101 Free SEO Tips for Small Businesses

March 9, 2011 SEO How to

SEO is every bit as important for small businesses as it is for corporate behemoths – possibly more, because you can’t rest on the laurels of your big brand to get and keep customers. If you’re not already acting on an organic search engine optimization strategy, now’s the time to start!

Here are 101 quick tips to help small business owners and marketers make their websites more searchable, accessible and usable, driving more traffic and ultimately more customers for clear ROI. By the way, if you’re interested in improving your site’s SEO, local marketing, or social media optimization, consider using our free SEO grader or subscribing to our daily inbound marketing newsletter.

SEO Basics & On-Page SEO

  1. Two important places on a page to put your keyword are the title and the URL. Those are the places where it will almost certainly display in the search results.
  2. Consider SEO when branding your company and any products or services you introduce: Is the domain available? How competitive are the terms? Is it easy to remember and type?
  3. Avoid hyphens in your domain name (examplesite.com is better than example-site.com).
  4. Human-readable, user-friendly URLs trump URLs with numerical query parameters (example.com/keyword-keyword-keyword vs. example.com/?id=12345).
  5. In contrast to the domain name, keywords in a URL should be separated with hyphens (/keyword-keyword, not /keywordkeyword).
  6. The closer your keywords appear to the domain name in the URL, the better.
  7. Don’t assume you know what words your customers use to describe your offerings – do your research. Use keyword tools.
  8. Compare and combine results from multiple keyword tools.
  9. Do a competitive analysis of the SERPs for your top keywords – who is ranking and how can you compete?
  10. Don’t neglect the “long tail” – longer keywords that are lower volume, but less competitive and more specific.
  11. Use your keyword close to the beginning of the body text of a page.
  12. Use Google Trends to find keywords/topics that are spiking in volume.
  13. The suggestions that pop up when you start typing in Google are a great source of keyword ideas too.
  14. Have clear goals in mind before you start doing SEO. Have some baseline metrics in place to measure progress against.
  15. Don’t make changes you won’t be able to undo, in case anything has a negative effect on rankings or traffic.
  16. Get friendly with an analytics application. Google Analytics is free and covers the basics.
  17. Put someone in charge of monthly or even weekly reporting to track performance (traffic, links, rankings for top keywords, etc.).
  18. Give it time. SEO is an ongoing process, not a quick fix.
  19. Use the keyword reports in your analytics to expand your keyword research and get new content ideas.
  20. You can also leverage those keywords to refine and better optimize older pages.
  21. If you post videos on YouTube, optimize each one the same way you’d optimize content on your own site – use keywords in the title, description, and so on.
  22. Include links from your YouTube pages back to your site.
  23. Understand what duplicate content is and how it impacts your site
  24. Transcribe videos so that search engines can more easily determine what they’re about – and so visitors who’d rather read that watch the video can still benefit.
  25. Keep the title of each page under 70 characters so it displays fully in Google results.
  26. Create a formula for title tags so it’s easier to write SEO-friendly titles on the fly.
  27. Create two keyword-friendly titles for the same page. Use one for the title tag and one for the H1 tag. Both fields have high SEO value.
  28. Subheads are another place to put keywords, and also organize your content, making it easier to read. Use H2-H5 tags for subheadings. (The higher the number, the less important the heading.)
  29. The title attribute in a hyperlink can be used to give visitors/search engines more information about a link. Again, think keywords.
  30. Write a unique, descriptive, compelling meta description for each page you create. These can increase click-through from search engines to your site.
  31. Keep meta descriptions under 156 characters.
  32. Use jump links for easier navigation on long or multi-section pages.
  33. A single page should not have more than 100 links.
  34. When content on your site expires, don’t delete the pages, just update the content – those old URLs have lots of value.
  35. Remove dates on older pages if the content is “evergreen” (in other words, still useful).
  36. Use keywords in the file paths of your images (for example, black-raincoat.jpg, not img456789.jpg).
  37. Use keywords in the ALT attribute for SEO friendly images. This attribute should tell the user what is in the image.
  38. Optimize your site for quick load time by minimizing add-ons, large images, animations and other resource-eaters.
  39. Keep Flash and JavaScript to a minimum for better crawlability by search engine spiders.
  40. Make sure your site works across multiple browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.) and multiple versions of those browsers.
  41. Periodically check for and fix broken links on your site with a tool like Xenu (free).
  42. Use breadcrumbs to help visitors see where they are within your site’s architecture and find related pages.
  43. Your site should be organized in such a way as to minimize the number of links required from the home page to find any one piece of content.
  44. Include a search box site-wide so visitors are encouraged to stick around and look for more that interests them. Track what people type into that box – it’s another source of keyword data.
  45. If you do pay-per-click marketing (PPC) as well as SEO, look for search queries that perform well in your PPC campaigns, but for which you don’t rank in organic search. Create targeted SEO content optimized for those search queries.
  46. Make sure your site works on mobile devices.
  47. Use Google Website Optimizer to do some simple A/B testing. A different title, for example, could boost both traffic and conversions.
  48. Investigate microformats to improve your rankings in local search. For example, if your site contains reviews, you can make use of the hReview microformat.
  49. Make sure your business’s physical address and phone number appear on your site.
  50. If you’re having trouble getting on the first page in local search, investigate who’s linking to your competitors (you can use Yahoo Site Explorer or Open Site Explorer for this), and try to get links from the same sites.
  51. If you’re a B2B company, consider the types of keywords that business clients use more than consumers, such as business jargon and modifiers like “corporate.”
  52. Informational keywords are a great way to find early-stage leads. Informational modifiers include terms like “how to,” “learn,” “tips,” etc. Target these keywords with instructional blog posts, videos and guides.
  53. Look for ways to build out your site with user-generated content. Comments are the simplest form of this, reviews and forums another.
  54. If there are any pages on your site that you don’t want to be indexed by search engines, use a robots.txt file to prevent them from being crawled.
  55. Code styles and formatting in CSS, not HTML (see our cheat sheet for the HTML elements that are important for SEO).
  56. Most search engines do not use the meta keywords tag for rankings. Don’t stuff this tag with keywords – it’s probably a waste of your time, and it allows competitors to steal your keyword research.
  57. The canonical URL tag can be used to ensure your “link juice” isn’t split between two versions of the same page (such as multiple default versions of your home page).
  58. Use 301 (permanent) redirects to preserve SEO value when you redirect one link to another.

