At last year’s Search Marketing Expo, Gary Illyes, Google webmaster trends analyst, said that 2018 will be the year when Google finally unveils the mobile-first index.
Flash forward to the present. The mobile-first index is a new rollout out of Google’s search engine results algorithm. As part of the mobile-first index, websites and pages that are mobile-responsive, or adaptive to the device on which they are viewed, will be viewed advantageously in search rankings.
Naturally, a change to the way Google displays search results corresponds to a change in search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. Illyes did assure that the mobile-first index would not negatively affect websites that are not mobile responsive. However, the announcement (which has been long expected) of the mobile-first index should act as a final wake-up call for all businesses not only to be serious about mobile, but about SEO. This call applies specifically to small businesses, half of which don’t fully understand SEO.
SEO creates a wealth of opportunity for small businesses. Business size does not impact search ranking, so small businesses can compete with their larger competitors in target keyword spaces. However, an advanced SEO strategy requires time, resources, and technical knowledge that many small businesses are want to have. Small businesses still have the ability to build a solid SEO foundation that will allow them to reap benefits well into the future. Here are the four steps your small business needs to take to help build that strong foundation for an effective SEO strategy.
Step 1: Ensure your website is mobile-friendly
As part of the mobile-first index, Google will view your mobile site as the main version of your website. This means that beyond simply having a mobile-friendly site, it needs to be designed for optimal user experience on mobile.
The amount of searches done on mobile devices surpassed the amount of desktop searches in 2015. This is not a reversible course: Mobile search is, and will continue to be, the predominant means of information discovery for consumers.
The shift in user search habits is the reason why Google is transitioning the mobile-first index. Google adjusts their ranking formula to account for searcher behavior. Since searchers will continue to increase the amount they search using mobile devices, the more Google will favor mobile responsive sites in their search results.
As mobile search increases, the more Google will favor mobile responsive sites in their search results. Given this reality, your business needs to know, and potentially update, the status of mobile responsiveness on your site.
Check to see how responsive your site is across various devices by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. This test will indicate whether or not your site is mobile-friendly. If your site is hosted on a popular CMS such as WordPress or Drupal, there are mobile-friendly themes and plugins you can install to replace old, non-mobile friendly features of your site.
Step 2: Determine your goals for SEO
Your company’s overall marketing and business goals determine how you structure your SEO strategy. In order to build a strong and effective SEO strategy, you need to determine what exactly those goals are.
Ask yourself the question, “What do I want improve through SEO?” This question gives way to different answers based on individual circumstance, but it likely falls into one of the three categories:
- Increase web traffic
- Increase exposure
- Increase online conversions and ROI
Notice that each of these motivations for SEO involves “increasing” a key performance metric.
For many businesses, the goal of SEO is to establish brand recognition and traffic. If you are a site without a significant eCommerce focus, your main priority might be to expose your brand and company information to a larger audience. However, for smaller eCommerce firms, search rankings can make or break. For these types of firms, SEO is ultimately a means to increase leads and conversions.
Regardless of your business’ focus, determine your overall goals and priorities so you may have an informed approach to SEO strategy.
Step 3: Research and decide on which SEO services match your goals
Your company’s SEO goals inform the SEO services that will best serve your needs. Before investing resources in SEO, research which services will help you accomplish your goals and the cost and effort associated with them.
The first thing your company needs to grasp is the difference between on-site and off-site services.
On-site services are SEO efforts performed on your actual web pages that improve or facilitate how Google indexes your site. Some examples of on-site services include:
- Header tags
- Meta information
- Web design
Off-site optimization services are services performed external from your website that still serve to enhance your site’s standing. Some examples include:
- Content marketing
- Link building
- Social media marketing
Step 4: Find the resources that best deliver for you
There are multiple resources that help with SEO with the main two being in-house staff and expert SEO agencies. In-house staff can be incredibly valuable resources, however they tend to be “general” marketers that are familiar with digital marketing services. These services help a site’s SEO, but are best used as external, complementary optimization services.
Most small businesses lack in-house talent that are well-versed in technical SEO. If you determine that your site needs significant site optimization work, it may be worth considering an SEO expert firm to help you optimize your site for search engine rankings.
Before you build out an SEO strategy, it’s important to understand current search trends. Determine your priorities and consider available resources for SEO. If you have capable in-house talent, use them for general marketing services and for complex, on-site optimization services consider bringing on an expert SEO company.
Grayson Kemper is a Senior Content Developer for Clutch, a B2B research and reviews firm based in Washington, DC. He focuses on IT and SEO services research.