SEO Planning: a Guide for Small Businesses

The work of search engine optimization is often buried under about six feet of jargon and technical language. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Today we’ll present a simplified way to craft and execute an SEO strategy.

Like all marketing work, a successful SEO campaign relies on two things: clear planning and hard work.

The SEO strategy that we lay out below will require varying amounts of technical knowledge – but most small businesses can at least pick one or two things that you can accomplish on their own. If you are in a competitive market and need more high-octane SEO work, your best bet is to hire a professional SEO provider.

SEO Planning

Careful and detailed planning is what sets successful marketing efforts apart from all the rest. We’ve seen countless examples of businesses starting something new only to let it fizzle out because of a lack of planning.

When it comes to SEO work, you need to have a clear strategy in place before a single keystroke.

Actions & Goals

When working on an SEO campaign, it is important to link every action to a specific goal. If there are 100 ways to go about search engine optimization, then 90 of those aren’t right for your business. Having clear, recorded, measurable goals will keep your efforts focused in the right direction.

Your goals should be:

  • Specific– think ‘increase traffic by 250% over the next sixth months’ rather than ‘increase sales.’
  • Measurable – ‘Increase brand awareness’ is an ok goal, but how do you know when you achieve it? Make sure your goals are measurable.
  • Achievable – Set your goals high, but still in the realm of possibility. Shooting for 100k monthly visitors to your new blog sounds great, but it’s just not realistic.
  • Relevant – SEO goals should be relevant to your larger business goals. Your business goals should give shape to your specific SEO goals in a way that gives shape to your campaign.
  • Time-Bound – Open-ended goals have a way of not getting completed. By giving yourself deadlines, you ensure that regular progress is being made.

Contingency Plans

Even the best-laid plans go wrong sometimes. That’s why every campaign should have contingency plans.

Maybe you’re just seeing the result after three months. Or maybe your keywords are not addressing searcher intent. Whatever the cause, you should be ready to pivot to a backup plan when things aren’t working.

With that said, SEO results take time. So don’t bail on your plan just because you don’t see results in the first few months.

Understand Your Customers

When you’re building an SEO plan, it is vital to understand the customer you are trying to reach. Understanding your perfect customer is the first step toward determining a keyword strategy.

For a successful SEO campaign, you need to be building content around the intent of your customers as they use Google or another search engine. The topic of searcher intent and keyword research is a deep one. But the basics idea isn’t complicated:

  • Your ideal customer has questions they want to be answered
  • They use Google to find those answers (even when they can’t fully articulate the questions)
  • Understanding the what and why of those searches is central to SEO

This goes well beyond simple keyword targeting and will give structure to your entire content strategy. But more about that later.

A Clear Pathway

Finally, you need to connect your current position to your goals with clear, practical steps. Our favorite way to build a step-by-step plan is to work backward from your goal. Imagine you have accomplished your goals already and lay out how you got there.

Let’s say your goal is to increase your monthly visits by 250% over the next six months. Now put yourself in the position of having accomplished that goal six months down the road. How did you get there? Working backward might look something like this:

  • Increased social shares
  • Name recognition through guest posting
  • Increased blog posting
  • Website redesign

Working this way can provide a clear pathway from where you are to where you want to go. And that’s the heart of building any good SEO plan.

Hard Work for SEO

Success always takes a willingness to put in the necessary work. But a little hard work never hurt anybody, right?

Once you have a clear plan in place, there’s nothing left to do but dive in and get to work. It won’t be easy, but SEO is one of the best things you can do for your business in today’s world.

On-Page Optimization

This first step is often the most difficult for non-professional SEOs. But it is critical to your success. All the SEO effort in the world won’t help if your page is an ugly mess of code. Unfortunately, if you’re not able to make changes to your site, then you’ll have to hire a professional for this stage.

But don’t skip it. Seriously.

I know that talking about sitemaps, schema tags, and 404 errors can sound like a foreign language, but the technical structure is the first thing that Google will look at when indexing your site. Any professional SEO provider can run a site audit and give you a detailed list of things that need to be corrected.

Local SEO

If any part of your business involves reaching a local audience, then local search engine optimization should be high on your list of tactics. The goal of local SEO is to rank well, not evenly across the world, but only for a specific geographic area.

This includes both the traditional search results as well as the Google local pack that appears at the top of searches.

The best way to optimize for local results is through NAP citations. NAP stands for name, address, phone number – and is the backbone of local listings on the internet. Here are three simple steps for local SEO:

  1. Owned Properties: Make sure you are presenting consistent information across all your owned properties – especially your website and social media accounts. This consistent should extend to the format you use for your phone number.
  2. Big Directories: Check all the major directories (Yelp, YP, Google My Business, Merchant Circle, etc.). If there is no listing for your business, create one. If there is a listing, make sure the NAPs are correct.
  3. Niche Directories: Once you are listed on all the major directories, you can start submitting your business to niche directories (industry or regional). Basically, the more places you appear with correct NAP online, the better your local SEO results will be.

Content Optimization

Once your technical and local SEO is on the right path, you can shift your focus to content optimization. This will mean different things to different businesses but will always involve crafting content that addresses search intent in a meaningful way.

Content optimization will take two forms: cleaning up existing content and creating new, SEO-friendly content.

First, you should go through all your existing content and make sure it is providing the most SEO value possible. This can mean adding clarifying headings, re-focusing to target better keywords, or just beefing up thin content.

Second, you can start adding new content to grow your presence on the search engine results page. The easiest way to start adding content is to start a blog on your site – it allows you to reach a wide range of long-tail keywords while also boosting your reputation as an industry expert.

Link Building

On-site SEO is great and will get you results. But if you want to see big results coming in, then you need to work link building into your campaign.

You should only launch into link building when you have a technically clean site and quality content. But once you do, it is time to dive into the deep water of SEO. Link building takes some serious dedication, but the results are worth it.

There are several ways to get started with a link building campaign, but here are a few of our favorites:

  • Guest Posting: Blogs need content, so offering a quality piece of content in exchange for a link is a great way to build backlinks. Just make sure you’re getting a followed, in-text link for maximum value.
  • Outreach: If you have high-quality content on your website, try reaching out to people in related industries that might be interested in linking to your content. This will most likely take a wide net and some patience.
  • Paid Links: Paying for backlinks got a bad reputation over the last few years. And there’s a lot of bad link sellers out there. But sometimes using a white-hat link buying program is just what you need to jumpstart your SEO.

SEO Services

A lot of the above SEO tactics can be performed by an industrious DIYer. But it will take a commitment to learning (at least) some basic technical and creative SEO best practices. If you have the time to tackle the undertaking, great! Get after it.

But if taking on another project is daunting as a small business owner, consider going with a professional SEO service provider. You pay out a bit more money, but you’ll get better results faster.

Whatever you decide to do, know that investing in SEO is going to have a positive impact on your business. You’ll have more exposure, more customers, and close more deals. So get started today!

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