Let’s get one thing out of the way: despite what trendy social media experts might have you believe, social media marketing is not the new SEO.
Search Engine Optimization and social media marketing exist on two different ends of the spectrum, with very little overlap. Social media marketing is all about, well, being social. It’s about injecting humanity into your business, finding a way to connect with your audience and creating an environment on social media that encourages them to become a loyal community.
SEO is… none of those things. Granted, they both share the same end goal (turning a potential customer into a paying one), but they exist in two very different worlds. Social is a more creative space, with elements of analytics and metrics incorporated into it. SEO could be seen as the polar opposite of that, with a heavy emphasis on analytics and metrics, but still with some room left for creativity.
With that in mind, you can see SEO can be such a tricky topic to understand (especially if you’re trying to look at it through the lens of something like social media marketing). As if that wasn’t confusing enough, small business owners who are already having a tough time wrapping their heads around concepts like keywords and backlinks are being bombarded with every SEO tool on the market.
It’s confusing, frustrating, and when your success is dependent on you making the right choice? It can be downright frightening.
So in the spirit of helping the average small business owner, here’s a little list we put together to provide some guidance. By the end of this article, you’ll know what aspects of SEO to focus on right now and you’ll even have a few tools to help you get started.
Since we’re focusing on the technical side of SEO today, it only makes sense that we start our list off with the role of the SEO audit.
For starters, it’s worth mentioning again just how important the technical side of SEO is in the wake of search engines like Google relying on complex algorithms to determine which companies end up on the first page of their search engine results. The biggest problem with the algorithm is how static they can feel sometimes. Even if your content and website presentation is the same as your leading competitors, if they’re in Google’s SEO good graces, you’ll be a step behind every single time.
Knowing that, it’s important to recognize that there’s a high chance that a variety of different SEO issues are present on your site that need to either be reviewed or completely fixed altogether. While we could write an entire article dedicated just to the importance of the SEO audit, for our purposes today we’ll just be tackling some of the general ideas at play.
When it comes to SEO auditing, the first thing you’ll need to focus on is the visibility of your site. After all, it’s going to be pretty difficult for Google to direct traffic your way if it can’t find your small business easily.
How exactly does one go about ensuring their site’s visibility? Well, if we’re being honest, this entire process will end up being significantly easier if you use SEO tools like the ones Ahrefs offers. With tools like Content Explorer, small business owners can gain access to analysis like never before.
First off, you’re going to want to look at the way your site’s codes and files are set up. Make sure that things like the robots.txt file are not restricting access to your site and that all your site URLs are error free. While it might seem overly simplistic (you might be getting a bit of a “did you try turning it off and on again?” vibe at this point), there’s no getting around that these seemingly minor mistakes can have massive implications on the visibility of your site.
Once that’s over and done with, it’s time to start looking at the indexability of your site. If you have no idea what that means, the easy way to think of it is seeing whether or not search engines are listing your site. Again, this probably seems too simple, but remember: you need to walk before you can run. And when the prize is a successful small business, making sure that you have every possible advantage over your competition seems like a small price to pay.
Fortunately for small business owners that aren’t quite that tech-savvy, most search engines offer a “site:” command that allows them to search for website-specific content. Using these commands will give you a rough idea of the number of pages indexed by a specific search engine.
Of course, you can dive even deeper than that, ensuring that your pages and even your company brand name are indexed. The important thing is to make sure that Google is aware of your existence because let’s face it: if Google doesn’t know who you are, no one does.
2. Rankings Analysis
Moving right along, there’s the subject of ranking and what it all means for your small business. More specifically, which factors matter and how they can be fine-tuned.
First off, there are a series of on-page ranking factors that you’ll need to consider. You’ll want to perform page level analysis because of how useful it is when it comes to identifying certain examples of optimization opportunities. Beyond that, the domain level analysis will help small business owners identify and define the level of effort necessary to make these site-wide corrections.
Going back to the topic of URLs, there a few issues that need addressing. First off, it’s important to make sure your URL contains relevant keywords. The better your URL describes its corresponding content, the more effective your overall SEO strategy will be.
Of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Having a concise URL matters as well, with the best URLs clocking in at around 115 characters total. Your URL should be using subfolders instead of subdomains, with the former being easier for search engines to identify. Even something as simple as using hyphens instead of underscores to separate words can have a noticeable effect on your SEO effectiveness.
While on-page ranking factors are certainly important, they’re still only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Off-page ranking factors (or the ranking factors that are generated by external sources) are just as important.
At the cornerstone of understanding the off-page ranking factors of your website is your online reputation. More specifically, how reliable you are when it comes to reputable information. Or to put it simply: are you seen as a trendsetter in your industry?
While that might seem like a pretty vague description, there’s actually a tangible application to all this. The most straightforward one? Making sure that your site isn’t accidentally providing your users with malware and spam. There’s a fantastic Google service called Safe Browsing that can help you by providing references off of blacklists. Also be sure to check for keyword stuffing, hidden text and cloaking, all of which can land you on Google’s naughty list.
But beyond general concepts of reliability and the popularity of your site in relation to your competitors, there’s a critical off-page ranking factor that deserves to be mentioned here.
The overall quality of your site will inadvertently be determined by the quality of sites that link back to it. That’s why understanding the backlink profile of your site is such an important part of this process.
If you have no idea where to start, here are some concepts and ideas to keep in mind. First off, how many unique domains are linking to your site? Are you getting 10 links from 1 root domain or 1 link from 10 root domains? Ideally, you’re getting the latter instead of the former. Are the backlinks from these sites actually relevant? Google doesn’t care for random links and these kinds of links do little to establish your small business as an online authority in your industry.
Clearly, understanding your site’s backlink profile (and how best to proceed once you have an accurate picture) can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are a variety of SEO tools you can use, like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer Tool, designed to aid with the backlink profile creation and editing process.
These two steps, the SEO audit and analysis of rankings, might seem small when you consider the ridiculous amount of SEO advice being given out these days. And yet, these are the foundation of any solid SEO strategy. With these two steps down, your small business will be well on its way to dominating the competition and being an online authority.