How to Find the Right SEO Service for Your Small Business
For any small or local business looking to stay afloat, search engine visibility is a must. Running paid ads is a great way to get immediate visibility and highly targeted traffic, but it's crucial that you're working on your long-term organic visibility as well. The problem is, search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex marketing strategy that requires consistent effort over time.
And this is the conundrum. Local businesses aren't making use of one of the most crucial and effective marketing strategies for local businesses because of the very fact that they are a local business. Woof. You don't have time to do SEO, but you also don't have the time to learn enough about it to be able to hire the right small business SEO services.
And that's precisely why I've written this post. I'd like to change that for you so here's what we're going to cover:
- The basics of what SEO is and why it's crucial for local businesses.
- The benefits of hiring small business SEO services.
- How to find affordable local SEO services.
- What to look for in an SEO service provider.
Search engines are is where your customers are, and it is there that you need to stand out to them and stand apart from competitors. So let's get you equipped to do that.
What is small business SEO?
Before we get into the types of services an SEO agency provides, let's first make sure you have a firm understanding of what SEO is. Many business owners see search engine optimization (SEO) as an enigma that only those with inside knowledge can solve. Yes, an SEO service company will have the inside knowledge that you don't have, but knowing the basics is a must, and it can be broken down into simple concepts:
- Even though you are optimizing for search engines, search engines build their ranking algorithms around user behavior, as they aim to be the most trusted source of information out there. What this means is, at the end of the day, you are really just optimizing for search engine users—aka people just like you.
- SEO isn't just one tactic, but a combination of efforts that work in tandem to help search engines like Google find your business website, identify it as trustworthy, organize the information you’re publishing on it, and present it to users searching for it.
Let’s look at each component more closely.
One of the most common ways consumers find products, services, and businesses nearest to them is through a search engine (hence the term "local search"). They will enter a search term or question (also known as a keyword) into Google. Google will then return what it has identified as the most appropriate and useful results, showing local results whenever applicable.
In fact, in many cases, the local results take up the entire initial view. This is what I get when I type "camera repair shop" into Google, without even including my location in the query:
With local results automatically appearing, you can see why local SEO services are worth it.
The search engines (i.e. Google) we use to find that information use complex algorithms (or formulas) that help to identify, assess, and prioritize pages. The engine's “spiders” constantly crawl the web, filtering every page they find through this formula and storing the pages in a database (called their index). This way, when a person peforms a search, Google is actually returning results from its index rather than the live internet.
The important thing to remember is that SEO is about conveying the quality of your website pages and their relevance to particular locations and terms in a language that a computer can understand, such as through meta tags.
In order for your potential customers to find you via a Google search, you need to rank high on Google; particularly, on the first page; ideally, in the top few results. That’s why you need to optimize your content for search engines. Hence the term “search engine optimization.”
And the optimization part is where a small business SEO service comes into play. SEO yields strong and sustained results, but only if it's done right. It can be difficult as a small business or solopreneur to perform all of the optimizations correctly, let alone figure out what those tactics are to begin with. So let's talk about SEO marketing services.
Why hire an SEO services company?
So I've just established that search is very much a localized entity, and it is for this reason that it is a worthwhile small business marketing strategy. But why hire an SEO service company?
SEO is complex
Even though I have just simplified it into its core components above, this does not make SEO any less complex. And small business SEO doesn't make it any smaller than big business SEO. As mentioned above, SEO is a set of practices that work synnergistically to gain exposure on local search engine results pages. You may be able to do the bare SEO basics, but if you can't do all of the tacticsc, your efforts may not move the needle and your time will end up being wasted.
SEO requires ongoing work
SEO is not a one-and-done marketing strategy. There are some one-time optimizations you can perform that require little to no maintenance, but real SEO is a constant work in progress. It involves:
- Publishing fresh, high-quality content regularly
- Updating existing pages constantly for accuracy
- Going back in to old pages and adding in links to new pages
- Promoting content through other channels like social media and email.
Content promotion is just one of many SEO strategies that work together for your site.
