On top of making sure the cogs on your business wheels are turning, running a small business means you also have to be your own marketing team.
Marketing, in itself, is complicated. Add to that the need for digital marketing these days and the growing number of acronyms—on-page SEO, LSI, alt, anyone?—then the difficulty soars to new heights.
Sure, SEO has been around since the 90s, so there is no lack of tutorials online.
But considering how fast search engines update their algorithms—Google, in fact, releases updates 500 to 600 times every year—you have to stay updated so you can adapt.
Here’s the hard truth: Going up the ranks organically is not as straightforward as it sounds. It doesn’t happen overnight. And if anyone tries to convince you otherwise, run the other way—fast.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a coding genius to make this work.
In this guide, we’ll help you lay the foundation of ranking your small business by tweaking elements on your website.
What Is On-Page SEO?
In SEO, there are two main categories: on-page and off-page.
Refers to optimization by fixing issues and improving website elements to make everything search-friendly. This way, you’ll rank higher on search engine results pages (SERP) and you’ll get more relevant traffic. On-page SEO includes tweaking your keywords, URLs, content, and site design.
On the other hand, refers to building backlinks and improving more other external signals. If this is done right, the page or the entire website would eventually gain organic backlinks over time.
SEO has become quite the equalizer these days. Even small business can now compete and outrank the big boys in the industry.
In fact, recent numbers show that 61% of marketers believe SEO is their top inbound marketing priority. In 2018 alone, the average firm allocated 42% of their marketing budget to online strategies.
Best On-Page SEO Techniques To Improve Your RankingsIn 2016, Search Quality and Senior Strategist at Google Andrey Lippatsev confirmed that links and content are the top two signals that the search giant looks for when ranking a website. We’ll discuss these two factors—and more!—in this guide: < [FREE PDF] Want to make sure you have all your bases covered? Get our On-page SEO Checklist Guide that we use for own clients. Download Now!>
1. SEO-friendly URL Structures
Brevity is the soul of wit, said Shakespeare.
In the SEO industry, brevity is also the soul of URLs or Uniform Resource Locator (basically the address of your each of your pages).
In an interview with Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s web spam team, the search giant puts more weight on the first 3 to 5 words of your URLs.
Aside from keeping it short, you should also include the keywords you’re aiming for.
So basically, this is a good URL:
It’s short and on point; it shows the hierarchy of the information on the page; and it includes the targeted keyword (on-page SEO).
With this structure, search engines will be able to tell what is included on the page, so they can then include it in the SERPs for those who are interested in on-page SEO guides.
Meanwhile, these are samples of a bad URL:
Unlike in the first URL, search engines will not be able to determine what your page is about. It can only tell which domain it is coming from.
The long string of numbers is also a red flag, as it has little value to search engines. Chances are, this page will not show up on the SERPs.
2. Optimize Your Titles
Don’t underestimate the power of your titles.
Each page’s title takes on two roles: one, to clarify to search engines the main topic of a page; and two, to tell your site visitors what your content is all about.
Titles show up on the SERPs. Let’s say you’re trying to rank for “Florist Singapore”. Typing that keyword phrase on Google would give you these titles:
As you can see, you’ll be competing for a spot alongside these top-ranking pages. To make sure you get your share of the online traffic, follow these tips:
Use keywords in your title
Place it as close as you can to the beginning of your title.
It’s an outdated practice to include keywords without modifiers. That used to be the case, and it just sounds unnatural from a site visitor’s POV.
So use your keywords in your title, but don’t hesitate to use modifiers (e.g. “best practices” or “examples of”, etc.) as well. It will help you rank for long-tail keywords (more on this later), and your site visitors will appreciate the clarity.
Watch the length
Search engines would display 60 to 70 characters of a title before cutting them short and showing an ellipsis in its place (also called “truncating”). So stick to the character count without compromising its quality.
Include your brand
While this isn’t necessarily for the search engine’s benefit, your name on the title tag will help increase brand awareness for those who will see it on the SERPs.
3. Don’t Forget These Meta Tags
Meta tags are HTML elements that describe the contents that are included on a certain page, thus making them valuable for search engines.
We’ve already touched on tags in optimizing your titles and headlines, but there are other meta tags that you need to look at:
These are the snippets that show up on the SERPs, underneath the titles. Think of it as the teaser trailer to a movie.
