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Search Engine Optimization,Web Design

My Top 10 SEO Techniques for Small Business Website SEO/SEM Success

8 Jan , 2009  

I’ve been getting a lot more requests from small businesses for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and I seem to be repeating most of the same advice to every new client.  Put simply, it is more difficult for small businesses to compete on a global level for competitive terms with high profile companies, especially on a small business budget.  But that doesn’t mean with hard work and determination that you can’t be competitive and build and market your brand successfully.

So presented here are the top 10 suggestions I make to just about every new SEO or SEM small business client that comes to me looking for online marketing assistance:

Website Design: First of all, spend some money on web design.  If you have a retail storefront on Main Street, would you create the sign over the front door yourself with a piece of plywood and a spray can?  No.  Would you buy a cheap template for a sign which everyone on the block shares just to put your logo on it to try and make it look unique?  No.  It works the same with websites.  Have someone design an attractive and intuitive design, and don’t buy some cookie cutter template site design.

There is no reason in 2009 for a small business website to look like you have a limited budget.  Use your budget wisely and always invest in a professional designer.  Whatever website you try to throw together yourself with Frontpage or Dreamweaver is not going to look professional, no matter how proud you are of it.  If you don’t, the next steps won’t matter, because no amount of traffic to your site is going to help you convert sales on a poorly designed site.

Site Usability: User experience is even more important than design, but the two should go hand in hand.  Don’t hire someone with no web experience, like a print designer, to get a really pretty website; chances are the site architecture and usability of the design are going to be poor.  Spend some time with a professional web developer who has experience with usability.  Placement of elements in a web design really do matter, and the navigation of your site is very important if you want your visitors to effectively find and meet your end goals.

Site Hosting: Prices for hosting have come down considerably over the past few years, and you can easily find hosting for $5/month.  But all prices being equal, you want to choose a host who will not only keep your website up and running, but also provide you with immediate support whenever something goes wrong.  If I’m not hosting the websites myself, I’ll send clients to HostGator, where hosting plans start at only $5/month, but their support is awesome.

Unique/Compelling Content: Syndicated news feeds, content stolen from other websites, and just plain poorly written copy are three of the biggest problems I find on existing small business websites.  Don’t get me wrong; sometimes a syndicated news feed has its place on a site, but don’t depend on it for the bulk of your content.  Duplicated news feeds, along with content stolen from your competitors, is useless in the eyes of the search engines because it’s duplicate content which can be found elsewhere.  Poorly written copy can be just as bad.  Although you can pepper it with a few keywords and it may indeed help you rank, it’s not going to help you convert sales.  Again, seek assistance in writing professional sales copy.

Social Networking is NOT for everyone: Social Networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are often compared with parties, because people like to interact, converse and make friends with others in a social setting.  And what is sadder than a party where no one shows up?  If you want to create a Facebook page to support your business, you better be committed to continually updating it, seeking out new friends and connections, and growing a network – in other words, use it the way you’re supposed to.  If your customers click the link to your MySpace page and see you only have 4 friends and haven’t updated it in 4 months, they may equate your lack of social networking effort to a lack of customer service.

Keyword Research: Don’t just guess which keywords you think people are going to enter into Google to find your site.  Take the time to do some research, find out which keywords have the highest volume and the least competition, and also take a look at what your competitors are using.  If you’re just starting to build a brand or market a site, look into long tail keyword options and local search results.  These are going to be easier to obtain than one-word keywords with search results with so much competitive volume you’re trying to outrank 32 million other pages.

On-Page SEO Factors:   There have been volumes written on this (some of it by me), so I won’t go into detail here.  At a minimum, make sure your site is making effective use of unique content for Title tags, Meta Description tags, and using and limiting the use of H1 header tags to one per page (and don’t make it a link).  You can also read more about SEO semantic coding and markup, internal link structure, useful meta tags, and improving search results.

