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The SEO guide every small business needs to read

Want your business website to rank where it matters? Get yourself to the top of the SERP with this handy guide, specifically designed with startup SEO in mind

Back in 1990, the very first search engine was born. Its creator, Alan Emtage, christened it Archie – ‘archive’, without the ‘V’(ingenious). Together, Emtage and Archie made digital history, pioneering what would later become one of the most influential inventions of the digital revolution.

Eight years later, Google was founded.

Now holding 90.46% of the global search engine market share, Google is very much the leader of the search engine pack. And, if you want your business website to rank where it matters (i.e. the number one spot on the search engine results page), then you need to get the knack of some handy SEO hacks.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and refers to the creation of highly relevant, searchable content for your online resources. It means understanding what your customers  are putting into Google, and adapting the digital side of your business to fit with their query  (known as the user intent).

This process combines many different strategic elements, including research, audits, dedicated tools, and online resources. From making sure your imagery is up to scratch to creating content that really stands out against the competition, SEO is a multi-tool strategy that’s essential to digital marketing mastery.

For such a complex, yet vital element of any digital marketing campaign, we’ve created this comprehensive guide to every aspect of SEO. Read on for an all-you-can-eat buffet of SEO goodness, with insights from other small business owners and easy tips that’ll make your SEO a standout success.


What is SEO?

  1. Well, firstly, it’s a very low-cost way of getting more traffic to your website. Aside from taking up lots of time, SEO is a resource-light strategy that simply takes care and attention to succeed, rather than a big budget.Although, if like most business owners you’re running a time-poor operation, then you might want to think about bringing in an agency to take on the task. See our quote finder above  to compare agencies now.
  2. SEO will also get your website into new areas of the web, allowing you to reach new markets and expand your client base. By matching your content to the things people are searching for, you’ll be able to reach customers who were once considered to be way out of your market range.With SEO, even the smallest business based in a remote pocket of rural England has the potential to go global. Online marketing means that customers from all over the world can become aware of your product/service, but SEO is essential for harnessing the full potential of the world wide web.
  3. You’ll boost the user ‘friendliness’ of your website. The average online user is pretty impatient – in fact, studies have shown that when the load time of a site is 7+ seconds, 32.3% visitors will bounce* away from the page. However, a load time of 2 seconds is shown to reduce this bounce rate to just 9.6%.SEO has a massive part to play in the load time of your site. It’ll help optimise your imagery and get your site’s loading time looking healthy, which will reduce the rate at which customers click off your site, frustrated by how slowly your website is loading.

*click off

  1. New consumer insight can be gleaned from an efficient SEO campaign. This is super useful as the data SEO delivers can be used to make big business decisions, such as the creation of a new product line or a change in your overall marketing strategy.SEO gets you the inside scoop on what your customers really want, all by analysing their search terms, and the ways in which they interact with your website. This data is gold dust, and will allow you to make key business decisions with a much higher degree of certainty.
  2. Google monopolises the world of online search habits. The people trust Google – that’s why they use it. So, if your website is appearing at the top of a search, people will trust your site – and, by extension, your business too.Making your website as trustworthy as possible is essential to attracting new customers and keeping them coming back for more.Your page will be ranked on the trustworthiness of the content itself. To create the trustworthy content, keep the following four things in mind:Originality (find something new and unexplored to talk about)Relevance (make sure your audience will be interested in your content)Creativity (keep it unique)Regularity (your website needs to look fresh, update your content regularly)

As a small business, should you do SEO yourself, or hire an agency?

Granted, SEO isn’t the most expensive marketing strategy. It’s easy to download Google Analytics, or install a free SEO plugin (such as Keywords Everywhere or SEO Minion). but good SEO strategy is costly where the currency of time is concerned.

 

Whether you opt for a DIY SEO strategy, or decide to go down the agency route, startups.co.uk is here to help. The DIY option will save you money, but cost you time; using an agency will save time, but is naturally the more expensive option.

 

So, depending on what’s best for you and your business, you can either take a look at our page dedicated to  SEO agencies for small businesses , or read our full DIY SEO guide . Alternatively, you are welcome to read all of the information we’ve gathered together before coming to a decision.