You will only have 160 characters (or less, if your traffic comes from mobile devices) to work with before Google truncates it. So get your thinking cap on and make sure your descriptions are concise but compelling.
Summarize the content of the page accurately, giving your searchers more information as to what your content has to offer. Find the balance between a good, relevant summary and a compelling one so they’ll actually click on your page.
Use H1 tags
The H1 tag is your headline tag. WordPress and other CMS automatically add the H1 tag to blog post titles. But double check this, as some themes may change this. All of your site’s pages should have a unique title tag, as this will show up on the SERPs.
Use H2 tags
H2 tags are used to denote subheadings within an article. Use your related keywords on your H2 tags to help your content rank for those as well. Scroll down below for a tutorial on how to find your content’s related keywords.
4. The Do’s and Don’ts of Producing Quality Web Content
Remember when we said that content and links are the top two rankings factors that Google takes into consideration? These two are especially relevant when creating your content.
Gone are the days when keyword-stuffed articles dominate the SERPs. Today is the era of information.
People go online to look for information that will help them in their day-to-day lives, so don’t be that site owner who produces content for the heck of it.
Be helpful to your readers.
Remember: You’re not only producing content for the SERPs; you’re also doing it for people—after all, they are the ones who use search engines.
To do that, follow these steps:
Do Watch Out for Keyword Density
Keyword density is the number of times you need to repeat the targeted keywords or key phrases within a given content.
It’s normal practice to keep keyword usage within 2% of the total word count. However, you wouldn’t need to follow this percentage strictly. In the video above, Matt Cutts demonstrates how Google looks at keyword density.
As long as you don’t repeat the same keyword way too many times in a way that it’s so unnatural, then you won’t run the risk of getting penalized for keyword stuffing.
But if you do want a bit of guide, two to three keywords within every 400 words should work.
Do Use Outbound Links
You’ll notice in the course of this article that we’ve linked out to other sites for statistics and research.
The usage of outbound links to authority sites is one of the best white hat on-page SEO strategies you can use. This way, you’re telling search engines that: 1) you are talking about x topic; and 2) your content is of high-quality.
You can use 2 to 4 outbound links for every 1,000 words. Just make sure that you are linking to relevant and high-quality websites that are actually related to your content.
If you link out to low-quality sites and/or sites that have nothing to do with your blog post, Google might see you as spam.
Do Use Internal Links
Internal links is basically linking within your own site’s pages. Whenever you publish new content, make it a point to link out to related blog posts or pages.
This will tell Google how your website is structured, giving the other posts more value than other (unimportant) pages.
You wouldn’t want to overdo this, however, so stick to 2 to 5 internal links.
Do Produce Interesting Content
Let’s face it: It’s hard to start writing.
To get you out of this rut, start by picking topics that your target audience is looking for.
For instance, if you own a flower shop in Singapore that caters to events, then you can produce a blog that will detail stress-free ways that bridezillas can follow to pick the right florist for their weddings.
You can go on forums like Reddit or Quora, or browse through social media, and see what your target audience is asking. You can also look at your competitors, so you can improve on the content they are already producing.
And to make sure that your content stands out, you can follow Moz’s 10x content strategy.
The idea behind 10x is creating content that is 10 times better than what’s already published on the internet. It has to be high quality, useful, interesting, and will solve users’ problems, among others.
This way, your own content will stand out among a saturated sea of online articles.
Do Use Videos And Images—Liberally
On social media sites, study shows that videos and images perform better than plain text in terms of clickthrough rates.
Imagine what it can do for your site content.
Heatmap tests show that people tend to look more at visuals than reading the words on a page.
While the substance of your words are and always will be important, you need to balance that with multimedia content. It signals to readers how valuable your content is, because you actually took the time to create them.
Also, it helps break the huge wall of text that would otherwise show without images and videos. It captivates them and effectively encourages them to keep scrolling.
Some businesses even produce standalone videos and/or images to rank for competitive keywords!
Do Update Old Posts
It can’t be helped that some topics may need to be updated more than others to reflect any change in your industry.
Look at your previous blog posts and see which ones need updating. This is especially applicable if you write about strategies.
Add images while you’re on it. Research shows that updating and republishing old content, and adding new content or images, can increase your traffic by 111%.