SEO URLs: Internal page organization is also very important to a site’s searchability.  I see a lot of clients coming to me with page URLs that look like “/default112.htm” when they should look like “/2-slot-countertop-chrome-toaster”.  Having a descriptive URL still assists search engines in determining what is on a page.  Remember, search engines want to return the most relevant results to users searching for your products.  You can and should help them by using not only descriptive titles and keywords on your pages, but right in the URL of the page.  You can read how to create search engine friendly URLs with ASP.NET and IIS if you’re hosted on a Windows server.

301 Redirects: If you’re going to take my advice and create a new URL structure for your site (and you should), take the time to redirect the old URLs to the new ones.  Using a 301 redirect means telling search engines that this page “/default112.htm” has moved to this new location: “/2-slot-countertop-chrome-toaster”.  Whenever you move a page on your site you should put a 301 redirect in place; this will channel all the link authority pointing to the old page to the new one, and that page will also keeps its position in the search indexes such as Google and Yahoo.

Link Building: Finally, once you’ve got everything else taken care of, you can start building links to your site.  As this is probably the most important part of any SEO campaign, the topic is so broad it’s out of scope for this discussion.  But let me just say that Google (and others) want a site to gain link popularity naturally.  Don’t go around submitting your link to spammy directories or buy links for $100/month.  Search engines don’t like artificial linkbuilding practices such as directory links, spam links, and paid links.  The best way to start linkbuilding is to create unique and compelling content which other sites want to link to.  Instead of spending the time, effort and money on artificial links, put that into your own site content or SEO budget and watch others link to you willingly and naturally.

Now that you’ve got the facts, you can spend countless hours in the weeks and months ahead doing this all yourself, or you can just simply [shameless plug] hire a Web Design and SEO firm to do it all for you [/shameless plug].

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81 Responses

  1. really nice tips

  2. Seomanifest says:

    This is a well written article and thank you for the link, I will also return the favor.

  3. Barry, great post. I’ve shared it with a few of my clients that are new to the game and have many of the same questions you answered, thanks!

  4. Barry Wise says:

    @Grand Rapids – thanks, glad it could be of some use. Don’t be afraid to link to it :)

  5. Goacom says:

    Great honest advice. The part about social networking is so true. Just being on those networks without updating can indeed reflect one’s sense of purpose and while the presumption may not be true it can surely be well damaging.

    Regarding keyword research, I guess long tail keywords is the way to begin.

    Thanks a lot

  6. Tom Brooks says:

    The things that you have written can be applied to any company, whether it is large company or small. The difference is that small companies can’t run big marketing campaigns like large companies.

  7. Paul says:

    Very good article. On question, do you have any personal experience that submitting to directories can adversely affect your rankings? There are still lots of people, including professional SEO’s, that say this works.

  8. Great list! Thanks for sharing.

    I am always looking for great articles to send to my clients and this is one I will forward to a lot of them.

    Thanks again.

  9. Buzzypenny says:

    Strong article and a lot of your suggestions makes sense regardless of the size of the corp.

  10. Barry Wise says:

    Thanks guys for the positive feedback!

  11. Guy Warner says:

    Thanks for the article some great points. The only point I’d argue is templated websites. Buying one on Template Monster can be a huge money saver for small businesses… in turn that money can be pumped into marketing: organic, ppc, and content. Just my two cents.
    Thanks for the tips, I’ll keep my eye on you.

  12. Tom Brooks says:

    Hi Barry,
    Another good article from your side. I don’t call it this technique is more important then others, because each and every technique has its own importance. I want you write one more article(if you don’t mind) on “Social Networking is NOT for everyone”.People(even I:P) don’t properly understand which type of business can get benefit from Social Networking. And for which type of business Social Network is useless.

  13. It’s good suggestion. Perhaps we have to think twice before trying to manipulate the search engine

  14. Maneet Puri says:

    Great post Barry!