If you think that you’re ready to make your mind up now, and are keen to receive some quotes to see how much using an agency is going to cost your business, head to the top of the page and we’ll put you in touch with some top suppliers.


What are the best SEO agencies for small businesses?

Here are some of the best agencies ready to sort your SEO today:

AgencyBest forCost (per hour)
Yando Consulting A small and specialised service £50 - £99
Absolute Digital MediaBig projects with big budgets£150 - £199
Blue Array SEO Personalised service£50 - £99

DIY SEO guide

Feeling like you’d rather roll up your sleeves and get to grips with your own SEO? Follow these steps, and you’ll be on your way to success.

Step 1: Register with Google Search Console

What is it?

Formerly known as Google Webmaster, Google Search Console is a free, online service provided by Google that allows you to check your website’s indexing status, and optimise your site’s visibility.

Why is this important?

Google Search Console is especially important, as it’ll provide your website with a highly welcome health check. With Google Search Console, you’ll be able to optimise your content (via analytics tools), see which search queries bring visitors to your site in the first place, be alerted regarding any issues, and fix your site accordingly.

Google Search Console is key to the maintenance of a good SEO campaign, and will ensure the longevity of your efforts by allowing you to see your site as Google sees it.

How do I do it?

  1. Log into either your Google account or your Google Analytics account (if you don’t have either of these, then you’ll need to create at least one).
  2. Click “Add a property”, and enter your website’s URL. Click ”Continue”, and the screen should look something like this:

Google search console

 

  1. You’ll now be asked to verify that you own your website in one of the following ways:A) By uploading an html file to the root of your website (if you have access)B) By verifying via your hosting provider (if you manage the website yourself)C) By verifying via Google Tags (if you use Google Tag Manager)D) By using your Google Analytics tracking ID to verify ownership (this is the quickest and easiest option)

Step 2: Create a Google My Business listing

What is it?

This is essentially a Google business profile that allows your customers to easily find and contact your business.

You’re probably very familiar with My Business listings without being fully aware of what they are, as you’ve probably seen a few during your own Google searches. The profile will look something like this:

Why is it important?
In the words of Google, Google My Business “turns searches into customers”. It has loads of helpful features, and allows you to manage clicks, calls, and bookings all in one place.

And, considering that there are 5 billion monthly Google searches for restaurants alone, it’s clear that if you want to keep up with the competition, you’re going to need to get yourself right in the sightline of the customer.

How do I do it?

To create a Google My Business listing, follow these five steps:

Step 1: Log into the Google Account you want to associate your business with (or create one if you haven’t already).

Step 2: Go to: com/busines >> Start Now

Step 3: Enter your business name and address

Step 4: Select a category that accurately represents your business

Step 5: Add your business phone number and web address

Step 6: Choose a verification option and follow the verification process

Note: You can edit your business profile at any time. Simply log into your Google My Business dashboard, click on “Info”, and select the pencil next to the section you'd like to edit. Make the change, then select “Apply” to save it.

Tip: Businesses with photos see 35% more clicks to their website, so make sure your profile is as pretty as a picture.

(For maximum efficiency, photos should be 720 X 720 pixels, and saved as JPG or PNG files.)

 


Step 3: Site structure and internal links

What is it?

Internal linking refers to your on-site links that connect one page to another. If you have an integrated linking structure within your website, it means that your pages exist within a web of links that allow the user to easily navigate around your site.

Why is it important?

Internal links allow users to navigate easily around the site. They also imply a hierarchy of information, and distribute the ranking power of each page evenly.

As well as helping the user, internal links also help search engines trawl through your content. Without internal links, the search engine ‘bots’ find it hard to step from one page to another, meaning that your website will have a lower ranking on the SERP (search engine results page) than those sites with a logical internal linking structure.

How do I do it?

Firstly, take a look at your own internal linking structure. Tools such as the Moz Link Explorer can really help here, by allowing you to see what the search engine sees.

Your internal link structure should resemble that of a pyramid, similar to this:

The large dot at the top represents your home page, and from there-on-in, contextual links are built between pages, directing the user down a path of information that’s hierarchically ordered.


Step 4: Metadata

What is it?

Anything ‘meta’ means ‘of itself’, so metadata simply means data about data. But what does that actually mean?