Now for the don’ts:
Do Not Produce Thin Content
Backlinko found that the average length of articles on Google’s first pages contain 1,890 words. Buzzsumo and Moz both found that content with more than 1,000 words get more shares and links than their shorter counterparts.
Plenty of businesses made the mistake of producing a page for every single keyword they intended to rank. This resulted in low-quality sites with thin content, prompting Google to address this with the Panda update.
You see, it all boils down to this: Provide value to your readers.
It’s better to publish one comprehensive article on a topic and target multiple keywords, rather than publishing shorter content that targets one iteration of a keyword.
Do Not Use Duplicate or Scraped Content
Duplicate content means you use the same text on one page of your site to another page of your site. Scraped content, on the other hand, is essentially plagiarizing another website’s content and claiming it as your own.
Both practices will get you penalized on Google.
Make sure each content you publish is unique and valuable. Use services like Copyscape to check whether any of your content is duplicated.
Do Not Use Cloaking
Some unscrupulous SEO practitioners hide text in their HTML codes, so that search users will not see the actual content of a site. If you do this, this is called cloaking and Google tends to penalize this practice.
5. Optimize Your Images
While search engines can’t see images on your site the way users do, they can still crawl them, provided that you give them these information:
Geotagging lets you add global positioning data to your images. This includes latitude and longitude, as well as city, state, or country. This information is primarily for crawlers as it’s invisible to the end user.
Geotags help search engines make the connection between your images and the location of the photo. On the user side, this helps them locate you whenever they refine their searches to their local area.
So let’s say you’re a florist in Singapore. You definitely want people in your country to look for you, since you wouldn’t care so much about customers in the US or anywhere in Europe (and neither will they find your site relevant).
With geotagged images, you’ll help Google see that your website is a Singapore-based florist business.
To do this, make sure that your camera, whether it’s a digital one or your smartphone, has the location setting turned on. The geotag data will automatically be embedded into the photo.
If you want to optimize old photos manually, you can use a variety of software that has this feature like Apple Photos, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and GeoPhoto for Windows, among others.
Lastly, the ideal places to add these geotagged photos are your homepage, contact page, location page, and your blog posts.
Add your target keyword on file names of your images. You don’t have to do this to every single photo; at least one image per page will do.
Alt text (or alt tags) are descriptions that search engines use to “read” your images. For instance, if your images’ alt descriptions have the words “florist” and “Singapore” in them, Google will interpret your page as one that is about Singapore florists.
The alt text comes up when you hover your mouse over an image or when the image file won’t load on the page. Write a description that reads naturally without stuffing it with keywords.
As an added function, this is also the text that helps visually-impaired users read their screens, so it’s equally important that you write it with humans in mind.
Captions are the text that accompanies images on a given page.
Often located below the photo, captions help users scan an article more, therefore increasing the time they spend on your site—a positive signal for Google.
This is a photo of a florist at work (a sample caption).
A Nielsen study, in fact, found that one of the things that readers scan is captions (alongside images, bulleted lists, highlighted texts, bold texts, etc.)
The question here is: do you need to add captions to every single image you have?
The quick answer here is no.
If the image calls for it, then go ahead. For instance, you are writing a visual guide about the different flowers that are in bloom throughout the year. You’ll need captions for that to provide context to the image.
But some images don’t need captions. A header image is a good example for this.
Only provide captions when it makes sense for site visitors.
6. Know The Difference Between No follow and Do follow Links
Before we break down their differences, first of all, understand that not all links are equal. A link from BBC is much better than a link from a newly-created website, for instance.
Enter the “link juice”.
This is a term that refers to the SEO points you get when you get inbound links from other websites. If, for instance, a lot of people are linking to one of your blog posts, Google interprets your post as a really good page, giving you more preference than those with no inbound links.
Such is its importance that Google created a metric called PageRank to calculate a site’s link juice.
With us, so far?
Now we can differentiate the two types of links:
Do follow links
These are links with HTML attributes that basically tells search engines to follow the link.
If another website links to your site, and the webmaster makes it as do follow, then the link juice you’ll get from them would increase your PageRank.
Google keeps track of this. The more do follow links you get from other sites, the better. That’s why link building tactics also proliferated.
But you shouldn’t aim to get links from just any website. You need to make sure that those links are from really good, authoritative, and high-traffic websites.
