It's easy to become bamboozled when thinking about SEO, but there's a lot you can do without any expert knowledge. 

Here I've compiled 30+ tips to help small businesses improve on their SEO efforts.

These are all simple and free to implement, it's just a case of allocating the time to put them into practice. 

Think content

We rank well thanks to the content we produce. It's the best way to make your site relevant to the terms people are searching for and to give people a reason to visit your site. 

This means making sure the content on every page works as hard as it can. 

Start a blog

It worked for us. It shouldn't be done purely as an SEO play, as simply producing content to cram in keywords won't work in the long term. 

Instead, write for your audience and produce a blog that brings people to the site again and again. That's content marketing for you. 

It can be easier to write for some business types than others, but there's generally an angle to be found. If dental clinics can find ideas for articles, so can you. 

The side effect of this blogging activity is that, over time, you'll have relevant and frequently updated content for search engines to index. 

Put the customer or reader first

Don't become obsessed with cramming every keyword you can into a blog post or product description, aim to produce relevant and interesting pages first and foremost. 

Don't write for the search engines, write for your readers. 

Set up pages on social sites

Social media is a great way for small businesses to build their online presence full stop, and it's well worth experimenting to find the sites that work best for your business. 

As a first step, set up profiles with accurate contact and web address details on the major social sites. 

Don't trust agencies that promise guaranteed results

There are no easy shortcuts to rank organically. A good SEO agency will help you to rank as highly as your site can, but it simply isn't possible to guarantee page one rankings. 

Agencies promising such nonsense are likely to do more harm than good in the long term, and help to give SEO a bad name. 

Also, you don't necessarily need an agency to improve your SEO efforts. 

Keep an eye on your agency's methods

Following on from the previous point, quick results have been achieved in the past by techniques such as aggressive link building. 

Even if this does work short-term, the methods used are likely to have repercussions further down the line, perhaps in the form of a Google penalty

Keep an eye out, and if you suddenly have hundreds of inbound links from Polish tractor forums, then it's time to worry. 

Use a simple, clear URL structure

People should be able to guess the topic of a page by looking only at its URL.

Write content with a longer shelf life

This is content that doesn't age too quickly. Unlike news-related posts, evergreen content should keep visitors coming to your site long-term. 

This is great for search too, as this kind of content is more likely to rank on a long-term basis. 

For example, this post on PPC landing pages was published in July 2013 but is still ranking highly for this competitive term. 

Look at your competitors 

Find out what the sites ranking on page one for your target keywords have done, on-site and off-site, to achieve this. 

Use Google's Keyword Planner 

This is great for generating ideas for keywords and seeing how competitive they are. 

In this example, we’ve used our own blog as the ‘landing page’, but you could use URLs of competitors to find new phrases to consider writing about.

This is explained in more detail here, but basically the tool will extract a bunch of keyword suggestions based on the content found via the URL you submit. 

Have a strategy for internal linking

Smart use of internal linking can help you to rank for certain target keywords, as well as helping your visitors to find useful or related content. 

Careful with those keywords

Keyword stuffing is something Google will spot easily. It also looks bad for visitors and affects the quality of pages. 

Think of one or two keywords and phrases to target and use them naturally. Use semantically related words and phrases to avoid repetition. 

Use your site search data for target keywords

The terms that people enter into your site search box can help you to identify target keywords. 

This is because the keywords that people use to search within your website, for products or information, are very likely to be the same keywords they use on search engines. 

Set up a Google Local listing

This is free, and an easy way to increase your presence in local search results. 

Here, David Moth explains how to go about this. 

Encourage customers to leave reviews on Google listings

Good reviews will help to give your result more prominence on Google. 

Don't expect quick results

SEO is a long-term strategy and may take time to produce results, especially in competitive sectors. 

If you're doing the right things, it will work in the long term. 

Optimise for mobile 

Google is focusing heavily on mobile optimisation, adding text and labels to mobile search results to indicate those sites which are 'mobile-friendly'. 

You need to provide the best mobile experience you can for users. 

You can test your own site using Google's 'mobile-friendly' tool. 

Images

Ensure your images have alt tags on them and include keywords (naturally) in the filename.

Set up Google analytics

Make sure analytics tracking code is installed - the standard version is still free and unless you have a strong reason to opt for an alternate platform this is the one you should be using.

It’s very quick and easy to install regardless of platform so it shouldn’t cost you more than 30 minutes of their time. Here's some more detail. 

Use Webmaster tools

Having a GWMT account means Google can tell you about any specific problems it's having accessing your site.

Or if it believes your site has been hacked and delisted from the search results, view and query your links and traffic sources (according to Google), lets you submit sitemaps, tell Google how you want your site to appear in the SERPS and much more.

Use Schema markup

Schema markup is explained in more detail here, but basically it's a way to help your site's results stand out a little more. 

It's the difference between this: 

and this…

Add useful information to you local pages

Create unique content for each physical location, but make sure it is relevant to the user. 

Opening times, contact details and store address should be there, but think of other ways to make these pages more useful, such as adding images, menus, facilities on offer and so on. 

Even better, create this content at a local level if possible, using store staff. 

Think about UX

Google is increasingly focusing on things which affect the user experience when ranking sites - mobile optimisation, site speed and so on. 

Making your site easy to use is not only good for your customers (and sales) but also helps with your SEO efforts

Optimise local pages for target local keywords 

The page's title tag should include the brand name, the keyword being targeted and the location. You should also think about this with the meta description of the page.

This should be possible to achieve without making either page or meta description come across as unnatural, as the objective remains to optimise for both users and search engines.

Find out who is linking to you

You can do this on Webmaster Tools under the 'search traffic' menu, as below: 

Finding out who is linking, and the pages they're linking to can help you to find out which content is working for you. 

