What is SEO? Beginner SEO for Small Business

What is SEO? Beginner SEO for Small Businesses

Ah, SEO. As a business owner, I’m sure you’ve gotten about 10 million ads promoting it. 

Link building, keyword research, SERPs…what does any of that even mean? Will it help your business, or just waste your money? 

These are key questions, and don’t worry, I’ve got answers. 

And before we get started, I should clarify. This is a BEGINNER’S GUIDE to SEO. I’m not sharing “3 foolproof tips to rank on page 1 of Google” or “top secret SEO mega hacks” or any of that other nonsense in the ads you see online. 

We’re focusing on the fundamentals, the basic steps you should take to make sure your website is search-engine-friendly (and why you should even care in the first place).  

What is SEO? 

Let’s get on the same page with a simple definition. SEO (or search engine optimization) is adjusting your website so that it’s more likely to show up in search engine results. 

Thinking about it another way, SEO is the process by which you make your website super friendly to the bots and algorithms that make Google work. 

How can SEO help my business? 

Chances are you’ve already heard ad nauseum about how important it is to rank highly in Google, so I’ll keep this brief. 

Most people use search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) to find information online. Whether we need to know how to fix our plumbing or find the closest pizza joint, a search engine is our go-to place to get answers. And in the US, our go-to search engine is Google. 

Considering over 91% of searches worldwide are done through Google, I’m going to streamline this article by referring to “Google and other search engines” as simply “Google”.  

When someone searches in Google for something related to your business you want to come up as close to the top of those search results as possible.  

As a rule of thumb, if you’re on the first page of results for a particular keyword, you’re likely to get visitors to your site from that keyword. More visitors = more opportunities to convert people into customers. Especially if the keywords you’re ranking for are highly related to the products and services you offer.  

So if you want to get more traffic (which I’m sure you do), it’s in your best interest to make your site as Google-friendly as possible. 

Can I pay for SEO? Is SEO expensive? 

Yes and no. While you can’t pay Google to adjust your organic search rankings, you can hire someone to help improve your site’s SEO in the hopes that the Google bots will notice. 

The price of SEO services can vary widely. When your options range from questionable quality $50 gigs on Fiverr (freelancers) to boutique agencies that charge thousands, it’s hard to tell exactly what you should be paying for SEO. 

We’ll talk about this more in a minute, but there’s actually two very different branches of SEO. They require very different skillsets, so you may have to pay attention to who you’re hiring in order to make sure you get the results you want.  

In general, small business SEO experts charge anywhere from $75 to $150/hr (or $1000-$3000 monthly retainer fee. Project-based SEO rates can be even higher. I certainly hope if you’re investing that much in your business you see a clear ROI.  

At Web Lakeland, on-site SEO is included in all of our plans. (If you don’t know what the “on-site” part means, no worries, I’ll explain it soon.) And yes, I know this pricing seems really, really low. 

I can get away with offering such affordable SEO services because when we design your website we build it the right way. There’s no need to go back and adjust dozens of things to make your website Google-friendly. We do it right the first time and pass along the savings to you. 

Web Lakeland pricing plans. Our basic plan starts at just $99/month. Most customers choose our essentials plan for $147/month. See our pricing page for more information.

How does Google determine search rankings? 

Google has one goal: to keep people using Google. More Google searches mean more ads can be shown, which means more money in Google’s pocket. 

When you run a search on Google, Google wants to give you the best possible result so that you’ll keep using Google. But unfortunately, Google is a glorified robot. It can’t read your mind and pull up the perfect result, nor can it instinctively tell whether a web page is “good” or not. 

What Google can do, however, is use algorithms to predict whether a page will be a good search result based on attributes of the page. And how other pages interact with that page. 

The good news: this means there’s things you can do to rank higher in Google. Make the algorithm happy and you’re golden. 

The bad news: nobody (except some Google engineers sworn to secrecy) actually know what the algorithm actually involves. 

…and now we know why SEO is so confusing! 

We’re stuck with the seemingly impossible challenge of making Google happy with no way of knowing exactly what makes Google happy.  It’s like the internet version of trying to impress your in-laws. 

Luckily, we can use some logic and common sense to figure out the best way to tackle this challenge. 

What is Google looking for in my website? 

