Businesses today live and die by their online presence. Consumers looking for a solution to a given problem turn to Google for answers, and if you’re not showing up in search results, you might as well be invisible.

That’s why SEO matters for every modern business. If you don’t have a strategy to show up in search results, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to win over new customers. Today, let’s take a walk through the complex world of SEO and, hopefully, make it a little easier for you to understand what SEO is, why it matters, and how you can create the best SEO strategy for your business.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the practice of using tactics to get your website to perform well in search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant searches. Unlike with paid search, where you run an ad campaign targeted at certain keywords you’ve defined, SEO is about optimizing your content to show up organically for relevant search queries. You don’t get to define the terms you show up for; instead, the search engine decides which terms are most relevant based on what you include on your website and how visitors interact with your content there.

Performing well in search is how you get discovered by new consumers. A strong approach to SEO is the key to broadening your audience and finding consumers who need the solution you offer.

Why Does SEO Matter?

While in the past, people might have relied only on print ads, television or radio commercials, or a friend’s recommendation to find a new local business, today’s consumers turn to the internet. The number of searches with the words “can I buy” or “to buy” and “near me” in them increased 500% between 2015 and 2017.

Rather than relying on a friend’s recommendation, they’re turning to reviews on local listings sites to see what strangers say about a business. (84% trust an online review just as much as they would a personal recommendation!)

If your business isn’t showing up on SERPs, in maps results, or on local listings sites like Yelp, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to greet these consumers who are hungry for local solutions. Getting a great SEO strategy off the ground takes some legwork, but the results are well worth the effort. Here’s where you should begin.

Start With Strategy

A strong approach to SEO involves mapping things out before diving in. There are dozens of elements to consider when it comes to SEO, so you want to be sure you’ve considered them all and settle on the best approach for your business before you begin executing on any of it.

It’s frustrating to start down one path on SEO only to realize halfway through that you should have gone about things in an entirely different manner. That’s why it pays to go in with a plan.

And the best way to set a strategy is to understand the current landscape. This means you need to understand your customers, your competitors, and yourself.

Who are Your Customers?

Start by reaching out to some of your best customers. Ask them if they’d be willing to participate in a survey about your business. Most happy customers are willing to give you a few minutes of their time!

Ask them some questions about their experience with your business. How did they first find you? What do they appreciate about what you do (and how is it different from your competitors)? How do they feel about your products, services, or offerings?

Do they have any feedback on your customer service? Ask them some questions about themselves, as well — age, location, or any other demographics questions that are relevant to your business.

Hopefully, you’ll begin to see some patterns emerge. Understanding your customers and what they get from doing business with you can help you refine your messaging to attract other similar prospects.

Who are Your Competitors?

Next, it’s time to scope out the competition. Who are your competitors, and how are they marketing themselves? Your competitors might be direct competitors, who work in the same geographical location and same industry, or they might be similar businesses in adjacent industries or faraway geographies.

It’s helpful to investigate a variety of competitors’ websites. Knowing how they position themselves can help inspire you to rethink your own approach. Is an indirect competitor doing something smart that you could replicate? Or are your direct competitors leaving a big hole in their messaging that you could fill on your site?

Keyword research factors here. The search terms that lead consumers to your competitors’ sites are valuable information. You can undertake competitive research by using an online tool to help you peer behind the curtain and see the terms that your competitors are showing up for, or you can begin entering relevant search terms into Google yourself to see what comes up.

Related: Want to see how your website stacks up against your competitors’? Contact us for a free assessment using the LOCALiQ Grader.

Who are You?

You know who your customers are. You know who your competitors are. Armed with this information on the people around you, you can now clearly carve out your own niche in your space.

Do keyword research on your own site with a tool like Google Search Console, which shows you the real-world queries that are leading searchers to your site. From there, you can craft your messaging to speak to the needs consumers reveal in their search terms. Plus, you can address concerns raised by your audience in your customer surveys, and address gaps left by your competitors.

Creating a strong mission informs the rest of your website content. Once you’ve defined who you are and what you do for your customers, all of your other content will support that central thesis.

Then Turn to Tactics

Defining who you are and what you do is central to setting your SEO strategy off in the right direction. Once you’ve got a handle on that, you can begin to implement the various tactics that make up a strong SEO strategy.

Because SEO factors for performing well in search results are always changing, it’s important to remember that these tactics are not something you can set and forget. While your mission will likely remain the same (unless you decide to change up your business model), the tactics underlying your strategy should be something you regularly revisit.