    The Link Popularity point was especially valueable. In a bid to optimize their websites people often forget that its not only the Quantity of links that matter but also the Quality of links.

    I also support Tom’s request. You should definitely write something about the true business value of Social Networking.

  15. I think website design and site usability are key. Don’t “bury” important links, have a clean layout, and a clear focus…couple this with compelling content and you’re on to something!


  16. Good advice. Regarding link building – I think it is becoming more and more important that the content surrounding the link is relevant. Linking to a post on Web Design just to get a link back to your unrelated site is not going to help with the rankings.

  17. Hello,

    First of all thanks to given a topic about SEO. Making those lists definitely took some time. I am very very impressed by the tips here, and most especially tip is Diversify your traffic sources. I think its very useful to seo.

    Excellent list A couple of other things that i have found useful.

  18. That’s a great post. I especially like the fact that you mention that ‘Social Networking is NOT for everyone’ – there’s so much talk about social networking at the moment but it does take a lot of time and commitment which many companies aren’t able to put it. If you can’t put the time in then it’s probably best avoiding social networking.

  19. dani says:

    Barry, what about accessibility? Does it work with usability together?

  20. I see you put site usability & Design at the top of the list. Many overlook that first important piece before any other SEO step. It’s important for both bots & human interaction. Navigation ease is key to happy users. Happy users come back.

  21. Barry – a great list. And the point about SN not being for everyone is spot on. At least twice a week, I’m having to advise my clients when they want to jump into twitter (a big ol’ NO from me).

  22. You bring up some great points their that I hope small business owners are looking at. We get a lot of small businesses requesting services from us just as you do and one thing I find is that many of the business sites’ layouts and designs many times are not really ready to be marketed. I don’t think people look at the fact that SEO is marketing and their website in a way is the billboard for their company which SEO will be putting into the spotlight. If you don’t have a nice looking presentable site it makes your company look a bit unreliable and does not give a competent feel about your company to viewers.

  23. Great post – this is pretty much search engine marketing in a nutshell.

  24. John Davidson says:

    Interesting comments and tips. I think it’s important that when you point out that hosting is $5 a month or $5 a year, that there are several types of hosting. Shared Unmanaged, Shared Managed, Dedicated Managed, etc. We had the so called “$5” bucks a month hosting and it was horrible. All support was via a ticket and response was no less than 24 hours. We used Gator as you suggested and it wasn’t $5 bucks and the support was not as great as you state. Be interesting to see if this post gets posted.

    – JD

  25. Barry Wise says:

    In Hosting (as in most things in life) you get what you pay for. Hostgator’s support is awesome considering you’re only paying $5/month, but it is not awesome support, to be truthful.

    My Company ITCN.com offers hosting on our own dedicated and colocated servers, but only for clients, not as a commerical service. Our hosting is more than $5 month, but you get full support knowing our websites run on the same server as yours, so you know we’re going to keep the uptime at 99.9%.

  26. SEO Malta says:

    Using WordPress pretty permalinks for SEO on IIS is not that straight forward unfortunately. It seems in most cases, can’t get rid of the index.php from being displayed in the url.

  27. Wisdom Talks says:

    Great Tips Barry. These are the basic every SEO should take care of.

  28. Nice post. I think you have a good job when writing this article. I will bookmark it in my browser.

  29. Great list of tips. I especially like the social networking paragraph: “what is sadder than a party where no one shows up?”.. classic! And so true.

    Great post Barry.

  30. Tk says:

    @ T. Boyd Was my favorite also!

    Great article, touched up on how I do things a little bit with this. Thanks.

  31. olivia says:

    Thanks, very good post!
    SEO is the only way for a little businesses to gain popularity, therefore it is important to do it seriously.


  32. Idaho SEO says:

    Some good advice! It’s amazing how many small business neglect the keyword research. Thinking they’re going to rank for something that they never even mention once on any of their pages.