No follow links
On the flip side of the coin, no follow links don’t allow search engines to pass any link juice. It won’t help with your SEO nor boost your PageRank.
You’d think this is insanity, considering that links are one of Google’s top considerations. But there are benefits to no follow links.
For one, it helps with diversity on your site. It won’t look suspicious if all your inbound links are do follows.
And secondly, you can block sending link juice to spammy links, especially in the comments section of your site. You wouldn’t want your site to be associated with low-quality websites, would you?
Some site owners allow for do follow links for blogs as a reward for those who contribute to the community and shared their own insights. This is ultimately up to you.
Links from social sites are mostly no follow, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good for you. Social links and forum links can actually boost your referral traffic, which is also good for SEO (despite being no follows).
Find the balance
You’d want a balanced ratio of no follow and do follow links. You can use tools like SEO Quake, Nodofollow, SearchStatus, or NoFollow Simple to find out whether your links are no follow or do follow.
The best strategy, however, is this: Keep creating valuable content that people will find easy to share and link back to from their sites. You can also pitch to write a guest blog on relevant, high-authority sites.
7. Add Schema Markup
Schema markup helps search engines (and consequently, the users) see your business name, address, ratings, business hours, and phone number—basically, the rich snippets that are added under your page title.
Schema.org, where you upload relevant data and add it to your HTML, is the product of the collaboration between the major search engines Yahoo, Bing, Google, and Yandex. If you want to improve the way your page looks on the SERPs, add a schema markup to your website.
To generate your own code, go to Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper (note: you need to be signed in).
8. Add Other Vital Pages and Elements
Your website would be too bare if it’s just a homepage. Consumers today are becoming increasingly cautious before deciding to do business with anyone. They will look for as many trust signals as they can before they purchase from you.
So to earn your target market’s trust, you should also include these pages on your website:
Social sharing buttons
Social media links, as mentioned above, are no follow links. They won’t bring link juice to your site, no matter how many times your post got shared or retweeted.
Although Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes said social accounts are not part of their ranking factors, several businesses reported an increase in search rankings after their social accounts’ reach also increased.
Come to think of it—Google even shows YouTube and Twitter results on the SERPs.
So make sure you have social media buttons on your website and your blog posts. Share your content to your followers to so it would reach a wider audience.
Business owners make the mistake of haphazardly slapping copy on their About Us page, thinking it wouldn’t matter in the overall goal conversions.
However, site visitors look at the About page for plenty of reasons that will help your bottom-line. Email marketing platform Aweber, in fact, received a 158% increase in email subscribers after optimizing their About page.
Site visitors go to your About page to determine if you’re legit, what exactly it is that you do, analyze your success, and ultimately decide to do business with you.
To leave this page unoptimized would be a mistake.
Include all the relevant information above the fold. Site visitors want to know who you are and if you’re legit, so answer those questions immediately.
Then, include a CTA. This could be contacting you or signing up to your newsletter. Or both.
About pages should include your company’s history, your team’s photos, employees who play a key role in the business, guarantees/warranties, how you conduct your business, and what makes you different from your competitors. Add your mission statement too.
You can even try telling a story of your personal experience and how it contributed to your building your business. Personal touches go a long way.
People who go to your Contact page already have one goal in mind—to keep in touch with you.
So make this very easy for them.
Similar to the About page, place all the pertinent info above the fold. This means your contact form, your email address, and phone number. You should also include a mailing address and a map to your office’s location (if applicable).
As for your CTA button, whether that’s “Chat Now” or “Email Now”, make it obvious without the user having to scroll down for it.
Blog pageWe have covered producing quality content extensively. Now, we’re going to talk about how to optimize your blog pages. First of all, organize the information. Most of them would want to read the recent articles, so present them that. Then, categorize your blog posts according to similar topics, most recent, or most popular, as readers look for these too. Then, include a CTA to your every blog post. It can be subscribing to your email newsletter, downloading a free resource, or contacting you. Remember: getting them more engaged is key here. Lastly, make sure there’s a CTA on each of your blog page’s design. Plenty of your blog readers will come from organic traffic. To keep them engaged beyond reading your content, add a CTA on sidebars or footers.
9. Be Mobile-Responsive
Take a look at these numbers:
- In 2018, 52.2% of all internet traffic around the world are accessed via mobile phones.
- 94% of online visitors would judge your website based on how responsive it is.
