Small business owners have a lot on their plates. If you’re like most, your business got its start as a passion project, and as it becomes more successful, you find yourself wearing more hats. Suddenly, you’re an HR manager, accountant, and digital marketer in addition to doing the core work of your business. When it comes to handling your SEO, it may be a frustrating process full of failed attempts, leading you to throw in the towel and leave your search rankings to chance. It doesn’t have to be that way, though! Read on to find out how successful business owners avoid frustration and thrive in their SEO journeys.

how to survive and thrive at SEO as a small business owner

Why Do Many Small Businesses Fail at SEO?

We’ve helped thousands of small businesses with SEO through our online SEO training, newsletter, and SEO management services. When we see small business owners struggling, it’s usually for one of the following reasons:

  • They don’t fully understand what SEO is. The most common mistake we see here is people who think SEO is all about getting keywords onto the page—lots and lots of keywords. Choosing the right keywords is part of SEO, but it’s only one part of it. Plus, if you overdo it on the keywords, you can actually end up hurting your rankings instead of helping them.
  • They don’t have a strategy to improve their SEO. If you’re going on a road trip to a city you’ve never been to, do you just wing it or do you use the navigation on your phone or car to help get you there? You need a clear strategy to map your way to SEO success.
  • They get impatient and focus on the wrong things. It takes time to get results from SEO—sometimes a matter of weeks, other times, it can be months before you start seeing an uptick in rankings and traffic.
  • They lack the time to put in the effort.  This is a major factor for business owners. SEO takes consistent effort, and many small business owners lack the time to put in the work to get results. If that’s the case for you, consider working with someone else on your team to train them on SEO, or outsource your SEO to a digital marketing agency.

What Is SEO?

First, let’s talk about what SEO isn’t. It’s not a magic bullet, nor is it a quick process. It’s also not the holy grail of digital marketing. There are plenty of other techniques to generate traffic and leads, from social media marketing to Google Ads.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is all about making Google’s ranking factors work in your favor. Google has several different factors that determine how well your website or page helps a person using a specific keyword to search for a topic. Of these factors, some are weighted more heavily than others. You can roughly group Google ranking factors into three categories:

  • Content Relevance: Google also determines how relevant your content is to the search term being used. When all else is equal, Google will rank the more relevant site higher.
  • Technical Factors: Google evaluates several technical aspects of your site as a means of assessing the overall user experience you provide. These are generally easy fixes, especially if you use WordPress or Squarespace.
  • Domain Authority: Finally, Google looks at how much authority your website has, giving preference to sites with higher authority. The American Dental Association will outrank an individual dental practice for the same piece of content, for example.

To thrive at SEO, you have to look at all three of these factors and put in the work to consistently improve them.

How Do I Create an SEO Strategy?

Forget about your SEO plans—create a strategy instead. Plans are flawed because they have a start and a finish, and the outcome we’re looking for is outside of our control. This means that once you reach the end of your plan, it’s easy to feel like it didn’t work if you didn’t get the rankings you wanted. In contrast, a strategy is built with the expectation that you’ll encounter some bumps in the road and that the work is ongoing. Think of SEO not as a sprint to win a race, but an ongoing marathon where being at the front of the pack pays off in rankings and website traffic.

To start, know the keywords you want your website to rank for. Some keywords have high buying intent and lower volume; these keywords can be easier to rank for, so you’ll be able to see ranking changes more quickly when you focus on these. Other keywords have high research intent and higher volume; these phases usually have more competition and it can take longer to see ranking changes. 

As part of your SEO strategy, you’ll want to continually improve the different metrics that contribute to Google’s ranking factors. You’ll be competing against yourself and your own rankings, and also your competition—which means you should know how you compare to your competitors, too. 

To thrive at SEO, it’s important to put consistent effort into all three groups of ranking factors; it’s this consistent effort that will ultimately change your rankings, rather than one specific action.

How to Focus on the Right SEO Metrics

Not only do you want to know which keywords you’re targeting, but you should also know why you’re targeting them. Keywords with high buying intent are the ones that generally lead to more sales, but the traffic is lower. These are typically the keywords you’ll optimize for first.

High research intent keywords are the ones that will help users solve problems before they make a purchase. These keywords don’t convert to sales as easily, but the traffic will be higher. Target these keywords after you’ve achieved good rankings for keywords with high buying intent.

It’s also a good idea to focus on what work is being done each month to contribute to your three ranking factor groups. If you’re seeing improvement in these individual ranking factors, you can be confident that the rankings will follow.

As your rankings improve, you should expect to see traffic increase, and as traffic increases, you should expect to see an improvement in conversions (leads and sales). These improvements take time to accumulate, which is why it’s essential to start investing in SEO sooner vs later so that you can start reaping the rewards.

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