Small business owners are often experts in their respective fields who have opened a business; they can't be experts at everything, right? Yet, given small budgets and staff, they feel pressure to be a marketing expert. 

Information overload

As people take to the web to search for solutions, even a brick and mortar store’s success relies on customers’ abilities to read about the store on the web. This means that small business owners need to understand a few basic things about SEO in order for their businesses to stand out. I find that many small business owners are overwhelmed by the research on SEO that's available. It seems that the field has grown so big, and so deep that it can be exhausting when all you want is an intro into the idea of SEO and optimizing your own site for Google searches. I’ve outlined a couple of core concepts to help those looking for a basic overview of SEO for a small business.

Think like a search engine

To me, if you understand what Google is trying to achieve via SEO rankings, then it makes building a site with SEO in mind more intuitive. The most important thing to understand about Google search rankings is that Google wants to be useful. It wants you, the actual human being, to find answers that satisfy you. If Google stopped being useful, then you would stop coming to it for answers and it would not make money.

Thinking in these terms, what makes sense for Google to use as evidence that your site gives the answers?  It’s going to look for relative content on your site using the search terms you’ve used.

Keywords, SEO and your small business website

Those search terms you type into the search field, or keywords in the SEO world, become very important. Google looks through websites and looks for those keywords. In years past, people would jam as many keywords onto a page as possible, as if yelling at Google, “look at me! I’ve got a LOT to say about this topic!” As you can imagine, people found these pages cheesy, disingenuous and not helpful. Google noticed, changed its algorithm, and stopped rewarding keyword stuffing. While it may seem tempting to do this, there’s a much more time-effective strategy for inserting keywords into your content.  

Add keywords to your headers and sub-headers

Google tries to read a website’s content the way a real person reads content. Have you noticed how when you land on a page, you skim the headlines, looking for the article or part of the article that meets your needs? Google does the same thing and looks for keywords to appear in headers and subheaders. When you break your page’s content into pieces, it becomes more in line with the way people are navigating sites. Label these pieces with their main points in short, succinct phrases. When Google “crawls” your site, it notes these headings/subheadings and the terms you’ve included. In theory, Google rewards these pages with a higher ranking.  

Including images and alt text 

Besides scanning a page’s headlines, visitors also scan for images. Images are another important element to a webpage that small business owners need to consider. The best images illustrate or support the content on a page, giving the visitor an at-a-glance overview of what he or she is going to get from reading the content. This helps guide the reader to continue reading, as well as break-up the page so it seems navigable.

Images make people happy with your page, which makes Google happy.

Remember, Google doesn’t want people to be frustrated while visiting a page it recommended. One thing that frustrates people is when the page does not render properly; there’s content there, but you just can’t “see” it. Therefore, in the instances that images don’t load, Google wants the visitor to at least see an explanation of what the image depicts. Moreover, the seeing impaired use screen readers to read webpages. If images are not properly labeled with titles or alt text, the screen reader is unable to describe the image. Google rewards pages with “alt text” tagged in the image. Small business owners should take care to label all images with descriptions. Adding alt text to Wordpress images is a very simple process and you are probably already seeing the field every time you’ve uploaded an image into your Wordpress site. 

How to know what to use as alt text

Again, Google doesn’t want you stuffing keywords everywhere; the best thing you can do to optimize your alt text for SEO is to be honest and accurate in its description. You want a short, succinct description that is not too broad. A five to seven word phrase works well. Think about your ideal client that your page is trying to reach. What questions does your page answer for the client? How does your image illustrate these points? This should be the image alt text. Simply labeling the image your keyword is probably not accurate, probably more broad than what is actually going on in the image and most likely won't be rewarded by Google.

Adding alt text to Squarespace sites

Unlike working with alt text labels in Wordpress, I did not find it intuitive the first time I tried to add alt text to uploaded images for a Squarespace site. So, here’s some advice. For Squaespace sites, if you are uploading single images, the file name becomes the alt text. Therefore, it is important that your file name is not just a series of numbers or letters, but that you’ve put thought into which alt text label you would like to use before you upload your jpg. If you are uploading to Squarespace as a gallery, the alt text is the image title. Putting some time into describing your images’ contents before uploading your Squarespace images adds a few more minutes and steps to your uploading process, but it is worth it.