SEO for Reluctant Small Business Owners

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Common Sense SEO
If you’re like most small business owners, you’re reluctant to spend $500+ a month to hire a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agency.

Reputable SEO firms provide a host of useful services that can benefit your business, but unless you’re relying on web traffic to woo customers, you probably don’t need to hire an expert to get found on the web.

Here are three “common sense” SEO practices that you can do on your own.

1. Be Local

“Local search” plays an increasingly important role in SEO, especially on mobile devices. If you’re in Somerville, Mass. and do a web search for wedding caterers, you’re likely to be shown a list of wedding caterers near you, even if you didn’t ask for local listings.

Sample "of a "Google 3-pack"Search engines like Google assume that local listings are more likely to be relevant to web searchers. Google frequently features three local businesses at the top of the search engine results (below the ads) in a “3-Pack.” (See the 3-Pack sample displayed here.)

Even if you’re the closest business, however, you may not make it into the Google 3-Pack. According to Google, their local search results are largely based on relevance, distance, and prominence. So if another business is further away, but much better known, they may get featured instead of you.

Getting listed in local online business directories, especially Google My Business, can increase your chances of making it into the Google 3-Pack. Search engines place a high value on reputable business directories, ratings, and social media sites, so it’s worth your time to participate.

Make sure your listings are consistent from site to site, down to the last period and comma. Including photos, having reviews, and providing complete and detailed business information is also important. Here are some tips on how to use online directories to drive website traffic.

Examples of Influential Sites for Wedding Caterers

 

2. Be Relevant

In general, bigger and more established websites have a better chance of showing up at the top of search results than small businesses with smaller, newer sites. This is because they have more relevant content, get lots of traffic, and have hundreds of “authoritative” sites linking to them.

If you want your site to compete, make your content as specific and relevant to your target customers as possible. Create separate pages on your website for each of your major services, products, or areas of expertise.

EXAMPLE: If you own an artisanal cookie business and you’re trying to sell gift packages, create at least one page around giving cookies as gifts. The Dancing Deer Baking Company includes nearly two dozen gift pages on their site, from “Gifts for Fall” to “Gifts Under $35” to “Business Gifts.”

Image of Dancing Deer Baking Company home menu

The advantage to having separate pages for each topic is that you can incorporate very specific key words or phrases that people are likely to enter into search engines when they want to buy that type of product. In addition to images, each page should ideally include at least 300 words.

Creating pages about one or more of the communities where you’re seeking customers is another way to provide relevant information that’s also local. The products or services you offer in each community may be identical. It can be hard to come up with something unique to say about what you do in each town. Try writing about what it’s like to do business in that specific community, your local business partners, annual events, or anything that could interest residents or visitors.

Chances are, bigger, more established websites already dominate rankings for keywords like “artisanal cookies business gifts.” In that case, dig deeper to come with a more unique angle on the topic. Your subject might not get as much traffic as the bigger sites, but it could still be of great interest to your target customers.

For example, a Google search for “handmade rugelach,” turned up 155,000 results, while a search for “rugelach vs. biscotti,” turned up no exact matches. If you wrote an article about the difference between the two cookies, your page could be at the top of the search results.

Sometimes, no one’s written about a specific topic because not many people are interested in it. You can use free “keyword research” and SEO tools to see how many monthly searches are being conducted for that topic. Here’s a list of my favorite free SEO tools for small business.

3) Get Linked To

Along with being local and relevant, having “backlinks” can help get you a higher search engine ranking. A backlink is a link from an external website to your site.

Sometimes the easiest way to get links to your site is to post links to other sites, especially if you have a relationship with those sites. When you’re launching or updating your site, think about whether there are any appropriate pages where you could link to your vendors, colleagues or clients. Many people will automatically reciprocate if you’ve linked to them; others will do so if you ask.

Backlinks from mainstream news outlets tend to carry a lot of authority because they’re well established, have lots of readers, and are considered “objective” third parties. Lots of news coverage is cyclical; the same types of stories get Image of yearly apple picking articlescovered every year, such as a list of places to go apple picking. If you contact media outlets well enough in advance, they might be willing to include you this time.

Don’t discount blogs and social media. If a blogger has a small readership, but the people who follow that blogger are in your target market, a link to your site could have a lot of impact on your traffic over time. While Facebook posts may not directly help to increase your search engine rankings, they can drive traffic to your website.

Chances are that your competitors have some sites linking to them that might be willing to link to you, too. One way to find potential sites is to look at your competitors’ backlinks. Google a competitor and go through at least a few pages of search results to see what sites are linking to them. (This is also a good way to find online business directories that you may want to be listed in.) You can also use an SEO tool, to get a list of your competitors’ backlinks.

After you’ve identified some sites that you’d like to link to you, think about what knowledge or content you could offer them that might interest their website visitors. Would they review your products or services? Is there any chance they’d interview you for their podcast? Could you write a guest blog post?

Once you’ve settled on something to ask or suggest, check LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who’s connected with that site. If not, send a cold email or call. If you ask enough people, some of the sites are bound to give you a link.

One caveat: When it comes to backlinks, quality is much more important than quantity. It’s great to have as many backlinks as you can, but only if they’re “good backlinks.” A “bad backlink” is a link from a spammy site that’s trying to make money from doing something fake or wrong. Don’t ever pay for someone to link to your site.

