September 18, 2014

How to Learn SEO as a Small Business Owner

I’m often contacted by small business owners hoping to learn more about search engine optimization. They want to know the best practices, the 10 things they absolutely must do, or what Google’s new algorithm tweak means to their business. (Lately they also want to know why everyone is suddenly talking about pandas.) As a small business owner with a business to worry about, trying to add SEO knowledge to the mix can be a little daunting. OK, it can be downright terrifying if you’re not sure where to start or who to turn to for advice.

Below are some free (or nearly-free) SEO resources I’d encourage you to check out when you’re looking for help picking up that SEO education in your spare time.

SEO Blogs

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to blogs around the topic of SEO. The good news is there are plenty of SEO blogs to choose from on virtually any topic you could want to read up on. The bad news is, of course, that not all SEO blogs are created equal. But there are some good truly good ones.

A few blogs I’d recommend SMBs keep an eye on are:

  • Google Webmaster Blog: Who better to keep you up-to-date on Google’s latest happenings than Google itself?
  • Search Engine Land: Excellent source of news, tips and best practices on all different areas of internet marketing.
  • SEOmoz: Great beginner advice on SEO to help SMBs get their foot in the door.
  • Mike Blumenthal’s blog: One of the best sources for Google Local information.
  • BlueGlass: If you’re looking for beginner or advanced social media advice, BlueGlass is quickly establishing itself as a must read.
  • SmallBizTrends: The fine folks here at SmallBizTrends cover all aspects of being a small business owner, including how to market your business using SEO, social media and email marketing.

That’s obviously just a very short list of blogs you may want to check out, but it’s a good place to start.

Read Online Resources

In addition to blogs, there are also more in-depth online resources that small business owners can take advantage of to really dig into a particular topic of interest. For example, SMBs can learn basic SEO best practices by reading Google’s SEO Starter Guide or SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. If you want to really dig into local search, then David Mihm’s annual Local Search Ranking Factors is a good way to discover where the search engines are putting new importance and where to get the most bang for your local search buck. If you want to know how to protect your brand’s reputation, Outspoken Media’s Online Reputation Management guide is a good resource.

Whatever topic you want to learn more about, there’s bound to be a resource available to walk you through it online. However, be careful not to take any one source as gospel. Do some research on the company and/or individual first to help you trust how “expert” that advice really is.

Take Advantage of Membership Communities

Just as all blogs are not created equal, all forums are definitely not created equal. However, there are some great ones that I’d recommend small business owners check out if they’re interested in learning more about SEO and building their network. Three great SEO communities to become a part of are:

All three of these forums are known not only for providing great information and resources for SEO but also for the tightness of the community and the support they offer to members. Forums are a good place to troubleshoot issues and share advice.

Meetups/Chamber Events

When you’re done soaking up information online, get offline. Whether you live in a major city or a small town off the beaten path (I live in Troy, New York), there are bound to be local events that you can attend to both learn more and to interact with people in your same situation. These local meetups or small mini-conferences are typically free of charge and connect you to industry experts that you can seek out later if you have a few questions or want a specific problem addressed.

If you’re not familiar with your town’s local meetups, I’d recommend contacting your local Chamber of Commerce, using a site like Meetup.com, or asking your local Twitter network if they know of any. It’s unlikely that something hasn’t already been started but if you find that’s the case, start your own!

Barter Services

Small business owners are pros at finding ways to barter professional services from experts. Maybe you’re a lawyer and you need a new website. Why not offer a local SEO consulting company some help with the contracts they send to clients if they’ll help you build a site? Or maybe you’re a local caterer and you want to learn how to use Yelp. Find someone in your area who’s experimented with the site and cater their next office lunch for them if they’ll help you out. Keep your eyes open for opportunities that may come up.

Try It

If you are getting ready to test out some new SEO theories, I’d probably recommend that you not experiment on your own site (create some test ones, instead). However, if you’re a small business owner and you’re just not sure what order to play with the keywords in your Title tag – try it. If you’re not sure what to put into your Yelp listing, give a shot. You’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t, and then make adjustments as you go.

