SEO guide for small businesses
Read our SEO guide for small businesses to find out how you can harness the power of optimisation and how exactly it works to build brand authority.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a collection of tools and tactics used to help a company page rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs). This then helps to drive more traffic to the optimised page or site, which will appear in organic search results that you have targeted with things like keywords and metadata.
What are organic rankings?
Organic rankings are what much SEO work revolves around. Essentially, all this work on your small business SEO attempts to get your page to rank highly on search engines – most commonly, Google. A higher ranking in Google SERPs means your website is more visible, so potentially it will attract more traffic.
Organic traffic includes the visitors and clicks you’ve earned through effective SEO, rather than those you’ve ‘earned’ from paid search results (for example, the ads you see at the top of Google SERPs).
What contributes to organic search results?
There are over 200 ranking factors that Google uses to position its content. These include :
- What’s on the page – Google will look at your content quality and quantity as well as things like mobile compatibility and keywords.
- What your site looks like – it’ll then take a wider look at your site, and rank you based on optimisation, user-friendliness, authority, and even reviews.
- Off-page elements– how you’re viewed elsewhere across the web. For example, brand mentions from other sites, especially authoritative sites with a high DA.
Keep in mind many more factors affect Google rankings, and how these are prioritised often changes as new algorithm updates are rolled out.
It’s often a good idea to keep SEO in mind from the moment you start building a company website, since many technical decisions can impact rankings. That said, there are always ways to give your site a boost.
There are multiple things that may affect the success of your small business SEO work and, therefore, your organic rankings. These include:
Keywords are ‘searched for’ words and phrases that people type into search engines to find an answer or page they need. These can be researched and gathered using keyword research to find which phrases would be most relevant for your brand to target. You can then implement these keywords into copy and metadata to help increase your page relevance and potentially rank higher in SERPs.
The keywords you’ll target depend on your wider business aims. For instance, if you run a local cleaning firm, you might try targeting terms that relate to cleaning services and the name of your city or town. Each business may find a different approach works best for them.
A key component of SEO for small businesses – and indeed any organisation – is metadata. Essentially, it means ‘data that represents other data’  and is what search engines use when categorising and ranking pages . Simple steps, such as optimising your website’s meta titles and descriptions with relevant keywords, may help to give performance a real boost.
Often, search engines will release new updates to their algorithm that affect how it ranks content. This means the factors previously used to position and categorise pages may change, meaning you might need to update your SEO strategy. Keeping an eye out for algorithm updates can help your business to stay fresh and keep competing effectively.
Know your audience and what they want
To perfect small business SEO, you’ll need to create effective, optimised content that ranks highly based on authority and keywords. But how do you know what to create in the first place?
The initial step here is to define your target audience. You might think about who potential customers could be and why they might search for your brand.
Once you’ve done this, it’s time to analyse them. You need to know what your audience is searching for and build these keywords into pages your target demographics will find relevant and useful.
Harnessing the power of your audience is an important step in mastering small business SEO. This can help build authority and traffic by potentially winning clicks from competitor brands.
Familiarise yourself with recent Google algorithm updates and guidance
Over the last decade, Google has made some huge changes to the way it ranks content. This began with the ‘Panda’ update in 2011 , which sought to value high-quality sites and content over low-quality content and pages that had been made simply to garner traffic.
More recently, this shift to prizing E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) content has been pushed even further with the Helpful Content Update (external link). This change to the algorithm saw Google begin to prioritise people-first content over search engine-first content, meaning pages are now positioned higher if they provide expert, valuable copy .
Although the Google algorithm is in a state of constant improvement, the organisation does offer established advice on how to create the ‘best’ Google-friendly content. (external link)
The key thing for business owners to keep in mind is that Google looks for content that is highly driven by E-E-A-T. Essentially, good, high-quality content should contribute site-wide to a platform that adds value and relevance to the search journeys of Google users .
If you run an IT consultancy, for instance, you might publish detailed guides responding to common IT questions or misconceptions. For best results, you’ll still need to optimise your text with keywords – but there could also be bonus points if the guide is penned by an expert author.
Audit your site for technical SEO factors
Aside from on-page SEO, which includes optimising copy and metadata, it’s also a good idea to consider technical SEO when looking to boost your ranking position and generate more traffic.
Technical SEO is pretty much what it says on the tin. It focuses on the more ‘technical’ aspects of your site – for example, your server speed, the data it uses, and its security. These factors need to be optimised to make it easier for search engines to crawl, and therefore, rank, your site.
A good way to identify which technical aspects need changing, and in what way, is by auditing your site. When doing so, there are a few things you may want to look out for.
Slow site and page speed
Site speed is one of the main factors Google uses when ranking content. Put simply, slow loading pages turn visitors away, which is not what any search engine wants.
