I think we should establish that this article is meant as a simple guide for small business owners or sole traders who need a little guidance as to what their options are as to how to rank as highly as possible in Google.
I’m going to go straight in with a caveat. There is no easy way to get your website to the top of Google. However, there are lots of simple, small things you can do to help and to make yourself easier to find on Google and Bing. All of these in combination will help the major search engines know who you are, where you are and what you do, so it’s important to consider them as a whole and link them together as much as possible. This way you will be more likely to appear at the top of searches when people are looking for you, or services you provide.
There are two approaches and I’ve listed them here in the order I would be doing them if I were starting from scratch, so you should be able to follow through and use this as a check-list of things to do.
There’s the Organic way (free) which allows you to build your presence and show people who you are, and then there’s the Paid way where you’re essentially bidding against other businesses for top spot on any given keyword. There are also other paid advertising options which I’ll mention further down the page, too.
Let’s step through your basic options…
Improve my search rankings for free
Register your Business with the search sites’ free business pages.
This is a great way to quickly let Search Engines know who you are, what you do and where you are. That way it can better serve up search results for your business if somebody is looking for services you supply, and they happen to live, or be in the area you are.
I’ve found a great video on YouTube by Wes McDowell which talks you through the process of setting up a Google Business Profile step-by-step. I would say this is the single most important thing you can do that’s relatively quick and easy to get you started!
Bing Places for Business pretty much does the same as Google Business Pages, only links to its own eco system, you can even save time managing both pages by linking your Bing Business Page directly to your Google Business Page and having the results shared across both, saving you time and effort managing two listings.
Pro tip: It is definitely worth taking the time to do both Google and Bing to give you the best chance of being seen on both platforms.
Blog writing and articles
Most websites come with some way to allow you to simply write and publish articles on your own site. WordPress is a hugely popular website building platform. Many websites are built using this and it is perfect for blog/article writing. If in doubt, speak to your web developer, they will be able to give you the relevant access to write articles for your website and point you in the right direction to log in and start writing articles (don’t worry you won’t break anything!)
Search engines love relevant new fresh content to display to their own visitors. If you have something to say, no matter how succinct it is, then it’s a good idea to write an article on your own website FIRST (this bit is super important), ignore social media for now. Drop in some images to illustrate your story and then publish your words on your website’s blog.
Important note about images: Ensure they’re either created by you, or you have the rights to use the image. Never just search and post a random image you find online, you can easily find yourself on the wrong end of an angry photographer’s or agency solicitor’s letter. Pexels is a great website that offers royalty free images where you can use the images for free but please make sure you credit where asked.
The more specific your article, the better. For example, if you’re an accountancy that specialises in supporting local businesses in your area, and you know about a specific new law that’s coming into place, you could perhaps write a short article summarising it, and maybe explaining how you can help local businesses.
Blogs don’t always have to be in depth 2000 word essays, you can write a couple of short paragraphs and include some images if the subject is easy enough to describe, even link up to a video or a small gallery of pictures, some new products, you could talk about an event, seminar or training day you recently attended or a qualification you recently added to your already long list of qualifications.
A blog page on your website is a great way of being able to tell your story exactly how you want to tell it, on your own website and on your own terms!
This leads us on to the next heading as content makes it easier for you to post on…
Social Media Pages
Having a Social Media presence can be important for some businesses, choosing the right social media platform for your business is also important. For example, Instagram may not be a great fit for an accountant or law firm, where Linkedin may be more appropriate (you can make a business page on Linkedin).
On the other hand, if you’re making and selling your own Jewellery, then Instagram could be perfect for you!
You could try them all, but don’t waste time on those that don’t work for you, make a separate business page on each to separate your business from personal life.
Going back to the blog/article writing, this and your social media go hand in hand, if you’re writing your articles, you now have somewhere to post your articles and a way to keep your social media fresh.
Never post on social media for free as a business. What I mean by this is, you’re using social media to drive traffic to your own website, so you shouldn’t be giving social media free content to keep users on their platform. Where possible always post links back to your own website, as that’s where you want viewers, off Facebook, and on your website! 😉
Always stay professional.
Never feed the trolls.
The block button is your friend.
Summary of (free) Organic options
These options above all tie in together, the more people click your articles, read your posts, like your pages on social media, the more the search engines effectively take notice of you. It’s worth saying that don’t be too disheartened by a low level of “likes” or comments on your social media, it is of course nice when people engage with you, and you write something that people like, this is always something to aim for of course.
Keep in mind that this whole endeavour is about building a profile of your business, people who do come to your page looking at your business will read the information and click the links to your site. This is what you want. Actual customers. Not vacuous likes. Look at this as building a body of information about your business.
Pay Per Click advertising.
The second way you can get to the top of search engines is of course the “easy” way and that is to simply pay them to advertise.
Yes, you can pay and get your website to the top of most search engines.
Google and Bing both have paid advertising models where you effectively bid for a keyword, so for example if you have a page on your website where you were selling “Woollen Bikinis” you would bid for just that keyword, and then tell Google which page on your site you want the customer to go to, so that if somebody searched for “Woollen Bikinis”, your website’s advert will then be displayed at (or near) the top of the results if your bid is high enough.
There are some algorithmic calculations going on in the background of these platforms, so for example, you are bidding for the keyword “Woollen Bikinis” in the UK and you’re willing to pay up to .50p per click, but Large Mega Bikini Corp is also advertising and is bidding up to £2 per click on the keyword “Bikinis” then you’re effectively competing with them.
