Keyword research — the craft of identifying the terms people use to find your business in the search engines and then optimizing your website for those terms — is a huge project. It can take a few days of sit-down-and-focus time that, let's face it, a lot of busy business owners don't have. If you're putting off making SEO improvements to your website because you don't have time to do keyword research, you're making a mistake.
Keywords are becoming less important for SEO anyway
SEO is about more than keywords — and this is becoming more and more true as the search engines get better at determining user intent through queries (this is called "semantic search"). It's no longer considered a best practice to "keyword stuff" your web content (and this has been true for a while), but as search engines evolve, you no longer need to write content that matches the exact phrase someone might type into Google, because Google serves results based on more than simple keyword matches. (If you want to nerd out into why this is and how smart the search engines are becoming, check out Neil Patel's guest post on semantic search which appeared on the Crazy Egg blog earlier this year.)
So keywords are becoming (sort of) a thing of the past? That's good news for you! Especially because, as a small business, you probably don't have a heck of a lot of time to create massive pieces of content that can compete with the big players in the organic search space anyway.
So if not keywords for SEO, then what?
I'm not saying keywords are dead. I'm just saying they may not need to be the focus of your SEO plan as a small business.
To understand what you should focus on instead, let's take a second to talk about what else Google looks at when considering what websites to include in search engine results for a particular query.
- How old your website is
- The number of other sites on the internet that link back to your website
- Is your website mobile optimized?
- How fast does your website load?
- What is the bounce rate (percentage of people that spend any time on your site without immediately exiting) of your site in general, or of a particular page?
- Where is your business located (if you have a physical location) and what are your open hours?
- How much content is on the site, and how regularly is it updated?
- Is the website content structured in a way that's easy to crawl and understand?
Wow! Google is one pretty complex robot, right? So, based on these factors (and this isn't even a complete list), what else is important to fix or improve to help you rank in search results?
You can't do anything about the age of your site (other than wait five years), but pretty much everything else on this list you can make improvements to.
Encouraging more inbound links
Google looks at the other sites on the web that link to your site as a way of determining how important your site is. How do you get more websites to link to your site? By putting yourself out there and creating relationships with other people who have websites.
Some quick ideas:
- Do a real-life talk at an organization and have them link back to your website on their event page
- Do a guest blog post
- Sign up for alerts from Help a Reporter Out and try to get some press
- Update your alumni "where are they now" listing on your college site with your business URL
- Sponsor a local event and get a link on the event page
Fixing page speed
You can use Google Page Speed Insights to determine how fast your website loads and then make the recommended fixes to your website to improve site performance. (This usually involves optimizing homepage images — an easy thing to do.)
GET MOBILE OPTIMIZED
If your website isn't mobile-optimized, make a plan to get it there by switching to a Shopify, Squarespace or WordPress theme that's mobile responsive. This is HUGELY important, more so than keyword research, so if you're going to spend some time on a project to help with SEO, make it this one.
improve your site's BOUNCE RATE
If people are finding your website but immediately clicking away, Google can tell. This metric is called "bounce rate" and it indicates to Google that people aren't finding what they're looking for on your website and immediately leaving. It might be because your site looks like this, and that's something you should address with a redesign, but other ways you can improve your bounce rate are:
- Providing super-useful content that gives people a reason to stick around
- Improving page load times
- Getting rid of annoying pop-ups (which Google might start penalizing soon anyway)
- Ditching slideshows in favor of presenting content on a single page
Updating your business location and operating hours information
Google will display local search results for certain queries, so if someone searches "pet store" within a mile radius of your brick-and-mortar pet store, you want to make sure you show up in the local search results listings.
To do this, make sure your listed operating hours and location are easy to find and accurate by including this information in an obvious place on your website (sidebar, footer) or by claiming and updating your Google My Business listing.
Add more content to your site
You know that feeling when you walk into a restaurant and you're like, "When was the last time someone updated the decor in here?" That's how Google feels about websites that haven't been updated since 2013. Add fresh content to your site by creating event listings, adding new products, or updating your blog on a regular basis.
Make sure each page on your site has a unique title & meta description
One of the things Google frowns upon is having duplicate content across your site. This means repeating the same words and phrases over and over again on lots of pages. The biggest offender here is usually an easy fix: creating a unique page title and meta description for every page on your site. You update your page titles and meta descriptions in different places depending on what content management system you use, so search your CMS' support articles for info on how to do this.
Add descriptive alt text to every image on your site
A lot of people think alt text is the image file name, but this is not the case. Alt text is the text associated with an image that describes what is in the image and gets interpreted by screen readers to help people who are visually impaired understand what is on your site. Google likes to see alt text with every image.
To fix and optimize image alt text:
- Locate the place on your website to update alt text for images
- Add alt text for every image
- Use keywords (sparingly) in the alt text — most importantly, your business name!
A good example: if your name is Acme Products, the alt text for your business logo could be "acme products logo" — and that helps you rank for your business name in Google.
Create & submit a site map, and fix broken links & 404 errors
If you haven't already signed up for Google Search Console, do it. Search Console is your direct line to Google when it comes to managing your website's search visibility. Through Google Search Console you can submit an .xml site map (create and download one here) that helps Google understand what's on your website and how your content is structured. You should definitely do this if you've recently undergone a redesign.
Check for broken links on your site using a free online tool and fix them. Broken links are websites that you've linked out to but that no longer result in a valid destination for one reason or another. Google hates those, so fix them or kill them off.
Similarly, fix pages on your own site that result in broken links for other people by redirecting content that you've renamed, moved or deleted to new content (these are called 404 errors). You can find free online tools (like this one) that do that, too.
BONUS: rank for your own business name
Dudes. I can't tell you how many times I'm checking up on a company's SEO and they're not even ranking #1 in Google for their own business name. Ranking for your own business name doesn't involve any keyword research — it's just common sense. Your business name is always, 100% #1 forever, the thing you want to rank for in Google.
You can do this by including your business name in the page title and meta description of your home page and as part of every page of your website (easy if you're using Shopify, Squarespace or WordPress with the Yoast plugin).
And If and when you get more inbound links to your website, try to make sure the anchor text (the actual words that are linked) is your business name (and not, for example, the words "click here"), like this:
Katherine Raz is a marketing consultant who runs Small Craft Advisory.
Ranking for your business name isn't always as easy as it seems. If you have a generic business name (like I do!), you're competing against generic searches for that same term. So you might try to start by ranking for:
- your business name + industry ("small craft advisory marketing")
- your business name + products & services ("small craft advisory seo consultant")
- your business name + location ("small craft advisory chicago")
- your business name + owner name ("small craft advisory katherine raz")
If you want to know where you stand in rankings for a certain search term, like your own business name, you can use the free SERPS Rank Checker Tool.
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