Local SEO for SMEs


1st November, 2021

Small business SEO: A guide to getting found in Google

Being able to be found online is more important now than ever for a small business. There are many ways to connect ‘digitally’ with your customers, and one of the more powerful methods is through Google Search.

Billions of people around the world use Google every day as a trusted source of information. Many use Google to find products to buy, or search for trusted local service providers.

Out of the 10 standard (organic) search results on the front page of Google, the first result can receive on average as much as 28.5 percent of all clicks. The second result receives 15.7 percent, and the third 11 percent.

Beyond that, the Click Through Rate (CTR) drops significantly. It’s rare for people to look beyond the first few results in Google when searching for something.

CTR for Google's top spots
Here’s how quickly interest drops off as you move down Google’s rankings. Image: Sistrix.com
What this essentially means is that there’s significant value for businesses that manage to have their website make it to the top search results within Google.

This guide is going to provide some insights into what it takes to achieve that goal.

What is the value of SEO?

Let’s look at a basic example for a local roofing business to help see the potential value that search engine optimisation can bring.

While it’s initially an estimate, it is far better than a ‘stab-in-the-dark’ -approach to marketing and can help guide your decision making towards more success.

On average, every month around 790 people in Auckland type the following keywords into Google: ‘roofing Auckland’.

This means that the average monthly search volume for that single keyword phrase is 790.

Average monthly search volumes
An example of average monthly search volumes in Auckland, NZ. Image: supplied.
Using this research data along with some information about a roofing business, we can calculate the estimated value of showing up in Google for that particular keyword phrase (you can try our SEO value calculator yourself for free).

A few other pieces of information are useful such as the average value of a customer — in this case being conservative for a roofing job we’re setting the value at $1,200.

We take the average monthly search volume, and work out the percentage of clicks based on the Click Through Rate (CTR) for the first position in Google:

28.5% of 790 = 225.15 estimated clicks at position #1 of Google

The average website conversion rate (purchases, phone calls, or email form submits) across all industries is around 2.35 percent, which is quite conservative, so we’ll use that as an estimate.

2.35% of 225.15 = 5.29 estimated leads at position #1 of Google

Based on this data, on average you could expect this keyword phrase to bring in 5.29 leads per month. If we then use the average value of a roofing job that brings us to:

$1,200 * 5.29 = $6,348 estimated value of leads generated at #1 of Google per month

Keep in mind that this is for a single search phrase, you may also have the potential to rank for many more.

Value of search
Here are some estimates that demonstrate how to value your rankings in Google Search. Image: supplied.

How Google Search works

In order to begin the process of getting found in Google, it is worthwhile understanding a bit about how search works beforehand.

Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Every time you Google something, there are thousands, sometimes millions of webpages or other content that might be a match for what you want. Google uses its robust systems to determine which websites should rank higher than others, and present the most helpful, relevant information to users.

As a small business owner, it is worth taking this into consideration when you think about how people are trying to find the services you can provide them with.

Quality & spam in Google

While Google is working on processing this information, they are also fighting a constant battle combating spam.

The 2020 webspam report from Google mentions that the company detected 40 billion pages of spam every single day. That is up from 25 billion in 2019.

Google aims to provide search results that users want, and if people consistently find spam, low quality, or inaccurate search results, they soon start looking elsewhere for information.

Due to the vast scale of Google’s data, it is just impossible to manually do all of this work. Instead, they rely on algorithms, artificial intelligence, and automation.

Quality, trusted websites rank higher, spam gets filtered out and ignored.

How this impacts business & Google rankings

If you are a business that is just beginning to go digital, or you have not done a lot of marketing online, these are things you need to be aware of to help build up a strategy to rank.

Guilty until proven innocent

As part of the way Google determines the quality of a website, there are certain trust signals that you need to meet in order for your website to be considered trustworthy and high quality enough to rank in search.

Otherwise you run the risk of Google automatically putting your website into the bucket of ‘we don’t know who this is, and we don’t trust them’, which is not something they will put in front of real ‘Googlers’ straight away.

We’ll cover some ways to build trust as part of the process of ranking in Google Search.

