SEO for small businesses
the ultimate guide for creatives & solopreneurs
The most important principle with SEO for small businesses
A nuclear physics professor was stunned when he found that for his presentation, the audience was filled with women only. The reason was a print error on the announcement posters. Instead of "cosmic radiation", the topic the professor wanted to talk about, it said "cosmetic radiation".
Keywords and their relevance matter. A lot.
Misconceptions about SEO –
and why you need to lose them first
Everyone has heard the term SEO. But somehow, most have come to the conclusion that it's just not working anymore.
It's complicated. It's spammy. It's not a sexy strategy, unlike your Instagram or TikTok.
SEO is more like the grandfather of digital marketing.
The oldest form of digital marketing strategy. It's been around for a long time. And who wants to listen to a grandfather, right? He has no clue about what's going on in the world.
But now let's throw these misconceptions away and look at it realistically.
If we talk about methodologies to actually drive traffic to your website, Google is still the largest traffic referrer – way bigger than Facebook, for example. So if you're looking to get eyeballs to your website, you can't get around it.
Ideally, your customers are trying to answer questions on Google. How to be productive? How to write a book? How to... you get the picture. And you want to be there.
So when it comes to actually get new, fresh eyeballs on your website, Google is still one of the most used search engines in the world and your most powerful means for traffic.
You really don't want to be missing that opportunity.
The Downside of SEO and how to overcome it
The rules of the SEO game are: the winner takes it all.
Which means you have to be on page one.
If you are stuck on page three or page eight, no one is going to find you. And this is why most people get frustrated.
But if you understand the right technique – going after easier keywords, winning smaller keywords, actually making it onto page one – and then see traffic coming in, this is where the tables turn.
In the beginning stages, most pick keywords and topics that are too hard.
You've probably been there, never making it to page one, writing for a couple of years without any organic traffic. It's natural for frustration to settle in.
But if you just change your approach, and win top positions, actually get traffic, then you'll understand the benefits SEO has to offer.
Of course, there are algorithm updates. Especially in the last two years, Google has shuffled things around quite a bit. But generally speaking, rankings are quite sticky. Normally, if you do rank well, you keep ranking well for a long time, and then you can focus on other things – new books, articles, more creativity for your business. And isn't this all we want?
SEO is still a reliable and sustainable long-term traffic strategy for most creatives and solopreneurs.
The principle is really: you want to be the most relevant answer to a search query. And if you understand that, and if you understand going after easier keywords, you can succeed as a small website and compete with the big websites. You can still win organic traffic. That's why it's still so powerful, even though it's the oldest discipline.
Sometimes, it's good to listen to your grandfather.
The two main pillars of Google
Good old grandpa has two important values. Old-fashioned yet powerful ones he always rewards – content and links.
(There's actually third one: Technical SEO. It means you have to make sure your website crawlable, indexable, mobile-friendly. But we'll stick to the first two for now.)
Google values content.
It simply means if you didn't write about a topic, Google cannot rank you for that topic. If you don't have a page about a topic or keyword cluster, you're not going to rank.
Obviously, you need to have content first.
The more people link to you, the better you're going to rank.
This is what sets Google apart from search engines like Yahoo and Bing.
It's similar to how social algorithms also work – the more engagement you have, the more likes and comments you have, the more exposure you get. For Google, the likes and comments are links.
The more people link to you, the more authority you have.
What has changed over the last years?
Google got better.
In the past, Google wouldn't understand that "apple pie recipe" and "recipe for an apple pie" is the same thing. You would have to create two pages to cover those two variations, which is essentially the same keyword. Today, Google is very good at understanding synonyms and variations. It's enough to create one page for that keyword cluster. This already alleviates the pressure of writing countless pages. But more on quality vs. quantity later.
Grandpa Goggle stands firm on his values – it has always been content and links, and it is still content and links.
It means for you: You need a page for a keyword cluster, then you need links to it.
How to win the SEO game as a SMALL BUSINESS
But: Google does not rank your website.
What, wait a minute? What do you mean it's not Google?
Google makes the rules. But what exactly determines who lands on page one?
It is your competitors.
Imagine you're running a race.
How well you score, whether you'll be in position 10 or position 20 of the race, obviously depends on your fitness, your form, and how much you've trained.
