In this digital era, having a business website isn't just something nice to have. A well-designed website is crucial for building your online presence and reaching your target audience. That's not all. Without a good grasp of small-business SEO, you'll have a hard time driving organic traffic to your site.

How Does SEO Work?

As a business owner, you can spend time and money creating an eye-catching website. Unfortunately, consumers may not be able to find it online unless it's optimized for the search engines. Sure, you can invest in paid ads, but you'll stop getting traffic as soon as you pause or stop the campaign. What you need is organic traffic, and that's where search engine optimization comes into play.

Most small-business owners know the value of having a website, but few realize the importance of SEO. Luckily, you don't have to be a digital marketing expert to learn and use some basic SEO practices. Simple things, such as adding keywords to your posts and publishing guest blogs, can go a long way toward your marketing strategy. First, make sure you understand how SEO works.

At the most basic level, SEO is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to a website through organic search results. It encompasses various strategies, from link building and keyword research to guest blogging. When used properly, these techniques can drive organic traffic to your small-business website. Organic traffic is the number of visitors coming to the site via search engine results, not paid ads.

Google, the largest search engine, holds about 88% of the global search market. The websites that appear on the first page in Google's search results get more than 91% of all traffic for the targeted keywords. Small-business SEO can increase your rankings on search engine results pages, leading to more traffic and sales. In fact, as much as 40% of revenue comes from organic traffic.

How SEO Benefits Your Business

All search engines strive to improve user experience, which is why they are constantly launching new algorithms to match search queries with relevant web pages. For instance, when someone searches online for "car repair shops in Miami," she expects to find the best repair shops in that city. These are typically listed on the first page in search results.

If you own a car repair business but your site isn't optimized, customers won't be able to find it. This means you'll lose money and potential clients. Small-business SEO can grow your popularity online and show prospects that you're a trusted source of information. Its goal is to make your website more appealing to customers and search engines alike.

A mobile-friendly website optimized for local searches can drive foot traffic to your store. About 76% of consumers who use their smartphones to search for local products or services nearby visit a business within one day. Nearly one-third of those searches result in a purchase. The best SEO practices can help you turn website traffic into foot traffic and increase your reach.

Another major advantage of SEO for small businesses is that it's more convenient than pay-per-click advertising. PPC is a valuable digital marketing tool, but it comes at a price. SEO involves lower costs and yields longer-lasting results. If you have a basic website, you can optimize it yourself by using free or low-cost SEO tools, such as the Google Search Console, SEMRush or Moz Link Explorer.

Rank Without Breaking the Rules

Not all SEO tactics are created equal, though. There's black-hat, white-hat and gray-hat SEO. Plus, many strategies were popular years ago but no longer hold value and can do more harm than good.

White-hat SEO, for example, encompasses keyword research, content creation, site maps and other practices that are in line with Google’s webmaster guidelines. Black-hat SEO, on the other hand, involves keyword stuffing, link farms, duplicated content, hidden text, blog spam and other tactics that break the rules in an attempt to manipulate the search results. If you get caught, you might end up being banned from the search results.

As its name suggests, gray-hat SEO is somewhere in the middle and involves sketchy practices like article spinning, three-way link exchanges or unnaturally high keyword density. This approach may help improve your search engine rankings quickly, but there is a risk of being penalized.

Small-Business SEO Strategies

Good SEO builds trust and credibility while improving user experience. Depending on your marketing goals, you can use SEO tactics to increase sales, gain exposure online, raise brand awareness or engage with your audience. If you do it properly, the results will last for years to come.

As a small-business owner, you want to use white-hat SEO practices. These techniques are fairly easy to implement even by those who don't have technical SEO knowledge. Keep in mind that SEO is an ongoing process, so you'll need to constantly adjust your strategy. The beauty of SEO is that it’s quantifiable, allowing you to measure almost anything with proper analytics tools.

Are you not sure where to start? Consider these five small-business SEO tips that work in 2020.

1. Do Keyword Research

Keywords are the foundation of SEO. These represent the search terms people use when looking for products, services or information over the web. Ideally, you should target keywords with a high search volume and low competition. In general, medium-tail (three to four words) and long-tail (four or more words) keywords are less competitive, while short-tail keywords (one or two words) are the most difficult for which to rank.

