SEO for Small Business
Andrew Shotland, CEO, Local SEO Guide offers insights and tips on SEO for small businesses.
SEO for small businesses can seem to be a complicated issue, and in some scenarios it is. But there is a lot small businesses can do to impact how they show up in the search results for keywords that matter most.
We sat down with Andrew Shotland, a leader in the search engine optimization (SEO) and local SEO space and CEO of Local SEO Guide (bio below), to talk about how small businesses can get started. From understanding Google search results to finding ways to earn new links to your site, Andrew offered great insight into SEO for small businesses.
We’ve posted the full interview below and the full interview transcript as well. Please excuse any typos or misspellings in the transcription as this was captured by a voice recognition software.
CEO & Founder
In 1994, Andrew helped launch Showtime Networks first website. From there he joined NBC’s Internet division and ran NBC.com, launching some of the first TV to Web experiences. In 2003, Andrew helped launch InsiderPages which was acquired by CitySearch in 2006. Since then, he’s been helping clients big and small with this strange thing they call “SEO”. Andrew is a co-founder of BayAreaSearch.org and a faculty member at LocalU.
FULL VIDEO INTERVIEW
Getting Started with SEO
So what would be in the beginning point, like the starting point, if you’re a small business and “Hey, I really need to understand what SEO is, how it works, what it why it matters for me,” where would you begin to have that discussion with a business that maybe is totally foreign to it?
Well, I think we’d start with talking just about the basic concept, right? Because a lot of people don’t really understand what’s going on in Google, when they go to Google. They’re not sure what they’re looking at, maybe they know, but they don’t really think about it too hard. So, you know, first we start out, okay, so when you search Google, you get ads. And you get website links, and you get kind of Google stuff, let’s just call it right. So something like Google My Business results might be what we call Google stuff, right? It’s not an ad, it’s not a link to a website, it’s some other thing that keeps you inside of Google. And so the ads we don’t really talk about, those are straightforward. Though, the website links and the Google stuff, that’s all stuff that you can affect with your website, or your brand’s visibility in, through SEO.
And so SEO is kind of this art and science of improving your visibility of your brand to potential customers when they’re searching for stuff that you might want to offer them. There’s a lot of other reasons to SEO, but in general, most people are like, how do I make money from it? How do I get customers? So we’ll start with that. There are other things like there’s reputation management SEO – like, hey, someone’s saying, like, my restaurant sucks. And it ranks number one in Google. How do we get rid of that? That’s a whole other thing. But it’s all related.
So once you kind of explain that to them, then they start to kind of see the matrix a little bit. So you don’t pay to be there, right? It’s like, well, you might pay an SEO person to help you get there. But there’s not like a pay $5 a click right. And so the SEO job is to figure out what are all those things that your customers are searching for? That might be a, let’s say, a conversion event for you. And it could be they want to buy something, maybe you want them to hit your website, so you can cookie them so you can show ads to them. Maybe you want them to sign up for your newsletter, or whatever it is, right. There’s all these tools and data available that you can use to do research about how people search for stuff.
And that’s kind of where you start, like how do people search for stuff? And then what is Google showing at the top of the results for whatever we decide your customers are searching for? And once we’ve kind of figured that out, we can say okay, well, I want to rank for I don’t know, hotdog stand in Chicago, and I can see what Google’s showing as the number one results for that kind of search. And so I say, okay, well now what you need is someone to kind of reverse engineer, why is that thing showing up at number one for hotdog stand Chicago, or number two, or whatever. And so what the SEO job is to do is to kind of figure that out at scale.
So it’s not about one keyword. It’s about 1000s or maybe millions of keywords that your customers are searching because not everyone searches the same. And try to come up with a viable strategy based on budget and potential and all that kind of stuff.
Prioritizing SEO Efforts
Yeah, I just wanted to follow up to that point real quick, because it’s like, yeah, you could target 1000s of keywords potentially – depending on your industry, depending on your location, whatever. There’s so much to go after. And so if you’re coming in as a small business, how would you then prioritize? Like you said hotdog stand – so hotdog stand, maybe that’s a good place to start, you know, it’s not complicated, right? So you have that but then what would you say as a quick tip – would you then take hotdog stand with a location qualifier? Where would you then take that keyword to expand it maybe to a longer tail?
So in the case of hotdog stand, you have to start to think about well, that’s not just what you are. You’re also a lunch place. Right? And you’re maybe you’re a caterer right. Like cuz you do kids parties and kids like hot dogs. So you kind of start to have to think that way and you have to kind of figure out like, what are all these different ways that people are thinking about you – or could think about you? Then it’s kind of based on some research – well, what do people search for the most or what’s most valuable to you.
And so in the case of the hotdog stand, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s kind of limited, which is good. You don’t have a choice. But if you are a dentist, well, there’s all the services you offer – teeth whitening, and that kind of thing. Or a med spa, right? There’s a billion different services. And so you kind of have to start to think about what your priorities are just like with everything else in your business. And it’s usually going to be the category is the priority, dentist or hotdog stand or restaurant maybe. And then everything else is kind of secondary.
But most markets are pretty competitive. So it may take you a while and a significant investment, to do well for your category. And so thinking about it in a longtail way, well, just to simplify it, like let’s say there’s 20 keywords that matter. So maybe you don’t go after the big ones that are going to be most competitive, you go after the smaller ones where you can move quicker. That’s kind of how we’d approach it.