But if you are running a race with a bunch of 10-year-olds, you're probably going to make it into position one. If you're running a race competing with Olympians, you'll end up last, even though you have the same level of fitness and training.
With Google, it's the same.
Obviously, you need to be fit, you may need to pimp your website so that it shines. But your ranking success really depends on whom you compete with.
Compete in the children's race.
Be a big fish in a small pond, not the other way round. Especially in the digital marketing space, there are old legacy websites with lots of links, a lot of content writers, spilling over with great stuff. You're going to have a really, really hard time competing with them. You'll never make it.
And don't forget: with Google SEO, the winner takes it all.
As a solopreneur, you want to be smart. You want to be choosing your battles. Because if you take a keyword that's very hard, you might be writing a perfect piece of content and it may take you a few days or even a few weeks. You might be building links for six months – and still end up on page three.
You're going to be depressed.
Niche down. Be more specific. Chose long-tail keywords.
Instead of trying to rank for "what is SEO" or "SEO tips", try to rank for "SEO tips for creatives", "SEO tips for solopreneurs" (like I did here, obviously). The more specific you get, the lower the search volume will be.
And this is what scares people.
But here's the thing: it's better to be in position one for a keyword with 800 searches than be in position 50 for a keyword with 80,000 searches.
Yes, the search volume will be lower. Don't pick a keyword with 10 searches a month. But with a few hundred searches per month, you can still get relevant clicks for your business and for your art. Because while the search volume is going to go down, what also goes down is the difficulty – which means instead of running with the Olympians, you're now running with people in your age group.
You actually have a chance of winning.
And the way to find these keywords and these topics is the process of keyword research.
How to find the right keywords for a small business
Let's say it takes you three days to write an article.
That's a lot of time and a lot of investment. Wouldn't you be better off spending some time (and maybe money) using a keyword research tool and then choosing 20 article ideas that have the opportunity of ranking, over just keeping on writing and writing, putting all this energy, and then it doesn't lead you anywhere?
The choice is pretty obvious. Yet very few make it.
So even if you hate spreadsheets, if the word SEO tickles your ear, if you don't want to get into it – at least for a week or two, sign up for an SEO tool and do keyword research.
Keyword research encompasses the process of finding keyword ideas, looking at what the search traffic is for them, and picking the difficulty.
How low is low enough?
It depends on which SEO tool you use. Two of the main ones are SEM rush and Ahrefs. Both have a keyword difficulty score, they just compare apples with apples. They have different scales, but it's the same concept.
If you're a brand new site, you want to go as low as it can be. So if Ahrefs has a scale between 0 and 100, you want a difficulty less than five or less than ten. Twenty is going to be insanely hard for you, you're not going to make it.
If you have a website that is a few years old, has organic traffic that has some traction, you can calculate the average keyword difficulty of your top-performing keywords. If all the keywords that you're in the top three have an average of 17, then you know you can pick another target keyword of 17 and you can win it.
But for most, you do want to start super easy. You put the article up, wait two or three months, hopefully, start seeing it rank and seeing the strategy do its work.
By that point, you will be convinced that good old grandpa knows what he's talking about.
Now, a little recap from everything we learned so far about SEO for creatives and small businesses:
- SEO is a reliable long-term traffic strategy. It constantly brings in new people once you've worked on one article and polished it to the best it can be.
- The winner takes it all. As a small business, you have to go for easier keywords because you need to be on page one for it to be worth it. The most important principle is: you want to be the most relevant answer to a search query.
- Google ranking has always relied on two main factors: content and links. With content, it's all about topics that are relevant, and the more people link to your topic, the higher you're going to rate. So tighten your topic to get relevance and rank. With backlinks, do honest and genuine outreach.
- Work in iterations. Update older articles rather than creating new ones that will rank for the same topic. Don't fall into perfectionism – publish and keep improving.
- Always go for the easier keywords. You have to win the keyword, even if it means a lower search rank. So keep building links and authority while going for low competition keywords, especially in the beginning.
- With all the technicalities that SEO includes, always keep in mind why you're doing this. SEO is a means to a goal – to reach and transform people's lives with your message. Reframe SEO in your mind as an opportunity to find your tribe and connect with your community.
What are your struggles with SEO? Maybe some tactics you've been using successfully?
Let us know in the comments below!