Steps to ranking in Google

The core steps to getting a website and web pages to rank in Google are listed below:

  1. Planning your SEO campaign
    • Research your market and competitors that currently rank in Google
    • Developing a logical website structure & foundation for your website
    • Creating a quality content strategy
  2. Getting your website indexed (added) in Google
  3. Link building and getting backlinks
  4. Establishing your brand across the web

Let’s have a look at each of these steps in more detail, so that you can get started with your own SEO planning with confidence.

1. Planning your SEO campaign

As with everything, planning is essential to a good SEO campaign. You wouldn’t build a house without a plan and solid foundation. The same applies to building and structuring a website to rank in Google.

Before diving into working on your website’s SEO, it’s very important to research and find out what opportunities you have, what people are searching for, and how this relates to your business.

A useful exercise is to start by putting yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer who is Googling, searching for solutions to problems you can help them with.

Take note of the search queries you entered, and get a list of the local businesses that show up.

When I’m consulting businesses about their website and search engine optimisation, I often find that many of them have not actually taken a look at the websites that Google is currently showing in the search results to really find out what they’re doing.

Google shows them in their search engine at the top of the results for a reason. They trust them as a credible, useful source for what users are looking for. It is important to identify possible indications around why that might be.

Keyword research tools for SEO

There are a vast amount of SEO tools both paid and free to help with this research.

A great research tool I like to use is KW Finder. While it’s a paid tool, it is relatively affordable and is great to work with.

Simply enter the city, region, or country of your business and where you’d like to target and start typing in search queries.

Here’s an example of KWFinder in action. Image: supplied.
It gives you a range of useful data about the specific queries such as how many people are searching them per month (average monthly search volume), websites that currently rank for the keywords, while also pulling in other related keywords you might like to know about.

You can also export the lists, or store them within the tool while you are conducting your research.

Very user-friendly and there are also a load of help guides to get you started.

One thing I would mention is not to get attached to keyword difficulty scores, regardless of the tools you use as they are known for being very inconsistent with accuracy.

Create keyword clusters for core pages

When you have this data, you can begin to group similar keywords together and get a good idea what types of pages you need to build based on the keywords you are trying to rank for.

For local businesses, this can be quite straight forward. Most of the time it simply involves having a high quality page for each of the services you provide.

A roofing company may provide services such as ‘roof replacement‘ and ‘roof repair‘. Rather than just having one page that covers both topics, it’s useful to have dedicated pages segmenting each of the core services you provide.

Keyword clusters
Creating lists of keyword clusters will help you plan content to match. Image: supplied.
Within the ‘roof replacement’ page, you could include a range of related keywords that come under that umbrella and same goes for the roof repair page.

This shows Google that you have specific information that is highly relevant and could be a useful resource for someone looking for specialists in that area.

To help with this, it can be useful to look at competing websites that currently rank, and the types of things they include on their pages. We take it a step further and use semantically related keywords and entities that Google understands as being related to roofing. There is a free tool you can use to help find these called Topical Relevance.

Semantic keywords
Google looks for semantically related keywords to refine its search rankings. Image: supplied.
There are many other paid keyword research and content optimisation tools such as Keyword Cupid, Frase, Surfer SEO, and Page Optimizer Pro. All of these tools do similar things and aid in providing useful search terms and recommendations to build high-quality content, and relevant useful pages that rank in Google.

Deliver a logical website structure

Having an easy-to-navigate website is beneficial for both users and search engines.

Setting this up from the start means that you don’t end up creating a mess for yourself in the future that you need to clean up.

Learn from the top search results and improve on them

Visit these websites and start looking at the elements that stand out to you as being credible and trustworthy about their businesses.

What would make a person think to themselves “hmmm I like what I see here, I think I’ll contact this business”.

Put together a list of your findings while also noting down the difficulty (easy, medium, hard) for you to implement on your own website.

Cover off the basics with page structure

A clear and detailed ‘About’ page that shows the business owners profile photos and gives users a face to connect to the business. It can be worth including social links for your LinkedIn profiles along with any other relevant pages.

