What Small Business Owners Need to Know About SEO in 2015

Tom earned his master’s in IMC from WVU and his bachelor’s in public relations from Utica College of Syracuse University. He joined the Site-Seeker team in 2013 as an account manager.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a complex business. And signs from the past few years only suggest that it’s getting even more complicated. In a nutshell, SEO is a blend of many different online tactics to help achieve higher results for your site on search engine results pages. This, in turn, gives you more exposure, more clicks, and more traffic. As a small business owner with a website that serves as one of the most important touchpoints between you and your customers, it’s important you understand some of the basics of SEO today and what you can do to help drive new and relevant visitors to your site. Here’s five things to keep in mind when it comes to SEO in 2015.

1) Don’t Pay for Garbage SEO Services

I get at least 15 emails each day from fly-by-night SEO companies, both domestic and foreign, that are trying to sell me their services. (And I work for an SEO company! So I can only imagine how many emails business owners receive). There are a handful of things wrong with working with agencies like this. They often make unrealistic guarantees. Without knowing your business, exploring your site, reviewing your competitors, it’s unfair to promise that they can get you to #1 in Google. They likely will never be able to reach that goal. And blindly offering this guarantee just shouts: “BEWARE!” Additionally, many of these companies do not pay attention to the changing landscape and still conduct SEO like it is 2005. Meaning, they buy low quality links, keyword stuff, and perform other acts that were totally fine five years ago but will now get a site flagged by Google and result in very low rankings.

On the same note, be cautious about “one and done” programs. SEO is like a maintenance drug. Taking it once won’t do any good. It needs to be done regularly to actually see results. When you consider what goes into good SEO, it’s not really a task but an activity. It’s ongoing. From online marketing, to blogging, to linking, to content building, to social media – effective SEO is the end result of many tactics at work – all at once. As my colleague Matt says, SEO is a fitness plan that you have to continually be working at. Simply buying a gym membership won’t give you results.

2) Mobile First

I’m pretty sure 2012, 2013, 2014 were all dubbed the “Year Of Mobile.” So I’m not going to call it that for the sake of sounding silly and redundant. But what I will say is that we’ve finally arrived at a point where some (not all just yet) companies are seeing more visitors come in through mobile devices than from desktop. And this is a dramatic shift in user behavior. A milestone, really. Thus, sites should be designed with the primary focus on mobile.

But “mobile first” doesn’t stop at just design. Small businesses should also consider the ways people are searching. Are they using Siri, Ok Google, or Cortana? If so, how do customers verbalize your business and industry terms? Not all searches are taking place in Google. Don’t fail to optimize your site and its citations to come up on top in search engines and other places too: Yelp, Amazon, UrbanSpoon, Google Play, to name a few. Also consider a mobile app, if you have something special (outside of a website) to offer your audience. If used regularly, you can build brand loyalty and turn inconsistent buyers into frequent flyers.

And speaking of development, besides being mobile friendly, your site needs to be fast too. Google is specifically looking at site speed when it comes to rankings. In other words, it doesn’t want to reward slow sites because they offer a poor experience for its users. Build your site with speed in mind and do speed tests prior to launch to ensure the search engines will appreciate it.

3) Don’t Forget About the User Experience

A rookie mistake made by some SEOs or business owners who do their own website management is putting so much emphasis on SEO that it takes away from the user experience. Maybe it’s the titles and descriptions that misguide visitors immediately in the search engines, or maybe it’s an overload of inbound links on your homepage, or perhaps it’s lots of content that doesn’t speak to your buyer personas. Whatever the case, nothing should ever trump the user experience. When a qualified visitor enters your site, he/she should be able to quickly find what he/she is looking for, move throughout the site easily, and request more information or make a purchase with ease. Your conversion rates and time on site should be helpful indicators that you are pleasing your visitors. If your bounce rate is out of control and your conversions are low, you know it’s time to make a change.

If you are building a new site this year, make sure you (or your design/dev team) understand your audience and how they behave on the web. Then build the site for them. If you are not launching a new site and are just looking to update or refresh your current site, take a look at the site, its navigation, its content. Is it user-friendly? Do an analysis to determine what can be improved. Then make changes. Add high quality images. Add links. Move pages around, if needed (don’t forget to set up 301 redirects to avoid broken links). Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and make adjustments to let them have a more enjoyable experience on your site.

4) Content…err…Quality is King

Last year, you probably read how “Content is King” whenever you started to do research on SEO or digital marketing. And it’s true, content is one of the biggest factors to help find new audiences to welcome into your site. However, somewhere along the lines, I feel like some people got too caught up with this “Content is King” philosophy because they started to pump out all types of content on all different topics. It worked in terms of bringing in traffic. Whether that was through referral links, social links, or the search engines. But guess what? They weren’t necessarily people who were going to buy products or services. So they came. They saw. They left. Oops?

Here’s an important question. Would you rather have 200 visitors come to your site and have not one of them turn into a customer? Or would you rather have 20 new visitors enter and have 2 of them turn into customers? It’s all about quality over quantity. And now that more and more marketers are learning this the hard way, we are going to see savvy folks get more targeted with topics and the content they are publishing on their sites. Quality content is one of the most profound factors in search engine algorithms. Take time to understand your audience and its needs, then tailor your content to those folks. It will result in higher traffic, but more importantly, visits from the crowd that means most to you and your business.

5) Make Sure You Are Measuring Properly

This one is an oldie but a goodie. Because in marketing, our efforts are worthless unless we measure. We’re at a point where if an activity lives on the web, it must be tracked. Even Twitter recently launched analytics for personal accounts. There’s no excuse anymore. SEO can be pretty easy to measure if you know what to track and have the right software in place to do the heavy lifting. You can use Google Analytics, SEMrush, Raven Tools and many more to track your website’s activity, the quality of visitors coming into your site, how they behave on your site, what your social media following looks like, and much more.

You’ll want to examine things like incoming traffic, traffic sources, time on site, entrance page, exit page, conversation rate, and goal and event completions. This data is invaluable as it allows you to make all sorts of web changes (related to many of the items listed above) as well as business decisions related to your sales process and/or offering. Good SEO cannot be performed without having tracking in place. It guides your actions and allows you to do a better job in the future. Small business owners should invest time into learning more about measurement to have a better understanding of what is working and what needs adjustment.

If you keep these five points in mind during your SEO work this year, you should be on the path to success. Of course, it takes some time and talent to help accomplish these, so make sure you have the right resources in place before you embark on you journey so as to not fall short in the end. SEO is an ongoing process so it must be take into consideration all your other marketing activities as well. By following some of this advice, you should hopefully look to improve your rankings, seek out new customers, and find yourself new business in 2015!