In a marketing world filled with competitive PPC ads and social media influencer deals, it seems like the only winners can be big businesses with big budgets. But that’s not entirely true.

Small business SEO (search engine optimization) is leveling the playing field. This digital marketing strategy enables small businesses to generate traffic, leads, and customers from search engine results pages (SERPs) without spending the way big businesses do.

What is small business SEO?

Small business SEO is a digital marketing strategy that allows small businesses to improve the visibility of their website in search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Google processes and ranks web pages (known as “crawling and indexing”) based on relevance and presents them on SERPs in descending order. SEO helps businesses rank higher on SERPs, and higher rankings mean more website traffic. Small business SEO tactics can include things like:

  • Long-tail keyword research
  • Descriptive meta titles and descriptions
  • Detailed mobile landing pages

Unlike PPC, SEO is a largely organic digital marketing strategy, which makes it particularly appealing for small businesses who don’t have the budget to compete in a paid advertising war with bigger enterprises. SEO is also a strategy that, once it’s in place, is relatively easy to maintain and improve over time.

The Small Business SEO Checklist for Beginners

A lot of small business SEO tactics are just like enterprise tactics, but on a smaller scale. That said, there are a few particularly powerful strategies for small businesses that enterprises don’t get much benefit from. This checklist features both, and it’ll give you the foundation you need to start driving more organic traffic to your website through search engines.

Check to see if your site is indexed by Google

A good starting point is to ensure that Google has information from your website already indexed. This means that, at minimum, your website can be found and crawled.

If you use Google Search Console, you can check the “coverage” section to see how many pages on your site are indexed. You can also search Google for your website and see how many results pop up:

Search results for a site search to see if your site is indexed by Google.Once you see how many of your pages are indexed, you’ll have a better understanding of the scope of SEO work that needs to be done.

Submit an XML sitemap to search engines

An XML sitemap smoothly guides search engine crawlers through the layout of your website. It is a blueprint of all your webpages and will ensure that search engines have the essential pages to crawl and index.

You can upload these to Google Search Console or the Bing Webmaster Tools dashboard manually, or if you’re using WordPress, you can install a WordPress SEO plugins to do it for you.

Ensure your site is mobile-friendly

It’s estimated that more than 60% of all searches are on mobile devices. As such, Google values the mobile versions of websites over other forms (tablet, desktop, etc.) and indexes them first.

Some content management systems, like Webflow, use responsive design technology to automatically optimize your site per each device. If your CMS does not have responsive design and you’re unsure of how your mobile site works, there is a Google mobile-friendliness test you can use.

Make sure your content is high-quality

If your website is centered around providing valuable information, improving your rankings is only a matter of implementing some white hat SEO tactics.

Keyword research is an essential content creation strategy. It helps businesses determine what questions their customers use Google to find the answers to. Once they know these, they can create content that provides the answer, drawing visitors to their website in the process.

Small business owners are likely to find more success ranking for long-tail keywords. Unlike short-tail keywords which cover broad topics like “diet tips” or “morning workout routines,” long-tail keywords are more specific and less competitive to rank for.

They’re also usually indicative of a searcher who is closer to making a purchase. For example, someone searching “accounting software” is probably still in the beginning of the buyer’s journey, whereas someone searching “accounting software for small retail businesses” has a better idea of what they’re looking for.

Additionally, if you’re a local business trying to rank for a term like “accounting software,” you’re going to be up against stiff competition from established companies like Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Netsuite. One company even found that long-tail keywords perform 2.5x better than their short-tail counterparts.

Graph showing long-tail keywords perform better for small business SEO. Once you’ve established a clear keyword direction, make sure you provide an answer to the user’s query. In short, what would someone searching for this term want or need? Learn this by studying top results for your query and create something that is better or unique.

Another major component of writing high-quality content is how it’s organized on the page. Headers are the most effective tool for optimizing content layout. They break down major topics into easily-digestible sections of text.

A diagram detailing how to use headings to organize written content.

Headers also make it easier for people to find specific information that they’re looking for on the page. Providing content that users can skim and navigate easily is an effective content marketing strategy.

You can also improve how your page ranks by adding internal links. These show your target audience and search engines that you have a relevant, interconnected web of quality content. They provide seamless transitions between pages on your site, allowing users to move to other resources to learn more about a particular topic or product.

Audit your site structure

It’s important that content on your website flows smoothly. Information has to be laid out so that users can know:

  1. How they got from point A to point B
  2. How point A relates to point B

Your site structure should be organized by broad topics that are narrowed down into smaller subtopics. There shouldn’t be too many levels of organization either. A shallower (yet comprehensive) site structure will ensure that it doesn’t take too much searching for crawlers or people to find important information.