These search terms tell users and search bots about the content of your pages. They also show the relevancy of your content in search queries. If, say, you sell sports supplements, it's important to optimize your website for relevant keywords, such as "best sports supplements," "NY discount sports supplements," "organic sports supplements" and so on. Place your target keywords in strategic areas of your website or blog:

  • Website URL
  • Meta tags
  • Meta descriptions
  • Page titles
  • Page headings
  • Content
  • Image ALT tags
  • File names
  • Permalinks

Optimize each page for one or two keywords and make sure your content flows smoothly. Depending on your budget, you may use free keyword-research tools like Google's Keyword Planner or premium tools such as Wordtracker, Ahrefs’s Keywords Explorer or KWFinder. Paid tools usually include a free trial, so you can test them out before committing to a membership. You may also check your competitors' websites to see the keywords for which they rank.

A few years ago, webmasters used a bunch of keywords to increase their ranking in search results, but this tactic doesn't work anymore. Today, quality content is paramount when it comes to SEO. Use keywords strategically and focus on the actual content of your pages. Search Engine Land, for example, recommends a keyword density of 2.45%.

2. Prioritize Content Creation

Quality content and SEO go hand in hand. The key is to provide quality, useful information in a contextually relevant matter to educate, entertain or engage your target audience. This information can come in any form, including videos, pictures or text. Blog posts, infographics, industry news, webinars, tutorials, case studies, podcasts and GIFs are all examples of digital content.

Note that Google and other search engines prefer long-form content. While it's true that attention spans are getting shorter and that users tend to skim webpages instead of reading them, in-depth content may improve your rankings.

According to a study by Backlinko, most posts that appear on the first page in search results have an average word count of 1,890 words. Long-form content allows you to cover a topic in depth, which in turn increases its relevancy and leads to more social shares.

However, this doesn't mean you should focus solely on article length. Some topics can be covered in 500 words or less, and what matters most is to provide value to your audience and satisfy their search queries. Think about your overall content marketing strategy when writing blog posts or articles. For example, you may want to use different types of blog posts, such as checklists, how-to guides, expert roundups and interviews, for different audiences.

3. Build Quality Links

Backlinks are the lifeblood of SEO. Quality content will not only improve your keyword rankings but also help you get relevant backlinks to your small-business website. Along with keyword research and content creation, link building is one of the most important on-page SEO strategies.

Longer content gets about 77% more links than short-form content. In addition to publishing in-depth posts on your site, you may acquire backlinks through guest blogging and social media marketing. If, say, you publish on a popular website or blog in your niche, you may include a link back to your site in the content or author bio. You can set up a WordPress blog, publish quality content and link back to your website.

As a small-business owner, you could also get backlinks from vendors, professional associations, charities or even customers. For example, if you decide to sponsor a local sports event, you may ask the host to link back to your website from the charity's blog or social media pages. Online press releases can help with link building too.

Don't forget about internal links, which point to another webpage on the same domain. They are an effective way of passing link juice, or authority, to your pages, especially when you use relevant keywords in the anchor text. At the same time, they make your website organized and easier to navigate. Ideally, you should link from popular, high-authority pages to those that could use more traffic.

4. Optimize for Local Search

If you own a brick-and-mortar business, it's essential to optimize your website for local searches. In addition to using relevant keywords that include the name of your city or neighborhood, claim your business listing in local directories. Yelp, Google My Business, Foursquare, Yellow Book, Bing Places and the chamber of commerce are just a few to mention. Generally, you will have to submit your company's name and a brief description, select your industry and enter your contact information.

Local citations are still one of the most important ranking factors for local businesses. To reap the benefits, keep your business information consistent across all directories. Include your target keywords in the company's description and add a link to your website.

If you operate in multiple cities, set up landing pages for each location. This way, potential customers searching for your products or services in a specific area will be directed to the appropriate page. Encourage your clients to leave reviews on Yelp, Google and other local directories. If possible, try to get links from local organizations, events, bloggers and travel websites covering your area.

5. Promote Your Content Online

Social shares may or may not improve your rankings on search engine results pages — that's subject to debate. However, your social media profiles do have an impact on what people see when looking up your brand online. If they are optimized for the search engines, they will appear on the first page, giving customers a sense of your brand's personality. Plus, millions of people use social networks to find what they’re seeking.

Share your content on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social networks to build trust and increase user engagement. Encourage your followers to visit your small-business website to learn more. A Facebook page that is regularly updated with quality content will attract fans and likes, spark conversations and drive website traffic.

Furthermore, you can promote your content on Medium, turn it into videos and share them on YouTube or create slide decks and post them on SlideShare. Another strategy is to convert guides and other longer posts into PDF files and share them on Scribd and other PDF sites to get traffic and backlinks. Outbrain and other similar services can make it easier to share your content with a global audience, so you might want to check them out.