SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is a bit of a minefield for smaller businesses. Particularly, if you’re a complete beginner at this stuff.
It’s also an industry full of, well, let’s face it, complete and utter turkeys. (Sorry, not sorry!)
If you’re sceptical of ‘SEO agencies’ you have every right to be. Many make some very grand promises of magically putting you on the first page of Google, and simply don’t deliver. Many too, use somewhat dodgy practices, like building you a stack of backlinks via directory websites, that actually end up doing more harm to your website reputation and rankings, than good.
And, that sucks.
Plus, lots of SEO Agencies will recommend and possibly put together ‘SEO content’ for your website that simply stuffs in as many keywords as possible, while making absolutely no sense to your customers.
That, sucks too.
Customers should always be central to your marketing efforts. And these days, Google is so smart, they can generally sniff out these tactics pretty quickly. Google rewards USEFUL content, therefore keyword stuffing and nonsensical, poorly written content, is not going to achieve anything.
Therefore, I thought I’d put this article together, walking you through the bare basics of SEO, so that you actually know how to succeed in gaining the most traction for your rural or regional business – and don’t get ripped off(!).
It will by no means cover all the nitty gritty technical stuff. Much of that is best left to actual web development and SEO experts.
But I will give you a bit of a process to follow, so you don’t get ‘conned’ by any of those SEO crazies, that might be lurking out there, on the interwebs.
NOTE: There are plenty of GOOD, reliable SEO agencies around. And I don’t want to tarnish anyone’s reputations. But it’s true that lots of small businesses get taken for a ride by SOME agencies, and that’s just not right.
So let’s begin.
Before You Begin…(haha)
It’s wise to note, before we get into things, that you will need to decide from the get go, as to whether you need to focus on local SEO, or organic SEO.
Local SEO is important for when your business only targets a local audience. Think a bricks and mortar retail store with one location, or trades such as plumbers, who only operate within a certain area.
So, instead of trying to rank for ‘plumber’ you would be better off trying to rank for ‘plumber (your suburb)’. Keep in mind that ranking for ‘plumber Melbourne’ or ‘plumber Sydney’ is going to be a lot harder than ranking for one or two smaller suburbs, so use that to your advantage.
Organic SEO or non-location based SEO is for when you want to target anyone and everyone, regardless of where they are based. If you’re an online retail store, or a service-based business that can service customers across Australia, this is what you want to do.
Quite often though, it can be harder to target keywords and phrases that don’t involve a location, which is where you want to aim for the longer-tail keywords. But, we’ll cover that a bit later.
Regardless of which you choose, you will want to set your business up with a Google MyBusiness account. Just do a Google search for that. It’s relatively straight forward and will ensure Google knows as much as possible about you and what you do.
Now, we’ll actually get started.
In order to ‘do your SEO’ properly, your first step should be keyword research. This is the process of determining which keywords and phrases you would like your website to be ranking for, as a whole, and for each page. It also helps you to map out your site structure and page names.
Yes, it is possible to take wild guesses as to what keywords you’d like to rank for. Sometimes, in the early stages of your business, you can get away with this a little.
Yet, you’re not likely to get nearly the same results.
If you can get a ‘pro’ to do some basic keyword research for you, please do. It often doesn’t cost much more than a few hundred dollars and it’s certainly worth the effort.
The process basically involves a little research into your business, your industry and your competitors, to come up with some potential keywords and phrases. Then, it’s a matter of using an SEO tool, such as SEMRush, to determine how easy or difficult it is to rank for those words or phrases, and how much traffic they can potentially yield.
A good ‘keyword researcher’ will then use these details to make highly educated and realistic recommendations as to what you should be targeting.
And note that often, when you’re just starting out, it’s a lot easier to choose longer phrases to target that are more specific, as these tend to be easier to rank for, before going after the harder, more popular (and broader) search terms.
Trying to rank on page one for something like ‘furniture’ is going to be pretty near impossible for a tiny business, when up against the major brands who are far more established (and have much higher marketing budgets).
SEO Website Copywriting
Once you have your keyword research, and your pages all mapped out, it’s time to start writing your content or copy for each page.
This, is precisely what I do. Because honestly, it’s soooooo worth doing well. Writing is an art form and writing for both customers AND Google can be pretty tricky.
An SEO Website Copywriting Specialist like me, has years of experience walking the tightrope between customer-friendly and google-friendly content.