Link Building

  1. Keep an eye on who’s linking to you. Try to get more links from the sites that are already driving a lot of traffic.
  2. The perfect link is both high-authority (in other words, many people link to that site) and highly relevant to your industry/audience.
  3. That said, a natural link graph will include links across the spectrum.
  4. Make good use of internal linking – linking to other, related pages on your site within your content.
  5. Optimize anchor text for internal links – for example, hyperlink the words “SEO guide,” not “click here.”
  6. Use absolute links, not relative links – that way if your content gets “scraped,” the links back to your site are preserved.
  7. Ask employees to link to your site from their own blogs, websites, or social media profiles.
  8. Generally, links in the body text of a page are more valuable than footer or sidebar links.
  9. Use Google Alerts to keep track of mentions of your company and products.
  10. If someone cites your company or one of your products without a link, write and ask them to add one.
  11. Offer to write guest posts for related blogs in your space, especially those with strong followings and high-value domains.
  12. Include deep links in your guest posts – that is, links to more specific pages, not just your home page.
  13. Send guest posts with links already coded in, with your preferred anchor text. Editors won’t necessarily code in a way that’s optimal for you.
  14. Offer to write a testimonial for a product you love, and ask for a link in return.
  15. When you ask for links, spend some time crafting a friendly, personalized message, and you’ll be much more likely to get a good response. (You could even pick up the phone.)
  16. Seek out links from high-value .edu and .gov domains.
  17. A spike of new links can drive a page up in the rankings, beating out older content. This is the value of well-planned “linkbait.”
  18. The best linkbait is high-quality, sticky content that offers real value to users – something that people will want to read, share and revisit – not a cheap attention-grabber or fake controversy.
  19. Content can’t go “viral” unless people find it. Step 1 is creating the content, Step 2 is marketing it.
  20. Avoid paid links and understand the difference between paid links and paid directories
  21. Comment on blogs that publish similar content to yours. Most comment systems allow users to provide a link back to their site.
  22. Use Technorati and Google Blog Search to find other blogs in your market niche.
  23. If your business does something newsworthy, write and distribute a press release with links.

Blogging & Social Media

  1. Start a blog and publish new content regularly. Creating an editorial calendar helps.
  2. Host your blog on your own server and link to it prominently from your home page.
  3. WordPress is one of the most user- and SEO-friendly content management systems for small business blogging, with plenty of available themes and resources on the Internet.
  4. Use categories or tags to communicate the topic of each post and help people find related content on your blog.
  5. Display categories/tags in a sidebar as well as on each post – these should be clickable links.
  6. Offer an RSS feed of your blog and other dynamic areas of your site (for example, an index of podcasts).
  7. Use no-follow links in blog comments to prevent abuse.
  8. Steal from your competitors! Nothing illegal – just take note of their content strategies and do it again but better.
  9. Interview well-known figures in your industry (text or video). This is a great way to attract page views and links.
  10. Allowing guest posts is a good way to get free content and links, as authors will frequently link to those posts from their own sites.
  11. Make it easy for visitors to share your content by adding buttons from social and sharing sites like Twitter, Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn, Google Buzz, etc.
  12. Create a Twitter account and use it regularly.
  13. Create a Facebook page and keep it fresh.
  14. Brand and customize your social media profiles – no one wants to follow a default avatar!
  15. Make sure a real person is manning your Twitter account and can respond to @ replies and direct messages.
  16. That said, it’s OK to automate some tweets with a tool like Twaitter.
  17. When you publish a new blog post or other page, post the link on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites.
  18. To build up your Twitter followers, follow similar users and retweet their links and updates.
  19. Manage negative mentions of your brand and products where possible – reach out and offer to help resolve the issue.
  20. If negative brand mentions appear on the first page of Google, work to bump them down by creating more content, preferably not all on your own site (social media profiles, guest posts on authoritative sites, etc.).