You don’t have to become an SEO ninja, but you do need to understand the basics to help ensure that your site is seen by the right people. What steps have you taken to learn SEO?

38 Comments ▼

Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

38 Reactions

  1. Thanks for the list of resources Lisa, especially the 3 SEO communities you mentioned.

    Do you (or anyone else reading) have a similar list or recommendations for communities that are still focused on small businesses but have a broader reach than just SEO?

    Thanks,

    …Tim

  2. These are great resources. About the only thing I would add is that you need to be DOING, not just reading, researching and talking about it. Write new content. Ask your customers to review you and link to your website. Be active on social platforms. Be more like the tortoise instead of the hare.

  3. I’m a member of the SEO Dojo and it’s definitely a great resource for both beginners and veterans. Highly recommended!

    Aside from that I think Matt Cutt’s Webmaster Help on YouTube is a great resource too. He answers a lot of questions small business owners would have.

  4. This is definitely a great place to get started for business owners. I think it’s important for people to educate themselves on SEO first before deciding to reach out for paid help, that way even if they do they’ll have a better idea of who to look for!

  5. I’m a big fan of Genesis’ Scribe plugin for WordPress. It’s great for small biz owners and writers who aren’t SEO experts. Before you publish a post, it tells you what your keywords, title, and tags should be, how to optimize your post, all without making your content sound like a robot wrote it. I use it and recommend it highly.

  6. All good advice here. My favourite piece of SEO kit is not quite free but is really good value and an excellent way into the subject. It’s Market Samurai (www.market samurai.com). Well worth a look. Free trial too!

  7. Lisa has put together some really good information. I would add, for an incredible amount of free advice just post a comment on LinkedIn eMarketing association (http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=41352. The guys, including yours truly are very happy to assist.

    Also for any business big or small having a Google places listing is essential to make the most of the Google Advantage. You can turn your website into a high street business location where every passerby/searcher is looking just for your business. A free guide is available from me.

  8. Hi Lisa,

    Another good source that I have personal used is Google’s Business Solutions.

    They have a great training program on how to use Adwords, Google analytics and a multitude of others.

    http://www.google.com/intl/en/services/index.html

  9. I highly recommend people read the art of SEO. It is a bigger book, and takes time, but it really lays our SEO so well. It’s what taught me the basis of SEO.

    It’s a definite must read.

  10. Thanks Lisa for this resources. Very handy for start up companies who want to venture into online marketing and wants to learn SEO. Search engine optimisation is not rocket science but it takes time before anyone gets the hang of it.I also go through SEOmoz from time to time to learn. This is a good read for me… =) thanks!

  11. Great list Lisa…and I truly feel for the small business owner looking for SEO advice these days – it is a snake den. As a provider of services like these, my only “simple” advice to people is be leery of long-term engagements. Lots of SEO providers look to lock-in to a monthly charge, but you need to know what kind of value you are actually deriving from the efforts, and that they are not potentially exposing you to more risks.
    A community-type of fee is something easier to evaluate – but don’t be fooled by slick reports on regular SEO services. Just because you receive a pretty pdf every month does not mean your investment is being spent wisely.
    I do also want to give a plug to a friend’s SEO tools – I think they are brilliant, and I know Anita also helped some on these.
    http://www.onlinesales.co.uk/tools/
    These tools were developed by a webmaster/SEO in the London area named Liam Delahunty, whose work is well respected in SEO circles – especially in the SEOBook forums.
    These tools are usually aimed more for the developer than the novice – but to have access to them as a company (he allows multiple seats on request) is something I think can really benefit a growing small business. He is also using a sliding scale to secure your monthly cost – so the earlier you look at these and jump in, the cheaper it is, overall.

  12. Hi Lisa thanks a lot for covering all that stuff, I am a blogger for 4 years and I have learned SEO by myself, still I am learning. One thing that never fails is writing quality posts.

    Thank you for mentioning the resources, I will check them out. One thing I do is I have subscription from XYDO.com and it sends me daily posts from what my network is reading/following. I recommend it.

    Thanks!

  13. The posts above are great and the small business owner should have some knowledge of SEO. The two problems are SEO is constantly changing and most small business owners work many hours just trying to take care of their business. They would be better off having an employee take care of it or better yet SEO professionals.