The other part that I’m kind of curious to get your feedback on – we’re talking about what’s happening underneath the ads underneath the map pack, because your Google My Business profile, obviously, is really pushing what’s actually happening in the map pack. And you’re ranking there, right? Is that correct?
But we would start with that too, because that’s what’s gonna show up most of the time for a local query. And so you don’t want to kind of view your Google My Business Page and your website as separate things, even though they are separate. You want it’s like all part of the same program. They work together.
HOW TO COMPETE IN SEO
Exactly – so if you’re entering a space, and you don’t really have any brand equity, you don’t really have any time in the market and like you said, most things are competitive and only continuing to get more competitive as people get more sophisticated and kind of adopt these these tactics, so going long tail makes a lot of sense. But you really need to be ranking for category keywords too and you need to be in the mix somehow. In this scenario, how can you compete and what would be a timeline to expect if you’re entering a market like dentists, for instance? What do you think it would take to get decent ranking in those local queries.
It’s impossible to say because it’s all so case dependent. But in a super competitive market, like you should expect that it’s going to take a while. But there may be some simple things that you’re just not doing that can unlock a lot of value quickly.
For example, just making this up, but let’s say it is dentists and you’re in Chicago, and your homepage doesn’t say dentist on it, for whatever reason. And it doesn’t have a neighborhood that you service on it or something, maybe just adding the word dentist and the neighborhood you service will enable you to rank really well in a five mile radius of your office. And because you don’t really care about all of Chicago, it’s too big and maybe someday you’ll be number one when someone does a search in Chicago, but what you really care is in your service area, which is probably, you know, I don’t know what it’s gonna be. But let’s say it’s, it’s within 15 miles radius or the max someone might be willing to travel. And so you’re really not trying to rank for dental Chicago you’re trying to rank for when someone puts dentist in Google and Google geo targets the results based on the user’s location, which isn’t Chicago but some neighborhood in Chicago, or some zip code maybe.
So that kind of thing you can often do pretty well but the problem is, is that okay, now I’ve won the two blocks around my office now what’s it going to take to win five blocks around my office, right? And keep going out? Because, you know, there’s gonna be more competition as you go farther away from your office.
MAKING “GOOD” SEO CONTENT
So you also talked a little bit about content – what is good SEO content? Obviously, it’s not easy, but what is it? What could it look like from a small business perspective?
So the stock answer is write content that someone would want to read. And that’s going to vary based on your topic, but make it good for us. That would be the ask. 90% of people can’t do that. Use research to decide what to write about. So again, look at what Google is rewarding, understand the queries your customers are doing. And look at what Google is rewarding in those queries.
As an example, we had a client who was in the skincare business they had like, let’s say, moisturizer, for face moisturizer. And so they’re like, we have the best face moisturizer in the world – why don’t we rank number one for face moisturizer? And if you look, it probably is this way today. If you search face moisturizer, and Google probably the first result is like our reviews of the top 10 face moisturizers on some skincare magazine or beauty mag. And so in that case, you have to kind of change your thinking, if you want to rank number one for, for face moisturizer, you probably have to consider writing editorial about face moisturizer, not just having a great product and a product page.
So you have to look at what’s working in Google. And then you have to research. What does Google seem to be rewarding for queries with this intent? Meaning it’s not just the first result, it’s the first, let’s say, 50 results? What do all these pages have in common? That we can kind of pick apart? Like do they all use the word moisturizer in the title rate or something like that? Or do they all have an image or a video? Or what is it and then you need to take that data and turn it into an SEO brief that a writer can use to create content that kind of starts with SEO as its foundation.
So you kind of start touching on types of content a little bit. If you were to look at all these different types of content – blogs, you have long form, video, reviews, social guest posting, you have all these types of content – is there a certain type of content that you find is really the most valuable when it comes to boosting your ranking for a certain keyword? Is it a mixture of everything? Is it combining them all and connecting them all? What form of the content do you see as being most valuable?
Well, like I said, it’s totally contextually dependent on the keyword. In most cases, text is your best bet. But there’s certain keywords that will only generate videos, like movie name plus trailer, text isn’t gonna help. It’ll be the trailer. Even when you do video, you should be publishing a transcript of the video, which is text that a search engine can grab onto.
So you have your kind of foundational SEO aspects, you know, for a small business, your Google My Business, your on-page SEO, obviously, the keyword research in advance of all of that. But then you get into like more of the technical optimizations, PageSpeed Search Console errors, like all that stuff, which is like really kind of time consuming. How does a small business get from, Hey, I got a Google My Business profile to Hey, my website has no errors Google search console and page speeds are really great. How do you get to that?
There’s no such thing as no errors? Don’t stress out about it. Most small business websites, nine times out of 10, technical SEO problems is not their issue. So of course, you want your pages to be fast. So whoever built your site for them, like be like, why isn’t my page faster? Make it faster right? Certainly if half of your site is serving an error and is broken, well fix your site, right?
But don’t worry about every last little thing in Google Search Console. It’s not your concern. That stuff is mostly for like, I have 10 million URLs and complicated website and like, I need help to figure it out what’s going on? A 10 page website is not usually a technical SEO problem.
I really appreciate you spending some time with me. Thank you so much.
No problem Joe. Happy to