ffective search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical component to any small business’s digital marketing strategy. Knowing and utilizing SEO can improve your company’s online presence, develop your brand, and allow you to reach your target audience – driving sales and growth in the process. But for a variety of reasons, SEO is often neglected by small business owners. They might not know how to use it, underestimate its importance, or think they simply don’t have the budget to incorporate it effectively. But regardless of your business’s current standing – whether you’ve been operating for a week or a decade – SEO is essential. Here’s a guide to help you begin using SEO to build your company.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization involves the digital marketing techniques and strategies used by companies to increase their online presence; specifically, being found by search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. These search engines use complex algorithms – mathematical formulas – to determine which websites correspond best to the user’s inquiry. Websites with effective SEO are more likely to rank high on these search engines’ return lists. A high ranking means a website will be found easily by users and potential clients, resulting in an increase in traffic.

The best way to achieve a high ranking has traditionally been defined by many through a narrow lens: using keywords. SEO keywords are the words and phrases that appear in a website’s content. By including the correct keywords, the thinking goes, a website is more likely to be found by users who are searching for those exact words or phrases. This is true, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. Effective SEO isn’t quite that simple, and search engine algorithms take into account more than just keyword matches – considering elements like user experience, accessibility, credibility, and usefulness. A well-rounded SEO strategy will address each of these.

Why is SEO Important?

Good SEO won’t just get your business found. It will clearly communicate your company’s message through easy, user-friendly interactions on your website. Providing a good experience for those who visit your site will positively impact your search engine ranking. If your website has a clean design and contains relevant, helpful information, a user will likely stick around, see what you have to say, and be more likely to take your desired call to action. On the other hand, if your website is cluttered and confusing, that same user will spend less time on your site and might not return.

How Do I Start to Use SEO?

There’s a lot that goes in to creating a successful, SEO-friendly website. It can all seem overwhelming. Below are five things to keep in mind when starting out.

  1. Have Quality Content

An effective SEO strategy starts with content, content, content. Whether you’re building your business’s website from scratch or re-vamping your existing site, your content should be your biggest focus. Websites will often receive negative points from search engines because their pages have thin or duplicate content. That being said, all of the content on your site should be relevant to your business and what you’re selling. Focused, quality content will be helpful to the user and keep them engaged. All of it – including pictures, videos, and infographics – should be created with this in mind.

  1. Clarity is Key

 When a user first clicks on your website, they need to know quickly about your business’s purpose. Pages with an overflow of content and irrelevant information will distract users and detract from your website’s usability, causing you to lose clicks. Furthermore, if your content is unclear or unfocused, search engines won’t recognize that your website is actually a good match for the entered search query, and you won’t be a top result. 

  1. Know Your Audience

Following this same path, it’s important to know your audience. For example, a website for a financial firm should not look, feel, or interact the same way as a merchandise website marketing to teenage punk-rock fans. Having a website that does not fit your target audience will cause people to click away from it quickly, negatively affecting your SEO standing with the search engines.

  1. Have a Keyword Strategy

There’s no way around it: If your website doesn’t have any of the keywords or phrases that your targeted audience is entering, it won’t be found. To begin identifying the proper keywords to utilize in your content, clearly articulate your business’s focus. Then, you’ll need to perform a keyword analysis (we’ll help you with that) to identify the competitive keywords for your industry and improve your ranking.

  1. Utilize Links

Outbound links (links from your site to another) and backlinks (incoming links to your webpage from another site) add credibility and will enhance your SEO standing. Outbound links to other established, authoritative websites in your industry are viewed positively by search engines. Quality backlinks are also valued by Google’s algorithms. However, these are difficult to get and must be earned. With both, exercise caution. Linking to dishonest websites or purchasing backlinks is frowned upon by search engines and can result in SEO penalties.

The Takeaway

 Implementing an effective SEO strategy is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your business’s digital marketing. Unknowingly, you might not be fulfilling your business’s maximum online potential. You might also be actively hindering it. A high SEO ranking will get you found by search engines, generate traffic to your website, and convert clicks to sales by providing focused, clear content to your target audience. It’s worth the investment.