Nimbl Insights

Insights SEO

A Beginners Guide to SEO for Small Businesses – 2023 Edition

Table of Contents

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)?

Regardless of your business or background, there is a very high chance you’ve already come across the term SEO during your internet travels. SEO, in its full glory, stands for Search Engine Optimisation and does exactly what it says on the tin.

SEO is, without doubt, one of the most misunderstood and abused services available on the internet today. In part, this is due to its allure as the ultimate sales funnel (who wouldn’t want a free stream of traffic to their website whilst they sat back and raked in the rewards). It’s also due to the fact that at its core, the majority of implementing Search Engine Optimisation is no longer a technical task. This opens it up to everyone to give it a stab.

Obviously there is a disclaimer. Rarely do people see the results they were hoping for and rarely is SEO correctly applied. SEO is in fact, a very deep and complex subject that’s easy to get started but very difficult to master. As a consequence, and often with good intentions, those looking to DIY their SEO or, a lot of small companies offering SEO services miss their mark entirely. It’s quite simple, if it was that easy to do then everyone would do it and no one would be able to gain an advantage over someone else.

So, what exactly is SEO? If you were to ask an SEO expert 10 years ago, you’d receive an explanation about performing a number of on-page tweaks in order to, for lack of a better word, trick or manipulate a Search Engine into showing your website first, above the other competing sites. Methods such as spamming keywords and applying other brute-force tactics were highly effective at controlling simple Search Engine and producing fast results…

Skip to the present day. Search Engines are now very intelligent, AI-powered goliaths that can’t be tricked like the old days. If anyone claims they can guarantee first-page results, they are lying to you (and probably themselves). You can’t fake results anymore. Better now than later; forget the dream of sitting on a beach somewhere, enjoying your commercial success because someone spent a few hours doing SEO on your website.

The modern-day Search Engine Optimisation is exactly that. Optimising your website to communicate more effectively with Search Engines such as Google, exactly what your website is about, and what you can provide for its users. Google has one job: serve users the most relevant results to their search query in order to successfully complete the task they set out to accomplish as quickly as possible.

Thus our journey begins, into the realm of how SEO really works in 2023 and how you can still get favourable results if you are willing to put in the effort (or hire the right person for the job).

Identifying if SEO Would Be Valuable for Your Business

It’s a simple enough question to find out. Do you want to attract new customers to your business via your website, yes or no? If your answer is no, then congratulations you do not need SEO. You can stop here and go treat yourself to a coffee or sweet treat for a job well done.

For the majority of us, though, we answer yes. Of course we would benefit from having a lead come in through our website or making a sale on our online store. Even better if that lead or sale came from a Search Engine and it didn’t cost us any time or money to obtain it.

I would even wager that if your business is doing well and you aren’t desperate for new leads or sales, it’s still important to have an online presence, and even a basic level of SEO on your website would help to ensure that people can find you and not the competition.

So, if you want to drive traffic to your website from the likes of Google, then buckle up and follow me. But you’ve been warned. SEO is not the magic solution to your problems or the pot of gold awaiting you at the end of the rainbow. It is a complementary part of your marketing strategy. If you are a new business, SEO should not even remotely be at the top of your list. Results from SEO are gradual, often taking months to snowball. So, if you are in a pinch, don’t rely on SEO to save you.

What Are the Different Types of SEO?

Anything that Google determines as useful in its quest to calculate your ranking is called a signal. These signals are always changing, so what may have been effective 6 months ago could possibly be redundant today. Identifying current signals is something that only a dedicated SEO expert will know, as it takes a lot of time, patience, and trial & error. Not all signals are created equal, either. For example, let’s take two signals at random:

  1. Meta tags
  2. Domain expiry date

 

Setting correct titles and descriptions on all of your pages, AKA your meta tags, is going to make a far greater difference in your ranking than if you were to renew your domain for the next 10 years. This signal is based on the logic that if you purchase a domain for multiple years, it shows your intent to stick around. A minimum 1-year renewal has a greater statistical chance of being used for more shady ventures, and thus Google takes this into account.