Site speed is also sometimes confused with ‘page speed’, which is, instead, the average amount of time a single page takes to load, rather than an average of pages across your site . Both are important factors in boosting your rankings.
Broken links are pages that do not work in the way they’re intended to – such as a page that can’t be used or accessed by a user. Most commonly, they appear in the form of the dreaded 404 page, which nobody likes to see, including search engines.
Primarily, broken links lower your page and site authority, which then decreases your search engine rankings. They can appear for a number of reasons, including :
- If content has been moved or removed from your server
- The URL has since been updated, rendering the original useless
- If you have recently migrated any pages, it could be that this link was lost in the process.
Schema (external link) is a type of data that is used to represent the structured data on your site, which itself organises all the server information to make it easier for search engines to understand what’s on the page.
Schema’s job is to essentially translate structured data into a language that search engines, Google especially, can understand when they’re crawling through content. It helps to describe to them the elements that exist there and the functions they serve .
There are many different types of schema that Google recognises. These include:
- Sitelink markup – this adds extra useful links under your site’s search result
- Product markup – provides important clickable information about your products
- Review markup – shows reviews and ratings within your search result
- Logo markup – enables your logo to appear in the Google knowledge panel if necessary
- Local business markup – summarises your contact information within the knowledge panel.
When schema is missing, search engines can still understand what is on a page, but perhaps to a lesser extent. Without schema, your site could miss out on the opportunity to rank with a rich snippet, which is given priority on a SERP. This can then affect click-through rates and UX.
Interestingly, there is no evidence that this data affects rankings9 – however, it can help increase user interaction by providing relevant information to entice them to your site. In fact, research has shown that users are more likely to click on rich snippet results (those that have been optimised with schema), than non-rich results. Users click on rich results 58% of the time, while non-rich results gain interactions just 41% the time .
Optimise existing pages to perform better in search
The first step that many take when conducting SEO for their small business is to optimise existing content with newly researched keywords. Keywords can also affect how your pages should be titled.
Keep in mind that the most-searched keywords aren’t always the best. If you run a boutique dress shop, you might prefer to optimise with local or long-tail terms rather than phrases such as ‘white dress’ that can be hard to compete for.
Not only this, researching popular Google PAA (People Also Ask) results is a good way to find keyword phrases to use in your copy, to help your page rank for those specific questions.
Let’s take a look at where keywords should live in your pages:
- Meta data – meta titles and descriptions are one of the first things search engines will crawl through, so it’s a good idea to get your primary keywords in there
- Page copy – of course, the most important place for keywords to live is in your content. Try to integrate these naturally throughout to avoid ‘stuffing’, as this can turn both search engines and users away
- Headings and subheadings – similar to search engines scanning meta titles, users will first scan your page title to see whether the content below will be relevant to them. This is also a good place to use some of those trusty PAA keyword phrases
- Anchor text – anchor text, or link text, is the hyperlinked phrase used to take users to another internal or external page. It’s often best to incorporate a keyword in here, rather than simply using ‘click here’, for example, as it helps search engines define the relevancy of the link. Keep in mind, however, that you want to avoid ‘stuffing’, which is where keyword mentions appear overused and unnatural.
Create new pages to capitalise on search opportunities
One of the key ways to add value to your site could be creating new pages that complement existing content.
For example, your site may primarily house many functional pages – meaning content that serves a function, such as selling a product. In this context, a good way to enhance this content might be to create more in-depth informational pages that supplement your product pages.
Not only can this add value to your site, it’s also a great opportunity to integrate valuable keywords. For example, you might choose to create a Q&A page that capitalises on relevant PAA search terms, or a user guide that utilises popular ‘how to’ keywords.
Write unique titles and meta descriptions
Just because users can’t see meta data, doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. In fact, meta titles, descriptions, and tags are some of the most important pieces of data search engines use to categorise your content.
There’s more to it than simply ‘describing’ what visitors will find on the page, there are certain requirements meta information needs to follow in order to be well optimised, and encourage click-throughs. For example:
- Length – the general ‘rule’ is that meta titles should be no longer than 60 characters long, and meta descriptions, no longer than 155. This is including spaces
- Keywords – it’s a good idea to include primary target keywords in both titles and descriptions. This is an optional step, but useful nonetheless 
- Uniqueness – meta information should be unique to every page, this avoids dreaded duplication, and also adds value when search engines are crawling your site.
Ensure copy is well written and free of typos
When search engines look to rank ‘good’ content, they don’t just look at value, topic, and technical factors, the quality of the copy is also a key indicator as to where a page will be positioned.
Not only will site visitors pick up on any poor grammar and typos, potentially turning them away from your brand, but these mistakes also make it harder for search engines to understand the content on the page. With this in mind, proofreading and editing are your best friends. It might be a good idea to set up a multiple step process, from writing to publication, to identify any errors before content goes live.