What happens is, the search companies want to show the most relevant ads to their customers so if somebody just types “Bikinis”, then Large Mega Bikini Corp are more likely to show up first as they are bidding more than you per keyword click, and “Bikinis” was more relevant in their case. However, you’re a specialist. You specialise in hand crafted fine “Woollen Bikinis”, so when somebody searches for just that phrase, then you will more likely show above your bigger competitor despite offering a smaller bid because you were the more relevent search result in that case.
When your prospective customer clicks your ad, then according to the rules you set within Google adwords or Bing Ads, you will then be charged your bid amount for that click.
Bidding is transparent on both Google Adwords and Bing Ads. You can set daily limits on how much you want to spend, so if you want to start slowly, you can. It’s worth knowing that you can spend very low amounts and set daily spend limits, just to get you started to see how it works for you.
There’s lots of tutorial and getting started videos on YouTube, so I would advise doing a little research and watching those to help you get started as they will teach you more than I can in this short space, however I do have some good tips to look out for under these videos…
Pay Per Click Keyword bidding tips
Pro Tip: Be very specific! Search engine paid ad models are businesses that rely on trying to get you, the business owner, to add lots of keywords to match to so that they earn the revenue from those ad clicks. Try to resist the temptation of bidding for lots of non-specific keywords. The more specific you can be with your keywords, the less you will spend and the more relevant your adverts will be to customers searching for you. In the Bikini example above, making my ad show for [Woollen Bikinis] saved me lots of clicks for people looking for normal, boring, everyday, sexy bikinis who wouldn’t be interested in my glorious woollen creations.
Bidding for keywords in square brackets means you only want your ad to show if people type that EXACT phrase.
|Your Keyword||User searched for:||Advert visible|
|[Woollen Bikinis]||Woollen Bikinis for holiday to Spain||No|
|[Woollen Bikinis]||Woollen Bikinis||Yes, bid dependent|
Bidding for keyword bid in quotation means that you will show your advert if a user types your keywords as part of a phrase.
|Your Keyword||User searched for:||Advert visible|
|“Woollen Bikinis”||Woollen Bikinis for holiday to Spain||Yes, bid dependent|
|“Woollen Bikinis”||Woollen Bikinis||Yes, bid dependent|
Bidding for keywords like this (broad match) without any caveats means that your ad could show if a user types any keyword that you bid for here.
|Your Keyword||User searched for:||Advert visible|
|Woollen Bikinis||Bikinis||Yes, bid dependent|
|Woollen Bikinis||Woollen||Yes, bid dependent|
|Woollen Bikinis||Woollen Hats||Yes, bid dependent|
|Woollen Bikinis||Itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polkadot bikinis||Yes, bid dependent|
|Woollen Bikinis||Woollen Bikinis for holiday to Spain||Yes, bid dependent|
|Woollen Bikinis||Woollen Bikinis||Yes, bid dependent|
So you can see that being specific is very important!
NB I typed “bid dependent” here, as common keywords do tend to be very competitive, and you’ll only really show if your bid is sufficient to outbid your competitors, no matter how big or small. The advertiser algorithms aren’t specific exactly how they chose which ads to show, but there’s a certain amount of rotation that goes on so your ads could still show even if other bids are higher if the algorithm determines you’re likely to get clicked. You will get seen more bidding for broad match keywords, but you're more likely to be paying for irrelevent clicks. i.e People who aren't looking for Woollen Bikinis.
Pros and Cons of Paid Search Engine Advertising.
Guaranteed high display position in search results, almost guaranteed clicks.
Monetary cost, management can get complex if you have a lot of products.
Paid advertising on Social Media
Most of the social media platforms now also have paid advertising models where you can start a business page, then pay for advertising to be shown to specific groups of people. This can be a great way to get yourself out there – it won’t affect your Search ranking in any way whatsoever, but it’s worth touching on as an extra option for you.
Again, you need to chose a platform which is appropriate for you, but this is a subject that needs its own blog post entirely.
Should I pay somebody to do this for me?
I would say at least initially no. I really do think it is worth the time to learn the basics listed here for yourself. The feeling of control and agency you’ll have over your own business is immense once you get this hooked up. There’s lots here for you to get started with, and it’s all pretty simple once you get over that initial hurdle of just doing it. Just follow each step from top to bottom, watch some YouTube Videos on each if you need extra help. I’ve tried to put this information in the order it should be approached as a first timer.
Take your time. It seems like a lot to take in, but once you’ve got everything set-up, most of this is just a case of weekly or monthly management depending on how much time you want to spend on your online marketing – because this is what this is, right.
An SEO or Search Engine Optimisation specialist can also help you with setting up things I haven’t mentioned here like Website Analytics so that you can see how many people are visiting your site, what they are typing to find you, where they are from, which websites are linking back to you etc etc. This is where it can get a little more technical, and where a specialist can really come into their own to help you refine they tools you have learned here.
If you really wanted to take that next step and pay someone to do this for you, then I would recommend finding a small local SEO specialist who can help set this up for you. They should be able to give you that extra personal attention. The key thing is for them to really understand your business and your aims as well as being technically proficient.
As a small business I would really avoid agency SEO as they would tend to have lots of accounts and wouldn’t be able to give you the focus an independent SEO specialist could. They’re not all bad, but in my experience, you’ll end up paying a lot and not getting much of a return.
Final pro tip: If you are giving away control of your social media and ad campaigns to an external source, then ensure you always retain control of your blogs, social media pages, ad accounts (in most cases you can set up secondary “manager” access accounts for them to use, but you retain control).