So, it’s important to focus your efforts on the signals that matter, understand which signals you can do yourself and which will require professional help.

Given there are 100s (possibly 1000s) of potential signals being used at any given point, how many of those you attempt to rank for depends entirely on both the level of competition in your industry as well as your budget.

The majority of the important signals can be placed into the following categories:

A Must-Do Before You Start SEO on Your Website

By default, when your website is indexed by Google, all pages, unless specified otherwise, are indexed and included in the search results. However, you can tell Search Engines exactly which pages you want to be included and which ones you want to keep secret. For instance, if you have a sign-in page or a members-only area, you wouldn’t want that to appear to the public on Google. So, you would include a message with directions to Search Engines not to index those pages.

The problem is, it’s quite easy and surprisingly common to find that entire websites have been mistakenly set to not be indexed at all.

All the SEO in the world won’t help you if you’re also telling Search Engines to go away. The most common scenario is a website being set to not be indexed during its development (you obviously don’t want a half-built site to be public) and then forgotten about after its launch.

Luckily, it’s easy to check if your website can be found and indexed by Search Engines.

Here are a few different methods to quickly check if your website is being indexed or not:

1. Google Search – The fastest and mostly accurate method is to use Google. Browse to Google and type in “site: ” followed by your domain name. Don’t include any spaces, and don’t include “https:// ”. So, for Nimbl, we would type: “site:nimbl.nz ” like so:

If you see links pertaining to your website pop up, then success! Your website appears to be getting indexed.

If it’s not being indexed then you’ll see the following:

2. Google Search Console – If you want the bulletproof method then add your website to Google Search Console. It’ll require you to authenticate your ownership of the website as a first step.

Once done, you can get precise insights into your website directly from Google. It’s a free resource, and if you’re serious about going down the rabbit hole of SEO, then I highly recommend you go with this method.

Understanding Your Website’s Structure

This is, for the most part, just common sense. It’s your job to make sure your website is easy to navigate for both its users and Search Engines. This means ensuring your sitemap makes sense.

Let’s assume you’re a car mechanic, and your website has a list of the different services that you provide. From a navigational perspective, you would expect your sitemap to look like this:

  • Home
  • About
  • Contact
  • Services
  • WOF
    • Car Service
    • Pre-purchase Inspections
    • Tyres & Wheels
    • The list goes on
 

The fundamental part here is that all of the individual service pages are each what we call “child” pages of the main service page, which is the “parent.”

One can then assume that if a user navigates to the services page, they will indeed see a list of all available services and be capable of clicking on an individual service to view more.

It’s critical that you accomplish one very important goal with each of these pages:

Don’t let the user hit a dead-end.

If the user navigates to the WOF service page, for example, there should be links on that page that offer the user an easy way back to both the main service page as well as directly to the other service pages on the same level as the page currently open. 

If the user has to use the back button on the browser at any stage, you’ve failed, and our Google overlords won’t like it either. Strengthen your pages by linking them together (again, use common sense; don’t start spamming). This helps Google understand the relationship between the pages and content on your site.

Lastly, it’s crucial that if you have a page that’s being indexed by Google, users must be able to navigate to it via your site’s content and not rely on a direct link.

A good example of this is if you run a promotion and create a landing page to capture user data. That landing page needs to be accessible from someone first landing on your homepage and not just a link from an ad or Social Media. Add a promo area that links to the landing page on your homepage, or at the very least, add it to your header or footer links.

So, your lessons to remember here are:

Checking for Broken Content

In the same boat as not wanting your user to hit a dead-end (which ultimately ruins their experience, and that’s what Google cares about), it’s crucial not to have any broken links on your website either. If I click on a link on your website that takes me to a page that no longer exists, you’ve failed the user again. It’s an instant deal breaker for Google, as you’ve ruined their experience. They’ve hit another dead-end if the page doesn’t exist or an asset isn’t loading that might have been crucial to the page working correctly.