Introduce Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust indicators to your content
Many factors go into boosting your E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) when creating content. Even more so today as Google has added another E to that acronym – Experience. Consider E-E-A-T when devising your small business SEO plan and beginning to write and optimise content.
These factors include:
- Using official sources and data (authority, trust) – always make sure you’re utilising official sources and data in your copy. This will help boost your own authority and lets Google know that you’re using ‘trustworthy’ links
- Optimising and auditing content (expertise) – search engines are looking for clear, tidy, and useful content that does its job efficiently
- Writing unique content (expertise, authority) – Google is always looking for that unique perspective that adds value to an argument or topic.
- Write from experience – Google recently added Experience to its E-A-T guidelines. Content must be produced by, or with insight from, someone experienced in the subject area.
Focus on customer experience and web accessibility
A key responsibility you have as a small business owner is ensuring the content you create is accessible to everyone. Not only is this something to consider as you begin your SEO journey, but creating truly accessible content is something that requires consistency.
Helpfully, there are four key principles that are used to guide the creation of accessible content.
It should be:
Creating perceivable content can be achieved in several ways :
- Ensuring fonts and font sizes are readable
- Being aware of colour choice to make sure all visitors can see page elements and text
- Using effective image and video tags and descriptions
- Making sure all page graphics carry a description if they are not readable by text-to-speech software.
Making your site operable simply means ensuring the user journey isn’t obstructed in any way, mainly by unnecessary features.
For example, you can ensure smooth operability by :
- Staying away from ‘fleeting’ information that is presented too quickly, as people may not be able to read it or react in time
- Avoiding flashing or photosensitive images, videos, and graphics
- Providing easy ways for visitors to navigate around your site
- Ensuring that your site can be navigated by only a keyboard, as well as a mouse.
Being understandable is all about getting rid of complexity. All site visitors require simple, familiar language that can be easily made sense of.
Here are a few things to keep in mind :
- Write using ‘familiar’ language and don’t use abbreviations that are not explained
- Make things simple. Users will be coming to your site for a specific reason, and they want to find gratification without jumping through hoops
- Use interactive elements that perform as expected. This means ensuring links and graphics do not confuse the user journey further by jumping to an unexpected place.
The final factor comes down to the more ‘technical’ side of running a site. Quite literally, you want your site to be ‘robust’ in that the underlying code and data does its job as it’s supposed to.
This includes :
- Being compatible with web-based and mobile browsers
- Making sure pages and content ‘function’ as intended
- Ensuring page elements display correctly and clearly.
Optimise your business for local SEO
When marketing your business on a local scale, it’s good practice to ensure you’re appearing in all the right searches and that you’re easily accessible, both online and off. Keep in mind that, when people search for something using the keywords ‘near me’, it’s very likely that they’re actively looking to make a purchase.
Platforms such as Google My Business allow you to optimise how your company appears in Google searches. It enables you to manage exactly what users see and engage with, helping you to boost important information, such as your contact details, address, and opening hours . It’s a free tool available to anyone with a (formerly Google My Business) account.
Google Business Profiles also allow you to gain audience insight and view and manage your brand reviews.
It may seem like there’s a lot to remember when starting to optimise your business for search, but our SEO guide for small businesses should help you to put together a personalised plan to get things moving.
Whether you’re a freelance personal trainer or you own a HR consultancy start-up, improving how your website ranks in search results can help to boost brand visibility and leads. When you begin to put strategies like keyword research and consistent auditing into practice, you’ll likely start to see these tactics as a natural part of your business toolkit.
As well ensuring your website is well-optimised for SEO, you also want to make sure it’s safe and secure to use. Explore our blog on small business cyber security risks to get ahead of the curve.
- https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/google-ranking-algorithm-infographic (external link)
- https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metadata (external link)
- https://moz.com/blog/the-ultimate-guide-to-seo-meta-tags (external link)
- https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality (external link)
- https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2022/08/helpful-content-update (external link)
- https://moz.com/learn/seo/page-speed (external link)
- https://www.semrush.com/blog/broken-link/ (external link)
- https://www.semrush.com/blog/what-is-schema-beginner-s-guide-to-structured-data/ (external link)
- https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-serp-study-which-rich-results-get-the-most-clicks/382445/ (external link)
- https://ahrefs.com/blog/small-business-seo/ (external link)
- https://courses.idrc.ocadu.ca/understandinga11y/1_perceivable.html (external link)
- https://courses.idrc.ocadu.ca/understandinga11y/2_operable.html (external link)
- https://courses.idrc.ocadu.ca/understandinga11y/3_understandable.html (external link)
- https://courses.idrc.ocadu.ca/understandinga11y/4_robust.html (external link)
- https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/google-my-business (external link)
At Hiscox, we want to help your small business thrive. Our blog has many articles you may find relevant and useful as your business grows. But these articles aren’t professional advice. So, to find out more on a subject we cover here, please seek professional assistance.