We know a couple things: 

  1. Google makes money when it provides the best possible search results, which keeps people searching on Google (and clicking ads) 
  1. The best possible search results are ones that are relevant to and answer the question that caused someone to Google search in the first place 
  1. Google can’t actually see our websites, so it has to infer how relevant our site is based on both its content and how users and other sites interact with it 
  1. Google has said it uses the expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT) of a website to help determine its quality 

Knowing this, we can now separate the things we can now break up the job of impressing Google into two smaller tasks: 

  1. Optimizing everything about your website that you can control to convince Google you are the trusted expert authority in your space. This is referred to as on-site SEO (or on-page SEO). 
  1. Show Google that you are an authority by having lots of other highly trustworthy, authoritative, and expert sites link to yours. This is referred to as off-site SEO (or off-page SEO). 

On-site vs. off-site SEO 

To recap, on-page SEO is all the information coming directly from your website while off-page SEO is all the information about your website coming from external sources. 

When hiring someone for SEO, you need to pay close attention to what specific services they offer. At Web Lakeland, for example, we’re experts in on-site SEO, but do not offer off-page SEO services (as that would be the role of a marketing agency).  

We strongly believe in “do one thing and be the best at it”. For us, that means we’re the best at web design and development, but leave the marketing and promotional work to other agencies.  

Off-site SEO is a little more straightforward, so I’ll talk about it first. Google basically counts the number of other sites linking to your site, with more reputable sites contributing more. Off-site SEO is the online equivalent of word-of-mouth. Relevant links indicate other sites “vouch” for yours, and Google in turn ranks your site higher. 

On-site SEO is a little more complicated, so let’s take a closer look. 

How does on-site (on-page) SEO work? 

On-site SEO includes anything about your website Google could use to determine whether it is a relevant authority for the searcher’s query. 

On-site SEO factors include: 

Your site’s content: 

Google wants to provide only the most relevant results. Make sure your content is clear, readable, unique, and on-topic. 

  • Are relevant keywords used in the headers? 
  • Are relevant keywords used in the content? But not too many, because otherwise Google will flag your site for “keyword stuffing” and your rankings will drop.  
  • Is your content broken up into pages that make sense? If you have tens of thousands of words of content about a variety of topics, don’t put it all on a single page! Google won’t know what to think of it (and it’s a terrible experience for your visitors). Break up the content and include a clear navigation structure to help people find exactly what they want. 

Your site’s security: 

Google doesn’t want to send users to spammy or dangerous websites. Make sure your site isn’t sending accidental red flags. 

  • Is your host reputable?  
  • Does your site have a SSL certificate installed and active? Believe it or not, SSL certificates are NOT standard in most inexpensive hosting plans. You can check whether your site has one enabled by using a free SSL checker such as this one provided by GoDaddy.  
  • Is your server IP address trustworthy? Are you using a dedicated IP address for your website or sharing with thousands of others? Is it located in the US?  

Your site’s design: 

Even though Google can’t really see your site, design still plays a huge role in SEO. Improperly formatted content may look pretty to humans but be a disaster for SEO. Make sure your web design professional knows the best practices for SEO friendly design that still looks incredible. 

  • Is all the content properly formatted with header tags? This allows google to see a clear hierarchy of the content on your site.  
  • Do people actually stay on your site once they land on it? Nothing drives people away faster than bad design. Google wants to send people to sites they’ll actually use. Don’t let bad design cost you rankings and customers. 
  • Is your site mobile-friendly? With more and more users on mobile, Google wants to make sure everyone has a good experience. 

Your site’s backend: 

Google can see all the nuts and bolts of your site that your visitors can’t. Don’t forget to optimize this stuff too. 

