When it comes to online marketing, big businesses often have budgets that dwarf those of SMEs, making it harder for smaller companies to compete for digital space. Local SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is how SMEs can turn the tables.
To explain what SEO is, let’s imagine you’re organising a party. You invest in catering, decorations, table arrangements. But on the day of the party at 8pm – no-one arrives. 9pm, nothing. By 10pm it hits you; you forgot to send out the invitations. SEO is essentially an invitation to your website.
It’s a common mistake to invest in a fantastic website and then expect visitors to arrive. Creating and launching a good website can be a taxing experience for anyone, and especially so for an SME. It’s no wonder that by the time the website is done, most business owners are “done” too. The truth is that it’s only the beginning.
Merely existing online is not enough to generate leads and sales. SEO is the practice of maximising your website’s visibility in search results to increase those customer visits, leads, and sales. It’s essential for any business, but SMEs depend so heavily on new business acquisition that it is even more vital for them.
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68 per cent of all online experiences start with a search (BrightEdge), and Google alone processes approximately 5.6 billion searches a day (HubSpot). Competition is fierce, and if you are not actively managing your search performance, you are effectively invisible. So how do SMEs, who often have limited resources, compete for space on Google search?
For my money, you can’t look past Local SEO. Local SEO is the specific practice of focusing on improving your web presence so that users close to you geographically are more likely to find you, instead of casting a wide net and trying to attract all internet users from around the country (or globe).
60 per cent of marketers say that SEO is their highest quality source of leads (HubSpot), and you can easily check if that’s the case for you too. In your website analytics, generate a report that filters traffic by source – usually that’s a table where each row represents a different source. Make sure you also have a column for transactions or other website goals, and go as far back as you can for a big sample. For each row, look at your conversion rate and see which source delivers the best results. If the answer is ‘Organic Search’ then you’re not alone, as the same study also found that organic search traffic has close to a 14.6 per cent close rate, compared to Referrals (9 per cent), Paid Search (7 per cent), Social Media (4 per cent) and Outbound Marketing (2 per cent) (HubSpot).
It’s generally good to mix several tactics in your marketing, but if you can only afford one, focus on where you can win, and when it comes to Local SEO, SMEs have a number of ways they can get some leverage over bigger players.
Turn your digital to dollars
Unlike paid search ads, organic search engine results must be earned, not bought. Your paid search presence ends the minute you stop paying for ads, whereas your organic ranking is determined by your SEO tactics and can fluctuate up or down over time.
This means you’re not up against a big brand’s advertising budget, but rather how well you define your unique audience and optimise your website for how they like to search for your products and services.
As a SME, you’re likely a local business with close bonds to your community. This helps in building customer loyalty, especially in the current economic circumstances.
Given that 46 per cent of Google searches are for a local business or service (Search Engine Roundtable), you want to use your website to build authority in your local area, offering your customers tailored solutions, customised products, or local pick-up options to avoid shipping costs.
The key to getting found
Search engines match results to the words and phrases people type, creating a list of recommended websites. Keyword research is about understanding what people are actually typing when they want to find your type of website – this is your biggest clue on how to get found.
You can do keyword research with free tools such as Google Keyword Planner, but sometimes it can be as simple as typing what you think people might search, and looking at the ‘Related searches’ section at the bottom of the results page for more ideas.
As a SME, you’ll want to target long-tail keywords. There’s some debate over the meaning of this phrase, but the basics are simple enough to grasp. Short-tail keywords have more traffic, and tend to be very broad; think “plumbing”, “florist”, etc. This makes them valuable for getting a lot of users looking at your site, but also makes them very competitive and much harder to rank for. There’s also no guarantee that these users will convert to customers.
Long-tail keywords are much more specific; think “Auckland plumbing on the North Shore”, or “bridal florist Papamoa”. As they’re more specific, there are less people searching for them, but they are easier to rank for, and these users are much more likely to convert to customers, because your product or service is exactly what they want.
Let’s take the florist example above: if you try to rank for “florist” you’re competing against all florists in the country. If you’re a bridal florist and someone searches “florist” and finds you, but they want flowers for a totally different reason, all they are going to do is leave your website and keep looking at the other search results.
The behaviour of jumping out of a website back to the search results and onto a new website is called ‘Pogo sticking’ and can be harmful to your SEO by itself.
But, if you’re ranking for “bridal florist Papamoa”, then you’re only going to get traffic that really wants what you’re offering, helping drive up your rankings even further. This is why long-tail keywords are where the real money is for smaller businesses.
Content is king
It’s cliché, but true. Content can be words, videos, images, or anything else on your website, including page title or meta descriptions in your content management system. Content is how Google understands if your website should appear in the search results page, and the more relevant it thinks your content is, the higher your position will be.
This is where you put your keywords to work. Develop engaging, relevant, and concise localised content that seamlessly includes keywords from your research, but be careful not to overuse them, or Google will identify that you are attempting to game the system and re-write your descriptions or page titles on the fly in search results page, or worse, penalise your site.
Outside of your website, creating content on Google Business Profile (Google My Business) is one of the more powerful and free options at your disposal.
These listings are the cards that appear on the Search side panel and Google Maps with information about your business, including your address, product photos, and customer reviews. Optimising this will play to your advantage when someone searches for your products or services near them.
Widen your net
Networking is important for any business, and link building is essentially networking for a website. Getting other websites to link to your site is a signal that search engines interpret as your website having credibility and authority, which plays a part in deciding your position on search results.
However, not all links are equal, so it’s best to focus on fewer links from bigger, more reputable sites, than large volumes of links from low-quality websites – like ones that exist purely to link to others. Search engines typically see an influx of low-quality links as cutting corners and will render your site invisible in response.
You can do it yourself
There is a lot more to Local SEO, but these are the fundamentals. You’ll be surprised how much difference you can make to your search performance by doing a few of these yourself!
Tali Rose is head of marketing at Pure SEO. You can read Pure SEO’s detailed Small-Medium Business SEO Starter Guide for free on their website.