It’s sadly not as simple as simply throwing in a few of your keywords. And it’s not a good idea to outsource this to cheap overseas suppliers or lower-quality copywriters. Sorry – but it just isn’t! You’ll end up with that nonsensical copy that makes zero sense to anyone, and certainly won’t get you found on Google.
Always, always, write for your customers first. There aint no point driving traffic, if your website copy doesn’t help you convert that traffic into actual buyers.
So, here are steps towards SEO Website Copywriting success:
- Determine the tone you wish to use, that best reflects who you are and attracts the right customers to you. Maybe that’s light-hearted, quirky, crazy, laid back etc.
- Figure out your customers main pain points – write their pain points down, in their words.
- Repeat ‘their words’ and pain points right back to them to provide the ‘hook’ – and then lead them down a path, towards your business, as being the solution. (Easy right?)
- Add in your keywords naturally and strategically, throughout your copy and pages, to attract Google.
- Write meta titles and meta descriptions for your pages.
- Sit back and watch your rankings climb (maybe!) :p
There are also other rules you’d need to know, such as making sure you use your primary keyword in the first 100 words, how to structure and word your page titles and sub-titles, the best ‘keyword density’ (number of times you use certain keywords) etc.
See, I kinda did tell you it wasn’t as simple as you might think. It seems simple on the surface, but in reality, when you sit down to write this stuff and remember 25 different Google rules at the same time, it just isn’t.
It’s ok though, us copywriters are experts at getting inside your head, your customers heads, and writing winning messages that convert – and capture Google juice.
Business owners are often just too darn close to what they do, to see what they need to see, and then communicate their value clearly to their customers.
(Insider Secret: Even copywriters, get other copywriters, to write or at least review their own website copy! It’s always easier writing for someone else, than it is to write for you!)
Be aware too, that some copywriters may write website content without optimising it for Google. So, if you hire someone, make sure you get someone with experience in SEO Website Copy, not just website copy, particularly if your goal is to improve your rankings (which it should be!).
This is where we get a little trickier. And this is an area where I am by no means an expert.
There are a whole lot of nitty gritty technical details that contribute to determining how highly you rank on Google.
The main ones include:
- Ensuring you have an SSL certificate correctly installed.
- Site load speed – on desktop and mobile (big one!).
- An optimised design and layout – on desktop and mobile (mobile is critical as apparently everyone searches for things on their phone!).
- Meta data on images.
- Correctly named (and optimised) images and files.
- Meta data (title and descriptions) for each page on your website (this stuff is hidden in your website and only read by Google).
- Not having duplicate meta data (using the same meta title or description on multiple pages).
- Ensuring you have an XML sitemap.
And sooooooooooooooooooooo many more things.
But unless you know the things, and fix the things, you just won’t get your rankings where you’d like them.
There are many great online tools that can help audit your site automatically and show you where your issues are. Something like SEMRush or Moz etc. But these services can be expensive – and if you’re not a web developer, while knowing where your issues are is great, it’s also pretty useless if you don’t know what to do to fix them.
Keep in mind, that different website platforms handle SEO technicalities differently as well. WordPress is by far the best and most flexible platform out there to use to build your website, but it can also require the most technical skill. When using WordPress, make sure you use an SEO plugin, such as Yoast, as this will also help guide your content on each page. It’s not perfect, but it’s useful.
Other platforms, particularly eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify and BigCommerce often have fields on each page and product which allow you to fill in your meta data. Please do this, as best you can. Make them useful, enticing and include your keyword.
Later, if you get help from an agency, consultant or copywriter – you can improve these.
But there are still other nitty gritty coding issues, that you may not see when you edit your pages in your editing software. So that my friend, is where you need a web developer, who can fix these technical elements for you.
(Even I need to defer some technicalities to the technicality pro’s :p)
Next, we have the good old content marketing game to play. This is where you continuously update your website with new and interesting content, so Google keeps noticing you, and you build your reputation (and traffic) with them over time.
Generally, this happens in the form of your blog.
Now, there is good content marketing and there is bad content marketing.
But again, you need to make sure you’re creating content for your intended audience FIRST, and Google second.
Partly, because content marketing and SEO can be a little hit and miss, with no real set formula.
And if you’re just starting out with creating your blog, and writing content, you’ll want to keep things pretty simple to start with.
Aim to publish a blog post each week, if you can. Otherwise, just try to keep it as consistent and as regular as possible – if you’re only going to post once a month or once a fortnight, try to do it at the same time, each month or fortnight.