Meta descriptions for web pages contain a brief synopsis of the page’s contents, as well as keywords linked to the content.

The metadata (or metatag) you provide is used by search engines to categorise your content, so a user searching for the information found on that page would be able to locate it.

metadata image

 

The above example shows how startups.co.uk appears in a SERP. You can see the search bar, the site name, the site’s URL, and the site’s meta description.

The meta description comprises the meta data, and tells both the search engine and the user what kind of information is held on the site.

Why is it important?

An appealing meta description is enticing and exciting, and the quality of your metadata can determine whether or not a user decides to visit your website. Search engines will also often evaluate a metatag to decide upon the relevance of a webpage in relation to specific search terms.

Meta descriptions are also a good opportunity for you to make the most of your keywords. Pop some keywords into your meta description so the search engine and the user know that your content is relevant to the search intent.

How do I do it?

There are a few different types of metatags, but the two most relevant to SEO are the keywords metatag, a list of words/phrases that best describe the page’s content, and the description metatag, a short one/two sentence description of the page.

Both metatags are used by the search engine to index the site, and the description shows the searcher a summary of the page’s contents on the SERP.

If you’re using WordPress or another popular website builder, you should have complete control of your meta description in your CMS (Content Management System). The information you write in the ‘meta description’ section is the information that will appear on Google when your website content matches a search query.

The below image details what inputting your meta description should look like on WordPress:

 

 


Step 5: Image optimisation

What is it?

Optimising an image will reduce its file size, but maintain its quality.  A big file will take a long time to load, and longer load times increase the likelihood of a user impatiently bouncing off your page.

Why is it important?

Image optimisation is important to keep your site’s load times down. Optimised imagery also takes up less ‘digital’ space – saving room for more killer content on your website.

Images are responsible for 21% of a website’s weight, meaning that it’s really important to optimise your images – otherwise, they’ll drag your website down the SERP because of their high load times.

Big files are responsible for slowing down your site speeds – the smaller the files, the speedier the site (which Google likes). Also, if your files are smaller, Google will be able to quickly index your images for Google image searches.

How do I do it?

Make sure your images are in the right format (either JPEG or PNG, or GIF for Gifs).

Use JPEG format for images with lots of colour, and PNG for simpler images.

Use a file compressor tool such as Tiny PNG or ImageResizer to compress your images to a file size that won’t slow down your load speeds.

For a full-page web image, aim for a file size of 80KB-100KB. This should give you the quality you need at a desirable speed.

If the image is simply a small element of the page (i.e. half the width), then 20KB-30KB is big enough.


Step 6: Content is king

What is it?

Content is what populates your website. It’s your images, videos and copy… the stuff your audience can engage with. Your content will also be judged by Google (and other search engines) to determine the place it will fall in the SERP.

High quality, relevant content will mean your website is more likely to get a better ranking. But remember – the relevance of your content is just as important as its quality. If your content doesn’t match the user intent, then your customers aren’t going to find it in a Google search.

Why is it important?

Content is important because it allows your brand to develop as an authority within your industry. Good content is engaging and informative, helping to build trust in your brand and showing that you have more to offer than just your product or service.

Content is also searchable. If you match your content to your keyword research, then you’ll be filling your website with engaging material that directly matches the user intent.

This is great, because if a customer pops a search term into Google, your keyword-rich and relevant content will rank in the SERP, increasing the chances of the customer clicking on your business’ website. Even if the original search term wasn’t your business’ name, your site can still rank for relevant terms.

How do I do it?

The simplest way to create content is to write a blog for your website. Make sure your blog is relevant to both your business and your customers, and populate it with news about your brand, industry insight, and anything you think might be of interest to your customers.

For example, if you run a hardware business, you might like to create a blog post dedicated to the 10 best power tools on the market today.

Other ways to create content involve social media. For example, creating and regularly updating a Twitter account is a great way to get your business name out there, and a brilliant way to engage with other small businesses.


Step 7: Keyword research

What is it?

Keyword research dives into the search terms your customers are popping into Google. It analyses what’s being searched for, and tells you how to adapt your website content (and even your product or service) to the specific wants and needs of your customers.