  • Is your site speed as fast as it can be? Slow loading sites are frustrating. Google doesn’t want to frustrate people. Don’t let a painfully slow site upset both Google and your potential customers. In general, $20/month small business web hosting just doesn’t cut it, and slows you down. As we use enterprise grade servers for all {web Lakeland} clients, we’ve found our average site can expect a 250% increase in speed with our servers.  
  • Does you site have appropriate legal policies? These show you’re above-board and a real business. And yes, EVERY website needs these. Whether you’re a multi-billion dollar conglomerate or a mom and pop shop.  (We’re very serious about this one, which is why it’s included in all of our packages.)  
  • Do all your graphics have unique, relevant names and meta data? This is all the background data associated with each image on your website. Unique, properly labeled images signal to Google that you have original, authoritative content. 
  • Have you provided Google with an up-to-date site map? When you add a page to your website, it doesn’t automatically tell Google where that page now lives. If you don’t have a sitemap to show Google the structure, you won’t see great results. 
  • Have you told Google you’ve made changes recently? It’s so easy to think of Google as all-powerful that we forget it takes time for Google to crawl over the web and note changes. If you make extensive improvements to your site, you need to submit it for re-indexing in order to see results faster. 

If just hearing that list makes you tired, you’re not alone! I’ve heard from many of our previous clients that their previous developers either neglected or were simply not aware of many of these. As a result, these businesses were forced to pay thousands of dollars a month for additional SEO services (that in some cases didn’t integrate well enough with their website to work).  

This is why EVERY one of these recommendations is included in all {web Lakeland} plans. Because SEO is much easier when I site is built the right way to begin with. 

To make it more confusing, Google is constantly updating their algorithm. Understanding and quickly implementing the changes can be overwhelming for already busy business owners.   

These are just more reasons why I strongly believe SEO is a critical inclusion in any web development project. At Web Lakeland, we position your website for success from the start by developing with all of this in mind, then keep everything working smoothly on a monthly basis.  

Whenever Google releases an algorithm update, or new research on SEO best practices emerges, we’ll adjust your website as part of our standard 50-point monthly maintenance checklist. 

How soon will I see results from SEO? 

It depends. The speed at which you’ll see SEO results depends on your industry and local market. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to overcharge you for an online course. 

If your competitors are very established or heavily investing in their own SEO, it will take longer for you to rank. However, this also means it’s even more critical for you to amp up your own SEO game.  

You might notice a jump in rankings in as little as 4 to 8 weeks, or it may take 4 to 6 months. To speed up the process at Web Lakeland we take the extra step of submitting all your site’s pages for re-indexing by search engines. 

How can I tell if my SEO is working? 

Analytics, analytics, analytics!  

Google provides free tools (Google Analytics and Google Search console) that allow you to see exactly how your site is doing over time. 

We connect all Web Lakeland sites directly to Google. We share your website performance directly with them, including data such as speed, visitor retention, unique visitors, views and more to help Google leverage this data in your rankings. 

Here’s what a Google Analytics account looks like for a Web Lakeland customer: 

Graph of Google traffic over time from Google Analytics. This Web Lakeland customer saw their traffic triple after implementing SEO.

And here’s what a Google Search Console account looks like: 

Screenshot of a Web Lakeland customer's Google Search Console data. The customer gets over 4k clicks a month. They are ranking for hundreds of keywords in Google.

As you can see, this particular client is seeing a lot of traffic from the keyword “food banks near me”. To get even more traffic, they could improve their rankings for this keyword. They could create additional content using this keyword and related keywords.   

What can I do to improve my SEO? 

The biggest part of any SEO effort is getting that initial setup right. But once that’s done, there’s a few steps you can take to ensure you keep climbing the rankings. 

  1. Keep your website active. Update your blog regularly. Add extra pages of content when you can (and make sure they’re organized!). 
  1. Increase your authority by encouraging other relevant sites to link to you. 
  1. Make sure your business information is consistent across directory and social media sites. Update your social media platforms (especially Google My Business, if applicable) regularly. 

What if I need more help with SEO? 

No problem – give me a call anytime. I’m always happy to chat about how Web Lakeland can help your business improve lead generation and conversions with SEO.  

Disclaimer: Web Lakeland is not a marketing or SEO agency as our focus is on website design, development, and management. We not associated with Google. This content is based on internal case studies and collected data across our clients. Web Lakeland does not guarantee any results from using this content and is for educational purposes only. 

About the Author

Michael is the Founder and CEO of {web Lakeland}. He brings years of experience in web development, cybersecurity, and marketing together to help small to midsize businesses design their websites into beautifully designed, lead-generating machines. A nerd at heart, you can find him spending his time outside the office tackling home improvement projects or watching superhero movies with his nephews.

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