July 2, 2024

SEO for Small Businesses - the Fundamentals

Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) is a relatively bewildering topic, even if you're a web developer or in digital marketing. It is incredibly specialised, fairly technical and evolving at an astonishing rate, so small business owners will often either leave it well alone, or end up spending more than they need to.

This is a quick guide to what is important to a typical Flip Digital client to understand about SEO - most are small businesses, based in and around Wanaka, Cromwell or elsewhere in Central Otago.

We have built and optimised websites for a variety of small business types, so are well versed in what works and what doesn't. Many are tradie businesses, tourism operators or small e-commerce operations. None of them rely exclusively on SEO for success, but having a simple SEO strategy and all the fundamentals in place will set any of them up to succeed. Perhaps one of the accommodation businesses decides to expand and needs to spin a Google Ads campaign up quickly? Far easier to do this if you already have all the basics in place as you are starting from a point where Google, Bing etc. already understand your business and what it is you do - this process can take months otherwise.

So - what are these basics?

SEO Strategy

Whether you have an existing website or not - SEO has to start with strategy. You need to decide what you want to achieve in order to define the steps to get there. This could be organic search ranking improvement for "Wanaka Accommodation" type keywords or a more prominent Google Business profile for "Restaurant in Cromwell" - the method to achieve each is different.

Website Health

Before you get to optimising your content, your website needs to be in good shape. This means fast, easy to navigate and logically and intuitively structured with clear actions for your visitors to take, wherever they need to be. Content optimisation will often encompass the structural part of this, but speed and ease of use are critical.

Content Optimisation

The content on your site needs to be well structured, easy to read/understand and do a good job of explaining about your products and services. There used to be ways to feed search engines with content about what your site is about, but the on-page content is the core.

If you have a lot of content, it needs to be well structured, from a high level overview on the homepage, down through products and services categories to the products/services pages. Blogs should be organised with posts by category and show related posts or category links at the bottom of each post.

Search engines will use this structure to differentiate between products and services and topics. The opposite would be to have have lots of pages with a mix of content on them, which would be hard to understand and present as results to search queries.

On-Page SEO

This is essentially making sure that all of the boxes that Search Engines use to understand your page are ticked, primarily the Page Title and Meta Description. These 2 are what appear when Google lists your page in search results, and they are also the best indicator the search engines have to get a summary of the content on and intent of the page.

You then have the ability to add good descriptions to images, and links to other relevant content which will further strengthen the credibility of that page.

Backlinks/Link building

Backlinks are links to your webpage from other websites. If these backlinks come from good, authoritative websites (for example Tourism NZ) and the people who land on your site from them stick around or follow your calls to action, the backlinks are considered to be good and will strengthen your position. If they come from domains with poor reputations and deliver not-so-good visitors, they are bad for your reputation. More of the former and less of the latter is an important part of SEO.

Link building is the process of encouraging other businesses to link to your web pages to get more traffic (for example a Wanaka based accommodation provider linking to local restaurants and things to do, and vice versa).

Google Business profile

Your Google Business profile is the search listing that appears alongside the map at the top of the search results page. For example - a search for "Wanaka Accommodation" gives something like this:

If you can get your business profile in the top few results, you are going to be in good shape.

Your Google Business Profile and Website feed off one another. Your business profile directs traffic to your website on one side, and on the other, Google crawls your website to work out what your business is about, and used that to influence the rank of your business profile listing.

A well optimised Google Business Profile is absolutely key for Local SEO.

Traffic!

Once all of your fundamentals are in place - it's time to start sending traffic to your site. Whether this comes from Social Media , organic search results (not Ads), paid search (Ads) or referral links from other websites, the activity will be tracked and visitor behaviour analysed by Google to determine the quality of your website. If a visitor arrives from a Google search for "Wanaka Pet supplies", browses through your well-categorised and structured pet supply products, then either adds one to cart and buys through e-commerce, or gets to the contact page and sends a message/hits a call link - you get a great big green metaphorical tick from the search engine. They presented your page as a result, and the visitor got exactly what they wanted, so they will rank your page higher next time.

On the other hand - if they present one of your pages in search results and the visitor clicks it, then immediately hits the back button, they clearly haven't found what they were looking for. Either the website is poor or untrustworthy, or the content isn't what they were looking for. In either case, you get the red cross from the search engine. The proportion of people who do this is called your Bounce Rate - and you want it to be as low as possible.

What else?

There are many and varied ways to work on your SEO outside of these - add a blog and drive traffic through newsletters and social media posts or get your e-commerce products listed in Google Shopping results. What you choose to do next depends on your business and strategy, but if you have the above building blocks in place then you will be very well placed to make the very best of these next steps.