Small businesses and startups often look to the web as a source of quick growth. Anyone who has started a business from scratch knows the challenges and difficulties that go along with this, and growing a following and customer base online may be more challenging than it sounds.
If you would prefer a PDF to print and check off as you go, I’ve provided one here. In this post I’ll go into more detail for each checklist item. For the sake of brevity, if I’ve already written a post on a subject, I’ll just link you to it.
I will be glossing over the various checklist items below, because let’s face it, there could be an entire book written on this subject (and there probably is!). If you have specific questions about any topics, please leave a comment below and I would be happy to help you out.
- Create Facebook Page for Business
Facebook is still by far the most popular social networking site. A Facebook like or share could provide you with a large audience of potential customers.
With all the news about the new Graph Search that will be integrated with Facebook, having a Facebook page and strong following becomes even more important. Facebook Graph Search will first show users results that match their own interests, and their connections interests, before regular Bing search results. If you have a strong following on your Facebook Page, your potential reach could be much larger than you think.
Encourage your customers to check in to your business on Facebook, and share you content with their friends. The more check-ins, likes and shares, the better!
- Create Twitter account for Business
Twitter is the only modern social media network that rivals Facebook in usership and popularity. Because of its immense reach and influence, building a strong following on Twitter is a good way to get quality focused leads and a lot of exposure, in a relatively short amount of time.
Twitter is also a good way to get your links indexed quickly by search engines. Because of Twitter’s stature and power, it’s indexed very quickly by search engines, and even though links are no-follow, it can help you get listed in SERPs quicker. Don’t forget about social signals either, which are an integral part of SEO. If something is popular on social networks like Twitter, search engines recognize this and rank the content accordingly.
- Create Google+ Author Page
With the advent of Google Authorship, it’s important to have an active Google+ profile. Google Authorship Markup is proven to increase CTRs (click-through-rates) and user engagement. You will appear more trustworthy and potential customers and visitors may feel more comfortable with you if they can make a personal connection to your business.
See my post on Google Authorship for more information on how to get your face next to your search results.
- Create Google+ Business Page
Google+ still isn’t on the level of Facebook or Twitter, but you still need to pay attention to it. Google+ is obviously owned by Google, which just so happens to be your target search engine and will send you the most organic search traffic. You can assume that Google will take +1s from its own social media platform into account in its search results algorithm. How much will Google+ social signals affect your ranking? The correlation is not exactly clear, but it’s important to note that it does play a role.
It’s also my personal belief that Google+ is a better platform than Facebook or Twitter for certain niches. Take my niche, web development, for example. I find a lot more high quality connections and engagements on Google+ than other social networks. Perhaps this is because certain niches gravitate towards Google more than others (like SEO and web developers, for example), or maybe it’s because people still consider Facebook to be a social media platform to connect with friends and not strangers. At any rate, it’s important to have a presence on Google+. Spread the word and get as many +1s as you can.
- Add Business on FourSquare
Adding your business on FourSquare allows your customers to check in at your physical location. Encourage your customers to check in. Providing incentives can drive customers through your doors. If you have an offer that gives your FourSquare mayor free or discounted products, potential customers may be more likely to convert.
- Add Business on Yelp
Much like FourSquare, Yelp allows your customers to check in and earn rewards, but it also provides a public forum for your customers to review your business and your products. This is a great way for business owners to get quality feedback from their customers and make improvements to their business and/or products.
- Add Business on Google Places
In today’s increasingly digital and mobile world, you need to get your business on Google’s map. It’s proven that people will search local before making purchasing decisions, and Google Places is a very common tool. Google Places is the program that will place businesses on Google Maps and provide business information like phone number, website link, business hours, reviews and more. The verification process to get your business listed in Google Places can take several weeks, so get this process started as quickly as possible.
- Add Business on Bing Business Portal
Much like Google Places, Bing Business Portal is the program that will put your business info on Bing maps. The concept is the same as above, and the verification process takes equally as long. While Bing is still lacking in popularity, Microsoft’s partnership with Facebook for Graph Search makes Bing an important player in SEO.
- Build Relationships
Last but not least in the Social Media section, is building relationships. Setting up your social media accounts is all find and well, but if you don’t actually use them to engage your customers and potential followers, you won’t gain any traction. Get your marketing department (perhaps that’s you!) and get out there and meet people. Build a following across your social media platforms and you will be rewarded in the long run. If you have a strong relationship with your followers, they’ll be more likely to share your content. Your reach and influence will grow, and over time, you’ll see a solid ROI for your efforts.
- Set Goals
What are you trying to accomplish by building a website and building an online following? Is your goal to increase sales? Provide quality leads? Gather interest from investors? Whatever it is, you need to have a firm goal in place before you do anything else.
- Determine Target Demographic
Expanding on setting your goals, you’ll want to determine who your client-base will be. Are you targeting college students? Lawyers? Home owners? Whoever your target demographic is, you’ll build your strategy around it. A website selling eBooks to college students would not the same as a website geared towards selling lawyers eBooks. In fact, these sites, while selling the same type of product, will look and feel completely different, and target totally different keywords. Your clients will drive your strategy.
- Research Keywords
Google’s Adwords Keyword Research Tool is an invaluable tool in any SEO or marketers repertoire. Come up with a list of keywords that you want to target, and see what kind of traffic is to be gained. Narrow down your list to some keywords that have a strong correlation to your content.
Once you have a list of keywords you want to focus on, use the Keyword Research Tool to make a longer list of keywords based on Google’s suggestions. For more information on keyword research, check out my recent post Keyword Research Basics.
