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Getting started with SEO in a small business

SEO is a very broad topic and often hard to approach when you’re new to the area. Very often the first articles you read on the subject may colour your entire view, approach to, and how much success you can achieve from SEO. This post gives an introduction and tactics for small businesses looking to achieve more from search engines and will help to prioritise activities. This article is part of our small business SEO series.

One of the most significant things to consider about SEO is how the application and effective use of it really does depend on the budget, type of business, skills and time available. This is not a ‘silver bullet’ and requires time and patience – whatever some blogs may have you believe.

For businesses SEO can mean significantly different priorities, budgets and approaches. This doesn’t mean SEO is inherently good or bad, it is all about selecting the right tool for the job.

SEO Tips for Small Businesses

Irrespective of the type of business you have, there are some core activities which need to be considered:

  • Ensuring that the site is fast – at minimum, faster than your competition
  • Ensuring that there are no broken links or images – the experience is of high quality, to users and to search engines.
  • Ensuring that all the content is unique and well written – with a high standard of English.
  • Ensuring that Google can successfully crawl the site and ‘See’ all the content and all the crucial links to the other significantly pages
  • Ensuring that you have a page which describes each of your key products and services.
  • Ensure you have an accurate Google My Business Listing which you have claimed and have control over
  • Ensure you have a strong view of the existing market & your competition, what they’re doing & what works best

SEO success for small business will likely be determined by your ability to meet each of these points – the order in which you do so, and the budget you assign to that, will depend on the type of business you have.

Here are some helpful guides to assist in the SEO work

How crucial these are, and how effective they’ll be depends on various factors, we will consider these next.

Does SEO work for small businesses?

SEO can be incredibly effective for small businesses. Although to make it a success you need to consider which of the following categories feel most appropriate to you:

  1. A startup, with no existing assets/website or marketplace
  2. An established business, looking to grow
  3. An established business, starting to invest in digital

To help make more sense of this, we’ll dig into each category and outline the key priorities which are most applicable to it. Every website and business is different, picking the most appropriate activities will ensure you really can make a success out of SEO.

SEO for Startups

SEO for startup businesses is possibly the hardest area as you either need to break into an already-established market OR (if you have a very new product/proposition) you have to generate demand. 

Even if you have received major investment, you still have ground to catch-up on, so you need to understand where your strengths lie and how you can close this gap as soon as possible.

In reality how startups can start to gain traction using SEO depends on the budget and how soon positive ROI (Return on Investment) needs to be achieved. If the business does not have a consistent revenue stream, then spending on SEO may be limited. 

For any business SEO should be considered first as an investment, whilst it can return within 3-6 months in some circumstances, this is not standard. If, as a startup small business you cannot afford to invest in SEO for 6 months+ before seeing a return, you are likely investing too much or you need to consider this further along in your business plan.

Irrespective of budget, however, most startup websites are not in an optimal position for SEO, they’re usually ‘version 1’, intended as a stop-gap and are designed to give a brand a presence in the early days of a business – often a sales tool (like a brochure) and a reference point, seldom a lead-generation source.

The noteworthy difference here is if you, the business owner/marketing director/manager have a background in search-marketing, usually this will get factored in early-on. If this isn’t the case, you need to ensure that you have a technically strong website.

Startup Business SEO Priorities

Here are some of the key activities that a start up business should consider. This table does not present an exhaustive list, but will help prioritise for you.

ActivityActions NeededPriority
Ensuring you have original content for your products/servicesWrite well-researched content pages, considering how your target customers may search for your services.High - if Google can’t see this content, it won’t rank you for those keywords in search. Simple.
Ensuring fast pagespeed (usually under 1.5s)Compare your own speed to your competition. How you improve your score will be dependent on your website/abilities, but some good starter guides can be found here.High - Page speed contributes to rankings and user experience, you don’t want to be seen to take either for granted
Generate interest, publicity and backlinksFind a way of creating a splash and turning heads amongst your peers and industry press. This is sometimes known as link building but it also helps build brand value as well as links.Medium/High - You need to generate awareness/show people you’re different, even if you ignore the SEO benefits from this it is still a significant part of a strategy.
Fixing broken links/crawl issuesCrawl your website using one of the various site-auditing platforms out there, establish the issues which will likely stop Google getting around your site (more information here)Medium - assuming you have a small site and nothing is especially broken. This can vary, but is unlikely the “silver bullet” for startups

The trick here is to build a solid content-base on your website – without skimping – whilst growing interest in your business and generating great content, links and stories.

