Rachel Klaver is a marketing strategist, specialising in lead generation and content marketing.
OPINION: If you’ve been in business more than a heartbeat, you’ll likely have received at least one spam email from an overseas “expert” promising they can get you on the first page of Google if you let them run your SEO.
They can make you feel anxious, because SEO is a phrase more business owners don’t understand, and feels like some mystical, complicated art.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. We all need it for our websites, because it helps people who don’t know our exact website address find us on the internet.
They may not even know about us exactly. There they are, typing “Yellow flowers in Ellerslie” and there your website appears, because Google believes you are the best result for that search.
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If you do sell yellow flowers, your SEO is working well. If you sell trucks, and have nothing to do with yellow flowers, then your SEO isn’t working too well.
We want to make it as easy as possible for someone to find us if they need us. If you want to have more customers, taking a look at your SEO makes a lot of sense.
Some aspects of SEO can be complicated. Some of it is technical, and requires a particular type of brain that I do not have.
If you are in a highly competitive industry – marketing your business nationally or internationally, and need to show up for key phrases and search terms (we call these all keywords even if they are more than one word), then you might need to either get some training or employ an SEO specialist to help you.
If you do that, make sure it’s not that person who randomly emailed you! Funnily enough, SEO companies tend to have really good SEO themselves.
Start with a Google search, ask around, and choose a company that has people who listen to you. People who don’t make you feel stupid, don’t promise you results in weeks (it’s a long game) and rank for important keywords, rather than vanity ones.
A vanity keyword is your business name. If it’s something odd like “RumblyTummy” it’s going to be simple to rank for it, and it’s still only going to capture people who already know who you are. You want keywords that people would use every day to find someone like you in Google.
However, not all marketing is technical. As technology has changed and Google has got cleverer at deciphering the way us humans use language, when we learn to write great content for people, Google finds it too.
I’ve had a love hate relationship with SEO for a long time. Some of my earliest writing work included keyword stuffed articles, where I would have to find a way to slip in the same phrase more than ten times inside 400 words.
This made the article work for Google but completely unreadable for anyone trying to read it on a website. Add to that a creative brain that can’t focus on technical training for too long, and my antipathy runs deep.
When I heard Ben Male, someone who loves people more than analytics had started an SEO company called Team Empathy, I knew he was the person I needed to help me love SEO.
Ben came on my podcast MAP IT Marketing to talk about how he sees SEO, what you need to know to create a sound strategy, and how small business owners can work on it themselves.
One of the biggest misconceptions business owners have around SEO is that it involves running ads on Google.
“A lot of people think Google Ads are SEO. The first three or four results when you search have a little word ‘ad’ next to them. That’s people paying to get there. And they need to keep doing that every single day, every single week. They are not there organically,” explains Ben.
The goal is to do work to be found without needing to pay Google. As Ben explains, “if you just used ads, and you stopped your ads, you wouldn’t be on Google any more. If you stopped working on your S.EO, you’d be on Google for a long time, long before you started dropping down”.
To improve your SEO, Ben says there are three growth levers. The first two are all about optimising what you already have, and the third is maintaining some consistent SEO habits to keep the effort going.
The first growth lever is to create and build out a Google Business page as this is one of the easiest ways to get more traffic (visitors) to your site. The second growth lever is to optimise your website to make it easier for Google to know what you sell, and who you sell it to.
We’ll talk about Google My Business in detail soon, but website optimisation is one of the areas you may need some help in terms of an overall strategy. You need to create pages on your website that “answer” a specific search.
For example, you might have one that is for “Flower Delivery Ellerslie” and another for “Wedding Flowers Ellerslie”. Some of these pages can be hidden from your public website menu, so you have an easy-to-use site. As long as Google can find them, they will work.
There are free and low paid tools that can help you work out what those words are. One of my favourites is Neil Patel’s UberSuggest. His free plan allows you to conduct three types of searches a day, and it’s both simple to use, and it uses plain language to understand. The paid plan will send you monthly suggestions, which I like as I’m not naturally geared to work on my SEO.
We need to include keywords in specific places within each page, for Google to see them.
As Ben explains, “it’s a machine, a robot that rolls through your website. It reads everything on the website. It reads all the text and the alt text (note: it can’t “see” photos and images, so alt text explains what they are)”.
“Once it’s crawled through a page it gives it a score, and puts it in a bucket with all the other web pages with the same sort of content. It then ranks those pages and makes a decision about which one is the most relevant for a particular keyword. You will either rank high or low, depending on how well you optimised that page for that keyword.”
To make this work, many people try to think like a robot. However, Ben suggests we keep our ideal client in our mind for all the content we add to our website.
“We’re here to help solve people’s problems and answer their questions. So we need to understand people first. Then we write for their needs.”
The third lever includes maintaining activity to build your SEO rankings. This involves creating backlinks to your website, and continuing to create related content on social media platforms that also relates to the content on your website. Both of these things will drive traffic to your website.
More importantly, to blind Google, this creates an interlinking map that connects your little website with much bigger, more highly ranked websites (including Facebook, and other social media platforms). This helps Google trust your website more, and will improve the ranking you get in your keyword bucket.
With the first and the third levers sorted it’s time to take a look at Google Business. (This is also known as Google My Business.)
This is essential for locally based businesses, with a set geographical area. It can also help the rankings of small businesses with a national or international reach.
“It’s ludicrously important for brick and mortar businesses,” confirms Ben.
“Back in the day, before the internet, you’d want the best real estate for your store in High Street or wherever. Now that doesn’t matter so much, because people can use Google and Google Maps to find what they need, instead of just driving past. So Google Business helps people find you easily. You are not limited by geography any more.”
Ben also explains that when we see Google as a huge directory, and your Google Business page is your listing, it starts to make a lot of sense.
“It’s the ultimate directory. And you can choose whether you want a little listing that’s easily ignored, or the equivalent of a full page ad. Our goal is to make us the first pick in that directory when our ideal customer looks for what we sell.”
If you want to improve your SEO through using your Google Business page, this is what Ben recommends
Check if you have one already. Search for your exact business name in Google. A page should come up on the right-hand side of the results showing your business.
Sometimes it shows a message “claim this business.” You need to claim the page, and prove you are the owner. This can take a little time, and is fiddly. But persevere.
Log in here https://www.google.com/business/ to either create your page, or edit an existing page.
Fill in all the gaps. Make sure you put content about your business in every available section. Start with your title. Ben says to “say what you do, where you do it, and who you are” in that order.
Select one or two service categories that fit what you do. (You might not be able to get an exact match – We are a marketing agency, even though all we do is marketing training.)
Add all of your key products and services in the sections, adding as much detail as you can.
Add at least fifty photos to the photo section, but make sure they are named with your keyword phrases before you load them up. If you can work it out, you can also geotag the photos so that Google connects them to your business address.
Get someone to ask you questions, and then reply to them in detail, using your keywords in your reply.
Ask people for reviews.
Respond to every review you get, even if it’s a bad one – Make sure you respond to those gracefully!
Create a habit of posting at least once a week to your Google Business profile. It can be about a product, a special offer, a blog post or some advice.
Taking time to really flesh out and then maintain your Google Business page. If someone is searching locally for what you do, it increases the likelihood that your page will be chosen to be part of the “big three” on their map.
This will also help more people visit your website, and get your SEO working to get that organic growth, and hopefully make you love SEO that little bit more.
Rachel Klaver is a marketing strategist, specialising in lead generation and content marketing. She owns Identify Marketing, which works with businesses to create the strategy they need to tell their story better to the right people. Tune in to her weekly podcast MAP IT Marketing – created to help small business owners learn about marketing.