On-Page SEO Tactics

On-page SEO tactics are things you can do on your website to influence your SERPs performance. The way your website is designed and organized is extremely important for SEO. This starts with creating a silo structure website.

By organizing your content into categories (also known as siloes), you make it easy for search engines to understand the broad themes of your website. Plus, since siloes organize your site’s content in a logical way, it’s easier for people to navigate your site and find what they want. It also clarifies the relevance and lays the groundwork for better keyword performance.

A mobile-friendly site is also a critical element in building a site that performs well. In fact, last year, more than half of all web traffic worldwide came from a mobile device.

In response to users’ shift to mobile, Google and other search engines are displaying websites based on their mobile, rather than desktop, design. If you don’t have a site with responsive design that looks great and functions well on mobile, you’re likely falling in SERPs.

Site security is also a major performance factor. If you’re running on an old HTTP site, now’s the time to upgrade to HTTPS. Consumers are hesitant to do business with a brand that doesn’t put their safety and privacy first. If you have a site that lacks basic security measures, you’re creating a hurdle for prospects who want to trust you.

Beyond these broader on-page tactics are elements like metadata, alt text, and URL structure. Metadata is the title and description of your page that appears on SERPs. Including relevant keywords and crafting a title that is both informative and attention-grabbing is important to generating a higher click-through rate (CTR), and thereby boosting your performance in SERPs.

Alt text includes “behind the scenes” tags you place on images and videos embedded into your website. The alt text gives a description of the content in the media. Creating rich, descriptive alt text gives search engines a deeper understanding of the area of focus on your webpage, which in turn can help you perform better in search engines for relevant keywords.

Finally, the URL structure should be a part of helping search engines and readers understand your site better. Gone are the days when you used codes and mystery alphanumeric sequences in URLs. The URLs that are best positioned to help you show up in SERPs are those that use plain English and are descriptive, giving users a sense of what they’ll find on the page.

Off-Page SEO Tactics

While what you do on your website matters a lot when it comes to your business’s SEO standing, it’s also important to consider off-page SEO elements. The way that your business is represented online, beyond the bounds of your website, can also affect how your site shows up.

Backlinks are a major contributing factor in how search engines determine which sites to show in SERPs. If lots of other high-authority websites are linking back to content on your page, it’s a signal to search engines that the content you’ve created is highly useful and relevant. Lots of other people have identified it as link-worthy, and Google reads into that.

Your presence on local listings sites also matters. If you haven’t done so before, now is the time to establish your profiles on local listings directories like Yelp, Google My Business, and Facebook.

The other key here is to make sure that your business information is consistent across your online presence. If your Facebook page lists your old address, while your website has your current location, search engines take notice and reduce your standing in search for errors like this, which cause confusion and frustration among consumers.

Finally, your social media presence plays a role in your SEO. Social pages are another representation of your business online. It’s important to make sure that your presence here is consistent with everything else about you online. And linking your social media to pages of your website and vice versa helps to give all of your online presence an SEO boost, as long as you’re creating content regularly and sharing it with your audience in a way that gets engagement.

Analytics are Your Friend

Once you’ve built out your SEO strategy, complete with on- and off-page tactics, it’s now time to measure how things are going. Fortunately, today’s marketers can access a wealth of information about how their audience interacts with their brand online.

Analytics allow you to track the performance of your website. You can see which keywords are driving conversions, which pages are getting the most attention, and identify areas where consumers are getting stuck on your website.

Understanding the good and the bad within your current strategy by looking at your SEO metrics allows you to continue to refine your approach over time. Data helps you see what’s working and what’s not, and from there, you can lean into the tactics that are serving you and pivot away from the less effective ones.

And remember: Because SEO is constantly changing, a turn in the wrong direction on any of your analytics isn’t necessarily a sign of your own (or your SEO partner’s) failing. It could simply mean that search engine algorithms have changed or consumer tastes have shifted. Don’t take it personally, but do take notice of changes and take action to redirect your strategy so that it gets you the results you want.

Without a great SEO strategy, your business will struggle to stand out. Today’s consumers are turning to search engines for help finding local solutions to their problems. It’s up to you to be there, ready to greet them with a smile and a helping hand!

If you’re feeling intimidated by the ins and outs of SEO, you’re not alone. We’re a team of SEO experts who stay on top of the latest trends and best practices, so you don’t have to. Check out our SEO solutions today.

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