Check your site for broken links

Broken links are damaging to both user experience and crawl time. When a user is sent to a broken link, it can make your website seem unreliable. This can lead potential customers away from your website.

You can check for broken links by using a CMS plugin or online tool. SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Google all offer broken link checkers that will save you lots of time individually auditing each link you have.

Reread the meta title and meta description of your pages

Meta titles and meta descriptions are the first impression searchers will have of your page. They make up the information in your search engine listings.

Reread the meta title and description of your pages. The descriptions should be less than 160 characters (so they don’t get cut off) and should include your keyword. Make sure they elaborate on the title by giving visitors a little more information on what they can expect to find on your page.

A meta title should be a little shorter —  60 characters to prevent truncation — and will include your target keyword and a succinct description of the page that makes it stand out from other results on the SERP. If you can include a benefit, searchers will be even more likely to click.

Emphasize local SEO

If you’re a local business, the last thing you want is to be hidden from potential customers in your city or state. By implementing local SEO tactics you can grow your immediate client base without spending too many resources.

At least two major elements that any small business SEO strategy needs: NAP and GMB. NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone. These are three essential pieces of contact information that small businesses need on their website. Having a phone number is a simple, yet effective way to provide additional information or assistance to potential customers.

GMB stands for Google My Business listing, which no small business SEO strategy is complete without. When you have a GMB listing, anyone who searches for “(product/service) near me” in Google will see a list of local businesses in the area, and yours will feature detailed information like reviews, hours, address, photos, and more.

A Google My Business Page for small business SEO.

It’s relatively easy to set up a Google My Business Page, and it will help improve your ranking for local search terms. Additionally, SEO company, Moz, offers businesses a local listing score that will tell you how optimized your site is for your region.

Make sure your URLs are SEO-friendly

A URL’s appearance and content play a role in users’ perception of your site. Users should be able to easily type your URL and have an idea of what the page will be about when they get there.

It’s best to pick a simple URL format that is simple, short, descriptive, and includes your keyword. This will make people more likely to share your webpages on social media and link to them in articles and blog posts, ultimately gaining new traffic to your site.

Optimize your images

SEO doesn’t just apply to written content — it applies to images as well. Alt text is a description you can add to images that allows screen reading software to read the description aloud to visually impaired internet users. Since crawlers can’t see your images either, alt text also helps search engines better understand and rank pages.

Example of good image alt text from Moz.

Alt text should contain a keyword or phrase (without keyword stuffing) and be succinct but detailed.

Adding these descriptive captions not only improves user experience across the board, but it also allows crawlers to index your visual content.

Generate backlinks with link-building strategies

Backlinks build your credibility with Yahoo, Bing, and Google by showing that other sites trust your content.

Although small businesses typically produce less web content than large corporations, there are still ways to build backlinks. Some of these include:

  • Creating content for your region
  • Building online relationships with local or niche bloggers
  • Guest posting for industry peers
  • Writing testimonials for vendors you use

Ahrefs recommends creating “stockist” pages where you list links to all third-party products that you sell. In turn, you can reach out to those brands and ask them to link to your pages, as well.

Structure your data with schema markup

Schema markup allows you to sharply define HTML code on your site. It can distinguish written content from customer reviews, for example.

Once you’ve used schema to define customer reviews as such, search engines may display them as highly-detailed, visually appealing snippets on the results page. These excerpts, called rich snippets, boost traffic by providing valuable information upfront to potential customers.

If customers are able to view things like ratings, reviews, event dates, etc. just from your website’s listing in the search engine results, your organic traffic will increase.

Test your page speed

Page speed is one of Google’s most well-known ranking factors. If a page takes too long to load, users are likely to exit and find a faster source of information. Fortunately, the Google page speed test will give your site a speed rating and offer recommendations on how to improve.

Use links consistent with your canonical name

When creating your web page URLs, consistency is key. If you have more than one type of format, make sure to designate one as your canonical, or official, URL.

For example, if your canonical URL is, you want to use that format for linking to your website. Using a variation like this: (without the www) can cause your pages to sabotage each other on search engines because Google treats the WWW version and the non-WWW version as two unique URLs. That means and will be competing for the same keywords on search engine results pages.

Get a complimentary small business SEO audit

Small businesses don’t need to compete with big companies to win traffic from search. Long-tail keywords, Google My Business listings, and rich snippets are just a few ways to stand out on search engine results pages. And if you can stand out locally, small businesses can reap big rewards from SEO.

Want to see how you’re doing with small business SEO? Get an instant SEO audit below. Or, schedule a free consultation to see how intent SEO can boost search traffic revenue by 700%.