Many small business owners have enough on their plate with running their day-to-day activities. With the help of an SEO services company, your website can be generating traffic and leads for you in the background while you're able to stay focused on your customers.
With the help of an SEO services company, your website can be generating traffic and leads for you in the background while you're able to stay focused on your customers.
SEO is a moving target
As we covered in the "engine" section of our SEO intro above, Google uses a complex algorithm that takes into account various ranking factors to determine the quality, relevancy, and accuracy of a page. We know a good chunk of those ranking factors, but not all of them. Plus, Google is always evolving its algorithm. A small business SEO service can stay on top of these algorithm updates and adjust the strategy accordingly.
Knowledge and tools
Free keyword tools are great to use when creating content and doing the SEO work you can do. SEO tools and service subscriptions are also helpful, but you have to learn how to get the most out of each platform. A professional SEO service provider is equipped with both the best tools and the knowledge which, when combined can give you a leg up over your competitors.
SEO tools like SEMrush are effective, but can be cumbersome to master on your own.
Benefits of using a website SEO service
So we can see how much work an SEO partner can remove from your small business marketing to-do list, but let's talk about what you gain in return.
Stay focused on growth
As mentioned above, SEO takes a lot of time—not just each individual tactic but also performing ongoing maintenance and staying on top of Google's updates. By hiring a website SEO service provider, you no longer have to go down the rabbit hole of meta tag how-tos, SEO audits (unless you want to) and Google updates. This means you have more time to focus on other aspects of your business, like growing your offerings or clientele.
See quick(er) success
SEO efforts can take weeks and even months to show in terms of website traffic and more customers. So while I think that learning the hard way is often the best way, SEO's long turnaround time makes it not the most fun place for trial and error. A small business SEO service has the combined years of experience among its specialists to be able to quickly identify wins and errors that might otherwise take you years (and precious brain cells) to achieve on your own. Plus, there are plenty of other aspects of your business that I'm sure you're already learning the hard way.
A small business SEO service can take your traffic from good to growing.
Understand your data
The more quickly you can ramp up your website traffic, the better, because the more meaningful data you will have to work with. But what data is meaningful? How can you make sense of it all? This is another benefit of using a small business SEO service. They can take a look at your website traffic and glean key insights to inform your small business goals. They can help you to see:
- Which pages get the most visits
- Which calls to action are most effective
- Which landing pages convert highest,
- The demographic profile of your target audience.
These insights will inform your content strategy moving forward and help your SEO provider to refine its efforts down to only those that are worth your money.
Activate your marketing flywheel
Getting started with SEO can be slow, but good SEO tactics employed by a solid SEO company eventually creates a cycle that reinforces itself. When your website rank improves, more visitors will find your pages in search results. With more visitors arriving at and staying on your pages, you will rank higher. With high rank and wider exposure to your high-value content, more sites will link to your pages. This increases your domain authority and credibility, which further improves your website rank. And so on. And the higher you rank on Google, the more you will effectively reach your audience.
At its best, good SEO sets the flywheel in motion.
Generate more sales
When SEO is done right, you not only see more visitors to your website, but more qualified visitors. Since search engines return results to users who are actively searching for a particular term or phrase, getting to the top of that stack means you’re providing information to the people who want it most, when they want it. This means that the people arriving at your site through search are interested in buying and more likely to convert.
Getting to the top of Google means you’re getting your information in front of people who want it, when they want it most.
What will an SEO services company do?
If at this point, you know the basics of SEO, but if you're thinking of hiring an SEO services company for your business, you may be wondering exactly what they'll do. In this section, we'll take a bit of a deeper dive into their tactics so you can form a more accurate picture in your head and have knowledge of terms that may come up in your conversation with an SEO service provider.
The on-page efforts that an SEO services company does are focused on the “crawlability” and usability of the pages on your website. They will make optimizations to the parts of your website that get seen by the public and get read by search engines. This includes
- Content: They'll make sure the content of your pages is relevant to the keywords you're trying to rank for and that the content is useful and high-quality.
- Experience: They'll use website analytics to identify how engaging a page is and provide recommedations for improvement from a user experience standpoint.
