As a small business owner you might not have the resources to dedicate someone fully to content strategy or SEO. This is often the case since there are so many hats to juggle when running a small business.
But SEO tends to be an afterthought for small business owners because it can be technical. And like many other things, one can go 100-levels deep with it, which leaves people wondering where to start.
When we chat with creatives about SEO, they often plead with us to tell them exactly what they need to do. They don’t necessarily want to know the why or about all the things they could do. Just exactly what will get them heading in the right direction.
The Only 3 Things You Need to Know About SEO
So while we can’t really boil SEO down into only three points, here’s what we would tell someone in a short conversation if they asked what they should be doing.
1. Optimize pages and blog posts
Start with writing great content that people find helpful. There’s no optimization tactic that will make up for writing weak content.
Before you start writing, do a bit of keyword research to find out what words/phrases people are using when they search for that topic. This can be as simple as typing how to shoot in bright sunlight into Google, and then taking a look at some of the related searches at the bottom of the results page. The results might help you refine your topic, outline your post, or even provide ideas for related posts in the future.
Once you start writing, make sure you include your keywords and variations of your keywords in your content. Don’t stuff keywords in an attempt to “trick” Google in because your post will read awkwardly and Google’s knows what you’re up to. Search engines are getting better at understanding context, so just write as you would for a person.
Keywords and variations should also appear in headings, titles, subtitles, and the URL (slug). These elements can be read by search engines and they help indicate what your content is about.
Content should be longer than 300 words. There are exceptions to this, but I think in general it’s difficult to thoroughly answer a question in under 300 words.
Use your content management system’s (WordPress, Squarespace, etc.) SEO tools to further optimize your posts. For instance, we use Showit’s built-in SEO tools to add optimize our website for search engines. If you’re on WordPress, however, you add the Yoast plugin to do all sort of things, including optimizing title tags and metadescriptions. It’s probably the best SEO plugin that exists.
2. Build Quality Backlinks
A backlink is a link from someone else’s website to your website. Why does this matter?
Google and other search engines use backlinks to determine a page’s relevancy and authority. If you write an in-depth post about lighting and a bunch of photographers/bloggers link to that post while writing about lighting, they’re indicating to Google that your post is authoritative and relevant (or at least relevant).
But not all links are created equally.
When building backlinks, the keyword is quality. It is used to be common for people to purchase links pointing to their sites to trick Google into ranking their site higher. But Google wised up to this practice, and now penalizes sites that do this.
So what’s the best way to build links to your site? Guest posting, getting work published in relevant, well-viewed blogs (such as Style Me Pretty or the Knot), and writing great content are great ways to get started.
3. Website Structure
Much of SEO is about creating a great user experience. If someone lands on your website and can’t find her way around, it’s likely she’ll click back and leave your site. Search engines can tell when someone is not engaging with your website.
Creating a better experience means organizing your website in a way that makes sense. Much of this has to do with how you organize links within your site. When you create an internal link (a link from one page to another), you’re indicating to search engines (and people) that the pages are related to each other.
Your navigation should only include the main pages on your website. If you’re a wedding photographer this might include your homepage, About, Investment/Experience, Galleries, and a Contact Page.
If you have a blog, don’t go crazy with the categories and tags. Ideally each category should have an equal amount of posts. Any category that only has 1-2 posts should be consolidated with another category or removed. If you’re a Virginia wedding photographer (and you truly shoot anywhere in Virginia), you might have categories like Northern Virginia Weddings or Richmond Weddings. Then if you’ve shot at that venue in Northern Virginia frequently, you might create a tag for that venue.
If you’re a Virginia wedding photographer, then you’re probably blogging about Virginia weddings frequently. Remember, websites don’t rank, pages on websites do. If someone is searching for a Northern Virginia wedding photographer, and your site has 10 blogs posts featuring Northern Virginia weddings, search engines have to determine which post is most relevant. In other words, your posts are potentially competing against each other. Creating categories can help prevent this.
As a website grows, things get more complicated. But occasionally it’s a good exercise to see if someone could easily navigate your website. Just ask a friend to go on your website, and see how easily they can find a certain page, post, or topic. If it’s really complicated for them, it’s probably complicated for search engines, too.
Are these really the only 3 things?
If I had to sum up SEO in three points, I would say it’s a combination of writing great content, building quality backlinks, and organizing your site in a way that makes sense. Paying attention to those three things is a great place to start for someone who has limited time to devote to search engine optimization.
But there are no shortcuts when it comes to SEO. It’ll take some time and a bit of work to rank consistently for the keywords that you want to rank for. And I’d be skeptical of people who say otherwise.
If you’re ready for a few easy and actionable steps to an optimized website, try our free 5 Day SEO Challenge.