Danny Sullivan’s Top SEO Tips for Small Businesses

The founder of Search Engine Land urges SMBs to think mobile, learn the basics and focus on what their customers expect.
danny-sullivan
SEO expert Danny Sullivan's tip to small business owners: be careful of company's that promise a guaranteed ranking on Google. (Photo: Josh Hallett/Flickr)

SEO expert Danny Sullivan, founder of Search Engine Land, has some good news and some bad news for small businesses who need help with their SEO.

The good news: Search engines have become a bit more forgiving. They are better able to guess what a consumer is looking for when they use natural language in their search (versus dropping in a bunch of disjointed words in hopes of getting relevant results). “Semantic” search potentially puts more websites in the pool of search results for a given keyword or phrase.

The bad news: Sullivan still sees too many small businesses that don’t understand what SEO really is — and too many that don’t even have websites.

Some businesses get burned by hiring a company that promises to help their website rank in search results for a specific keyword without doing research to see if the company is reputable and can actually get the job done. “You need to get references; you need to talk to people,” Sullivan said.

Small businesses who do have an inkling about SEO tend to think mainly about getting inbound links from other websites. While these links are still important, it’s more vital than ever to have the right kind of links — high-quality links, not just any link from any site.

Businesses who get that, Sullivan told NCR Silver, probably also understand the value of keywords. But they are something you actually can relax a bit on now, he said. Since search engines have gotten more intelligent, keywords have become somewhat less important.

Sullivan offered these to tips for small business owners who want to up their SEO game.

Understand mobile search intent

Being mobile friendly is about a lot more than responsive design. People on mobile tend to be conducting searches for different reasons than desktop users.

For example, mobile searches for flowers spike on Valentine’s Day. Not surprising. But what do mobile searchers want from a florist site on that day? They may not care as much about finishing the purchase through the site; they probably want a phone number so they can contact the florist and have someone assure them the flowers are available and can be delivered that day.

“What are the key things that people want to do when they come to your website and is that working well for them?” Sullivan asked.

Show up right in local search

Google Maps. Yelp. Trip Advisor. Facebook. Each of these sites serve as a search engine of sorts for local businesses. Make sure your business is optimized for local search.

For example, double-check that your address and other information is correct, especially in your Google My Business listing. Monitor and respond to reviews posted on Yelp and other review sites — these reviews are critical to bringing in business through local searches.

Then make sure your website (desktop or mobile) is providing the key things your visitors need. If you’re a local business, the need for e-commerce is going to be less important than the need for contact information and hours.

Educate yourself on basic SEO

Google has a basic starter guide that walks through what’s necessary. “Read through it,” Sullivan urged. “Even if you don’t understand all of it, at least you’ve done the homework on this important area.”

It’s a lot easier to find someone who can do the right job for you in SEO if you understand the basics and can speak their language. You need a “good, descriptive website that describes your goods and services in real html text,” Sullivan said.

Make sure you have a social media presence

Even if you’re a small, local business, it’s critical to be on social media. Sullivan said Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are the most important social platforms for most small businesses. Pinterest is especially relevant if you’re a retailer.

Even if the traffic and leads that come directly from social media posts are not exceptionally high, having a presence helps you. The platforms themselves act as search engines of a sort. In addition, if people like a business, they want to be able to share it on social media.

Social media also helps with link building, Sullivan said. “The links might not always count directly,” he said, “but it just helps spread the word about your business and in return, build the kind of links that will help.”

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