If you suspect that there’s a “bad site: linking to yours, use the SEO tools to investigate. Experts recommend that you contact the webmaster for any undesirable sites and politely ask them to remove the link. If you don’t get a response, you can “disavow” those links.

Final Thoughts

Unless you pay to advertise, you can’t grow a tiny seed into a magic beanstalk overnight. For most small business owners, getting top search engine rankings takes time. As more people find your site and learn about your wonderful business, your site will also rank higher in the search engines .

Monitor whether your search rankings are going up or down by visiting search engines in “incognito” mode, but, if possible, use one of the free SEO tools to monitor your results automatically.

And do keep in mind that while the basic principles of SEO don’t change, the search engine algorithms do.  Minor SEO rules get updated all the time, so try to pay attention to search engine news.

Finally, this article doesn’t address the technical, or non-content, aspects of SEO. While you can get pretty far following the three principles described above, there are lots of best practices, tools and techniques that are worth following if you—or someone you hire—is willing and able to take the time. Here’s a great article if you want to learn more.

3 Tips to Increase Sales for the Holidays (and Beyond)

Facebook post example by Myrna GreenfieldMany businesses, especially brick-and-mortar stores, do 25-30% of their business in the final two months of the year, then go through a serious sales slump in January and February. But if you stay focused on your customers’ needs, you can use the holidays to build a loyal customer base that supports you all year-round.

Here are three “Don’ts” to help you increase sales during the holidays–and beyond.

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Harness the Power of LinkedIn: Simple Tips to Get More from Your Profile

Power of Linkedin

“I don’t know what to do with LinkedIn,” my clients and colleagues say when I suggest it. Although LinkedIn’s always been a useful way for me to keep up with and expand my network, I admit that up until now, it hasn’t offered much to users who aren’t actively job hunting, recruiting, or seeking new clients.

LinkedIn is about to launch a promising redesign, however, with an improved news feed and some snazzy messaging and meeting scheduling capabilities. With over 130+ million users in the United States (and at least 25 percent of them logging in regularly), LinkedIn deserves to be part of your marketing toolkit.

Here are my suggestions about what to do with LinkedIn.

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How to Increase Your Email Open Rates

Illustration of declining email open ratesEmail is still the most trusted, popular and effective marketing tool available: that’s why our inboxes are stuffed with it. So what’s a good open rate for your marketing emails? Overall, average open rates hover around 21%, but open rates range from 11-27%, depending on the industry, Constant Contact reports.

The only statistics that matter are your own: Is the percentage of people who open your emails increasing or declining? Here are some tips to help you improve your open rates.

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Lazy Guide to Marketing Resources

Person in hammockHaving trouble keeping up with all the
latest marketing tools (or even getting started)? Fortunately, there are lots of places—most of them free–to find great articles, videos, and resources to help you up your marketing game. So if, like me, you’d rather spend your vacation time gardening than sitting at your computer, here’s my lazy guide to marketing resources.

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Should You Should Advertise on Facebook?

facebook logo-01It use to be easy to answer the question, “Should I advertise my business on Facebook?” When Business/Organization Pages started in 2007, promoting your business or organization was free and easy. Anything you posted had a good chance in showing up on the news feeds of your fans and followers. Today, the likelihood that your post will show up in a Fan’s feed (your organic, or unpaid, “reach”) is pretty small, unless you advertise.

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Bring Out the Best: Descriptors vs. Taglines

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise has used the same tagline – ‘BRING OUT THE BEST’™ for decades. The “blue ribbon” treatment in the logo reinforces their message.

One of the most powerful ways to market your business or organization is to create a short phrase to help it stand out. Whether you’re using a descriptor or a tagline, a few well-chosen words can help shape how people think or feel about you.

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How to Plan a Creative Campaign

FROM THE TOP EGG

Valley Food and Farm LogoCampaigns aren’t just for politicians or community activists: they’re useful any time you’re trying to motivate a group of people to think, feel, or act a specific way.

I define a “campaign” as an effort to achieve a specific goal during a measurable time period: get someone elected, sell 100 tickets to an event, or get people to choose a designated driver. A campaign can serve as your entire marketing strategy or as one piece of a larger plan. It usually includes a strong creative component that appeals to inner feelings and motivations.

Good Egg Marketing and Sirius Design recently partnered up to help the Valley Food & Farm program of Vital Communities in White River Junction, Vermont develop a new campaign.

Here’s an overview of our key steps and how the campaign evolved.

—Myrna Greenfield

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What I Wish I’d Known at Start-Up

Launching any type of business—especially in food—is exhilarating, exhausting, and endlessly surprising, but the more that you know when you start up, the better. Here’s some advice from friends and clients of Good Egg Marketing.

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How to Create a Simple Sales and Marketing Plan

Many small businesses and nonprofits don’t have a marketing plan because they don’t think they need one, don’t have the time to create it, or don’t know how. But creating a plan doesn’t have to take a lot of time–in fact, it can save you time, because you’ll stop doing things that aren’t meeting your goals (hello, Facebook!).

Here’s a simple example of a sales and marketing plan.

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