10 Creative Ways Small Business Owners Can Do SEO on a Low Budget

Tips for small business owners on doing SEO on a budgetWhen it comes to SEO on a budget, many small business owners picture resorting to optimization services of low quality. And they reject this opportunity for the fear of putting their sites at risk.

However, hiring low-cost SEOs is not your only option if your resources are limited. There’s a lot you can do as a site owner to improve the online standing of your website.

In this post, we’ll share 10 simple SEO steps every site owner can take. In fact, each of the steps doesn’t require any direct investment. All you need is putting in your time and effort.

1.     Set up Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools

Accurate data is the backbone of your SEO activities. You need metrics to see how exactly people interact with your site and whether you’re on the right track with your SEO activities. Free tools from Google provide exactly that, so, for a start, make sure that your Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools accounts are set up.

Useful links:

Recommended for YouWebcast: Winning with Data: Drive Leads & Marketing ROI across All Channels & Campaigns

Getting Started with Google Analytics

Add your site to Google Webmaster Tools

Properly integrate your Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools Accounts (required to have all SEO data accumulated in Google Analytics)

Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics: part 1, part 2, part 3.

2.     Remove duplicate content

A coworker of mine, Alesia Krush, has recently had her article published on Social Media Today. To Alesia’s surprise though, her post became available via two URLs: http://socialmediatoday.com/alesia-krush/1623016/top-10-social-media-sites-get-dofollow-links-2013 and http://socialmediatoday.com/node/1623016. And this is an example of duplicate content.

Duplicate content is never created on purpose, yet it’s extremely widespread. Though Google officially confirms you won’t be penalized for that, it’s better to get rid of duplicates anyway. The thing is, search engine bots can be confused by content duplication on your site. As a result, you might lose in rankings.

To spot your duplicate content and get rid of it, go to your Google Webmaster Tools account:

duplicate urls in google webmaster tools

To fix the problem of duplicate URLs, use one of the two options:

(1)    Hide certain pages with robots.txt,

(2)    Use canonical tags.

3.     Find your keywords

Regardless of whether you have a solid keyword list or not, an extra round of keyword research would absolutely be a plus.

Before you resort to any tools to find keyword suggestions, you’ll want to first understand who will search for your product (location, gender, age and their why for being your user) and what they’re likely to type in the search bar. Because you’re on a budget, you can’t afford spending neither time nor money attracting wrong type of users.

Once you have your target user in mind, start with writing down keywords your prospects could use to reach out your content. If you know anyone in the target user group, ask them to suggest queries they’d use for their search intent.

As the next step, feed in your initial keyword list into a keyword research tool to get metrics and see if these keywords make sense from the SEO standpoint:

research keywords that are right for your SEO

In the image above, you can see data from Rank Tracker. Metrics on Competition, # of Searches, Expected Visits and KEI (Keyword Efficiency Index) will give you hints whether a keyword is worth going after.

You’ll need your keywords for quite a lot of aspects of your SEO strategy, and the right keywords found often determine the SEO success of your site, so make sure you complete this step thoroughly.

4.     Set up your content strategy

When it comes to writing skills, all people are different. Some produce great content on a fly, while other struggle to put their ideas in words.

Whatever your case is, there’s no denying that the web of 2013 is driven by content. Thus, even if your writing skills are lagging behind, unlike professional writers, you have niche expertise to help you produce texts that provide answers to your users’ questions.

When you’re on a low budget, the key to success is to prioritize. To do things that need to be done now vs issues that can be resolved later. To invest your time heavily into things you’re good at and outsource the crucial necessities.

In terms of content, your top priority is to have at least two or three great landing pages.

If you feel you’re a writer, create these copies yourself. For later, consider launching a blog, adding whitepapers, free ebooks – the more link-worthy content you can produce, the better.

On the contrary, if writing is a pain for you, use your limited budget to hire a professional writer for your three landing pages. Just make sure you provide expert insights to make the content a match for your niche-savvy audience. It’ll be enough for now.

5.     Optimize content for popular keywords

Once you found your keywords as part of step 3 and created several landing pages as part of 4, optimize your content for the keywords you target. You must absolutely avoid keyword stuffing: not only will that ruin your copy, it will also send Google a signal your content is spam. The best criterion here is to put yourself into your readers’ shoes: imagine that you’ve found a page online using a particular query, will the result seem relevant to you?

Also optimize your titles and meta descriptions for your keywords. Ideally, you should have a unique title and meta description for all pages of your site. If you get back to the image in step 2, you’ll see that Google Webmaster Tools alarms you if any of these come as duplicate.

You can get back to this step later, and for a start, create compelling titles and meta descriptions for web pages you want to appear in search results. Most SEOs agree that the title is still a signal for Google to decide whether a page is a match for a keyword, so it’s worth including keywords into it.

Meta description won’t help you with SEO, yet it has a decisive influence on whether people will click your page in search results or not.