  33. anilime says:

    I just started hiring someone to create a design for me. And the rest of your tips are really great and I really can use those to optimize my site after I have a new design.


  34. In regards to everyone`s comments on “Paid” links, I`d like to say my piece:
    Just think of any traditional advertising methods on-line. Many, many websites out there are looking to get exposure and have no clue how links affect Google’s algorithm, they may just be in search of increased brand awareness and direct click throughs. Only a small percentage of the sites on-line actually understand links and that you can actually buy them to increase your organic rankings. So, with such a large amount of “ignorance” you think that Google is going to penalize every single site that buys a banner, blog review, or other link, who may or may NOT know that it`s against Google`s policy? No, this is not the case. Google does not penalize for “paid links” – otherwise any and every site you can find ranking in the top ten for anything worth ranking would be penalized! We have thousands of clients buying blog reviews, and other links and achieving great success.
    There is a lot of controversy in regards to “paid links”, most of which is propaganda, and simply not true. The truth of the matter is, Google has designed an algorithm that is hugely based off of link popularity and because your average site cannot just get people to link to them naturally, Google has created a need for paid links themselves. Look at anyone in the top ten for any major keyword and you can tell they are buying links. Google doesn`t penalize sites for buying links. They can however stop known link sellers from passing value to the sites purchasing links. So, the worst that can happen is you purchase on a site that doesn`t pass value.
    The fact of the matter is that every site ranking in Google is ranking because of its links, and nearly every one of those sites has some links that they have paid for. Paid links are a respectable, legal, form of internet advertising that has been around longer that Google has. There’s nothing illegal about it.

  35. Short Sale says:

    What an excellent post. The small business could really benefit greatly by just implementing a few very simple SEO techniques. I see some websites and you just know they wanted to get the best they could for the least amount of money. A good website can portray a large business and credibility and you could be operating it from your couch. Again, great post, hopefully some small business owners get it.

  36. Amelia Vargo says:

    Thanks for the list. I think the site construction is really important, nice clean code will always do better than messy code.

    And 301 redirect – many more people need to know about this, its so frustrating to go to a bookmarked page, only to discover its been deleted!

  37. I agree with the content in this blog very much but I think it underplays the offsite optimisation. I think there should be more discussion on things like article marketing.

  38. Philip Maki says:

    Along my journey on getting a pagerank for my blog, i have discovered that concentrating on implementing good SEO on every article/page of our blog is the most effective ways to get site traffic. Use the the keywords research method as suggested here and by choosing the right long tail keywords that has never been heavily used before there is a better chance of the blog pages to appear on first page of search engine.

    Getting the page to be ‘important’ to search engine and getting it appear on the first page is more important than to worry about the entire content of the blog. When people do a search for certain things of their interest on the search engine, they will type certain keywords. If your article (a page) in your blog happen to have that keywords and the competition is low, the possibilities of you getting that traffic is very high.

    Instead of submitting a good article (keywords researched & optimized) to articles directory, publish it on your own blog (i know how hard and time consuming it is to write a good article)and Digg it. It will appear sooner on the search engine page than when you submit it to articles directories (that normally take 4-7 days!)

  39. Thanks for these S.E.O tips, you define whole the points clearly some points are new for me like as 301 Redirects & Unique/Compelling Content they will help me in optimization of my site.

  40. Jens says:

    Some nice tips for small business sites. Google loves good content, but you don’t get links for you content, if nobody finds you. You need links to get listed on google and then people find you to link to your good content. It’s a circle and SEO is a job.

  41. Barry, the biggest thing I like about this post is that you firstly highlight the fundamentals; website design which is easy to use and has unique content rather than going into the technical SEO elements such as link building. You’ve got to have the raw ingredients of good design, usability and content to start with!