  14. Thanks Lise,

    This is perfect….as like always before.

  15. Another blog resource to consider is the Rank Magic SEO blog for Small Businesses. We have more than six years of information, tips & techniques for small business SEO, neatly ncategorized into easy topics.

    It’s at rankmagic.com/blog/.

  16. Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone. Some people may not be aware that I am also a moderator at SEOBook.com’s private community. I first joined the community there in order to learn how to run my websites smarter. Soon I was invited by Aaron Wall to become a moderator on general marketing and business topics. I leave the more technical elements of SEO to those better qualified, since I feel I am still learning about many aspects of SEO.

    I will tell you this: the best thing I ever did for my online business was to join the SEOBook.com community. I have learned how to grow my business — what to do and what NOT to do. That knowledge has delivered tens of thousands of dollars worth of value.

    — Anita, owner of SmallBizTrends.com

  17. I agree with Jerry – SEO is so time consuming that you cannot keep up AND run a small business (unless it’s an SEO agency of course)!

    If you are interested in learning SEO AND getting a job in the industry I suggest you check out the guide I’m creating: david-whitehouse.org/learn-how-to-become-an-seo/

  18. Hello Lisa,

    I completely agree that it is vital for small business owners to learn about SEO before they go out and pay someone to do it for them. It’s important to know what tactics those you hire will use, as if they are “shady”, it could land you in trouble with the Search Engines (like Google) and hurt your company’s rankings – as happened early this year with JCPenney.

    In addition to your suggestions, I have found signing up for daily emails filled with tips, blogs, etc. is a great way to stay on top of the ever-changing online marketplace. I actually found this article in SmartBrief’s Small Business email.

    Thanks again for the tips, I’ll be sure to check them out!
    – Megan

  19. Great summary of SEO blogs and resources, Lisa!

    Most of these blogs have some great material about what to use, and when to use it. Also, http://bestsmallbizhelp.com/grow/ has a ton of great resources, from SEO to small business bookkeeping.

    When you’re working with SEO, as a lot of previous commenters have mentioned, there’s an incredible ammount of material to keep up with, but bestsmallbizhelp.com covers a lot of the basic points that you should know, regardless of whether you hire someone to take care of your site or not.

    Thanks again for this succinct summary Lisa!

  20. Thanks for the article. For many small business owners with limited internet marketing experience trying to find time to learn even the basics of SEO can be difficult. Any resources that can help in saving time is a great asset.

  21. SEOMoz is a great resource for learning the beginnings of SEO.

    One thing to be careful of is an SEO “expert” who guarantees you page one placement on Google. If you find a local SEO person, make sure that they explain what they are going to do for you.

    What they do isn’t magic. You can actually beginning doing some of this today by asking yourself three questions.

    What does my business do?
    Where does my business operate?
    What do my customers search for?

  22. Good article. I’m a big fan of SEOmoz although honestly everything you ever need to know is in Google’s own guidelines!

    I think the first really critical factor to understand is that SEO is about keywords. It isn’t all that technical stuff and on-page optimisation it used to be but just plain and simple words that people are searching for.

    Start there and I think you could do pretty well!

    Cathy

  23. A small business owner trying to learn seo is like trying to learn a new language while working 50-60 hours a week. All of the websites listed are awesome resources for seo but most of the content will most likely be too advanced for someone that knows nothing about seo, building test sites or anything like that. I would recommend to start with really simple, short nuggets from Inc.com or Entrepreneur.com and slowly work their way to the more advanced stuff. It’s like a small business owner trying to jump into Adwords right away, 2 weeks of trying to figure out PPC on Adwords and they may never run an online campaign again. I loved the article and everything is 100% spot on, i just think, to steal the term from Dan Heath, we sometimes suffer from “the curse of knowledge”

  24. A few things that small businesses need to consider with regards to SEO:

    1. People overlook the fact that Google doesn’t make money its money on SEO–it makes it on AdWords. It’s in Google’s best interest to consistently tweak the weight/factors used to determine rankings.

