For smaller businesses, discovering your most effective – and efficient – path to SEO success usually hinges on making a few critical strategic decisions. Here are nine tips you can use to help get your small business going in the right direction.

Organizing Your SEO Strategy

Any SEO strategy must be attentive to shaping search engines’ perceptions of your site across three key fronts: optimizing your on-site content, tightening up technical components, and growing off-site reputation through quality backlinks.

1) Optimize each webpage to focus on a single, specific keyword.

Each page of website content is likely to be more successful in SEO if it targets a single keyword. Small businesses should research the keywords most relevant to their brands, and tailor high-quality content that focuses on – and uses – each of those keywords (as well as smart meta tag SEO). Audit existing pages to get them in line with this practice, and use this technique with newly published pages going forward.

2) Ensure your site is friendly to search engines (and visitors) from a technical perspective.

Practicing good technical SEO means optimizing your site’s speed, mobile experience, indexing, crawlability, architecture, data structure, and security. A comprehensive SEO checklist and website auditing tool can simplify this process by identifying site and page needs – and suggesting improvements. Engaging in technical SEO also provides sites with the strong foundation required to deliver high-quality user experiences. High user engagement can lead to improved search engine rankings, which in turn leads to increased traffic.

Ensure your site is working well from the search engine’s perspective.

Search engine algorithms – and prospective customers – view your site as more respected and authoritative when other influential websites link to it. Earning these backlinks should be a key piece of your SEO strategy. To do so, utilize SEO tools able to analyze where your competitors and others in your industry have established backlinks, and dig out the high-quality opportunities among them. Pursue guest blogging opportunities, and produce shareable content with the potential to go viral, such as infographics, white papers, videos, etc.

Maximizing Small Business SEO

4) Create content that serves your audience’s needs and goals.

SEO success requires that your marketing strategy delivers the content your audience is most looking for. This means providing material that answers common questions from prospective customers, and details solutions to the specific issues they face. Offering continually engaging content will boost your site’s position in organic search rankings, and establish your site as a go-to resource.

5) See – and emulate – what makes similar sites succeed.

Again, leverage SEO tools to discover other sites that reach your target audience, and look for what they’re doing right that your small business could do as well. Investigating sites outside of your own industry – but that still reach your ideal audience – will often help expand your strategy with creative new approaches.

6) When it comes to keyword competition, compete where you can win.

If your small business is just beginning its content marketing efforts and has a limited number of inbound links directing to your site, focusing first on low competition keywords is probably your best bet. Investing effort on high competition keywords is likely going to be far less effective until your site has established greater traction. When your site does advance in search rankings, gradually set your sights higher.

SEO Missteps to Avoid

7) Don’t neglect SEO – and don’t wait to begin.

Content marketing and SEO efforts are a long-term investment, in which the right actions today could yield substantial (and continual) benefits down the road. If your small business has yet to pursue these efforts, the best time to start is today. Small businesses that focus instead on paid strategies and quicker results may ultimately end up dependent on those channels, the costs of which increase substantially with scale.

8) Make content for your audience, not algorithms.

Businesses sometimes make the mistake of designing their SEO strategies as if algorithms were their audience, rather than human customers. Make sure that your content aligns with your actual audience’s search intent, and helps them to achieve their goals. In the end, content that successfully engages your audience will similarly succeed in winning over search engines.

9) Avoid the mistake of targeting broad search terms and missing long-tail opportunities.

Far too often, small businesses are tempted by the broader, generic search terms because of their high volume. In reality, these broad terms usually come with extremely high competition. They’re also usually just the starting point for buyers – meaning that audiences for those keywords are a long way from a buying decision. Instead, target very specific long-tail terms to gain the advantages of low competition and an audience that’s usually a lot closer to making a purchase.