For most businesses, including small business retailers, your website is at the center of your company’s operation. It’s vital that people find you quickly and easily when they’re searching online for your type of product or service.
To achieve those coveted and optimum search engine results, you need to employ Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices.
For the purpose of this SEO guide we will mainly focus on the basic rules and parameters by which Google ranks websites organically, given that between 90-92% of searches take place on their engine. Know that what works for Google will work for the others such as Bing and Yahoo.
We say the basics – keywords and titles, on-page and off-page optimization, and landing pages – because each of these elements of SEO could be the white paper topic on their own.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to invest mass amounts of money and time to get improved organic search results that can impact your online store. Our goal is to help you improve your website’s search ranking with simple yet effective ways that can benefit your small business SEO goals. To understand how to best deliver an optimized online experience to your customers so they return to your website again and again…which will ultimately, boost your search page rankings.
Google Changes SEO Rules to Focus on the User Experience
Before we delve into small business SEO best practices, it’s important to provide a background into the how and why Google made a major shift in their search engine algorithm in the past few years, the rules that impact how high or low websites appear on a given results page.
For quite some time, many SEO tactics and techniques achieved desired placement and ranking on the Search Engine Results Page (commonly known as SERP). Good for the website owner. Not necessarily so for the user.
- Some were gaming the system in a variety of ways, often referred to as “black hat” or spam, including:
- Hiring a company to send a lot of links to their website that were not necessarily relevant or useful
- Writing a lot of “fluff” content just for the sake of making regular additions and updates to the website without regard to quality and value to the reader
- “Thin” amount of informative content, especially on product pages (eBay got dinged for this, bringing down their ranking from 6th to 25th)
- Using a tactic known as ‘keyword stuffing’, where the same keywords appeared multiple times, again, bringing down quality of content within the vast world of the internet.
In 2014 Google made significant changes to their Panda algorithm, releasing versions 4.x to curb these practices and highlight the evolving online user habits.
In addition to pulling rank, so to speak, on large sites such as eBay, they placed increased emphasis on the performance of a website. Slow loading website, which cause people to sit wide-eyed in a daze between frustration and boredom, do not fare well in search engine results.
The algorithm can also detect which websites offer a mobile optimized version, one that can detect the device of the user and deliver up a streamlined web experience designed specifically for that device.
Raising the bar on an element to on-page optimization, Google rewarded websites that presented unique and valuable content for their readers, focusing on quality over quantity.
What worked then doesn’t work now. Some tactics simply don’t exist, such as Google Authorship, once thought to be a key to online engagement by connecting the author’s content with their Google+ profiles. For retailers, overall small business SEO best practices include:
- Crafting informative, unique copy for each product description page
- Creating and including eye-catching images for each page
- Creating content (blog posts, videos, or podcasts to demonstrate new product, trends) that relates to your brand, product and reader interest by sharing your expertise and passion
- Using a free web loading testing tools such as http://www.webpagetest.org/ to see how fast your website is or isn’t
- Setup and use Google Analytics, their free tool to continually monitor and track your website activity, which offers suggestions for site improvements
- If you don’t already offer a mobile optimized website, make plans to do so. Check out our blog articles “Supporting Mobile Shopping” and “How Mobile Commerce Impacts Small and Medium- Sized Retailers in 2015” to help you get started.
Small business SEO: Keywords
Although as of 2013, Google removed keyword data that related to website visits in Google Analytics, keywords still play a part in your SEO and website strategy, but not in the way they have in the past.
Again, the emphasis is on your customer’s experience. Relate your keywords to what you are delivering on the page, keeping the promise that the title link is directly related to the page’s content subject.
When it comes to Product Pages, more than likely the product name contains several words, enabling you to create what’s called a long-tailed keyword phrase. This is relating words put together that provide a more detailed description, such as Ladies Red Wool Coat with Hood, instead of, Red Wool Coat.
Although long-tailed keyword phrases do not generate as high a volume of search results as Red Wool Coat, that’s a good thing. Your competition is less, making it easier for an online shopper to narrow down and find what they’re looking for – at your online shop – and convert those visits into sales. When optimizing product pages in relation to keywords, include them:
- In Page Title
- In the URL, i.e. www.myonlineshop.com/products/ladies-red-wool-coat-with-hood/89213.html (including the SKU or item number in the link aswell)
- On-page in the product description, along with its key features, washing instructions, and thus, avoiding the ‘thin’ descriptions that Google dislikes
There are a number of third-party keyword search services, along with Google’s free Keyword Planner. This tool is mainly offered to help with your AdWords campaign strategies, requiring the creation of an AdWords account (but doesn’t require running a minimum number of campaigns or ad spend). If you are considering adding AdWords to your online advertising plans, then this is a perfect tool for aligning your organic search and paid search plans and performance tracking.
You can use Keyword Planner to:
- Use to create long-tail keyword phrases, which you can use in your product description
- Get search volume statistics based on past performance for your keywords and keyword phrases
- On the flipside, get traffic forecasts for keywords and phrases
Through your discovery process, you may discover complementary keywords and phrases that you can use for blog topics, when promoting your product on social media and of course, in your AdWords or other online campaigns.
