Small business search engine optimization (SEO) can be frustrating and expensive. How do you stand out from competitors with big advertising budgets? Even if you hire a pricey SEO expert, what are your chances of appearing on the first pages of search results?
You may want to invest in SEO for your small business because two trends are working in your favor right now.
Customers are actively seeking opportunities to support neighborhood small businesses. Local SEO helps you capitalize on this sentiment.
Consumers are getting increasingly specific in their searches. Use long tail keywords to reach these customers who are more likely to buy from you.
You’re out of town and you’re hungry. You’re in the mood for Italian, so you search for “pizza near me” on your smartphone. Google returns a map of pizzerias complete with distance from your location, rating, and links to find out more and get directions for each one. That’s local SEO in action.
It’s free, easy to set up, and you only have to do it once. Open Google My Business and follow the directions. (You will need a free Google account.) Give Google a day or two to index the information et vIola! Your small business will start showing up in local searches.
Long Tail Keywords
Your other opportunity is to exploit the power of long tail keywords in all your content. In a nutshell, these are descriptive phrases that searchers use to get more precise results. (If you’re curious and want to learn more, see my blog about SEO in which I explained long tail keywords.)
Most businesses rely on keywords to generate search results using one or two words, not long phrases. Competition for these short keywords is often intense and the odds of you showing up in search engine results are minuscule. You may be more successful using longer phrases–long tail keywords. Competition is lower and even better, you’ll be reaching an audience that has pre-qualified itself with a specific search.
Should I Bother With SEO for my Small Business?
It never hurts to do what you can to raise your search engine rankings, especially if just a few simple steps will improve your small business’ SEO. But the honest answer is your marketing strategy should drive the amount of effort you spend on it. Some things to consider:
How do your customers find you now?
Do you want to get more business from the internet?
Is your online reputation important for your business?
Do you depend on social media to get the word out?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then maybe you should invest in SEO for your business. Confused? Have questions? Give me a call and let’s talk it over.
I’ve noticed some interesting content trends in 2021. Some are driven by the economic uncertainties businesses are facing, However, one thing stands out: good writing gets the reader’s attention.
More Focus on the Bottom of the Content Funnel
Instead of casting a wide content net to attract any lead, some of my clients are only looking for qualified prospects. It’s a smart tactic that saves them time and money–and they realize revenue more quickly. They use content rich in descriptions of features, benefits and the details someone would want to know as they research alternatives.
My thought: smart. It’s an approach that lends itself to re-purposing evergreen content, especially when you have a solid understanding of your audience.
Improving the Content Experience
One of my pet peeves is searching for something on my smartphone and then seeing the content blocked by all manner of interruptions. Pop-ups request my email address every time I return to a landing page. Videos start playing, eating up limited public bandwidth. Or I see two short lines of text then have to click “read more,” only to have to wade through even more pop-ups and panels. When I finally get to the content, it’s long-winded and takes forever to get to the point–if it ever does.
Designers and copywriters are starting to pay attention. One of the most positive content trends I’ve noticed in 2021 is these annoying interruptions are less common. Savvy copywriters are driving users to a product or service landing page for in-depth interactions. Content is segmented and organized so it’s easy to read with less intrusive calls to action.
My thought: long overdue.
More Focus on Shorter Pieces of High-Quality Content
Businesses are paying more attention to the customer journey. They’re delivering relevant content in shorter bites (though you can still find plenty of Top 10 Lists and Ultimate Guides). Writing is tighter; headers are less bombastic. Content is tightly focused on a single topic.
My thought: I’m all for anything that encourages good content. WIth apologies to fans of James Michener, we need more Earnest Hemingway–at least on websites.
The Most Unsurprising Content Trend for 2021: SEO Is Still Important
This 2021 content trend would have ranked on any list once Google launched. Big businesses have the budget clout to pay for the obvious keywords. Savvy smaller and niche businesses have learned how to leverage long tail keywords (descriptive phrases) to beat out the behemoths they compete against.