    2. What are you opportunity costs as a business owner if you are spending 2 hours a day working on SEO, or have someone within your organization who lacks the in-depth knowledge.

    3. “Many roads lead to Rome.” SEO is not an exact science; the techniques I use which yield positive results may be different than techniques used by another SEO expert, who too yields positive results for his/her clients.

    And I disagree that a small business owner should invest in the time to at least understand the basics before seeking an external resource. If a small business wants to invest in PR, should they study up on the techniques of PR first?

    Instead, I would recommend you hire an SEO/online marketing expert through a recommendation if possible. Since this not always feasible, look for someone who is:

    1. Willing to educate you on the basics of SEO. You want someone who practices a consultative sales approach, not someone who gives a “bells & whistles” presentation and then wants you to sign a contract.

    2. Explains the process he/she uses to obtain rankings.

    3. Provides at least five examples of successful client engagements and the respective references. Watch out for examples provided for obscure terms, e.g., “I was able to get client ‘X’ ranked #1 for the term, ‘Idaho beach chair rentals’.” Regarding the references–make sure to call each one and probe.

    4. Interview at least 3 different SEO experts. Take the time up front to maximize your chances of picking the right person.

    5. Don’t get locked into a long-term contract. A month-to-month contract is all that is needed. If the SEO expert shows progress each month, he/she doesn’t need to worry about getting kicked to the curb.

    6. Make sure it is clear AND you are comfortable with how the SEO expert will demonstrate his/her progress each month. You want some type of report(s) which demonstrate an overall trend line, indicating improved organic rankings.

    The last piece of advice: SEO is only a piece to the online marketing puzzle. Assuming your site gets ranked for terms respective to your business, doesn’t mean this will equate to more business. You need to think about what happens after the traffic comes flooding in. Is the content/messaging on your site compelling to the potential customer/client, or was it developed to simply please Google? Is your site easy to navigate? Will people be able to find what it is they are looking for?

    I’ve seen too many businesses place all of their focus on driving traffic to their respective websites, but completely overlooked what would happen once that goal was achieved.

  25. Guys just sub this out to a pro on elance or another site; for most business owners, learning SEO is not your best use of time.

  26. Hi all and specially Lisa. Im going to start by one or two sites. Im a personal trainer but after a car accident I turned much to web jobs. Im a SEO since 2004 and learned the hard way. My first site to consult was and still is ScrubTheWeb.com . Theyve been on line for years and after almost 8 years utilizing the free tools they provide I jumped into the back end with many tools. The 19 dollars for a month were really indeed worth. I learned not only about the web, trends and SEO but about all the fuzz the internet is creating and its world changing role.
    stay well.
    TEO

  27. Never really got started on SEO for my creative business blog though it is picking up a couple of visits daily from search engines.

    This info will get me started. Thanks.

  28. Also agree with Jerry. The best advice I can give is to really spend time maximizing your relationship with your local chamber. When we first started our agency, i spent a lot of time getting to know my local chamber rep and actually started doing some barter SEO work for them. It paid MAJOR dividends, built loyalty and trust and really paved the way for some big contracts.

    The key is to not come across spammy — as soon as you build the trust by doing things for FREE (yes FREE) you will gain loyalty which clearly paves the way for future business

    Great Blog!

    Thanks

    Mike

  29. I like the idea of bartering services. When I started my company, I didn’t have the money to pay for an attorney or accountant, so I did the exact same thing…except in the opposite direction. I found local professionals, did a quick analysis of their internet presence, emailed them a professional report and told them who I was, and what I wanted. I was able to get a complete contract written by a lawyer, as well as an accountant to help me out with taxes…by simply doing some quick on page optimization and directory submissions.

  30. woohooo…
    This very useful for me lisa..
    Thanks..
    :D

  31. Great Job! It helps a lot as a reader and as I offer services in Search Engine Optimization. It gives me idea to improve my service.

  32. I have been doing some SEO work of my own for our poster printing website, and from reading lots of best practice, especially with the new Google updates, it seems there’s less and less things you can do. When I check our competitors they all seem to be using more underhand link building techniques, and doing well from it. Am I being to cautious by following the new white hat guidelines?

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