Small businesses are interesting, they generally have a good reason and story around why/how they got started. Provide some personality to break down the business facade and allow the customer to relate on a personal level.

Detailed contact information that enables users to easily contact the business — and find it. Include things such as opening hours, phone numbers, support information, address/store information and location details. Try to use an email address from your website domain instead of a free one from popular providers like Yahoo, Gmail and so on.

Providing useful information such as FAQs, any reviews from past customers, terms of services, privacy policies, portfolios, press/media publications, videos. Anything that shows an effort is being made to provide users with a good experience.

It comes back to the question: “Would a real business do this?” What elements are typically found on trusted websites that rank in Google?

Local city pages & duplicate content

If you have multiple locations it is OK to have somewhat duplicate content for these pages. What you mainly want to avoid with duplicate content is plagiarising other websites.

Google is smart enough to know that if you offer roof repair in Auckland, Tauranga, and Wellington that each of these pages are not expected to be overly different to each other. Just add in some specific details about the various cities (or even suburbs) within the content of these service pages and they should be fine.

Technical SEO Foundations

1. Meta tags

As you are building out the pages of your website, it is also worth ensuring that you have created unique meta tags. These are the title tags and meta description tags that display within Google search, and are the first thing users see when they are determining whether they should visit the website or not.

Avoid spamming them, but make them stand out. Try to give users a reason why your result is more enticing than competitors, while outlining what they can expect by visiting the page.

This can take a bit of creativity as you only have a small amount of room to work with. But put some time into it and don’t be afraid to modify them over time too.

Google SERP
Here you can see the key elements of meta data required for accurate search listings. Image: supplied.
If you are using WordPress for your website, there are a range of plugins to help provide you the ability to easily modify your meta title and description such as SEOPress or Yoast. SEO plugins are not going to do SEO work for you, but they make accessing elements that need editing more easily available to modify.

Platforms such as Shopify and Wix have these options built in. If you are using another platform for your website, just seek out the relevant documentation to locate where to edit these.

2. Google Analytics & Search Console

Google gives website owners free tools to help view the traffic coming to their website, along with the technical details about how the website is performing, along with potential issues that may need resolving.

Google Analytics is the platform for web traffic stats, Search Console is for technical info.

Google Search Console is also where you’ll be able to tell Google that you have a new web page that needs to be reviewed, and it is where you submit your website for indexing into Google search when you are ready to go live.

Create a free account on both, and follow the instructions to install the tracking or verification codes on your website to connect them together.

Each platform has a different method, so follow the instructions for the CMS that your website is built on.

Acquisition tracking
One you have analytics set up for your website, you can perform advanced functions like acquisition tracking. Image: supplied.
Having this data set up from the beginning allows you to monitor the progress over time, and can help immensely should you decide to hire a specialist further down the track to help out.

3. Keyword tracking

I also suggest getting something to monitor keyword positions. This is called a rank tracker or SERP (search engine results pages) tracker. Enter in keywords you want to track and it will check the position your website appears in Google search each day.

This allows you to see how things are performing over time and give you some great insights around where you may want to focus your time and efforts to make improvements.

SERPRobot is a good tool to help with this. It is very affordable, simple, and is all you need to track keywords. There are more sophisticated ones but this is a great option to get you going.

SERPRobot for keyword tracking and performance. Image: supplied.

Creating a content strategy

Google wants to see websites that are a source for good information about a particular topic. In competitive markets where you have many businesses aiming to hit the top spot in Google, you need to be proactive and help to show Google that you are an expert.

If you are a specialist in roof repair, it is useful to build out supporting articles that focus on topics that relate to roof repair. Being an expert in the industry, you’ll have a wealth of information that is useful to people.

Come up with a list of topics – these can be commonly asked questions, how-to guides, informative articles about the subject that help to show Google – and users, that you’re an expert and people should trust you.

Thinking of content creation in this way helps to give you content that serves multiple purposes. Be sure to interlink the articles to each other where it is relevant, and they should all link to the main service that you are writing the articles to support.

Content strategy and planning.
Develop a simple content plan that addresses core keywords and clusters. Image: supplied.
You can see how a website with this information would be more useful than one with just the service page alone.