In general, when it comes to titles and meta descriptions, your point is to show both Google and users that your page is a relevant result. However, if your page is already on Google top and the CTR is high, avoid making radical changes to titles and meta descriptions.

6.     Improve internal link structure of your site

Internal links, e.g. links that connect pages of your site to one another, help users easier navigate through your site. What is more, they’re believed to help particular pages of your site rank higher. Though internal links are not as powerful as external ones, they work in a similar way: they give votes for other pages thus making them more powerful.

Thus, your goal is to support important pages of yours with enough votes.

Anchors matter a lot here. Similar to the dangers of stuffing content and titles with keywords, you shouldn’t use too many internal anchors that are exact match for your money keywords because Google will perceive that as spammy.

Instead, diversify anchors you use, adding common-sense instructions like “click here,” “watch the video now,” “read more” to the mix of anchors that include keywords.

7.     Find some quick link building opportunities

You’ll set up for your grand and consistent link building plan later. So far your goal is to get some low handing fruit: most natural links that are universal for all sites.

These links will be a great addition to your link portfolio, and might be just the opposite of what site owners in your niche do.

(1)    Reach out to your connections for a link. Ask your friends or coworkers to link to you biz on their blogs, sites or in social media. Lots of site owners have blogrolls, or won’t mind featuring you in a relevant post.

(2)     Ask partners or clients to mark your relations with a link to your website. If they don’t have sites of their own, they can still link to you from social media accounts or review your biz on Yelp and similar places.

(3)    If you have a blog, review products that are not your direct competitors or write round-up posts mentioning other people in your niche. Then ask for a mention.

(4)    See if you can add your website to relevant web directories. This post gives a great strategy on how you can do it the right way in 2013 not to harm your website.

(5)    Search for people you’ve already mentioned your name or your brand without linking to you. Then ask them to put a link. If people really endorse you, they won’t mind it at all.

8.     Set up for long-term link building

Now that you had some quick fixes to get links, it’s time to set up for long-term link building.

Have a look at link building ideas suggested in step 7. The truth is, there are multiple opportunities in getting links to your site, and if you’re creative, ready to experiment and connect to others, you can improve your SEO dramatically.

However, as you may not have time or desire to put various link building methods to a test, you also need to know which ways of getting links can be scaled and repeated on a regular basis.

Your great option here is to do some competition research and see which link building methods have been already working for other sites in your niche.

There are multiple tools that tell you what exactly your competitors do to get backlinks, and most of them are paid. If you’re looking to run a free check, try SEO SpyGlass Free or WebMeUp backlink tool.

After you run a check, you’ll see what seems to be working for your competitors that are already ranking high in Google, so you’ll be able to scale, diversify and set up for long-term link building.

However, here I’d like to warn you about the dangers of blind copying of other people’s link building mistakes and thus potentially harm your website. Google has been very strict recently with unnatural practices, excluding lots of sites from search results.

While spotting lame methods requires some SEO expertise, there’s something you can do regardless of your optimization skill level. Each time you see a link, ask yourself:

Does this link look natural? Does it come from a relevant site? Can it be viewed as a signal of genuine endorsement?

Also, while you’re just starting out, avoid anchors that are exact matches to your keywords. Instead, link out from a brand name or a common-sense phrase like “this article” or “click here.”

9.     Explore your vertical search chances

Google has been putting lots of diversity into search results lately. If 5 years ago Google’s first page would simply list web pages one after another, today it’s a tapestry of different blocks. We get video results, images, knowledge graph, in-depth articles and local listings as a carousel. Collectively, they are called universal search results, and each of them bears great ranking potential.

Universal search results in Google

Hence, your task as a web promoter is to find out if you can get your site to any of these search blocks.

Identify universal search that show up for your keywords. If you spot any, read up on best practices of getting there.

For example, you see there’s a local listings block for your keywords. Search for best practices and you’ll get recommendations to claim your Google+ Local page, get business ratings/reviews from your customers and such. Follow these instructions, and chances are you’ll get some organic traffic from universal search as well.

10.Tap into social media

Social media has lots of powers for a small business. It helps you raise your brand awareness, provide customer support, build communities, increase engagement and eventually get more leads and sales.

With this potential in mind, there’s a certain degree of simplification if we tell you to use social media for SEO. Yet there are some options for bringing direct traffic and link building you definitely shouldn’t overlook.

Facebook pages, Twitter, Google+ communities, LinkedIn groups, forums, blogs are full of discussions which are relevant to your niche and keywords. Thus, your task as a web promoter to tap into these discussions, add value and link back to your site if possible.

The main challenge here is to find suitable talks, and rather than using search on hundreds of boards, you can make use of social listening tools like BuzzBundle. You might not afford it right away if you’re on a budget, yet you can start with a free version.

As you can see, low budget is no way an excuse to put off SEO until you have enough resources to invest. There’s a lot you can do right now, all you need is putting in some time and effort.

And which of the ten tips listed above did you like best? Are there any other points you’d like to add? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Image credit: enviromantic via iStockphoto

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