Why is it important?

Keyword research is important, as it keeps you up-to-date with what the customer wants. For example, if there are 10,000 monthly Google searches for “red paint for sale”, but your online art shop only stocks purple paint,  then your keyword research has shown that stocking and selling red paint would be a lucrative idea, because people are clearly searching for (and looking to buy) red paint.

 

Similarly, if you’re thinking of writing a blog post for your online shop, then knowing that “red paint to buy” is such a popular search term is really useful.

Why?

Because this information will now inform the type of content that you create. You could write a blog post on “Painting in red – the forgotten red paintings of the twentieth century”.  This would be relevant content (as you run an online art shop), and it would match the keywords by talking about red paint, but in an interesting and relevant way.

Within your keyword-informed blog post, you could provide a nifty link to the ecommerce page on your website (that now sells red paint), saying something along the lines of: “Keen to try it yourself? Buy some red paint today!”.

How do I do it?

Carrying out your own keyword research is quite easy. Simply download one of the many free plugins/tools available – such as Keywords Everywhere, SEO Minion, or Google Analytics – and let the search engine tell you the rest.

For example, Keywords Everywhere will show you the volume of searches, as well as the related keywords:

keyword research

If the search volume is high, then the keyword is worth incorporating into your copy. Similarly, look at the related keywords to see what else your customers might be looking for.

 


Step 8: Content gap analysis

 

What is it?

The content ‘gap’ is what’s stopping your current online content from performing to its absolute best, and stopping you from achieving the desired results from your content strategies.
Content gap analysis means analysing what people are searching for, and comparing it to what they actually find online.

Why is it important?

It prevents your customers from going to your competitors by ensuring that you cater to their every need.

Content gap analysis keeps the customer journey as sleek as possible, making their experience with your business website as good as it can be.

How do I do it?

Identify your goals

Do you want your content to bring in more leads? Maybe you need your content to rank a little better, or perhaps you need to bring in more targeted traffic.

Understand your target audience

Use the audience section of Google Analytics to segment your customers. From your audience data, you can build your customer personas that’ll help you better understand the specific wants and needs of your customers.

Make a customer journey map

Consider all of the touch points a user has with your brand and arrange them in chronological order, from first site visit, right through to revenue conversion.

Now, armed with all of this information, you should be in a good position to create some content that really fits the user intent, gaining you more traffic to your site and generating some high-quality leads.


Step 9: Competitor analysis

What is it?

Competitor analysis looks at the strengths and weaknesses of both current and potential competitors. This information will help you identify both opportunities and threats, weighing up your competitor’s strategy to identify how you can compete with what they offer.

Why is it important?

It’s always important to have your eye on the ball as far as your competitors are concerned. You need to know what they’re doing, and how you can do it differently to maintain your USP. Competitor analysis is also important for keeping your product/service as fresh as possible, so that you can retain your customers and not lose them to your competitors.

How do I do it?

Ask yourself the following questions, and you’ll be well on your way:

 

Who are my competitors?

What products or services do they sell?

What are their identifiable strategies?

What type of media is used to market their products or services?

What are my competitors’ strengths and weaknesses?

What potential threats do my competitors pose?

What potential opportunities do my competitors make available to me and my business?

 

The answers to the above questions will really help you to up your game when it comes to standing out from the crowd.


Step 10: Answer boxes

What are answer boxes?

An answer box is a SERP result that directly answers the search query. Typically found at the top of the search engine results page, it’s a boxed-out answer that fits the user intent well, and which stands out against the other results on the page (on account of it being bigger, in a box, and containing more copy).

To illustrate:

how to get an answer box

Why are they important?

Basically, they get you to the top of the SERP and generate more clicks. An answer box really stands out against the other results, and will get your website noticed by the people that matter.

How do I do it?

1. Do you keyword research to identify common queries.

2. Look at who already owns the answer box – if you can identify ways in which you could answer the query more efficiently, the box could be yours for the taking.

3. Make sure you’re on the first page of the SERP (at least)

4. Answer the query terms logically and accurately (Google favours clarity)

5. Use the search engine’s maximum snippet length to your full advantage (160 – 230 characters)


Step 11: Backlinks

What are backlinks?

