Understanding how to optimize your business website can expand your online reach and help you stand out from competitors.

Whether you’re selling waffles, wedding rings, or dog walks, your website is crucial to marketing your small business and establishing your brand. But if you aren’t well-versed in search engine optimization (SEO), your website may be falling behind the competition.

A 2019 survey from The Manifest survey found that while many business owners feel comfortable with SEO best practices, very few actually execute on an SEO strategy. In fact, 36 percent of small business owners had an SEO strategy at the start of 2019, and an additional 23 percent plan to create and implement an SEO strategy this year.

While competing against full-time SEO teams may seem futile, SEO is actually one arena where small businesses have definite advantages, says Rob Talbot, vice president of Talbot Services Corp. in Edmond, Oklahoma. “As a smaller company, you can be nimbler—making quick changes to your site and focusing on localization and niche searches,” he says. But before you put your agility to the test, make sure your site’s foundation is set.

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Know That Keywords Are King

First, devote some time to keyword research. (There are plenty of online tools, including Google Ads’ Keyword Planner to make this process easier.) “You want to understand three things: what potential customers are typing into the search engine to find your business, the competition for that keyword, and how often it’s searched,” says Talbot. “Once you’ve identified relevant keywords with medium to low competition and the highest possible search volume, you’ll have a general idea of how much traffic those keywords can attract to your website.”

If you’re selling oranges, for instance, you want to do more than pepper the word orange across multiple webpages. You might have a whole list of orange-related keywords, from types of fruits to local orange shops, that make sense to incorporate into your site. Or you might find that generic terms will be harder to rank highly but making super-specific pages (for example, “orange smoothie recipes”), puts your page higher up in the search results. Knowing the keywords, says Talbot, can help you hit your search goals.

Don’t Overlook Metadata

The more you can make your content and web assets relevant, readable, and searchable, the better. Search engines aren’t just scouring the words that appear on your website, they’re also looking at the information embedded within posts and webpages.

When uploading images, for instance, “rename your photo Oranges.jpg instead of IMG357.jpg,” he says. “That makes a difference when it comes to search.” Giving a little TLC to the site’s title tag, description tag, website title, and article pages can also help bring your website to the top of the search page. 

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Care About More Than Your Own Website

Online directories can play a surprisingly large role in SEO, particularly for local searches, says Talbot. Sites such as Google My Business, Apple Maps Connect, and Yelp can all help your site show up when customers in your area are doing searches, whether using a search engine or a navigation app. “If you’re a local provider or local business, you really want to take advantage of this,” he says. Verifying and updating your business’s information, adding a photo, and being responsive when customers ask questions or leave comments all signal to the search engines that you’re responsive—which can help bolster your search.

Voice Search Isn’t as Sci-Fi as it Sounds

There’s been more and more buzz around voice search of late, as customers increasingly use voice-controlled assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, to get info about local businesses. That may sound intimidating—but small business owners can relax, says Talbot. “There’s no question that this is very, very important,” he says. “But luckily, we’re finding that best practices that work on visual sites carry over to voice search as normal.”

If you take the time to optimize your site for use on a smartphone or desktop, you’ll scoop up voice searchers without breaking a sweat.

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