We recommend keeping track of your keywords in a CSV or Excel spreadsheet. This tactic will enable you to upload them to the Keyword Planner tool or other third-party keyword tools, while also enabling you to track your use of and success with your website and online shop keywords and phrases.
You can also multiply keywords, a Google term, which is the practice of listing keywords by category. For example, you can list your products to a series of related list keywords and phrases in Category 1 column: bathing suits, beach towels, hats, shorts, sundresses, and sunglasses. In the Category 2 column: spring or summer holidays, picnicking, volleyball, baseball, exercise, travel, holiday destination, resorts, and skincare.
Along these lines, and especially when performing keyword searches for planned products, when you’re crafting that blog content to inform and engage your readers and customers, or planning online advertising and social media campaigns, Keyword Trends can be another weapon in your SEO toolbox. As its name describes, it shows you which keywords and phrases are trending in real time.
You can search not only by a variety of categories and subcategories, enabling you to drill down to a specific topic area, but also by country. The Compare feature enables you to see the interest in your chosen topics over time and regionally. Using their example, under the category ‘Sports Equipment’ you can see how snowboards compare to surfboards. By clicking the ‘Compare to a Category’ you can see how these keywords may compare under the ‘Arts and Entertainment’ category. Clicking ‘Forecast’ will deliver the expected interest over time.
These will be your landing pages. Select one primary keyword for each page that is relevant, has a decent volume of traffic and is not too competitive.
There are formulas for selecting keywords but I always recommend also using your best judgment here. The content of the page must be highly relevant to the keyword. So if I choose the keyword ‘Russian hat’ then (you guessed it!) the page should be all about Russian hats too. Remember I want to convert my visitors not just get them onto my site. Any page on my website that I want users to find in the search engine listings is going to be assigned a relevant keyword and I’ll make sure the content on that page will be related to that keyword too.
On-Page SEO Content Structure
We’ve gone through keywords in-depth, which is one element of on-page SEO. The other elements are also important, but always keep in mind that you’re creating your web pages to benefit your visitors, to tell them straight away what your story, your product, your company is all about.
Match your page title to your page URL.
Using the previous example, title ‘Ladies Red Wool Coat with Hood’ should have the link www.myonlineshop.com/ products/ladies-red-wool-coat-with-hood/89213. html, adding the product number if you choose. Titles should be between 40 to 60 characters, including spaces, so they are seen completely on SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).
This is what appears on the search results page next to the title and can lead to browsers clicking to your page when worded in the right way. For product pages, align meta descriptions with what’s presented on that web page. Keep it 156 characters including spaces for best results.
Optimized image with ALT tag.
This means, a small file size for faster loading, but large enough and crisp so your visitor can see the product easily and support zoom, if you offer that feature. Adding an ALT image tag that includes the page title provides added description information.
Headlines and H1, H2, H3 Tags.
These page elements were once seen as critical to SEO, but in reality, these tags play a part in the styling of your page, part of your CSS (cascading style sheet). An H1, or headline tag, should be used appropriately, as in the product title.
Internal referral links.
Within your online shop pages, include links to complementary products. This will not only provide upsell opportunities, but helps support your page visit metrics. You can also include links to related blog posts and vice versa.
In addition to the quality of page content, search engines also attribute the number of external, quality links to that page to its ranking.
While we won’t delve into link building in this post, we can clarify quality links:
- Contextual links from topical articles on high authority websites
- Press and media coverage
- Partner blog posts
LinkedIn’s Publisher platform could be used to share thoughts from the founder of your company, focusing on a current trend or topic, with links to a relating page on your website that’s part of the conversation, and not just for promotion. The same goes for a partner blog post, where a representative of your organization contributes a piece, putting your company in the position as a thought leader on a given topic.
Landing Page Optimization
The main reason Google believes landing pages experience high bounce rates, where visitors quickly leave the page, is “destination URL might not match the expectation set by your ad text, or it might not have engaging content with a clear navigation path.”
The way to reduce bounces while increasing engagement is providing detailed, to-the-point information on what visitors will receive in exchange for providing their information. It’s also wise to perform A/B tests, trying out different content angles, titles, or images (but not all at the same time), and then using the best-performing page.
Remember, the internet is a democracy, where small businesses SEO success can compete head-to-head with larger competitors. If you have great content that draws visitors to your great product, and back that up with great service and support, all these practices will drive sales and grow your brand.
Remember that SEO is only a part of your online identity and that external piece of content can contribute to people finding you online. Keep this in mind when you design your strategy to increase the search health of your website. Your email campaigns, blog posts with quality content (which Google loves), social media campaigns…you get the picture.
As your digital strategy morphs, your website will need to reflect those changes. Establishing a clean and effective search-friendly foundation is the first step. What works for Google will also work for your visitors, customers, partners, and those who return to your site to learn, be inspired, entertained, engage, and buy.