Being a small business is tough.Many businesses fail in the first year, and many more will not make it to the five-year mark.But even established businesses can fail if they are unable to adapt to changing times.Marketing is difficult — digital marketing even more so.And the black-box nature of SEO can make it the most difficult form of marketing your business.Yet when done well, there is little that can compete with strong, organic search engine visibility to promote your small business.Organic listings build trust with local customers, and all the best business relationships are built on a foundation of trust.In this article, I want to look at SEO as a marketing tactic specifically for small businesses.I will share everything we have learned working on hundreds of small business SEO projects.My intention is to arm you, as a business owner, with the knowledge and power to make the right decisions when implementing an SEO strategy — whether you choose to do some or all of the SEO work yourself, employ an in-house SEO or outsource the work to an SEO agency.

What on earth is SEO?
The answer to all of these is yes.And much more.SEO is a complex, layered discipline.There are different types of SEO and many factors that can influence your SEO.An experienced SEO consultant will help you identify the type of SEO that is important for your business.This will be influenced by the industry you’re in, the geography in which you operate, and your SEO strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.A helpful way to look at this is to consider that a search engine is just a referral engine — a tool that provides the best answers to users’questions.For your small business to truly succeed in this search landscape, you must do everything in your power to be the best result. Whatever your prospective customers need to make a decision, be driven to provide it.This has the benefit of helping you convert more clicks to customers as well, so this is a sensible all-around approach.SEO can be complicated. So understanding your current situation andmarketplace is key to making the right decisions.And fortunately, for smaller businesses we can often strip away much of the complexity, and the conversation ends up being about content, links and website design.

Is SEO right for your small business?
Search engines are a key way in which we all now look for products and services.So, in the majority of cases, search is a great way to get in front of potential customers.This is not to say that it is the right marketing approach for every business at any given time.

The following should be considered:
*Budget:You may not have the budget to compete with established competitors.
*Speed:SEO can take a long time to deliver results, especially in competitive markets.
*Competition from ads:Ads now occupy a lot of screen space.
*Big competitors:Some search terms are dominated by titans, and it can be hard to compete.

So, while organic search visibility is always desirable, it should not be relied upon solely, especially if you need results fast and have a long way to go.Typically, other methods like PPC advertising can deliver fast results while you start running the SEO turtle race.So, you may not rank quickly with SEO, but the sooner you start investing in your SEO strategy, the sooner you can benefit from this highly popular marketing channel.

How to choose an SEO providerThe following questions can provide a good starting point to generate a discussion with potential SEO companies. Certainly, understanding these questions and potential answers make you a more educated buyer and as such will help ensure your SEO company becomes a secret weapon rather than a wooden leg!

1.How will you improve our SEO?
This is purposely an open question.You are trying to get a feel for the strategy that the SEO company will follow.We would like to see mention of technical audits and fixes, on-page optimization, local SEO, page speed optimization, mobile optimization, content optimization, keyword research and most likely some form of link and authority building.

2.What type of SEO work do you specialize in?
SEO has many moving parts. Technical. Local. National. Organic. Content. Links and authority. Many smaller agencies focus only on small parts, so ask the question to be sure this agency is a good fit for your requirements.

3.What specific jobs will you work on each month?
We would expect the agency to detail an initial three-month process that involves technical audits and fixes, on-page optimization, content creation, content optimization and link building.

4.What strategies do you use to build links and authority for a site?
This is an important question.We are looking for an understanding of how the web and page rank works.We want natural links.Typically, we would want to see some form of content created (or promoted) to build links to a content piece.Some form of guest posts for exposure.Possibly some digital PR.

5.Do you adhere to all of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines?
Leading on from link schemes, we can ask about Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.Again, this shows you are an informed buyer, and many a low quality company will run a mile when you ask this question (which is exactly what you want).

6.Can you provide case studies or examples of similar companies you have helped?
It is always good to get some examples of similar companies that the business has helped.You want an example of how the provider took someone (ideally in a similar industry) from the position you are in now to a position of strength.

7.What metrics do you measure to track progress?
You want to know which metrics the company will use to track success.Keyword rankings are the baseline here, but ideally, we want to see a more robust set of SEO KPIs.For small business SEO, you likely can’t expect too much, but I am fond of total organic search traffic — the total number of pages receiving organic search traffic.

8.Do you have contracts or a minimum term?
You certainly don’t want long contracts for unproven providers.If there are contracts, then you want a get-out clause after three months, when you will have a better measure of the company.

9.How & what will you report to us each month?
The quality of reporting will depend on the budget to some extent, but you will be wanting reports on the visibility of tracked keywords, improvements in results for tracked keywords, work completed (including all links) and work planned for next month.

10.How often do you review progress?
Here we want to know what will be reviewed, and when.After six months with a good provider, you will likely be in a far improved position. Hence, you want to know how the strategy will change.I would be looking for either three-monthly or six-monthly reviews here.

Can you do SEO yourself?
At least some of it.If you have been running a website, then you are likely doing some SEO yourself already.However, a professional will do a better job and generate improved results more quickly.Certainly, there are some good resources out there if you want to have a go, and I recommend for all small business owners to at least have a look.Even if you only do the reading and don’t attempt to perform any SEO yourself, you’ll still be a better-educated buyer.The key takeaway is there are elements of SEO you can do yourself, but a skilled consultant or agency will get you better results in less time.

SEO-friendly small business websites
The usual suspect platforms like WordPress and Magento can work well here, depending on your business requirements.Certainly, selfprovisioning platforms like Wix, Weebly and Squarespace are starting to show real promise as well for creating SEO-friendly sites without a huge learning curve or massive costs.

Small business SEO tools
If you are going to have a go yourself, then there are some tools you can use to help provide information on what you can easily optimize.Many of the big tools will have a monthly fee, and before long, putting a toolset together could cost as much as a reasonably priced SEO provider, so you have to take that into consideration.

*Screaming Frog — SEO Spider:This really is the SEO Swiss Army knife, and it will give you intel on broken links, page titles, meta descriptions, URLs and so much more.The tool is free for up to 500 pages, so most small businesses should have no costs here.However, at only £149 for the year, it comes in way cheaper than any of the typical SEO tools.

* builds on the crawling tool of Screaming Frog and presents issues in a prioritized format.There are also other tools to dokeyword research, rank tracking and link is a well-rounded SEO toolset.It certainly won’t do the SEO for you, but it does a really good job of pointing you in the right direction.Moz Pro has a 30-day free trial, so you can likely get in to make some improvements to your site and get out without generating any costs.

*Google Search Console:This one is free and provides diagnostic information direct from the horse’s mouth.It won’t rank your site for you, but it will help you identify potential areas for improvement.

*Ubersuggest:Ubersuggest is a powerful keyword research tool that taps into the myriad search suggestions to help you identify a broader range of keywords you can target.

*Answer The Public:Answer the Public again uses keyword search data, but it uses where, which, who, what, when and why prefixes to provide commonly asked questions.This is very powerful for identifying the questions your prospective customers have so that you can target them with content.


Peter Zmijewski is the founder and CEO at KeywordSpy.His expert knowledge on Internet Marketing practices and techniques has earned him the title “Internet Marketing Guru“ He is also an innovator, investor and entrepreneur widely recognized by the top players in the industry.