Search engine optimization (SEO) for your business requires a long-term plan if you want to be successful. A short-term, scattershot strategy will, at best, get you nowhere and, at worst, get you penalized by Google and Bing.
According to a survey by The Manifest, about 70% of small businesses don’t have an SEO strategy, so it doesn’t take a lot of work to get ahead of most of your competitors.
Why have a long-term strategy?
SEO has to serve a purpose for your business. You don’t just want more visitors to your website—you want more local customers to visit your business or buy from your online store. Ten of your target customers checking out your site is a lot more valuable than a thousand random visits from people in another country.
SEO can take a while to pay off. Building good-quality backlinks and a well-rated Google My Business profile doesn’t happen overnight.
By having a long-term strategy guiding your SEO, it’s easier to step back and see how things affect your business. Instead of just posting as many keywords as you can think of on your website, you can go after particular key phrases and, with a bit of research, find long-tail (low-volume) keywords your competitors aren’t targeting.
While Google regularly changes how they rank sites, good SEO principles remain largely the same: Create a useful, usable site that gives the people searching Google what they’re looking for. A long-term strategy will keep this in focus. (For more on how Google ranks websites, check out this guide to improving your business’ ranking.)
Research your keywords
Keywords are at the core of any long-term SEO strategy. They are search terms you want to rank for
For some businesses, deciding what keywords to target is easy. If, for example, you run a pizza place in Azusa, CA, the keywords suggest themselves: things like “pizza Azusa,” “best pizza Azusa,” and “late night food Azusa,” as well as for the local listings, terms like “pizza place” and “best pizza nearby.” Actually ranking might be a challenge, but most of the terms you’re targeting are readily apparent.
On the other hand, if you run a health and fitness shop and sell both in-store and on your website, there are a lot more potential keywords. One searcher could be looking for kettlebells, another for a rowing machine and a third for protein powder. To find which terms are worth targeting, you’ll need to do some keyword research.
The most useful tool is the Google Keyword Planner. It’s designed to be used with Google Ads, but the information is still useful for organic search campaigns. It can tell you what your potential customers are searching for.
Also, even if a keyword doesn’t have much traffic, it might still be valuable. Long-tail keywords tend to be a lot less competitive and easier to rank for. Think “best Hawaiian pizza Azusa” instead of just “best pizza.”
Start with solid foundations
Before starting a long-term SEO plan, make sure you’ve got all the easy things done first. These include:
- Create a Google My Business Profile, so your business appears in local search results and Google Maps. (Here's how.)
- If you sell products, sign up for Google for Retail and implement it in your website.
- Make sure your site is accessible and quick to load on both smartphones and other devices. If you haven’t got a modern site, you may need to upgrade it.
- Make sure all the major keyword terms you’re targeting appear naturally on your site.
You also need to set up some way of measuring your SEO plan’s performance. Google Analytics is the simplest option for tracking changes in your organic search traffic, and you can compare alongside your financial accounts to see if it’s translating into more profits. You could also start asking customers who come into your store how they found out about it or offer special website-only promotions.
Best long-term SEO strategies
Start a blog
Blogging for SEO is one of the oldest strategies around—and it can still work. Writing a small business blog is a great way to add high-quality, keyword-filled content to your site on a regular basis.
However, it’s important to remember that the blog posts must be useful to real people. You should set some content marketing goals and look to provide valuable articles to your potential customers. Depending on your business, you can post updates about new products you have in stock, advice for how to use the things you sell or even recipes inspired by your menu. The better the content, the more it’s likely to drive website traffic.
Backlinks are one of the most important signals Google and other search engines use to rank sites. Any long-term SEO strategy should include a plan to get more high-quality backlinks.
Check out this full guide to building backlinks for your small business where you can learn:
- Quality counts. A few good backlinks are more important than a dozen bad ones.
- Finding the right opportunities to link back to your site. Offer to do guest posts on other sites, reach out to local reporters and blogs and generate content people want to share.
For local businesses, few things are as valuable as positive reviews on your Google My Business profile. If you rank highly for local searches, Google will show your business location, its rating and your contact details in the “3-pack” at the top of the search.
The best way to get reviews from your customers is just to ask them to leave one. Most people completely forget, so remind your regular and satisfied customers. (Note: You shouldn’t offer an incentive to do it.)
Audit and update
With a long-term strategy in place, it’s time to execute it. Commit to keeping your website up to date, writing the blog, building links, soliciting reviews and anything else you’ve decided to do.
After a few weeks, check your numbers. Have you got more traffic? More customers? More reviews? Audit what’s working and what isn’t and adjust your plans.
Then, keep doing it. Don’t stop if things are successful—double down. Research some new keywords and get your business ranking for them!