- Structure: They'll make sure your website linking hierarchy is organized and easy to crawl by search engines.
- Meta data:They'll make sure each page is complete with title tags, headers, image tags, meta descriptions that contain keywords being targeted.
A good SEO services company will also employ various off-page SEO practices, which involve your site's backend elements. They'll help you with:
- Site performance: This involves page load speed, responsiveness (renders and functions properly on any device or screen size), and image size.
- Backlinks: They will help you build links to your site from other trusted sites.
- Domain authority: They will make sure you're consistently building trust with Google.
A site like Ahrefs.com, which has been around for a while and has several backlinks, has strong domain authority.
Tips for choosing a small business SEO service provider
When starting your search for the perfect SEO agency, it can be overwhelming. To help you navigate the hundreds of companies that all claim to be the “best”, we’ve compiled a short list of key considerations.
1. Look beyond the #1 ranked agency
Sure, you could make the argument that they must really know what they’re doing since they made it to the first spot, but in doing so, you also run the risk of passing over other top performers that may be smaller and more personable to work with, and even closer to you geographically. There are many SEO service providers that are genuinely awesome at what they do, and instead of spending their time ranking for highly competitive keywords, the bulk of their business comes from referrals.
2. Let reviews & testimonials do the talking
Companies that purport SEO expertise without having reviews, references, and data to back it up should be avoided. Top-performing SEO agencies will have a plethora of testimonials, reviews, and data that speaks for itself. These are the SEO companies you want to be adding to your shortlist.
3. Read their case studies
Reviews and testimonials often focus on the experience of working with an SEO service provider—which is important. But you also want to make sure they have case studies outlining the details behind their success. Case studies are great because they cut right to the chase and show you whether or not an SEO agency can deliver on their promise. By taking some time to review a company’s case studies (which, they should have), you can quickly uncover strengths and weaknesses. You know what they say—results speak louder than words.
4. See if they specialize in anything
As attractive as it may seem to go with the company that does it all, you may find your money is best spent on an agency that specializes in a particular industry or service. Trying to be the best at everything SEO-related is a tall order that very few can deliver on. Really dig into the service providers your considering and see if they have the expertise that applies directly to your niche, industry, or problem areas.
5. Look for an educational provider
While a good SEO service will do the legwork for you, a great SEO service will keep you informed and educate you along the way. Not only will this give you peace of mind that your money is being well-spent, but you will also gain knowledge and perhaps even obtain tools to carry out SEO practices on your own and make informed decisions in the future.
6. Know your budget
Knowing your SEO budget is going to largely determine which companies get cut and which ones deserve a closer look. Not only will this make you more comfortable once the ball starts rolling, but you also don’t have to worry about any awkward cashflow issues halfway through their service plan. Don’t be afraid to openly explore all of the payment options your SEO services company has to offer.
7. Get personal with a consultation
Nothing can give you better insight into an SEO agency than having a personal consultation. This gives you the chance to get a true feel for the way they handle business and determine whether or not there’s any chemistry. Which leads to our next section.
Questions to ask during an SEO service consultation
Many small business owners are wary of SEO services due to past experience. They hired so-called SEO experts in the past who were either only temporarily effective, completely ineffective, or maybe even hurt their website traffic. When looking into SEO service options, be sure to avoid companies that mention guaranteed rankings and automatic link exchange. Also, ask the below questions:
- How will we communicate & how often?
- What kind of contracts, budgets, and service options do you have?
- What’s your plan of action to improve our rankings?
- Have you worked with a company similar to ours in the past?
- What do you know about our industry?
- What kind of results should we expect to see?
- What does contract cancellation consist of?
- What kinds of tools do you use?
Does your small business need SEO services?
As the world of online marketing continues to grow, so too will the competitive landscape, making SEO more important than ever. At the end of the day, apart from the costs of a website, SEO is free, BUT there are no shortcuts. It is a set of efforts that collectively and over time will improve your ranking and visibility. If you aren’t confident in your abilities to consistently produce relevant and quality content, properly place keywords into meta data for your webpages, or make other technical adjustments to your website, an SEO professional might be best for you.