SEO For Established business, looking to grow

If you’re an established business with a website, looking to grow and drive performance from search engines is often one of the key stages reaching new audiences. Knowing the priority here, and how to take the next steps will largely be contingent on what is missing. What is stopping you from ranking now? 

Some suggestions, elements you should check:

  1. If the website is poorly optimised, or you are unsure of the keywords you need to target
  2. The website is old or not built with search-engines in mind
  3. You have very few links or active focus on driving PR

Unlike startups, whose websites are likely too new or small to have debilitating SEO issues, small established businesses often have more to gain by stopping and spending longer auditing your website’s current health.

Established Business SEO Priorities

Here are some prioritised activities for established businesses looking to grow their digital presence. 

ActivityActions NeededPriority
Fixing broken links/crawl issues - optimising technical standards on the siteCrawl your website using one of the various site-auditing platforms out there, establish the issues which will likely stop Google getting around your site.High/Medium
Write (or rewrite) product service pages, optimised to your users.Assess how well the current content is working, conduct new keyword research and ensure the language you use is not language used internally, but that used by your target marketHigh/Medium
Generate interest, publicity and linksLeverage existing relationships/partnerships to generate interest and gain exposure to other people’s audiencesMedium

If you have a strong business with a digital presence, but have never really benefited from SEO, the main goal here is to identify why, and plug the gaps in the most achievable order.

SEO for established business, starting to invest in digital

Many small businesses have, in the past, built thriving operations without a website or general presence. Although businesses feel more and more pressure to “go online” as time passes – this is unlikely to change any time soon. If you are a business in this position, chances are you will need to adopt an approach to SEO which lies somewhere between a startup business and an established business with an already-promising digital presence. 

Before you invest in a new website and/or a marketing strategy, it would be advisable to consider your competition and their current activities. Competitor analysis in SEO is particularly essential if you are entering the digital space – you can read more on the process here.

Newly Digital Business SEO Priorities

If your business is new to ‘digital’ here are some starting priorities for an SEO strategy.

ActivityActions NeededPriority
Ensuring you have original content for your products/servicesWrite well-researched content pages, considering how your target customers may search for your services.High - if Google can’t see this content, it won’t rank you for those keywords in search. 
Build a robust website, with high technical standards (or ensure your website - if newly built has high standards)If the site is being built, ensure that you have captured the functionality you need (mostly around content creation and site structure). Crawl the website and ensure there are no major issues, if the site is complete.Medium
Generate interest, publicity and linksLeverage existing relationships/partnerships to generate interest and gain exposure to other people’s audiencesMedium
Reviewing pagespeedCompare your own speed to your competition. How you improve your score will be dependent on your website/abilities.High - Page speed contributes to rankings and user experience, you don’t want to be seen to take either for granted

If you have never really approached digital before, it can feel like you are starting at square one. However, the key difference here between this and a startup business is that you already know what works, know the market, and have established relationships. Use this knowledge to create a robust website and content strategy.

How much should small businesses spend on SEO?

How much a small business should spend on SEO greatly depends on that business and their expectations from SEO. It also depends on how you are spending this money, whether you are hiring internally, employing an agency or working with a freelancer. The costs/levels of expertise will vary greatly, as well as the costs itself.

To be sure, however, SEO agency retainers which cost <£500 are unlikely going to significant deliver value within a 6-month period. Also employing a junior member of staff to take care of SEO without an appropriate strategy or guiding hand will unlikely deliver value – sometimes any at all.

How much you spend depends on a number of elements, but a good indicator is how long you can sustain a level of spend without seeing a positive ROI. This does not mean how long can you spend on SEO without seeing results (you can see signs of improvements from month one!), but if you have to see a marked increase of revenue within three months you are likely spending too much. 

SEO should be invested in alongside other marketing activities and assumes that SEO will be able to deliver direct revenue now and build towards further growth in the future.

Final Thoughts

The core principles of SEO are broadly the same for most websites, the size of the business usually impacts the size of the budget – which is one of the key factors in how quickly an SEO strategy can work. Another key element is the competition, and how much they’re investing.

It is true that recognised brands can generally rank easier within Search Engines, however, that should not lead small businesses to shy away from. Great content that is well written, by a business who really understands their target market has a great chance to rank and drive traffic irrespective of the website it is posted on.

If you can prioritise your work effectively, using our guidelines above, monitor your progress and be patient, SEO can be a real asset for your marketing efforts.

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