  42. Malta Seo says:

    Nice list, one question about the web host. What other web host would you recommend except hostgator? Thanks

  43. Web Talk says:

    Your advices are quite good and well-known in the world of SEO. But despite all this and even if you follow them step-by-step you will always wonder how certain sites, despite they don’t have a lot of backlinks, they have a crappy theme, they have poor pagerank etc manage to perform better than a lot of other blogs which at a first glance have got everything a blog need to rank top in the SERP….at least, this happens to me a lot while browsing the Internet.

  44. Really good info. You link of to some great tools and sites too.
    I hope people take notice of what you are saying.



  45. seo tips says:

    One seo tip i could add to this nice list is make sure you don’t have 404 errors at your page cause the search engines are not that keen of them

    Use an 404 error checker or webmaster tools of google to remove them :)

    Great article man keep them coming…

  46. Great list. I would also mention that choosing the right domain name goes a long way as well.

  47. It practically covers all the essentials. I would only add a point regarding selecting outbound links. That is being careful to whom we link out to.

  48. Desig Nott says:

    Inspiring blog!! I’ll make sure never to use a spammy directory again!!


  49. By fair it’s the link building that most small businesses don’t do well enough for the simple reason that its not easy and there’s not as many good professionals doing it

  50. Website design, site usability and unique content are the top 3 in my book. The rest are helpful, but if you think about it, what is the point of SEO’ing a site if you do not provide any unique value?

    Linkbuilding would be the next important tactic in my opinion. You want the search engines to continuously spider your pages. Good URL structures are important if you want most of your pages to get indexed. This leaves me to bring up a point not mentioned in this article:

    Google/Yahoo/MSN sitemaps!

    If you are looking for deep links to be spidered/indexed in the top three engines, every webmaster should submit an XML sitemap.

  51. Don’t just guess which keywords you think people are going to enter into Google to find your site. Take the time to do some research, find out which keywords have the highest volume and the least competition.

  52. Seo Solution says:

    SEO is meant for its optimization and one of the best way to start a business…Search engine should have a rich content to increase the site traffic and of course with high page ranking..Website is main in SEO because it is the one which attract customers…Link building is to link many site with a unique content…These are the some of the useful SEO techniques for small business…

  53. Every successful seo campaign is based on an already established website with basic onsite optimization. Web hosting plays also a crucial role. Shared web hosting with an IP address shared across hundred of websites isn’t ideal for a serious seo effort. Many webmasters nowadays select reseller web hosting packager or even better virtual private server web hosting. It gives them more resources, dedicated ip and priority support. Also, website design plays a key role. You need a professionally designed website in order to convert your visitors to buyers. Don’t trust your nephew for designing your business website :).

  54. Matt Hayden says:

    I totally agree with your point about social networking. It’s certainly not for me.

    I just can’t understand the attraction. It seems to be just such a waste of time. And as you say, you have to get right into it to see the benefits.

    I think it’s much better to focus on achieving good organic search engine rankings and get a steady flow of free, focused traffic from that.

  55. Definitely Social Media Marketing is a very good way to get traffic and obtain the aims in terms of marketing online, it is not an easy work there are tips to follow to really make it effectively.

  56. Website SEO says:

    There are many websites that need the help from an SEO professional. Learn some new tools to help your website start to rank and bring in the traffic it deserves.

  57. Web Hosting says:

    It’s more effective to invest in SEO than in advertising. By the way, great article. Very useful tips. Thank you!

  58. can’t understand the attraction. It seems to be just such a waste of time. And as you say, you have to get right into it to see the benefits.
    I think it’s much better to focus on achieving good organic search engine

  59. More companies need to know about this, especially 301 redirects. Thanks for the great article, I will pass it on to some clients who are attempting their own SEO.

  60. A good demonstration of SEO techniques. A lot of people think there is a secret method or trick to seo. In reality it is just about follow a good structure such as these 10 steps.

  61. It has been my experience that the $5 a month hosters don’t have good customer support if any at all. But great tips! (especially the keyword research one people need to do that more)

  62. Josh says:

    Thanks for the tips. I have seen points that I did wrong with my own SEO campaign.

