As I meet with local business owners and managers – and I've met with A LOT lately - I am struck by how many SMBs have failed to take the most basic steps to ensure their potential customers are able to find them online. Yes, I am talking about the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Yes, SEO can be complicated – even nebulous. That does not make it negligible or unimportant. Nor does it have to be as complicated as some SEO companies make it out to be. In fact, there are several steps even the smallest of businesses can take today that will go a long way toward making sure their website gets found by major search engines, and thus by potential customers.
The best news in all of this is that taking those small, simple steps doesn't take a lot of time. All three steps are rooted in one word: consistency. What do I mean by that? Well, in non-Search Engine Optimization terms, it means whatever you do on one site, you do on another. It's a lot like algebra: what you do to one side of the equation, you do to the other (sorry for the reference to 8th grade math).
So, here are my top 3 do-it-yourself SEO suggestions.
- Claim your major local directory pages. This is by far the most common mistake made by local businesses. Far too many SMBs – like plumbers, HVAC outfits, roofing contractors, dentists, flooring stores and other, similar businesses – fail to create business profiles and follow through with the claim process. I am especially talking about Google My Business, Yahoo Local, CitySearch, Yelp, YP and Local.com. It's one thing to have an almost correct listing on those local search services; it is quite another to have a fully verified, claimed profile. Think of it this way: if you want Google to bring you to the top of their search results, how can they in good conscience do that if they're not sure about who you are?
- Correct your NAP information. By NAP, I mean Name, Address and Phone Number. That information has to be consistent. By consistent, I mean PERFECTLY consistent across all search engines, directories and review sites. For example, if you say on your website that your address is 123 Main St., but your Google My Business profile says your address is 123 Main Street ("Street" spelled out instead of abbreviated), you are INconsistent.
- Lean on your web guy/gal to make stuff happen. Far too many times I see websites that are fully functional yet not fully completed. For example, the website may be properly formed with clean HTML and proper meta tag structure, but the information in those tags is many times incomplete. What good is a meta keyword tag with no keywords between the brackets? It's not good at all! One way to avoid spending a ton of money on separate SEO services is to lean on the company that set up your website in the first place: get them to make the site they promised to be SEO compliant TRULY SEO-friendly.
Admittedly, some of these simple suggestions may be too complex for the busy small business owner/operator. Don't feel bad about that. There are businesses like ours (shameless plug here) that can get you started down the right road for a reasonable price. Take advantage of those services. Some companies, like ours, even offer you a free diagnostic evaluation so you know exactly where you lacking.
Yes, there is a lot more to SEO than my top three do-it-yourself tips. I'm not going to lie to you. The last thing I want to do is start an online argument with some SEO specialist in Sandpoint, ID working with a handful of small clients. But you have to start somewhere. And an SEO specialist can do a lot more, and do it a lot faster, if he or she can see the easy stuff is already done.