By Anna Seacat
In the first quarter of 2015, I received more requests from local business owners for help with “getting found online” than in all of 2014. This is a good sign, as it indicates that even managers of small to medium sized businesses are beginning to understand how critical SEO is to their bottom line. However, the type of businesses that are reaching out to me rarely have a marketing budget, let alone a digital marketing budget. The consensus among the business owners is that they need to either improve their existing website or have a new one built. Instead of approaching SEO from this standpoint, I have decided to offer a few basic steps for “How to get found online by customers”…what marketers refer to as local SEO. Limitations: This is not intended to be a technical brief of local SEO. This step-by-step process can be used by a DIY business owner to increase or initiate online presence.
Step One – Create a WordPress Blog
Should you pay to have your current website improved or have a new website built for your small business? No. Chances are that your current website has a host of technical SEO issues and having your local website designer improve, refresh, or build a new site is not going to help you achieve your objective — getting found online by customers.
On the other hand, starting over with a new WordPress Blog will greatly improve your SEO efforts. So, step one is go to https://wordpress.com/, and create a free website. Yes, it is free, and these sites have been known to be favored by search engines. Beginners, small business owners, etc. will do just fine with the free version on WordPress.com (not WordPress.org). This infographic nicely outlines the difference between free and for-fee WordPress sites: http://www.wpbeginner.com/beginners-guide/self-hosted-wordpress-org-vs-free-wordpress-com-infograph/?display=wide
Step Two – Use a WordPress Site Address that Reflects Search Phrases
Brace yourself. I’m going to recommend that you do not use your business name as your logical hostname in your WordPress blog’s URL address. If you want to pay a local website designer to create what equates to a digital brochure, by all means, your URL address can be the name of your business. But, remember your objective – getting found online by (potential) customers. Therefore, from an SEO perspective, your blog’s address should be what your customers will type in Google to find you. For instance, if you are a physician practicing holistic healthcare, you should start to enter search phrases into Google to determine (1) what your potential customers might type to find your business and (2) what phrases your competition is turning up as results.
When I typed “holistic health doctor in Indianapolis” into Google (shown below), it easy to see that the search phrase is highly competitive. Big-name health systems (IU Health) are bidding on the phrase, and existing websites are ranking organically for the search term. Being a new entrant in this online marketplace would be an uphill battle, especially without a digital marketing plan or budget. In other words, creating a new website and expecting for it to turn up as a result for this keyword search phrase would be expecting a lot. To increase the chances of someday ranking for such a valuable keyword phrase, strongly consider using the exact phrase as your URL. For more technical justification concerning this tactic, refer to my previous article about Local SEO: https://sociallymindedmarketing.com/2015/02/08/seo-why-is-my-business-not-showing-up-on-google/
Step 3 – Use your WordPress Blog as an Educational Tool
If Dr. Joseph Mercola has done anything right, it has been using his website to educate his potential customers. By doing so, he has created one of the best websites I have ever seen, in terms of SEO (getting found). When you design your business’s WordPress blog, think about what your customers and potential customers want to know about the problem they are having – the problem you can solve. Every aspect of your customer, their problem(s), you, your solution(s), your industry, their lifestyle, your background, and expertise should be written in text and displayed in images within your WordPress blog. This sounds like a huge undertaking, and it is. Consider taking it one step at a time and organizing your effort around customer profiles and the five-stage purchasing process.
For instance, consider a current type of customer that is most valuable to you. You want to attract more just like them, so jot down answers to the following questions. Where do they live? How old are they? What is their maritial/family status? What religion are they? Where do they work? Where do their kids go to school? What do they eat? Where do they buy groceries? What type of car do they drive? What are their hobbies? What problems/challenges do they face? What is their personality? What makes them smile? What makes them angry?
This line of questioning could go on and on. But, believe me, professional marketers develop their marketing efforts around answers to these questions. Eventually, the goal is to develop a five-stage purchasing process for each customer profile. Marketing campaigns and content for your WordPress blog can be developed to educate a specific type of customer, who is in one or more of these stages. For more details on this, visit my previous article for a small business using the five stage purchasing process to organize digital marketing efforts: https://sociallymindedmarketing.com/2014/01/10/stop-asking-your-client-for-a-list-of-keyword-phrases/
Step 4 – Use Social Media to Boost Your WordPress Site
The WordPress site for your business will never reach its full potential if you (the business owner) does not have a very complete and very active LinkedIn page. As the owner of a small business and a leader in your community/industry, you have a rich network of contacts eager to connect with you on LinkedIn and promote your online activities. In this sense, perhaps developing your LinkedIn profile should be step one in this process. Without it, you are running the risk that the content on your new blog will just sit on the blog and receive no visitors (Google does not take too friendly to this scenario). Therefore, pay to have professional photos taken of yourself and upload them to LinkedIn along with a very robust description of your professional background, achievements, education, etc. All in all, establishing a strong, initial presence on LinkedIn will take a good 2-3 days of work. The result of the work is well worth your time. After you are finished, make sure to reach out to people you know, connect with them, and accept invitations from those whom you know. When you launch your WordPress blog or a new page within the blog, post a link and description of it on your LinkedIn site. Ask your LinkedIn network to share the update.
For more information about how a small business owner can use social media to increase the chances of being found online, please visit my article on the Social Observer: http://www.thesocialobserver.com/diy-seo-guide-3-easy-steps-small-business-can-take-improve-seo/ I wrote a more formal marketing article on how small businesses can use social media in an organized manner here: https://sociallymindedmarketing.com/2013/08/23/six-steps-a-small-business-should-take-to-effectively-utilize-social-media/
Step 5 – Love Google My Business
In my most recent article on Local SEO, I wrote an entire section dedicated to the importance of Google My Business: https://sociallymindedmarketing.com/2015/02/08/seo-why-is-my-business-not-showing-up-on-google/ Having a very complete and robust profile on Google My Business, which is relatively easy to achieve, is the quickest way to gaining an edge over your local competition online.
Step 6 – Dedicate Time to Online Directories
This step is not listed in the sixth position, because it is the least important. In fact, if your objective is truly being found online by your customers and potential customers, inputting as much information and images as you can on online directories (modern Yellow Pages) is a critical step. A very comprehensive list of online directories you should never discount has been provided by Moz: http://moz.com/learn/local/citations-by-category Make a plan to spend 3-5 days in inputting your business’s information in these directories. Your website and business will begin to push your competition down in search results by doing so. Make sure when you are inputting your business’s information into these directories, you use keyword search phrases whenever possible. Never, I mean never, waste space in these directories (or on social media sites) with fluffy tag lines. For more information on how your brand’s fluffy brand statement is hurting your SEO, read my article on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/its-time-toss-your-warm-fuzzy-buzz-word-filled-tagline-anna-seacat
“Getting found online by potential customers” is a worthy objective for any small business owner. Building a website for your small business is NOT an objective – this is a task without purpose. This article was written to help local business owners in my community improve their presence online. The step-by-step SEO process has technical limitations, as it was written for an audience with little to no digital marketing experience. For more sophisticated SEO tactics, please visit https://www.stonetemple.com/ and http://moz.com/