  63. great advice. It is so hard now to compete with the larger companies who have access to thousands of links and don’t have to go begging like the rest of us!

  64. i would like to add one important factor i.e domain age, specialy for a competetive keyword you cannot rank in top10 easily with a new domain.

  65. translations says:

    All the steps are very important, but keyword research is the first IMO. Must be a clear link between the keyword choice and the product/service you wish to sell online.

  66. This is a very good list of tips on how to build a website that will prove to be a very powerful marketing tool. Bookmarked and thanks ;)

  67. As you stated, keyword research is the foundation of any web business. While the long tail is certainly easier to rank for, do not be satisfied with just the long tail. That will only get your business so far. The buying phrases are where the gold is!

  68. Great advice, thanks a lot. I always offer my clients hosting services as well. That makes it a lot easier to maintain their website and I can send them a bill every 12 months. Definitely recommended!

  69. You can also use PPC to help give the website a jump start. Having a forum, or some kind of web 2.0 website will help as well because your content will always be updated by your users.

  70. Great information here, thanks. One fact I was unaware of that I am going to need to use is the 301 redirect info.

  71. Hey great post.

    Its true that link building is the most important aspect of SEO. Remember to use Key Word rich anchor text, to gain ranking for the terms you wish. Be aggressive, and link from a range of source to keep it looking natural.

    Also don’t expect instant results, SEO is a long terms strategy, use PPC for a faster start!

    Cheers, and good luck from BlueRoo Interactive.

  72. rick says:

    Nice tips. I tend to put focus on optimizing small business for local search, if it applies to them. I find it to be the most ‘bang for their buck’ so to speak.

  73. Toronto SEO says:

    Well written article thanks for posting. Back link development in the eyes of Google atm seems to still be the major factor

  74. Makati Condo says:

    I think I’ve considered everything except for the SEO URLs. Good points mentioned in the entry. I used it as a checklist for a website which is currently under the development stage.

  75. Bristol Jobs says:

    Some really useful tips for anyone looking to master the art of seo.

    Keyword research has got to be the biggest thing for me, Google may tell you that a certain phrases gets a million searches per month, but are they relevant to your site? and do they convert? if you don’t know the answer then don’t spend a penny on seo, start a ppc campaign and establish if the keywords you have chosen will make you money

  76. Toronto SEO says:

    Great post and some definite techniques that SEO’s should be using on a daily basis.

  77. Expert SEO says:

    This post was very good and a lot of these techniques are very usefull to any business.

  78. Sandy says:

    I agree with the points you made about being sure to really invest time in the social networking communities. I’ve seen several businesses trying to outreach to their clients in that way, but they either give up or forget about it after a month of updates. Or they’ll make a facebook page and update that regularly but leave their website looking nearly 20 years old. It’s important to maintain that balance.
    Thanks for the awesome tips.

  79. On page optimisation in the form of website structure, compliance, loading speed and then of course your keyword research and content derived from that, along with Meta Titles, Descriptions and h tags is what needs to be paid attention to. Linking between pages also is a very important aspect that often gets neglected.

    Off page optimisation is anchor text rich link building for long term organic results, with ppc to make up for the lack of organic rankings initially.

  80. Good post Barry! I pretty much pay attention to most of what you have written. Although I do have a lot of experience with keyword research, onpage SEO and IA, I do have limited knowledge of usability. Obviously, as professionals we see hundreads of new websites everyday, so we can tell good from bad ( usability ). I am wondering what do you think about services that provide some usability testing for a quite low price ( up to $100 ). I have a friend in the field, though his rates are closer to $100 per hour and he takes time with usability testing, implementation, split testing etc etc.

    So, the question is, whether spending money on cheap usability test gives any advantages?

  81. perth web says:

    great article, nice to have a top 10 summary like this. thanks.

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