Having some consistency for your customers helps them, and it does help Google too, as the algorithms will pick up the patterns over time.
When first starting out, focus on writing about topics that you know about and that you think will interest your customers the most. That way, your customers will actually bother to read them, and hopefully (eventually) will encourage them to buy something or work with you.
Don’t worry too much about length to start with – but ideally, try to aim for 600 – 800 words as a bare minimum.
Once you’re able to do this on a consistent and fairly often basis, you can start researching and targeting topics specifically to assist your SEO rankings. And infuse your blog posts with keywords to try to get Google’s attention.
When writing a blog post that you want to rank well for, you will need to aim for a minimum of 2000 words. It’s been well researched and established that ‘long-form’ articles and pieces of content attract more attention from Google, but also, amazingly, get more attention from your audience on social media too.
But again, you need to keep it customer-friendly and useful, and not just pump out silly, useless content stuffed with keywords.
In order to come up with appropriate topic ideas, you might enjoy visiting Answer The Public (https://answerthepublic.com/). It allows you to type in any word, any phrase, and it will give you a whole tonne of suggested popular searches.
Because once you know what people are searching for (in their exact words!) you can the create a blog post around that topic, with that precise title.
And of course, once you do go to the effort of writing and publishing each new blog post on y our website – you need to make sure you’re driving as much traffic to it as possible, by sharing it across your social media pages.
Not only does this help towards your SEO but clearly, the main purpose, is to help your audience and hopefully nurture them over time, so you convert a few into buyers. Two birds, one stone and all.
Last, but not least, you need backlinks. A backlink is simply a link from another site, to your site. Generally speaking, the more backlinks the better, providing they are quality.
But not all ‘backlinks’ are equal. No sirreee, they are not.
The tactic a lot of people use is to simply plaster your link on every crappy directory website, known to man. You know the websites – the silly ones, which claim to be amazing and useful listings of websites, when really, they just dump a whole heap of categories and a whole heap of websites underneath, and that’s about it. Trouble is, these websites, don’t get a lot of respect from Google.
Such tactics used to work, in the early days of Google, but Google keeps getting smarter. They know what you’re doing when you do this. And if you have too many ‘spammy’ type directories pointing to your website (particularly if they have a low domain authority etc.) – then they are likely to penalise your website and shunt you down the listings, rather than up them.
Google recognises when a website has a distinct lack of useful content, or simply lists links. They penalise that directory site – and they will probably penalise you for being on them.
The best and only real way of creating QUALITY backlinks, is to do a search for some relevant and useful high-traffic websites, and ask them nicely for a backlink.
Most important and popular websites though, won’t just chuck up a link to your site, for nothing.
You may need to pay for some advertising space.
Or, you may need to write a guest blog post (better anyway) and attempt to get them to publish it for you.
Generally, you need to create strategic alliances with other, high-traffic, well-performing websites – or give them something in exchange for the link.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) For Rural Business
By now you may have a basic understanding of some of the elements that count towards your SEO rankings on Google (and other search engines).
But you may also have figured out that it’s quite complicated.
As mentioned, many agencies seem to concentrate on creating copious amounts of backlinks, and not much else. Or, they’ll simply add in a few keywords to your website or add a page or two or rename a page here or there.
Yet, none of that is the total picture.
And SEO is always an ongoing process.
You cannot change a few things on your website and expect to magically rank on page one, just like that.
You need to remember that there are potentially thousands of other businesses also trying to rank for the same terms.
And even when you do choose to hire an SEO consultant, agency or even an SEO Copywriter like me, nothing is ever a magic nor instant fix.
It’s all a process, and it all happens, over time.
The longer your website exists, the more attention Google will pay to it.
The more traffic you get to your website, the more attention Google will pay.
And the longer that traffic stays on your website, the higher you might rank.
The best thing you can do though, to help your rural business succeed with a solid SEO strategy, is to get some technical help in getting your website set up the right way – optimise your website copy, start publishing high-quality blog posts are often as you can, and then start trying to get other websites to link to you.
And keep reviewing what’s working and what’s not.
And if you can’t do it alone – don’t 😊
Outsource as much as you need to, to specialists in each area, so you give your business a better chance.
It’s also good to recognise that SEO is just one way of driving traffic and customers to your website.
Your content marketing efforts also end up building your audience on social media etc. too, so there’s generally a double pay-off, when you do it well.
And if you need any help? I’m more than happy to see where I can do the basic elements, for you.