My thought: the search phrase “near me” is a blessing for small businesses because it helps local customers find you. Just make sure you complete your Google Business profile so the search engines can include you in local results.
How Can I Help?
Need some help writing a blog? Don’t know whether you should worry about SEO? Just want to bounce some ideas around? Drop me a line or give me a call; I’d be happy to help.
The first article in this series outlined my process for how to write a blog post. The second one gave you a framework for success with some planning.
In this article, I’m going to cover an essential concept for bloggers: on-page search engine optimization (SEO). I include it in the Research step of my process, but this is an important topic and worth a separate post.
Why Should You Care About SEO?
Chasing SEO rankings can be frustrating, especially if you’re a one-person shop or small business. You may not think you have a chance of ending up on the first page of search results, but SEO is essential if you want to:
Boost your reputation for credibility and authority
Attract new customers and retain existing ones
Build your brand
Increase traffic to your website
Stay ahead of your competition
There are two broad categories of SEO: technical and on-page. Your webmaster can help you with the intricacies of technical SEO; that’s above my pay grade. As a blogger, however, you can take some simple steps to improve your blog’s on-page SEO.
What Is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO is just Google’s term for good writing. It includes all the things a writer should be doing to produce great content, plus one more to make search engines happy. Good on-page SEO:
Answers readers’ questions
Employs clear, concise, well-formatted copy
Provides information for search engines so they can find and display your content
Keyword Questions You Were Afraid to Ask
On-page SEO starts with keywords, so let’s dive in.
What Is a Keyword?
A keyword is a wordthat a user enters into a search engine when looking for information. For example, I typed “backpack” into Google’s search bar. Here’s the search engine results page.
In about a second, Google served up 740,000,000 (!!!) results: images, maps, snippets of information, and links to other sites. It even helpfully organized all of this data into separate tabs to help me find what I want. Even so, it’s overwhelming.
What is a Long Tail Keyword?
A long-tail keyword is a phrase that more accurately describes what someone is seeking. Searchers use phrases to help narrow down the list of results and make them more relevant. For example, when I entered the long-tailed keyword “waterproof backpacks on sale near me,” Google presented the following information.
Google knows my location, so it shows nearby stores selling waterproof backpacks on a map. It also lists many more places where I can buy waterproof backpacks. The search results page has about two-thirds as many listings (448,000,000 is still a huge number). But the information presented is much more useful.
When you’re a small business, it can pay to use long-tail keywords. They’re more likely to answer a specific user question, and therefore more likely to put you closer to the top of the search results page.
Note: from now on, I’m going to use “keyword” and “long-tail keyword” interchangeably.
What Are Paid Search Results?
Paid search results are advertisements. Many businesses pay to advertise on Google and, while they have to match the keyword you entered to show up in your results, some paid advertisements get ranked at the top of the page. They’re also marked to show they’re ads.
There are two ways to identify a paid ad:
Look for the word “Sponsored” near the top of the page, as shown in the screenshots above.
Depending on what you’re searching for, you may also see “Ad” in a small box in the search results listing.
What Are Organic Search Results?
Organic search results appear below ads on the search results listing. Google ranks items based on how well it thinks the content matches a searcher’s intent. (It’s not that simple, but this is a good enough explanation for our purposes.)
Do I Have to Buy an Ad To Show Up on Search Results Pages?
No, you don’t have to buy an ad on Google. Paid advertising can get expensive, especially for popular keywords. Besides, most users have learned to ignore paid ads and skip to the organic search results.
Can I Have More Than One Keyword?
Absolutely. For the best results, you should plan to use a combination of keywords and long-tail keywords in your blog.
However, you need to select one as your target keyword. You’ll incorporate your target keyword into the blog title, at least one header, and the body of your text.
The rest of the keywords are called related keywords. Google recognizes related keywords, so it’s worth working them into your content. (We’ll talk about using keywords in the next couple of articles in this series.)
So how do you research keywords?