OK, so we have a strong list of keywords we want to target. The next step would be determining the keyword difficulty to see if it’s even reasonable for us to focus on those keywords. This is where an SEOmoz account really comes in handy. We’ll use SEOmoz’s Keyword Difficulty tool. Paste your list of keywords into the form, and run the report.
At the time I ran this report, SEOmoz was doing some maintenance on the tool, so all the data was not immediately available, but it’s still useful. The list of 4 keywords I ran the report on are shown in the above image, and as you see SEOmoz shows their estimate for keyword difficulty for each words. The results are sometimes surprising, which is why we run these reports!
We can even drill deeper and find out more about the individual keywords, such as the strength and profile of the sites currently ranking for the chosen keyword.
We can use this report to determine if it would be too difficult or attainable to unseat our competitors and rank highly for our keywords.
- Determine Competitors
Another important piece of the small business and startup SEO puzzle is to determine your competitors. Run some searches on your target keywords and see what other businesses are ranking for them. These are your competitors. If any of them are local (and some probably will be), these are the competitors you want to focus on the most.
- Analyze Competitors Link Profile
SEOmoz comes to the rescue again, and gives us a great tool to analyze our competitors SEO profile. Head over to the Open Site Explorer and punch in your competitors URLs.
This will give you a good idea of how strong your competitors are performing in SEO terms, and if it’s realistic for you to overtake them in the short term.
- Target Link Opportunities
Next, you’ll want to quickly take a deeper look into your competitors, to see what their link profile looks like, and pinpoint some possible link opportunities. Open Site Explorer lets us run an inbound link report on any domain, and provides you various filters.
Take a look over the report, and see if there are any links to be had. Of course, you’ll gain the most from getting links from sites that your competitors don’t currently have, but you can even the playing field a little bit by poaching some links that are out there for the taking.
Google Analytics is a great tool for tracking your sites traffic and user engagement. It gives you tons of data about your visitors ranging from what device and browser they are using, to what page they were on when they exited your site.
One important tool to keep your eye on it analyzing your organic search traffic. This will give you a top level view of how you are performing for your target keywords, and give you a physical number of visitors you are getting for each keyword. This will allow you to calculate your lead generation rate and conversion rate. It gives you the opportunity to see what areas you are doing well in, and what areas you need some improvements in.
Google Analytics does have it’s flaws, however, and the big one is the (not provided) keyword. See my previous post for more info on how to avoid this and get useful data out of it.
Google Webmaster Tools provides web developers and marketers the opportunity to see your site through Google’s eyes. See how your site shows up in Google’s search results with Google’s Rich Snippet Tool. See your impressions in search results, and calculate your CTRs. Combine this data with the data you’ve already gathered from Google Analytics and you have a powerful report on your websites performance.
Another bonus to having a Google Webmaster Tool account is the ability to get notifications from Google should anything go wrong with your site. If Google is penalizing you for any reason, or thinks your site is suspicious, you’ll get a notification through your account.
Nearly all the tools available in Google’s Webmaster Tools are available in Bing’s Webmaster Tools. Many people choose to focus all their efforts on Google because Bing doesn’t have a large enough market share, but I implore you to pay attention to Bing because Facebook will use Bing search results in its Graph Search. We cannot ignore Facebook, and therefore cannot ignore Bing (unfortunately).
If Using WordPress…
- Install WordPress SEO by Yoast
- Set Proper Permalink Structure
- Set Page Titles
- Set Meta Descriptions
For more information on all these topics, see my previous post on WordPress SEO.
If Not Using WordPress…
Database driven websites are cool and all, but URLs that have query strings in them are not very SEO friendly. Keywords in the URL will definitely help you rank for certain keywords, and query strings could hurt you. In general:
The Title tag is one of the most important pieces used in ranking for a specific keyword. If you want to rank for the keyword, it better be in the title tag. That being said, Google has stated that it prefers content experts create content and titles designed for human consumption, not search engines.
The meta description tag gives search engines a short description to use in it’s search results. Not all search engines handle this field the same, but it’s still generally a good idea to include it on your pages.
We set up the account earlier, but you need to make sure that you place the tracking code on your site. You’ll also want to wait a while before placing any emphasis on the data, as you’ll want a larger sample size to eliminate the possibility of outliers.
WordPress has plugins available to create sitemaps, or you can attempt to create them yourself. No matter how it’s generated, it’s important you submit your sitemap to your Google Webmaster Tool and Bing Webmaster Tool accounts. This gives search engines the ability to crawl and index your site more quickly than they would had they stumbled upon it naturally.
Adding a Robots.txt gives search engines a list of pages and directories that you don’t want them to index or crawl. How could this be advantageous though, wouldn’t we want all our pages to be indexed? Not necessarily. For example, in my WordPress SEO post I went over types of posts that you should not index. There could be many reasons why you would not want search engines to index content, but generally speaking it’s to avoid duplicate content on your sites, which search engines frown upon.
The most important part of the equation. Create excellent, shareable content. Plain and simple, right? Not so much… Great content takes lots of time and research. If you are writing posts about content that thousands of other people have already written about, why would anyone choose your content over the other options?
Unfortunately, this is the one area of SEO that I can’t help you with.
Tracking and Maintenance
Use the data you’ve gathered from Google Analytics and your Webmaster Tools accounts to create new content that will improve your rankings for your keywords. The more data you can gather the better idea you’ll have of how your performing and where you can make improvements.
Keep an eye on your Webmaster Tool accounts and look for any alerts or notifications. If your site looks suspicious or is being penalized by Google, take any actions necessary to rectify the situation. Being slapped by Google can mean a massive drop in traffic for your site!
There you have it, the longest blog post I’ve ever written. As I stated before, I barely touched the surface on these topics, and an entire book (or books) could be written on the subject. Leave a comment below if you have questions!