When a website links to any other webpage, it's called a backlink. A page that has a lot of backlinks is traditionally looked upon favourably by search engines, as it’s a sign that the content is trustworthy.

Why are backlinks important?

Backlinks improve your search engine ranking, generate useful referral traffic, and help search engines index your site efficiently.

How do I get backlinks?

The key to backlink success is to keep in mind the quality, rather than the quantity of backlinks generated. Also, if you use a paid service to generate backlinks, your website will be penalised by the search engines.

So, to organically generate some juicy backlinks, write some awesome articles that other websites will be proud to link to. Guest blogging is another good way to generate backlinks, as is signing up to web directories and creating unique content that’s both interesting and useful.


Step 12: Measure your success

What is measuring SEO success?

SEO is an ongoing project that needs to be measured to ensure that your website is consistently performing as it should be. An SEO dashboard, such as the Google Analytics dashboard, is a useful tool that many SEO experts use to track the success of their campaigns.

Your measurements must be industry specific and easily shareable. Sharing results with your team will help keep everyone on track, and encourage you to collect your data in one place on a regular basis.

Why is measuring success important?

Measuring the success of your campaign is primarily important for your own morale. Being able to track the progress of your work is a really good motivator, so make sure you keep a record that documents the fruits of your SEO labour.

Measuring success is also key to making future improvements. Being able to look back on what worked, what didn’t, and any anomalies that have occurred will help inform any future SEO decisions.

How do I measure SEO success?

Keep a close eye on the following metrics:

Conversion rate
Time spent on page
Pages per visit
Bounce rate
Scroll depth
Search traffic

You can find the above metrics on Google Analytics. Track your stats on a weekly basis, and generate monthly reviews that encapsulate the SEO tasks for that month. This way, you’ll be able to highlight wins to your team, and see which areas of your approach you might need to work on.


Top SEO tips from the experts

For even more expert advice, Startups.co.uk got in touch with Cameron Blair, Head of SEO at lead generation company MVF. Here are Blair’s words of wisdom for achieving SEO success.

 

“Small businesses setting out with a new website can be in for a tough time initially as they compete with more well-established websites. The good news is, by focusing on the right things and with a bit of time, you’ll be as competitive as the rest!

  1. Improve your ranking –“If you wish to appear on Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP), you’ll need to ensure your website can be crawled (by Google) and that the ‘search bots’ can reach and index your content. Once that’s assured, you’ll want to make sure the content you create is compelling, answers the searcher’s query, and is keyword optimised.
  2. Think about the user –“A great user experience is key to attracting and retaining customers to your website. Think about how fast your website loads, its ease of use, and how it looks on a mobile as well as a desktop.
  3. Improve competitiveness –“Are there any fancy SERP features in the results when searching for your business’ products or services? Implement Schema markup to stand out in the SERPs and attract the clicks!”

 


What can an SEO agency do that I can’t?

The above list of SEO tasks was pretty exhaustive – if you were to do all of that on top of the day-to-day running of your business, you’d probably need to be working around the clock.

Because running a business is tough enough without the added stress of an SEO to-do list the length of your arm, we recommend filtering out the easy in-house wins, and setting aside some of the SEO tasks that are better left to the experts.

Technical SEO

As the name suggests, this is tech-heavy stuff, and involves optimising your website for the crawling and indexing phase. It takes time, practice, and a hefty amount of SEO know-how – a task better left to those with some training and experience behind them.

Link building

Link building is a complicated process. There are many different types of backlinks – some better than others – and knowing how to manage everything is another element of SEO that requires someone with training and experience to handle it properly.


What are the costs involved with SEO?

DIY SEO costs

SEO is a highly time-intensive enterprise, and the hours you spend honing your SEO strategy will probably be the most costly aspect of the project.

There are lots of free plugins and tools available online. We recommend Keywords Everywhere, SEO Minion, and Google Analytics. You can also use SEM Rush for £80.80 per month.

The cost of SEO does increase if you choose to employ the help of an agency. SEO agencies will usually charge in the region of £50-£200 per hour, but what you spend on the service, you’ll save in time.

Typical SEO agency costs

Here’s a rough guide to the costs you’re likely to encounter when working with an SEO agency. For a totally tailored look at the costs involved, pop to the top of the page and fill in the free online form to receive specific quotes for your business.