Ensure that citations, NAP listings and on-page address references are consistent

NAP (name, address, phone number) citations are a key ranking factor in local SEO and Google looks at them in a similar way to how they look at links in conventional SEO. NAP citations from relevant and authoritative websites provide more value, just like with links.

Google also recognises partial citations, so references of business name + address or address + phone number.

Write your own product descriptions

Quite often retailers are caught up with 'samey' product copy and certainly for branded items which are sold through various websites it can be difficult to differentiate your product copy.

I would recommend, where it is feasible, to write specific copy for each item. This is great for your own conversion rates, and also gives Google more unique content to crawl.

It doesn't have to be quite as florid as J Peterman's copy, but it should speak to your customers. 

Track your keywords 

Tracking target keywords can help you to see how your SEO efforts are working out.

If you make some changes on site or produce some content, what effect does this have on rankings? 

There are plenty of paid tools to track large numbers of keywords, but at the most basic level you could track them manually with the help of a spreadsheet. 

Don't obsess over rankings

Without wishing to contradict the previous point, it's important to remember that search rankings are fluid and can change according to the searcher's location, device, search history and so on.

Look for general up and down trends rather than worrying about moving every term up one or two places. 

Search rankings are fluid, and can vary according to the searcher's location, device and so on. 

User reviews

It good to encourage user reviews, first and foremost to improve conversions, but also because they can help for SEO. 

Keep an eye on SEO trends

Google's algorithm changes regularly, and SEO tactics that may work now could become obsolete in the near future, just as guest blogging for links has become a no-no. 

Keep an eye on Google's Webmaster Central blog, and sites like Moz and Search Engine Land are great for keeping up with SEO trends. 

Don't rely on search traffic

Yes, you should try and rank as highly as possible, but SEO shoudn't be chased as the expense of other channels. 

Imagine what would happen if Google removed all your results - would you still have enough traffic from other sources to keep going? 

We value search traffic, but we work hard on other channels too. If Google banned us from its results it would hurt, but we'd still have plenty of visits from email and social. 

Being too reliant on search makes your business vulnerable to the whims of Google's algorithm changes. 

For more detail on SEO, see the comprehensive, 400 page behemoth that is the Search Engine Optimisation Best Practice Guide 

Graham Charlton

Published 18 February, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Matthew Lawson

Matthew Lawson, eCommerce Director at loveholidays.com

Nice post Graham, most can apply to big business too!!!

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Cheers Matthew

almost 3 years ago

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Mark G, Founder / CEO at EnlightenedJobs.com / Careerasaurus.com / 12CriticalThings.com / (RIP Bothsider.com)

Terrific post.

Under the "Mobile Friendly' segment, consider adding a link to Google's Mobile Friendly Test at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

almost 3 years ago

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Jacob Hagberg, Consultant at OrangeFox.com

Hi Graham,

I agree most with your point about blogging for your audience. All too often we see high quality content produced on blogs with no regard for the audience. We see a lot of success when strong integration from social sites are implemented and the blog contains actionable advice. What else are you seeing works to drive engagement to blogs?

over 2 years ago

Pauline Randall

Pauline Randall, Director at Florizel Media

Great post Graham. Among my other things I deliver a basic SEO course for our local Business Gateway so this will be on my reading list for the delegates - lots of solid tips that don't require magic hats (white or black)!

A lot of SEO really does come down to getting the basics right and remembering your (human) audience.

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Mark, I'll add that.

over 2 years ago

Mutesa Sithole

Mutesa Sithole, Content Marketing Manager at Mynewsdesk

I love this. I've been asked by friends who have set up their own small businesses to help them get to grips with the basics of SEO. Often, I find they've been bamboozled by over- complicated advice that they simply do not have time or expertise to execute. I shall be directing them to this post!

over 2 years ago

George Harris

George Harris, Founder at Web Method

This is a really good summary. A couple of things I would say -

"Start a blog" - is clearly a good idea but depending on the industry it can be a really hard thing to get to work without a lot of investment. Sometimes this is outside the financial reach of a small business - especially in competitive areas.

"Don't obsess over rankings" - I follow this advice myself, but there is value in looking at regularly large fluctuations for individual keywords on a daily basis. It might indicate that different landing pages are cannibalising rankings for certain keywords as Google can't recognise the authoritative page on the site.

over 2 years ago

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Mark G, Founder / CEO at EnlightenedJobs.com / Careerasaurus.com / 12CriticalThings.com / (RIP Bothsider.com)

Two site speed check resources you might consider adding under "Think about UX" are:

(1) Google PageSpeed insights: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

(2) Pingdom Website Speed Test: http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/

over 2 years ago

Seema Kumari

Seema Kumari, Head of Digital Marketing at Hearst Magazines

Super useful - thanks Graham

over 2 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

Looks like your ranking for 'PPC landing pages' has improved since you did that screengrab :-)

over 2 years ago

Yannis Zisis

Yannis Zisis, eCommerce / SEO Specialist at Personal

great post!
Another common mistake for small businesses/websites is duplicate content and pages that compete with each other on search results. Best way to decide whether to create a page for a specific term (keyword) is to see what your competitors are doing.

over 2 years ago

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Sophie Michael, Marketing Analyst at Accunity

Graham, great SEO tips for small business owners. SEO could be technical, but through this guide, SEO could be a lot easier for small businesses.

www.accunity.com

over 2 years ago

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cat crawford, Digital Marketing Consultant at Cat Crawford

I definitely think that one of the biggest mistakes bloggers make is to produce content that has a very short shelf life. I used to be one of them and although some of it can be fun to write, in the long run it's fairly pointless :/

Great post, really helpful :)

Cat | www.catcrawfordblog.com

over 2 years ago

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