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.
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.
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!
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.
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?