Step 1: Know Thy Customer
If you haven’t done any planning for your blog, stop now. Go back to the second post in this series, “How To Write a Blog, Part 2: Plan for Strong Results. One of the topics talked about understanding your customer well enough to know what problems you can solve for them. If you need to, review that before you go any further with keywords. When you understand your customer and her challenges, figuring out your keywords becomes much easier. (And that’s one of the reasons why the planning step is so important.)
Step 2: Build a Keyword List
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Ask yourself how you might search for the topic you want to address. Write down every idea that comes to mind; you can prune later. If you get stuck (I do), ask a customer, colleague, or friend how they might go about the search.
Once you have a list, key the words and phrases into Google’s search bar and note the suggestions that it displays. For instance, when I keyed “backpacks on sale” in the examples above, Google presented the following results.
Right there, I have more ideas for search terms (keywords) others are using. You may want to do this several times to get ideas for more keywords.
You can also use the Google Keywords Planner to get more detailed results. Here’s an example of what I saw when I searched for “backpack,” “waterproof backpack,” “tote,” and “backpack near me.”
The Keywords Planner gives you a lot of good information.
Broaden Your Search lists suggestions for other keywords
Refine Keywords helps you target a specific audience using several criteria
Avg. Monthly Searches tells you the popularity of the keyword with searchers
Competition indicates how many other people are using the same keyword
The rest of the information applies to paid ads. The data will show just how popular a term is by showing how much advertisers will pay to use it. You may not care about paid advertising, but this is useful information for gauging how popular your keywords are.
You can download this list if you want, though it can be a long one. I prefer to add the keywords I’m interested in, the average monthly search data, and the competition ranking to my own spreadsheet.
Step 3: Review the List
Once you’re satisfied you’ve identified the relevant keywords, review the list. If you have a long list, score each keyword (high/medium/low, or 1, 2,3) to help you focus on the best choices. Sort the list by score and see what pops out.
If it seems like the keyword list is steering you to different topics than the one you planned on using, you have two options:
Look for different keywords
Reconsider your topic or the angle you planned to take
Step 4: Choose One To Be Your Target Keyword
Once you have a final list of keywords, pick one to be the target keyword/phrase for the blog. There are two philosophies about how to do this:
Popularity. Higher competition for a keyword means more advertisers are bidding for that term. If you want to tackle a popular topic, this might be the right keyword to use. But it will also be tough to get a high search ranking–if that’s important to you.
Lack of popularity. The opposite approach may identify a niche. The fewer advertisers there are bidding for a term, the easier it’s going to be for you to rank highly in search results.
There’s no right answer here, and sometimes it comes down to a coin toss.
Good for you! Your keyword research is done. Next up in this series on how to write a blog post, I’ll talk about writing eye-catching titles and calls to action. Titles are the first place where you put your keyword list to use. They signal to the reader (and to search engines) what problem you’ll be solving for them and they’re key to getting a reader to pay attention to you.
Tools You Can Use
Moz offers a Keyword Explorer tool that’s free for up to 10 keyword searches a month. This option is perfect if you’re a blogger and don’t need anything else.
SEMRush and Ahrefs are also excellent sources for keyword research and much, much more. But like Moz’s full-service offering, subscriptions can be expensive. They may not be worth the investment unless SEO is your thing.
If you use WordPress for your blog, I highly recommend adding the Yoast plug-in. Even the free version will help you improve your SEO with actionable suggestions. If you want to learn more about using keywords, Yoast has an excellent blog on the topic.
Tips for Success
Google offers a great series of workshops in the Google Analytics Academy. I recommend watching Analytics for Beginners to develop a basic understanding of this topic.
Don’t overthink your keywords. About a third of the effort you spend on your blog should go to planning and research together.
Need Help With On-Page SEO For Your Blog?
Are you stuck? Want to brainstorm? Don’t know where to start? Schedule some time to talk with me. I may be able to help you get unstuck and give you ideas on how to find and use keywords successfully.