- 50% of e-commerce revenue comes from mobile devices.
And if those numbers are not convincing you enough, Google has been penalizing websites that are not mobile-friendly since 2015.
So if your site is still not optimized for mobile usage, then you are missing out on a huge chunk of your customer base.
Responsive web design means your site can be viewed seamlessly on both desktops and mobile devices. A lot of CMS themes have responsive design features integrated into them. If you want to do it manually, Google provided their own comprehensive guide.
If you want to know if your site is mobile friendly, you can also use Google’s mobile-friendly test.
10. Speed Your Site Up
While it doesn’t carry much weight compared to page relevance, Google confirmed that your site speed is among their ranking factors.
Just a bit of definitions here: Site speed refers to how quickly site visitors can see and interact with your content; not to be confused with page speed, which is the time it takes for a page to fully display its content (also an important ranking factor).
A fast site speed means good user experience, thereby increasing your probability of conversions. Amazon is a famous example of this, as they lose $1.6 billion in sales if their site loads a second more.
According to John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, 2 to 3 seconds is the ideal speed.
To boost your site speed, do the following:
Choose the right host
Your site host plays a huge role in your site speed. Ideally, you’d want one with servers who are near where your target market is located.
If, for instance, your Singapore customers will have to go through North American servers to access your site, it might slow your site down.
Switch to faster hosting if yours isn’t giving you the speed that you need.
Use less plugins
Plenty of small business owners tend to pepper their sites with plugins for additional functions and features. However, plugins slow down a site’s loading time.
When your site is accessed, browsers would load the web page first and then all your plugins. The best thing to do is remove any plugins you’re not using. Replace them with native code, if possible (you may need a programmer for this).
Use a theme that’s not bloated
It can get tempting to use a theme that looks good visually. Dynamic elements, widgets, sliders, shiny things—you name it, a lot of sites have it.
But with so many elements on a page, site speed would suffer.
Always opt to use a lightweight theme. Plenty of these themes still have the features you need on a website without sacrificing your speed.
Reduce image size
Sure, images would add pizzazz to your blog posts, but too much of them can bog down your own server.
Aim to get the smallest possible size without compromising the quality of your images. You can choose “Save for the Web” on Adobe Photoshop, or use tools that would compress images like ImageOptim, PunyPNG, or JPEGmini.
11. Target the Right Keywords
Keywords are either single words or phrases that you’ll use on your website’s copy to attract more organic traffic.
These are basically the words that users type (or dictate via voice search) on search engines. Search engines, in turn, would show relevant pages with these keywords on the SERPs.
Google’s algorithm has gone through so many iterations now—even incorporating an AI-driven algorithm—that peppering an article with so much keywords just won’t fly anymore.
When looking for keywords, you can use Google Keyword Planner, as well as other paid tools like Moz, Ahrefs, and Semrush. Make sure each of your pages are targeting different sets of keywords, so they won’t compete against each other in the SERPs.
Related Article: Local SEO: A Beginners Guide to Keyword Research
In short, you need to be smart and have a balance of these three keywords:
There are keywords with 3 or less words. Florist Singapore is a prime example.
From users’ perspectives, these are the top-of-mind words they will type on search engines, hence getting the highest volume among the three keywords here.
The catch, however, is that competition is extremely high for these keywords, as all your competitors will try to rank for this. Conversion rates for those targeting only short-tail keywords are also low.
That’s why you need to also target long-tail keywords and related keywords on top of the short ones.
These are keywords that include more than 3 words. You need to target these as well, since they are more descriptive than short-tail ones.
Given that search engines now take into account the user’s intent, you are more likely to attract the right audience when using long-tail keywords. Google will also find it easier to interpret your page using long-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords are low volume searches, which makes them also low in competition. However, conversions are high with long-tail keywords, so make sure you incorporate them into your pages.
LSI or related keywords
Latent semantic indexing or LSI are keywords that are synonyms or complementary of your target keywords.
Using these on your site will help search engines determine your relevancy and further understand what your page is about. On top of that, in-depth articles will get a signal boost given the amount of related keywords you’ll have on one page.
To come up with your related keywords, you can simply type in your main keyword on Google. Then, scroll down to the very bottom of the page and you’ll see them.
You don’t need to use them all in one big article. You can group them into different sets, and then use them in other blog posts.