Small businesses have an interesting task ahead of them when trying to get ranked in Google.
Different factors affect their rankings, like citations, reviews, and geo-location than national brands.
But they also have, in some respects, a more level playing field, as very few in the small business community know how to do SEO correctly or have enough time to act on their knowledge.
In some sense, many local markets are still digital open frontiers.
I say this because I have worked with a myriad of small businesses, and I see the same thing over and over again.
Almost every business, whether it’s my client or their competitors, is missing a crucial strategy in their SEO arsenal.
In fact, it is arguably the most important strategy and the one that can make the biggest impact on a business’s rankings, traffic, and revenue.
In this article, I’m going to talk about what this strategy is, why it’s so important, and how to implement it effectively.
Just because you build a website, this doesn’t mean people will find it on their own.
Even though more people are understanding this about SEO and online marketing in general, there is still an overwhelming number of people who subscribe to the “hope and pray” strategy.
They believe if they build their website, people will just naturally find it.
Yes, sometimes, if you build a website and you’re in an uncompetitive niche, people will naturally find you.
Maybe you even know someone this happened to, or you read about it, so you think it will happen to you as well.
The problem with this strategy is it removes your control over the situation.
It places it in the hands of faith and hope, not tactics and action.
Before too long, you’ve wasted time waiting for something to happen when you could’ve been making something happen.
Don’t build your website and assume customers will find it on their own.
Take action to get it ranked in Google, and promote it on other places around the web.
Why is it important to know the top ranking factors Google uses to rank your website?
Because this knowledge helps you prioritize the tactics which will give you the greatest return for your time and money out of the hundreds you could implement.
In previous years, we as business owners could only make educated guesses on which factors Google values most.
However, in a Q&A in early 2016, Google’s Andrey Lipattsev revealed these ranking factors to us.
They are Links, Content, and RankBrain.
Let’s start with the newest one, RankBrain.
RankBrain is Google’s new machine learning algorithm.
It takes in data and uses it to better optimize search results on its own.
RankBrain works by associating any words or phrases it isn’t familiar with to terms that might have a similar meaning, then showing those results instead (rather than simply pages containing the unfamiliar word).
This allows Google to provide more relevant results to the searcher and use its machine learning to continually update and improve the algorithm on autopilot.
Got all that?
It’s quite amazing.
(However, in terms of doing SEO, no one can influence it. So, in my opinion, it isn’t worth worrying about right now.)
Content involves the content on your page.
Or, more specifically, the keywords and supporting keywords (LSI terms) which appear on the page.
They tell Google what the page is about and what search terms it should rank for.
This is extremely important, because even if you get everything else correct if you optimize for the wrong keyword (or none at all), you won’t rank for anything.
Backlinks (aka links) are the final, and potentially most important, ranking factor.
(Google says links and content are #1 and #2, but they won’t say which is most important.)
Google sees a link from one website page to another as a vote for the page being linked to.
And links from pages with more authority (i.e. pages with more links and higher quality links) have a stronger vote.
These pages pass more ranking power to the page being linked to.
For local businesses, RankBrain cannot be influenced and most businesses either know how to optimize the content on their pages correctly or they can hire someone who knows how.
But it’s the third-factor “Backlinks” where things tend to go awry.
Most small businesses do not link build adequately, and they don’t even realize it.
In my experience, many simply don’t know about it.
They haven’t done the research that would garner this information, or they’re just busy focusing on other parts of the business.
Links are also much more difficult to optimize for than other aspects of SEO.
Keyword optimization and site structure are easier.
In most cases, they’re straightforward and there isn’t much risk involved in terms of being penalized.
With on-page optimization, you can follow a few simple guidelines and you’ll be good to go.
It’s the opposite with link building.
Do it wrong, and you’re toast.
You will have wasted months of effort with nothing to show for it.
And most people don’t even know where to start, so they don’t even attempt it.
Do it right, and the financial rewards are immense and long-lasting.
You will show up in one of the top spots, leading to constant clicks, phone calls, and walk-ins for your business.
Why are links so crucial for small businesses?
On the surface, they’re crucial because of what we have just discussed.
Backlinks are a top two Google ranking factor (they may even be #1).
Link building can have one of the biggest impacts on your rankings.
But mainly, it’s because most small businesses aren’t optimizing for them correctly.
This means the small businesses who do optimize for them correctly, win big.
Link building can be a major competitive advantage.
So if I could only give one piece of advice to small businesses, it would be to learn how to build links correctly or to hire someone they trust to do it for them.
You could reap the benefits for months and years down the line.
As I read recently, “If You Link Build It. They Will Come.”
The trick with link building is twofold:
Every SEO knows these problems all too well.
And as time goes on, Google has made it harder and harder to do both effectively.
First, you need to scour the internet for link targets.
These are websites or specific pages likely to link to you.
But they also need to be of high enough quality to pass enough ranking power to your website.
There are a number of ways to do this, including reverse engineering your competitors and using advanced search operators in Google.
Next, you need to determine how you’re going to attain your backlink.
Sometimes it’s as simple as a guest posting yourself or even hiring a blog outreach service.
Other times, it’s a lot more complicated, like offering to update an old piece of content for them.
Finally, you need to build your links in a way that looks natural.
This involved managing your anchor text distribution so you don’t trip up Google’s filters and get yourself penalized.
If you can do all of these correctly, you can reach those coveted top one to three spots in Google’s search results.
If you’re a small business or any business in general, it’s always better to err on the side of action than inaction.
Just because you build your website doesn’t mean people will come.
You have to actively promote it.
And one of the best ways to actively promote it is to build backlinks to help you get ranked in Google.
It’s one of the top ranking factors, and the smallest business isn’t even building links, so it can be a major competitive advantage for your business.
But make sure you build links correctly.
Go at it with a long-term view, don’t take shortcuts, and you will get ranked in Google and grow your business by leaps and bounds.
Justin Herring is the co-founder at YEAH! Local. Having been burned by SEO companies in the past I decided to start my own focused on “Results”. I take companies from Good to Great with proven online marketing strategies.