One of the most common cases of broken links for e-commerce stores is when a product goes out of stock. Product pages are often conditioned to only show products in stock, so if a customer buys the last of a particular item, that product will no longer show in the list of products. The big problem is that the product page is still live and broadcasting itself to Search Engines. Now you’ve got a page that can only be accessed via its own direct link (URL) and you’ll be penalised for it. All you have to do is decide whether to show products that are out of stock so that they can still be navigated to. Alternatively, set that page to ‘draft’ AKA ‘no-index’ and Search Engines will know to stop indexing that page the next time they crawl your website and update the status of all your pages.

Even if you have a small brochure website, content should ideally be changing on a regular basis, and manually clicking on links to test that they still work is both unreliable and a huge waste of your time.

This is why we have tools at our disposal that do this task for us:

An Introduction to On-Page SEO

It’s quite easy to get carried away following the countless rules and guides for best-practice SEO. This makes the number one on-page rule all the more important:

Write for your audience, not Search Engines.

Not just because Google is clever enough to know when you’re trying too hard with the SEO stuff, but because it’s counter-productive to put your effort into getting traffic to your site by writing like a robot, only to immediately lose that traffic for that exact reason. The act of a user leaving without interacting with your website is known as “Bounce Rate.” If you have a high BR, this tells Google you are the wrong website for users’ searches, and down the list you’ll go.

Having gotten that out of the way, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your content in the name of SEO.

Here are some of the basics:

Meta Tag Usage Recommended
Title This is what will appear in the first line when this post shows up in the search results. 60 characters
Description This is what will appear as the description when this post shows up in the search results. 160 characters

If you don’t set these tags, Google will automatically generate them from the content on your page, which more often than not results in completely irrelevant content being shown and getting cut off mid-sentence.

The other important on-page factors to be aware of are:

  1. The websites copy itself. Every page needs at least some text on the page and ideally have that text explain the context of the page the user is on. As a rule of thumb, you ideally want to have between 100 and 200 words as a minimum.
  2. Use headers. You may have come across tags like <h1>, <h2>, <h3> and so on. Think of the <h1> (header one) tag as the title of your book. Without it, you make it a lot more difficult for someone to identify what your book is about. You also only ever have one header per page. You can then use additional headers (in the correct ascending order) like chapters in a book to identify additional important information on the page.
  3. Don’t spam keywords. As another rule of thumb, you should aim for between 1% and 2% keyword density. For example, if a keyword is used 20 times in a 1,000-word article, then it has a keyword density of 2%.
  4. Use correct grammar and spelling. This doesn’t actually affect your SEO ranking, but it directly harms your reputation and users’ ability to trust you. As a result, users will spend less time on your pages, which does lead to ranking signals like bounce rates. So pick your reason, but it’s important that you run everything through a quick spell check as a minimum.

An Introduction to Off-Page SEO

These individual SEO topics are infinitely large in their own respect, however, as a brief introduction, here are the primary off-page SEO factors you’ll want to consider:

Summary

I hope this has been useful in introducing you to the world of SEO. With its dazzling allure of your future success, its competitive nature, and its seemingly bottomless pit of new techniques for you to implement, you can see how many business owners can easily become lost down the rabbit hole in their quest for SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) dominance.

We encourage you to start small and chip away at it rather than looking at the task as a fast sprint. We also encourage you to know your own limits and acknowledge, that while you can learn and implement all of your own SEO with enough time and research, as a business owner, that’s not always the best use of your time. SEO is only one small piece of the larger puzzle for your business.

This is why we support business owners having access to how SEO really works and why we write detailed guides on how to implement SEO for yourself, but keep this story in mind:
“I needed to put up a new shelf in my wardrobe. I went to the local DIY Store and purchased the tools and materials I needed and spent a few hours on the weekend installing it. After a few bashed fingers (and a few bashed walls), I realised it would have been quicker and cheaper for me to have just hired a local handyman to do it for me.”

Please don’t be shy if you need help or advice. Give Nimbl an email or a call and we can save you a bashed finger or three.

Ben Jennings

Creative Director

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