“How counterintuitive,” you may be thinking. An SEO specialist/web designer is writing a post about how to avoid hiring her. Why? Well, aside from the fact that his blog post itself is beneficial for my own SEO purposes (you’ll see why in item #1), I’m not just a web designer. First and foremost, I am a small business owner like most of my clients. I understand that most small business owners are wearing many hats and need to be careful about their overhead. I’ve been there, my friends. If you can scare up the time, motivation, and skill to work on optimizing your search engine visibility, go for it! You do not need to hire a professional in order to dip your toe into the metaphorical SEO pool. Just start in the shallow end!

Many people I talk to seem to think there is some kind of esoteric technical magic that makes websites shoot up in the Google rankings. I’ll say that this is partially true. Sure, there are some SEO tactics that require code editing or employing technical tools. Furthermore, SEO is based on a changing algorithm that does not come with an instruction manual and which is the subject of debate among specialists. I never like to disabuse anyone of the notion that I am magical. However, there are some general principles that are not particularly mysterious, ephemeral, or controversial and you can use these principles along with the strategies in this list to make measurable improvements to your online visibility.

SEO Key Principles

Provide value to your website visitors. Whatever you put online should be relevant, good quality, and useful to whoever you’re hoping to connect with. That being said, don’t let perfectionism paralyze you.

Don’t try to game the system. We call this “black hat SEO” and an example would be combining a bunch of keywords into one long title that makes no sense. While you could succeed by using shady tactics that are not focused on providing value to your visitors, you’re more likely to shoot yourself in the foot and get penalized or produce only short-term gains that will disappear as the Google algorithm gets smarter.

Be specific with words. Let’s say you’re a middle eastern restaurant. You may have 30 pages talking about how great the middle eastern food at your restaurant is and showing us a million pictures. However, if I’m hankering for falafel, I’m going to be typing “Where to get falafel in Vermont” into that search box and you better be talking about your falafel specifically (with words, not just pictures) or I’m not going to end up at your spot! Put your menu online (no, not a picture of your menu), write a blog post about the origin of your famous falafel recipe and ask your best customers to hype their favorite dishes in online reviews. Side note: shout-out to my client The Hippie Chickpea because their Middle Eastern Food is crazy good and it’s hard to come by good falafel in Central Vermont, let me tell you!

#1: Create content on your website

Do you know stuff about your field or industry? Share that knowledge! Sometimes I hear that folks are concerned about overwhelming people with too many words on their site’s pages. Good for you for not cluttering up your messaging. The long-form content is what a blog is meant for, however. Try to think about what kind of information people are looking for rather than writing about whatever pleases you. You may have heard about keywords and that is an important piece. Think about what words people would be typing into Google if their goal was to find someone like you. Take those keywords and be sure to include them on your website in a way that sounds like a human wrote it. Make an FAQ page. That gives you an opportunity to include a bunch of questions that people might be typing into Google and it shouldn’t be hard to incorporate a variety of words that pertain to your business. Hopefully you have all the answers.

You might need a little bit of help from your web designer on this one if you don’t know how to make a blog post or change the text on your website, but most folks do and it should be pretty easy.

#2: Get people to link to your site

If you are creating great content on your site and you are well-known, other websites will naturally be linking to you. This can send traffic your way, but it’s also an indicator to search engines that you are link-worthy and thus valuable and reputable. The more you can encourage this, the better, although don’t do it in a spammy way and make sure the links are coming from relevant websites. It will do you no good at all to ask your buddy who owns a Mexican restaurant to put a link to your pet grooming business on her website. On the other hand, if you are sponsoring a fundraiser for the local humane society (very pet-relevant), you might consider asking them to link to your website in their promotional materials. Not everyone thinks of this and they will often just include your business name or even just a picture of your logo. It will be even better if the link is formatted like this: “Special thanks to Central Vermont’s favorite pet groomers at Jenna’s Dog and Cat Salon who sponsored this event.” In case that was confusing, the text in italics is the link. If you can have your keywords in the linking text, that’s the best.

Like content creation, the potential for this work is pretty much endless and should be ongoing. Go get interviewed on a podcast. Write a guest blog post on a relevant blog. Collaborate with others.

#3: Set up and be active on your Google My Business profile

SEO work can be loosely grouped in two categories: general SEO and local SEO. There is some overlap, but there is some stuff that’s only important for local businesses. Let’s say you’re a massage therapist in Montpelier, VT. You probably do not care one bit whether people in California are going to find your website. But when people in Montpelier search “massage near me” I’ll bet you want to be in showing up for them.

If you’re concerned primarily with local SEO, ask your clients/customers for Google Reviews as this directly impacts your ranking in the Google Maps search and elsewhere. In order for them to do this, you’ll need to have a Google My Business profile (that panel that shows up on the right side of the page when people search for your business) which is often generated automatically, but you’ll need to get verified in order to have control over the info that is displayed there. Typically, getting verified consists of having a postcard mailed to you, but it can be a bit tricky if you can’t get mail at your location, if you have two businesses in a single location or if you have some other kind of non-traditional setup. Once you have control of your listing, you can make posts and I highly recommend that you do. Keep in mind that most websites (Google is no exception) are motivated to keep folks from leaving, so Google will look kindly on you if you provide information right there in their domain rather than whisking people away to a second location like your website. Make sure your profile is complete and make posts at regular intervals.

#4: Get listed and be active on directory sites and social media

When we are talking about Search Engine Optimization, remember that a lot of social media and directory sites are also search engines themselves. Having more reviews and a higher ranking can help you rise to the top of sites like Tripadvisor, for example. Furthermore, the more active your page on these sites is, the more likely it will show up well on Google because people are interacting with it. In addition, search the web for sites that feature lists of businesses like yours. There is often an easy way to submit your information and these sites are motivated to list you since the extensiveness of their list is usually their main selling point. This is also a way to get links although many directory sites and most social media will produce only no follow links which will not help you as much.

#5: Take care of your NAP consistency across the web

We all love naps! Especially when we’ve been up all night working on our SEO, am I right?! Anyway, this is a different kind of nap. All-caps NAP! It stands for Name – Address – Phone number. This is another thing that’s really important for local SEO. If you have moved or changed your phone number, make sure that your vital info is updated everywhere and keep in mind that your business details may be all over the Internet in places that you did not intend. Many directory sites scrape other websites for business information, and who knows how long it will be before they scrape again. If your contact info is not consistent, this could confuse people who are trying to do business with you. It also does not inspire trust in the eyes of Google & co. Search engines are trying to deliver the best info possible to the searchers and they want to be sure that info is correct. If there are two versions of the truth out there, that information does not appear to be 100% reliable.

When to ask for help

If you’re doing all of this, it does not hurt at all to call in an SEO specialist (like myself) every once in a while for a consultation. I can help you get the best bang for the effort that you’re putting in and help you analyze your results with premium tools like Ahrefs. I would also highly recommend reaching out to me if this is not your cup of tea, if you have a unique challenge or if your business relies heavily on SEO. This is a list of tactics that you can do without too much tech savvy, but doing some technical work on your site should not be overlooked altogether. Happy optimizing!