While the content doesn’t all need to be completed at once, it is worth putting together a realistic content plan that you can work on and build out for your website. Maybe you set a target of one article per month, or every week if you have the time.

Once you have three to five articles for one service, move your focus to another.

2. Getting your website ranking in Google

While this seems complicated, if you think of Google as being an extremely large library and your website is like a book, your book needs to be added to their catalogue before it is available for people to find it when they search for your brand name.

This process is called indexing and it’s fairly simple to do once you have Google Search Console set up as we recommended a few steps earlier.

Visit Search Console and paste your website or web page that needs indexing into the search bar. Wait for it to process and then click on ‘request indexing’

It can take some time for Google to index your website in search so just come back in a few hours or the next day to check.

To check if your website is indexed and findable in Google you can use this search operator to force Google to show results about the specified website:

This doesn’t mean that you’ll rank for your desired keywords right away — it’s not that easy. But it will mean that your website can be found when people search specifically for your brand name or website name.

3. Link building: Developing backlinks to improve rankings

Link building is the process of getting other third-party websites to insert links on their web pages that point back to your website. In SEO, we call these ‘backlinks’. There are many types of links you can build, and some are more important/valuable than others.

Backlinks to your website increase the likelihood of your content ranking highly. Image: supplied.
Not every website is treated equally, and Google essentially uses links as a ‘vote of confidence’ that your website has something trustworthy and useful worth sharing. As more links are built from trusted sources, your website will begin to rank higher for more search queries.

Building links can be quite an involved and time consuming process, but the reward is well worth it. Google uses backlinks as a core part of their algorithm, building backlinks has been a top ranking factor that is tested and proven countless times by SEO experts around the world as an effective way to increase search engine rankings.

Which backlinks are important to build?

Ideally, you want to build links from websites that are somehow relevant to your industry.

It is a little difficult to find the connection between a health and beauty spa website, and a roofing company for example.

On the other hand, a local scaffolding company linking to a roofing company makes more sense, and a link from the Roofing Association of New Zealand would be even more of a credible, relevant link to have.

You can also use tools such as SEMRush, Ahrefs, Majestic or more affordable tools like Site Profiler and Link Miner to analyse your competitors, or analyse websites at the top of Google to see which links they have pointing at their websites.

If you do this to five to 10 of the top websites in your industry, you can start to find opportunities to recreate what they have done.

Pick the easy opportunities that make the most sense to your business, prioritise and work your way through building the links that you can.

Reaching out to other websites for a link is a common strategy, but the success rate is much lower unless you have a creative outreach process. Start with companies that you know, colleagues, friends, and suppliers. Talk with them and see if there are any possibilities of getting a link on their website to yours.

Providing value in exchange for a link can also be effective — this article is an example of that. I am sharing my knowledge in the form of an article, and am aiming to be credited with a link.

If you have valuable and useful knowledge about a specific industry, there are opportunities for you to share that on other websites and build links that way. It can be time consuming, many people end up hiring a link building agency that can take care of that work for you.

Domain Authority & Page Rank

Third-party tools use metrics such as Domain Authority, Page Authority, Domain Rating and many more. These scores are created as a way to gauge the ‘power’ of a website based on how many backlinks it has, and how powerful they are.

While they are a nice estimate to see how you are performing, it is very important to know that Google doesn’t use these metrics. So there is no point trying to increase your ‘domain authority score’ to be higher than your competition since that is not something Google is even scoring.

About 10 years ago, Google introduced Page Rank, which was their patented system for ranking web pages based on links. Google does not publicly display this anymore, but it is worth learning about to understand the basics.

The image below is a brief demonstration of the Page Rank score, and gives you a guide to work with for how many links a business should expect to aim for. Realistically, most businesses have a Page Rank of between three and five.

Page rank versus backlinks
Here’s how your link building efforts are likely to influence your page rank. Image: supplied.

4. Establish your brand across the web

Developing a digital footprint on the web for the business can help Google validate that the information provided should be taken seriously.

That isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

A great place to start is by taking advantage of Google My Business, A free platform specifically designed by Google for local businesses.