Yando Consulting – small and specialised – £50 – £99 / hr

Yando offers all of the usual SEO services, including SEO, PPC, and Facebook Advertising. It applies a combination of behavioural economics and AI to provide a unique, small-scale service.

Absolute Digital Media – award winning and best for bigger projects – £150 – £199 / hr

An agency with all the bells and whistles and a reputation for going above and beyond, Absolute has earned a number of awards based on its ability to drive successful campaigns. A slightly bigger team that’s best for larger-scale projects and campaigns.

Blue Array SEO – an SEO agency and consultancy that’ll set you up and show you the ropes too! –  £50 – £99 / hr

As an SEO agency/consultancy with offices in London, Reading, and Berlin, Blue Array is a large-scale operation that combines the attention of a consultancy with the scope of an agency. Using both SEO and digital PR strategies to drive results, Blue Array is best for a slightly more bespoke service that’ll equip you with the tools to run your own campaigns in the future.


How SEO helped my small business

For some real examples of how SEO can have a massive impact on small businesses and startups, Startups.co.uk spoke to business owners who have reaped the rewards of a good SEO campaign.

Andrew Dark, Director and Co-Owner at printwear company Custom Planet, shared his experience with SEO:

“We're primarily an ecommerce business, so naturally, SEO has been a game changer for us. Without it, we wouldn't attract the organic traffic which is the lifeblood of our company.

“While in the beginning we did get some sales through word of mouth, capturing online traffic for our key products has allowed us to scale up the business. As soon as we found a good SEO company, our sales started to rocket.

“We specialise in custom printwear and promotional products, and most of our customers find us through Google by searching for a specific item. So, we need to be right up there for terms like ‘screen printed t-shirts' or 'embroidered workwear'.

“These terms get thousands of searches each month, and being on the front page of the Google results can help us convert some of these searches into sales. Working with our agency on our onsite content has been instrumental in making this happen.

“From a budgeting perspective, I think it's absolutely worth spending the money and getting a reputable agency to step in. It’s a big investment, but we started small and worked our way up, increasing our budget as our visitors and sales grew.

“You need to do your research, though: there are plenty of dodgy SEO marketing companies that promise quick, cheap results, but can actually damage your position on search engines. You need to find one that offers a realistic, strategic campaign that's tailored to your goals.

“My advice to companies that are just getting started would be to prioritise whatever spending you can on a campaign in the beginning, and slowly scale up your budget as you grow. And remember that SEO is often a marathon, not a sprint: don't expect to spend a bit of money and see major gains immediately, or after a very short campaign. Google is always changing, so your campaign will need to adapt all the time, too.

Branding London, a design agency that combines creativity with strategy, has taken a different route to SEO success, choosing to manage its SEO in-house rather than use an agency.

Here’s what Sukhy Cheema FRSA, Founder & CEO, had to say about how SEO helped Branding London succeed in the business world:

“Without SEO, I would have no online presence in the current marketplace!

“At Branding London, we manage our own SEO in-house, providing branding, web, and marketing services to our clients.

“A big part of being ranked highly and remaining visible on search engines is down to the relevance and quality of your content. The key is to produce good content for all our web pages, so we can ensure that our website will be indexable and easy to crawl by search engines.

Our approach is organic, and as a result, we have managed to climb the rankings for various key search terms and services that Branding London has to offer – on Google, Bing, and other popular search engines. We are now recognised as one of the top design agencies online, giving us credibility right across the board as an established business.”


Next steps: Compare SEO agencies

It’s pretty clear that running your own SEO campaign is a massive undertaking if you want to do it properly. There’s so much to think about, from getting to the top of the SERP, to making sure you secure answer boxes and report on your progress properly so you can report back to your team.

Whilst running your own campaign is possible, it certainly isn’t easy. To save on time and maximise efficiency, using an agency is usually the most effective option.

Here’s where we can help. We can put you in touch with top suppliers, ready to provide you with quotes perfectly tailored to your business.

To receive some free online quotes, simply pop to the top of the page and fill in the online form. It’s simple: you provide the answers, we’ll provide the quotes.