SEO for Small Businesses: Everything You Need to Know

Date published: March 22, 2024
Last updated: March 22, 2024

The world of SEO went through a lot of changes in 2023. Google rolled out its Helpful Content Update (HCU) and overhauled key elements of its search engine guidelines, such as its E-E-A-T criteria. AI was also a major factor as cheap, low-quality content became much more accessible.

SEO underwent significant changes. But it didn’t become irrelevant. On the contrary, it remains a powerful promotional tool for small businesses, many of which are already dependent on search engines for steady traffic and visibility.

As the business world adapts to the new changes, it’s important for smaller enterprises to continue investing in the optimization of online content for search engines. With that in mind, here is a breakdown of small business SEO, what it looks like a quarter into the 21st century, and why it remains a critical part of a company’s online presence.

What Is SEO for Small Business?

Search engine optimization in the context of a small business refers to the attempt to generate organic traffic online using Google Search and other search engines. This comes through a variety of strategies (see below), and it can be an effective way to boost visibility online.

SEO offers multiple benefits for a smaller business. For example, small business SEO is:

  • Affordable: While it requires an up-front investment, SEO remains one of the most cost-effective ways to naturally promote a brand.
  • Long-term: SEO is a long-term marketing play that can continue to serve up dividends long after the initial grunt work is complete.
  • Competitive: A small business that dominates its SEO terms can easily outperform its competitors.
  • Synergistic: When well executed (i.e., using a strong strategy that focuses on the user first and search engine rankings second), SEO boosts a brand’s content quality, their brand awareness, overall user experience.

All of these benefits are technically possible. However, a small business team must invest in the correct SEO strategy if it wants to turn potential into reality. 

Elements of Small Business SEO to Consider

If a small business leader wants to take advantage of the benefits of SEO, they must consider the right things to integrate into their small business SEO strategies. Here are a few common SEO elements that are particularly relevant for smaller businesses:

  • Keywords: Keyword research is the bedrock of good SEO. It helps companies of all sizes build content that stands out in search engines. 
  • Google Business Profile: Your Google Business profile is a critical way to take SEO ownership of your company. It shows Google that you are the one behind your company’s online presence and can validate your content and improve search engine results.
  • Linking: Another central element of any SEO strategy, linking remains one of the top items Google considers when ranking content.
  • Local terminology: From physical addresses to mentioning your hometown or region, geographically specific terminology is important if you are a local business seeking to dominate local search in a specific area.
  • Technical SEO: Metadata, site speed, mobile optimization — the practical workings of your on-site SEO make a big difference in how high your content ranks in the SERPs.

If you’re a small business, this is your SEO toolkit. Use these elements to build a strategy that can propel your company into local search engine results.

How Does SEO Differ for Small Businesses vs Big Businesses

It’s tempting to think of SEO as a big business activity. Larger companies have the resources to pour into both onsite and offsite optimization. This ensures that they appear at the top of SERPs and attract the most organic traffic from competitive keywords.

While it’s true that big businesses heavily invest in SEO, though, it is also a powerful small business approach to promotion. As we’ve already seen, some elements of small business SEO, like technical SEO and linking, are similar to any SEO strategy. Others, like owning your Google Business Profile, using local terminology, and selecting long-tail keywords, are uniquely effective for small business SEO success.

There are other ways that SEO for small businesses stands out, too. For instance, it tends to be more targeted. Take keywords as an example. Specific long-tail local keywords are particularly relevant for smaller businesses seeking to attract consumers with niche problems they can solve.

Small business SEO is also harder to get started. This isn’t a surprise, as fewer resources make gaining that initial SEO momentum challenging. On top of that, once a small business gets its SEO going (usually, it takes a few months to see results), they are more agile and can tweak their approach easier than a big business.

What Are SEO Tips for Small Businesses?

Despite the benefits SEO offers to small businesses, over half of SMBs (small and medium businesses) didn’t have an SEO strategy in place as recently as 2022. Now, with HCU and other updates in effect, having a purpose behind your SEO is more important than ever before. 

That said, here are 11 tips small business owners and marketing teams can use to jumpstart their SEO in 2024 and beyond.

  • Set up Google Analytics: It’s hard to assess your SEO success rate without data. Make sure you have GA4 (Google Analytics 4) set up on your site. Then, use it to track relevant SEO-related goals and conversions.
  • Consider your keywords: Even if you already include relevant keywords in your content, it’s time to revisit them. Remember the power of long-tail and specific keyword utilization. Consider how you can optimize both new and existing content to focus not just on specific words and phrases but the most important keywords that you want to be known for. 
  • Prioritize your brand’s primary focus: Create or update your value proposition as a small business. Then, make sure you’re consistently targeting the same themes in your local SEO strategy that you want to build your business’s reputation around.
  • Don’t overstretch your SEO: Search engine optimization can be a black hole. If you aren’t careful, you can pour infinite resources into things like keyword research and content creation. Build a strategy that considers your capabilities and works within them. In other words, don't spread yourself too thin!
  • Invest in technical SEO: Don’t breeze over the back end. Take the time to fill out metadata, add alt text to your images, check your site for speed and navigation, stay mobile-friendly, and so on. Don’t just build SEO content. Make sure you have a strong technical foundation for your site, too.
  • Blog on a regular basis: Create a content marketing schedule for your SEO. In particular, make sure you’re creating and posting blog content that is keyword-rich and SEO-optimized. Consistency rather than quantity is important here. Keep feeding that SEO funnel!
  • Update existing content thoughtfully: HCU says faking fresh content doesn’t help. Don’t change content just to chase SEO results. Do so to keep it relevant and helpful to the reader. Remember, people-first content is always a priority.
  • Consider off-site SEO: SEO can take place off-site, too. Keep keywords and linking in mind when creating press releases, social media posts, guest posts and other digital PR initiatives.
  • React carefully to negative SEO: When your SEO isn’t working, don’t panic. Instead, refer to Google’s guidelines for how to address bad SEO.
  • Don’t Be Afraid of Change: Change is inevitable. Online, it’s also constant. Don’t let updates scare you. Instead, stay ready to adapt your strategy when changes take place and resist the urge to panic.
  • Partner with an SEO: If you’re unsure how to bring all of this together into a solid SEO strategy and you can’t afford to hire a full-time SEO for your company, find a partner instead. SEO companies offer professional SEO services at a fraction of the cost.

Local SEO isn’t a formula. It’s an art form. Use the tips above to create a unique SEO strategy for your small business to attract local customers. 

Small Business SEO: A Path to Online Prosperity

Small businesses must consider multiple ways to promote their businesses. While SEO isn’t everything, it should certainly be part of the mix.

Use the tactics and concepts listed above to inform your SEO strategy and ensure that your small business is getting the most out of this free, powerful, and effective form of local business promotion. And if you’re struggling to do it yourself, it may mean you need to seek out an SEO agency to lay the groundwork and build an effective strategy.

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