Seven mistakes small businesses should avoid in their SEO strategy

By Alan Ible, below, Managing Director, Digitel

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is a hot topic right now. Head into any marketing meeting, networking group or business breakfast and more often than not you’ll see it on the agenda or overhear at least one person in the room talking about it.

It may be today’s business buzz word but in actual fact SEO has been practised since the mid-nineties, a few years after the first website was launched. Nowadays the sector is estimated to be worth £60 billion a year, globally, and this is expected to rise even further to over £90 billion a year, over the next five years.

These figures mean that SEO is topping the list of “unpaid channels” that SME businesses are investing time and resources in today. According to Gartner’s state of Marketing Budget and Strategy 2022, companies are spending 8.5% of their marketing budgets on this specific area of digital marketing. But why is SEO getting this level of attention?

The simple answer is an effective SEO strategy works. If done right, it can help give your website traffic a significant boost, increase the online visibility of your organisation, and potentially, even help lead you to the holy grail, higher conversions and ROI.

To understand the importance of SEO, firstly we need to get to grips with some facts about human digital behaviour. In 2023, 87% of consumers start their product search online, 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine, and if you’re not on the first page, you’re not likely to be seen, leaving your competitors in prime position to pick up the rewards. A report which analysed four million Google searches, found that just 0.63% of people clicked to view the second page.

So, with SEO on the agenda, let’s explore seven common areas SME businesses can fall foul of and importantly, how to avoid them. 

Failing to understand your target audience

One of the most basic errors any small business can make is not understanding their target audience. Knowing audience preferences and online behaviour is critical knowledge to have to hand when creating relevant and engaging content. By having a good understanding of your audience and knowing what content resonates with them, you will increase the likelihood of attracting and retaining the right organic traffic.

SME businesses can use tools such as keyword research and website traffic analytics to provide valuable insights and gain a better understanding of user behaviour and preference. 

Neglecting basic keyword research

Keywords are the building blocks of an effective SEO strategy, that’s why it’s vital you carry out keyword research. There are tools available that can help you identify relevant search terms that have high-traffic and can be aligned with your content strategy. However, be mindful of high volume, high difficulty keywords, as the competition may be very high. Finally, be sure to look at local keywords which are essential for businesses looking to succeed in their local market.

Additionally, it is essential to be aware of the intent of your chosen keyword and make sure the term aligns with the type of online content you are producing for your target audience.

Failing to conduct keyword research effectively can result in your content missing its mark with your intended audience. By incorporating accurate keywords, you stand to gain greater visibility and website traffic.

Lack of investment in local SEO strategy

Studies suggest that up to 46% of all searches have local intent, in other words people are searching for services and businesses that are local to them.

Local SEO is a useful resource for businesses who would like to target potential customers in their area or a target area, which for many SMEs is the case. Mastering local SEO can capture the attention of local customers, inform them of where you are based, and increase footfall into your store and online visibility. Local SEO also faces less competition than those businesses who are targeting national customers, therefore your SEO strategy can be even more targeted and it should be easier to rank high on the first page of search engines.

To start with you can ensure your business is listed accurately within online directories such as Google Business Profile. You should also include local search phrases within your keyword strategy, and ensure your site is optimised for mobile, to help people searching for local businesses on the go. 

Not using semantic SEO techniques

Semantic SEO can increase website traffic by creating a valuable selection of information that provides context to your webpage and is used to directly answer a specific niche of a search query.

Businesses can include semantic techniques within their keyword strategy by using related terms, synonyms, and natural language throughout their site, e.g., using office + table or office + chair. This concept allows search engines to understand the meaning of your content better and improves the chances of ranking higher for relevant search queries and Topical Trust Flow.

Focusing on sourcing cheap backlinks from inferior sources

The quality of backlinks matters far more than the quantity of them. A Backlink is a hyperlink that connects one website to another and is essential for search engines like Google who see them as a vote of confidence.

Many small businesses with limited resources are often drawn to cheap and low-quality backlinks which can have the opposite of the desired effect, including being penalised by search engines who will lower your ranking.

The focus for SME businesses particularly should be on quality rather than quantity, build high-quality follow backlinks (which are links from reputable and relevant websites) sourced organically through valuable content and authoritative websites within your field.

A lack of competitor analysis

Understanding your competitors is as important as understanding your customers. Find what they are and aren’t doing and you can identify areas of opportunity that you can capitalise on.

When using SEO techniques, many businesses ignore what their competitors are doing. But analysing your competition doesn’t require degree-level knowledge. There are a few quick and easy ways to get an idea of their SEO plan.

SME businesses can look to identify competitors’ keywords on their website and via helpful tools, analyse their content strategy by looking at blogs, articles, social media, and backlink profiles. If you manage to obtain this knowledge it can go a long way in helping you map out your own SEO strategy.

Forgetting to track user behaviour

Knowledge is key. Tracking user behaviour on your website can provide valuable knowledge on how visitors navigate through your site and its content. It also clarifies whether your SEO efforts are paying off.

Behaviour tracking can be analysed using Google Analytics. Key statistics to analyse include time on page, sessions, and conversion rates. Arming yourself with this data and key metrics will determine the direction of your SEO and user experience strategies.

SEO is here to stay. By avoiding these mistakes, you can build a strong foundation for your SEO strategy, one that will give you the advantage in today’s competitive digital world. Remember, more people than ever are using the internet to search for products and services. The same people are also relying more heavily on your ranking and your website as the determining factor on whether they make a purchase or not.