SEO can be complicated. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of ranking factors. Every factor has a balance in terms of the search term and competition, so things can get a bit complicated. When I started in the SEO world over 15 years ago, there were some basic and consistent overall ranking factors. Then it seemed to differentiate by industry how different elements of the puzzle were weighted. It has evolved to each search having its own competitive landscape and balance. That is why I often tell people the most common answer to an SEO question is “it depends”. A good SEO can tell you why it depends and dig into it further for you. However, much like baseball can be a complicated sport, it can also be approached more simply to the average person with the fundamentals. You have to hit, catch, and throw. Of course there is nuance and subcategories involved in that. That is also the case with SEO, but I want to break things down to the fundamental big 3 that I often use as the framework of a discussion on SEO with small business owners.
The Big 3 of Small Business SEO
Breaking it up into 3 main categories often helps people get their heads around it. SEO‘s can even argue about which of these categories certain elements fall into, but I think if you approach it at a high level like this, it is easier to understand and work into your everyday thoughts and plans. So lets take a look at the big 3 pieces of the optimization puzzle: On-Page, Off-Page, and In-Page optimization and give a quick overview of what they mean.
This is the one that is often the most straightforward to people. It is basically what it sounds like. The content on the page of your site. If you want to rank for a search phrase, you need to have content that answers that search. Google’s job is to provide the best answer to user queries. To have the best answer, you need to have good unique content that covers the topic. As SEO has evolved it has become more specific. It is a good idea to have a page to address each way someone may search for you. What problems or issues do you have the solution for. Often an individual service may be a solution for many specific problems. A dentist does many things from general cleanings to dentures and sedation work. You should think about not only what services people may search for, but what problems they may be searching for the answers to if they don’t know what your service is called.
Content is king is the most common phrase in SEO since I started. It is becoming more and more important over time. This is the category where things like meta-tags and other types of content come into play. You want to make sure your content is digestible to the user. It is good to have all of the content there to answer user questions, but it is also to make it very clear how it is organized so a user can find the answer to their specific question very quickly on the page. Mixing in video and image content can also improve the experience and meet the user with the type of content they most like to engage with.
We will talk about external links in the off-page section, but linking easily from one page to the next within your site is better for user experience and also helps point Google to the important pages on your site. If you have blog posts discussing some finer points of one of your services, they should link back to your main service page when they come up in the content. It helps connect the subject ares easily for the user.
With the evolution of Google My Business, which is now Google Business Profiles, you have yet another example of your webpage that tells Google about your business. On-page applies here as well. Fill out your Business Profile as much as possible. Make sure you pick the relevant business categories and include as much info, images, Q&A, and posts as you can to help a potential customer completely understand your business.
Off-page is often the hardest part for people to understand. You have a lot less control over this aspect of the SEO process, but because of this it often shows up in ranking studies as the heaviest weighted of the ranking factors. It is viewed as off-page because it is primarily other people providing this part of your equation by linking to your site, leaving you reviews, or mentioning your brand. Google differentiated itself as a search engine back in the day by giving value to different web pages rather than simply listing things in categories or alphabetical order. They gave more value to pages or websites that other websites link to. Legitimate links to your site are viewed as “virtual referrals” or signs of trust and/or authority for your site. If other reputable sites are willing to link to you, it gives you more value. I mention “legitimate” and “reputable” because it can be a slippery slope. Any time Google gives value to something, industries pop up to cheat at it. There are definitely people that try to game the system with fake links. Google generally ignores these now but it doesn’t stop businesses from wasting money on them because they simply don’t understand.
Each link tells Google a little story about your business that helps give you more credibility. A local chamber linking to your site tells Google you are active in that geography. An industry site linking to you tells Google you are a player in that industry. Blogs and news articles can tell a different story, depending on the type of content on the website. If the site is real though, they can all help Google paint a better picture of your reputation in their algorithm. The more relevant and consistent links your site brings in, the more you tend to move up the rankings in your subject area.
Reviews are a bit more clear to business owners. They are more clearly shown to the users on the internet as well. It makes sense that review numbers, frequency, and the score would matter for your rankings. Google wants to show its users the best options and reviews are showing exactly what prior customers think of you. For a more detailed look at the granularity of the importance of reviews, please check out my series of posts here.
This is a bit more nuanced and a little tougher for small businesses, but as Google is indexing and reading all of that content out on the internet, they also see when your brand is mentioned and the context associated with that. This can feed into your measure of authority in the Google algorithm and is something you have a little less control over.
The final bucket we look at is the in-page optimization section. This is also often referred to as technical SEO. We have all been on a website and clicked a link, only to see a 404 error. This is one piece of the in-page puzzle. We want the site running smoothly and efficiently so it is easy to navigate and use. Speed is a big part of this, as well as the general structure of the site. It is important that you make your site easy to index for Google as well as your users. Much like a physical business that has dirty or broken signage and looks messy, a website that is messy is given less respect by users and the Google algorithm. It is important to take a look at any site from time to time and try to catch things like broken links or speed issues as they arise.
With the evolution of technology, the speed standards are always improving, but so are the tools to help you speed up your site. It is important to keep up to date with these things and compare your site to your competitors in terms of speed.
With SEO, everything is relative to your competitors. This tool can be handy at comparing your speed scores to other key competitors for your keywords. You can use an independent third-party tool to analyze your page speed and also learn what is slowing your page down so you can come up with ways to speed it up again.
There are many things here we didn’t even touch on that fall into these three different categories, but these cover the big pieces of the puzzle to dig into when getting your SEO plan moving. If you need help with any pieces of this puzzle, the main driver of our success is our ability to fit in and help you where you need help and guide you with the things you can handle yourself. We offer flexible and custom plans that help move you forward the best way possible for your budget and your market. If you have a good writer on staff, you don’t need to pay us for that. If you can manage your Google Business Profile on your own, go for it. We will let you know what needs to be done and we can decide what you need us to do. Just give us a call and we will come up with a custom SEO plan for you.