Here’s the thing about writing a blog that gets results: most people know what they want to write. What they’re missing is a process to guide them in creating a blog that people will read. So I’ve created a series of posts that lay out the process I use.
This post covers the preliminaries: whether you should write a blog (even if you’re not a writer), an overview of my approach, and a couple of my favorite writers on the subject. Future posts will cover:
Do some planning so you get results
Research and search engine optimization (SEO)
How to create a strong headline, an outline, and a call to action
Writing, editing, and publishing
Saving your sanity with a content calendar
Should I Blog?
Content is king, or so the pros tell us. We need, we must have, our business will die without blogs, videos, and social media posts. Lots of them, frequently posted, and all with fresh content. It can be overwhelming. Who needs something else to make them crazy right now?
For many of us, the easiest place to start with content is a blog. After all, how hard can it be? We write all the time: emails, presentations, reports–each of us generates a ton of content. Pick a topic and have at it, right?
As it turns out, blogging is a bit of work. But here’s the thing: the more effort you put into the upfront work, the easier it will be to write the blog and the likelier you are to be successful.
But I’m Not a Writer!
You don’t have to be a great writer to author a successful blog. You just need some expertise or a point of view about something in your field. Most of us have at least one of these qualifications, usually in aces.
You also need a process to guide you on how to write a blog. There are some basic things you can do to produce excellent content that your audience will appreciate. They aren’t complicated and, even better, most of it doesn’t involve writing.
How To Write a Blog: A Process
Here’s the process I follow when writing a blog for myself or my clients. I’ve adapted this from several sources and added some bits that I think are important. I’d particularly like to acknowledge Anne Janzer’s “The Writer’s Process” and, “Everybody Writes” by Anne Handley. (Both authors publish excellent newsletters, too, if you’re interested.)
Before you ever put pen to paper, answer these simple questions.
Who are you trying to reach?
What do they want to know?
Whatdo you want them to do once they’ve read your blog?
Only after you’ve completed this step should you proceed. Because if you can’t answer these questions, the content you’re so proud of will fall on deaf ears.
In fact, I think this topic is so important that I’m going to address it in its own post instead of combining it with the next step, research.
There are two parts to this step: keyword research (for SEO) and research to confirm facts, gather quotes from experts, and find appropriate images.
Yes, you should do this before you start writing. You may uncover something that changes what you want to say or how you want to approach the subject. To improve your SEO rankings and build credibility, you’ll want quotes, experts to cite, and websites you can link to.
SEO research doesn’t have to take a lot of time or involve the use of arcane technology (though it can). I’m going to recommend some simple tools and a basic approach that will get you started. Where you go after that is up to you.
Draft a strong headline and a call to action (CTA), and identify the major points you want to make. Take it from an experienced writer: headlines are often the hardest part of the entire process.
I know you’re itching to write, but Google and humans both pay a lot of attention to headlines. You want something crisp, concise, and compelling that will draw people in. And if you don’t bring them in, all this work is for naught.
As for a call to action: you don’t always need (or want) one, but make that a conscious decision. Don’t waste this opportunity to let people know what you offer and how they can reach you.
Once you’ve got your opening headline and closing CTA, the rest should fall into place–another reason why you want to do this before you start writing.
This is the easy part because of all the work you’ve done to get this far. Have at it. Write to your heart’s content. You’ll worry about cleaning it up in the next step. Don’t edit yourself, and don’t worry about length right now; focus on getting your message across.
Polish and Publish
Editing your work can be a painful experience. Frankly, it’s challenging. I’ve just told you to pour your heart out, and now I’m saying, “wait a minute here.” The thing is, it’s essential to get your ideas out of your head so you can share them. In this step, you’ll polish those gems until they shine like the diamonds they are.
Never fear, I’ll be giving you some suggestions for how to edit your writing in a future post, along with a few things to know to prepare your blog for publishing. There are some excellent automated tools to help, and I’ll tell you what they are, too