Search engine optimization (SEO) is a large toolbox of strategies small business owners can deploy to help potential customers find them online. You don’t need to be a marketing professional or expert to invest in SEO, either. Behind the technical veneer, the process of making your store’s online presence search-friendly comes down to a few key actions.
Here’s how to cut through the acronyms to reach the people who want to find your products and services.
The librarian and the search engine
What most SEO guides don’t tell you is that search engines are actually not that different from people. In the same way you’d look for books in a library, skim-read their content, and judge their quality, search engines do the same. Only the process is a lot faster and more methodical.
READ MORE: How to Drive Sales to Your Website
Search engines love content that’s original, credible, well-researched, and engaging. And they love websites that are fast to load, simple to navigate, and mobile-friendly. Websites with clear page titles, URLs, and links also are search-friendly. After all, these are the things you and your customers would look for when browsing online.
Optimize your website for search engines by making your site and its content as valuable as it can be for your potential customers. It then takes just a few small tweaks to make your content extra discoverable.
9 easy strategies for SEO success
Choose niche keywords
Keywords are the words or phrases people type into search boxes when they’re looking for something, for example, “Brooklyn takeout” or “running trainers.” Google looks for keywords on your website and uses them to decide how relevant your content is to a specific search query. This means you need to choose keywords that align with your product or service and use them across your site.
To identify your keywords, consider what your business offers and what makes it unique. Since many other businesses will likely share the same ones, keep yours as niche as possible. The trick is finding keywords with low competition and high search volumes. Free tools like Google Keyword Planner will show you this data, as well as suggestions for alternative keywords.
Once you have your keywords, integrate them across your site in product descriptions, blogs, URLs, and page titles. Be sure to only use them where it makes sense to do so. Google will notice if you litter your pages with irrelevant keywords that jar the flow, and it will lower your ranking.
Write for humans, not bots
Search engines can quickly spot content that’s been written for them, rather than for humans. For example, if you overuse your keywords so that it damages readability, copy content from other websites, or have poorly researched articles that lack credibility, Google will notice.
Instead, search engines, like humans, love content that is unique, credible, and compelling. Where you can, hyperlink to other credible outlets, use high-quality sources, and link to other content on your own site.
Create a smooth user experience
Make your website easy to navigate, with logical menus, clear page titles, and URLs that actually tell you what the page is all about. For example, instead of “www.trainers.com/123abc,” opt for “www.trainers.com/white-running-trainers.” Consider using breadcrumb trails at the top of your pages. These give one-click access to other pages on your site, and they’re good for SEO as you can weave keywords into them: Home > Trainers > Men’s Trainers > White Running Trainers.
Other measures that support easy navigation are including simple wording in your menus, ensuring your buttons stand out in a bold color with a clear call to action, and putting your navigation in a standard place so that it’s consistent across your pages. Test your navigation using analytics tools such as Google Search Console or Hotjar, which can show you how users are clicking through your pages, so you can identify any areas of improvement.
In addition to simple navigation, a great user experience also means keeping your content up to date, linking to other relevant content on your own website, and removing or updating any broken links. Search engines and visitors alike will quickly give up if they can’t find what they’re looking for or if your website looks tired and dated.
READ MORE: Here’s How You Can Optimize Individual Items for Search
Ensure fast page loads
Neither humans nor search engines like slow websites. In fact, one-quarter of visitors will abandon a site if it takes longer than four seconds to load. If you think any of your pages are running slowly, drop the URL into PageSpeed Insights to perform a quick analysis and identify any areas for improvement.
There are lots of easy ways to boost the speed of your pages. For example, reduce image sizes and keep the number of plugins you use to a minimum.
Make your site mobile-friendly
Given that nearly half of all searches are done on mobile devices, optimizing your website so that it works well and looks great on mobile devices is no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have. And it’s something that search engines consider in their rankings, too. In fact, Google says mobile-friendly sites show higher in search results and account for over half of searches on Google.com.
Increase your off-site visibility
Search engines don’t just look at your website when determining your credibility. They also explore your wider presence on the internet. For example, whether other credible outlets link back to you, whether you have good reviews and plenty of mentions, and whether people engage with your business on social media.
That’s why activities such as guest blogging, publishing content that’s easy to share, getting great reviews, and growing your presence on social media can be so valuable. Getting listed in relevant directories can also be really helpful. For example, Angie’s List for home and garden businesses, Manta and Trustpilot for more general small business listings.
It’s also worth claiming your Google Business listing. This is a free tool that allows you to manage your presence across Google, including in Search and Maps, making it easier for customers to find your business in local search results.
Use videos and images
Visual content is becoming increasingly popular, with the average person estimated to spend 100 minutes every day watching online videos in 2021 — a 19% increase from 2019. It’s therefore no surprise that search engines love videos and images, too. But it’s not so much the content as the behavior it drives.
Visual content often triggers a deeper emotional response than words on a page. In fact, video click-through rates on search results are 41% higher compared to plain-text content. They’re easy to digest, engaging, accessible, and more likely to be shared, with some 92% of mobile video consumers sharing videos with others. This means people are likely to spend more time on your web pages. Search engines pick up on all these factors and consider your content to be valuable, boosting your ranking.
Read More: How Ugly Photos Can Affect Your Business, and How to Combat Them
Metadata provides a brief summary of a web page and its contents to search engines. Google often displays the meta-title and meta-description of a page in search results, which means metadata can strongly influence click-throughs to your site. While Google doesn’t include metadata in its ranking, click-through rates do affect your ranking, so it’s definitely worth optimizing them to encourage visitors to your content. Keep them descriptive but concise, below 60 characters for titles and 160 for descriptions.
Alt text is another type of meta-data that’s specifically used for visual content. It simply describes the image or video on a page. So instead of uploading content with titles such as “IMG_1234.png,” use a descriptive title such as “oak table” and, if relevant, weave in your keywords. Not only does this boost your SEO by helping search engines to better understand and therefore rank your content, but it also shows on your website if the image doesn’t load properly, creating a better user experience.
Many content management systems, such as WordPress, enable you to easily add your own metadata to blogs, web pages, and uploaded visual content. Square Online users can do this very easily, too. Here’s a quick guide.
Continually creating great content means understanding what types of content your visitors love and how this changes over time. Tools such as the Google Search Console are brilliant for this, showing you how many visitors are coming to your site, how long they’re spending on each page, where they’re from, the devices they’re using, and how they click from page to page. You can use this data to refine your content so that you’re always delivering the best value to your visitors.
The search console is also great for checking which pages Google has indexed on your site. If you discover any that haven’t been indexed, you can “Request Indexing.” This is good practice when you publish new content to your site because it tells Google you’ve added something new.
Optimizing your website for search engines doesn’t yield overnight success. Instead, it’s a long-term investment in creating a seamless user experience and unique, engaging content on a regular basis. If you commit to this, then you will reap the rewards by attracting higher-quality traffic to your site and happier customers that trust and respect you, your expertise, and your business offering.
Square has the tools to run your business — even when it’s not business as usual. To help businesses make the shifts they need, we partnered with Forbes to assemble a team of expert advisors. By sharing firsthand experience, our advisors are helping businesses build skills and plan for what’s next. See how Square works, and learn more about the Small Business Advisory Team.