by looking at various indicators that reflect your reliability. The biggest aspect of it all is backlinks—or external sites that link back to yours.

If you get a backlink from the likes of the New York Times or local industry media, you will seem more trustworthy than a website with low-quality websites linking to it. 

You may think that as a small business, you can hardly expect a link from a well-respected site. But you’ll be surprised how many quick backlink wins you can get if you simply get creative:

Get featured in local directories 

You can get your site mentioned in some local directories like Yelp, which try to be as comprehensive as possible when listing all kinds of businesses. They’ll link back to your site and give you additional visibility. After all, some people don’t look up companies in search but go straight to the likes of Foursquare. 

Tip #6: When adding your site to local directories, keeping your business information consistent is an absolute must. You can use a tool like Listing Management to automate your info distribution and business listing management process. Plus, you can use the solution to monitor your local rankings and reviews.

Link to your business partners

While you might have nothing yet to offer to the likes of Forbes, you have plenty to bring to the table to your business partners and suppliers. Google forbids organized link exchanges, but if you add links to your partners to your site, they just might decide to link back to you.

As your site authority grows and you have more resources to put into link building, you can use more advanced techniques. But these easy tricks should suffice for building your initial site authority.

Establish Your Organic Success [+Bonus to My Readers]

These six steps to small business SEO should set you up for success. Eventually, the further you go, the more advanced your SEO tactics should get. Yet when you have a solid foundation for organic visibility, you know that you are playing the long game and ensuring a sustainable growth strategy.

Now, as you’ll be needing a set of tools that will help you along your SEO journey—equipping you with essential data to get started and reliable, competitive intel—Semrush is offering my readers an exclusive free 14 days trial.

And to make the most of Semrush and its features, make sure to go through this brief guide that details its most important, useful, and impressive features.