In most cases ownership needs to be verified by sending a postcard to the business address containing a verification code in order to validate the listing. This is very useful to help prove to Google that you are a local business

Google My Business gives you the added potential to have your listing appear within local search results where a ‘three pack’ of business listings are shown. Maps typically show when there is a keyword + a location, or + near me keyword used in Google search.

Something like ‘roof repair Auckland‘ or ‘roof repair near me‘ would show local Google maps results at the top of standard organic search results.

Google maps
Here’s how local search combines Google Maps into rankings. Image: supplied.

Citations, social accounts & brand building

Building up a range of other sources for information about the business is something that Google looks for. This is also part of a core link building strategy to help establish your brand and acquire links that are relatively easy to get.

Being included in well-known directory websites such as Yelp, Yellow, or many other industry specific directories.

Aside from the major sites like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, there are hundreds of social media websites you can create accounts on and get your business listed.

Start with the most common and slowly work your way through the list. And even if you don’t intend on using the accounts, having a list of them prevents anyone else from taking the brand.

Seek a listing on local Chamber of Commerce, or industry related association websites. They often come with a yearly fee, but it helps you stand out above the businesses who aren’t willing to sign up, since you get the links from these trusted local sources and they don’t.

These are all things that can also help to set the business apart from spam and gain more trust.

Google has stated that it uses publicly available information as a source for business details.

A large portion of spam on the internet is created automatically, and it is more difficult to do many of these things through automation.

Prepare your data entry

It can be quite a tedious task to build out these links, so having some information prepared ahead of time means you’re able to start copying and pasting into the sites as you go. Some places require phone or email verification so also be prepared for that.

Have an email account to use for the account creation, and collect your business information before beginning, such as:

  • Business Name
  • Short and long business descriptions
  • Name, Address, Phone, Website URL
  • Logo
  • Images
  • A place to store login information for created accounts

Building these accounts can take a lot of time, and many people either outsource this or have a staff member complete this for them.

How long does it take to start ranking in Google?

This is a tough question to give a direct answer to. As you will see from what is involved, there are many moving parts and a range of factors that come into play. It is also important to remember that it isn’t just you who is trying to get to the top, there are other businesses all aiming for that top spot, so continued growth and development is always beneficial.

For a new website with no online presence, in a low-medium competition market typically we see these take up to six months to achieve some decent rankings in Google. After the first couple of months, you should start to see significant progress if you are monitoring everything as described.

One of the great benefits of organic rankings I’ve seen was for a couple of local businesses I’ve worked with. SEO has helped keep them afloat during the entire COVID-19 pandemic and throughout all the lockdowns.

The businesses had relied only on word of mouth and referrals from their suppliers, but after following the steps listed above throughout 2018 and 2019, we had ranked them at the top of Google for some of their main target search queries.

When the pandemic hit, they had no leads coming in from referrals, yet were fully booked up for most of the year, due to the calls they received during lockdown when people discovered them online.

Final thoughts: Position 1 is only the beginning

Be real, be human, be trustworthy — and back it up by showing this online.

Skimping out on the details because it takes time and effort is a very common thing that happens. I hear it all the time, and I get it. But the extra work put in here can be the difference that either gets the nod from Google or rubber stamped as another spam page.

A lot of the steps that we have built into our processes for clients have come about by asking the question: “Would a real business do this?” When going digital, that is a good method to follow and can help you to find the answers around what you need to do to further improve your rankings in Google.

When you achieve your goal of ranking in first position, there are many more things you can do to improve the results you are getting. You can begin using other forms of marketing such as re-targeting ads, to create multiple touch-points where potential clients see your business.

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is a very important thing to look at. Things such as the wording on the pages that users visit, colours, buttons, page structure, images, and more all count towards a user deciding to get in contact with a business once they visit the website.

Once you rank in Google, you can look to broaden your reach. As you start building up trust and rankings, the process becomes easier and faster to rank for more queries. This means that you may want to plan for more pages and services to be built out as part of your business — or you may even want to start expanding to other locations and service areas.

SEO is an ongoing process, with a lot of work involved initially. The results are well worth the effort and it’s definitely something to look at implementing for your business.

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