Your 9-Step Small Business SEO Checklist

By Dan DelMain

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Is your website not showing up in Google search results? It’s frustrating. You probably poured a lot of time and money into your site, and now no one is visiting it.

The truth is, you have to have more than a pretty, well-written site. There are 9 invisible signals that tell Google, “This is a healthy, useful site we should show people.” Even if Michelangelo and Shakespeare built your site, you aren’t done yet. You need to nail these 9 things too. And they’re mostly under the hood, so can be hard to tell if they aren’t working.

It’s kind of like a shiny new Ferrari -- even though it looks great, it can’t go anywhere without gas. And you can’t tell it’s outta gas at a glance.

That’s why we’ve made you a small business SEO checklist. Consider this your website’s gas gauge. Is everything working under the hood...or do you need a quick tune-up? Go through this small business SEO site check and you’ll be on your way to showing up higher in Google results. Here’s a quick table of contents, since this post is pretty long:

  1. Are search engines allowed to find your site?

  2. Are you using search-engine-friendly code?

  3. Do you have broken links?

  4. Does your site take more than 2 seconds to load?

  5. Do you have short, unique meta titles?

  6. What about meta descriptions?

  7. Do you have a Google XML sitemap?

  8. Have you picked a canonical URL?

  9. Do your images have alt text?

If you need help, ask me your questions in the comments or shoot me an email.

1. Are Search Engines Allowed to Find Your Site?

Rather than having humans review your site, search engine robots do it. But maybe there are certain pages on your site you don’t want Google to see -- maybe you’re still working on them. Think of it like cleaning your house by shoving all your crap in that one spare bedroom. You don’t want your guests to go in there, do you?

Creating a Robots.txt file is how you tell Google which rooms to avoid, because they’re messy. But in a worst-case scenario, your Robots.txt file tells search engines, “My whole house/website is dirty! Don’t even come in the front door!” In that case, Google won’t let anyone else come visit, either. That’s what we want to avoid.

So how can you make sure Google can hang out at your house, er, website? The easiest way to make sure Google is indexing all of your pages is to go to Google and type in “site:yourURL.com.” If Google is indexing your site properly, a bunch of your website pages should show up for the results. If nothing shows up, that’s bad! Here’s how it looks for us -- there are 38 results:

You can also check to see if your site has a Robots.txt file. If so, it will live at the end of your URL like this: http://delmainanalytics.com/robots.txt If you change “delmainanalytics” to your site, and the page doesn’t load, you need to create a Robots.txt file. (You might need help -- ask your web developer for help with this. You can also learn more here.)

Here’s what our robots.txt file looks like for DelMain Analytics, and what it means:

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User-agent: *
Disallow: /wp-admin/

The * star means it applies to all search engine robots (good).

The text after, "Disallow: " tells Google which pages to ignore. "Disallow: /" by itself is bad -- that means Google will ignore your entire site.

 

After you or your web developer makes a Robots.txt file, make sure you submit it in Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. (Here’s how in Bing and Google.)

Another way your site tells search engines to stay away is with the code “noindex” or “nofollow.” If you right-click on your website and click “View source,” you might see this code:

<meta name=”robots” content="noindex,nofollow">

“Noindex” means search engines will not index, or list, that page. “Nofollow” means you don’t want search engines to follow any of the links on that page. This is bad. We want search engines to index your site and follow your links to other pages on your site too. Here’s the code you want, which lives near the beginning of the code for every page:

<meta name=”robots” content="index,follow">

2. Are You Using Search-Engine-Friendly Code?

Now that Google and other search engines can find your site, the next step in your small business website SEO check is to make sure they can read it. Several types of code make flashy, media-heavy sites, but they just confuse search engines, so don’t use them:

  • Flash

  • Silverlight

  • iFrames

  • Video and other rich media files

You also want to make sure your site is coded properly. Whenever you include code indicating something is starting (< >), you have to indicate later that it has ended (</ >). If you forget, the search engine will get confused.

To check whether search engines can read your small business website, use the W3 Validator tool. The tool will flag problem areas so you or your developer can fix them.

3. Do You Have Broken Links?

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A broken link can happen if you move pages around on your site, change URLs, or delete old parts of your site. When someone clicks on a link that goes to the old page, they get a 404 error message. Not only is it frustrating for the visitor, but it stops search engines in their tracks -- they can’t get to wherever you were trying to send them. And that’s bad for SEO.

Rather than clicking on every link on your site to make sure they all work (ain’t nobody got time for that), use this broken link checker to find them. Then you can either have your developer fix them or do it yourself -- it’s pretty easy.

To fix a broken link, log into the back end of your website, find the page with the broken link, and fix the URL. If you’re linking outside of your site, make sure the URL starts with “http://” -- otherwise the computer will look for the link on your site instead of elsewhere.

4. Does Your Site Take More Than 2 Seconds to Load?

 

Internet speed is kind of like dog years. If your website takes four seconds to load, that’s an eternity to the visitor. Ideally, your website should take one second to load, two tops.

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Here’s how to test page load time. Go to GTmetrix and paste in your homepage URL. Not only will it tell you how long it takes your site to load (ours took 2.67 seconds when I checked), but GTmetrix suggests ways to make your site load faster. Use the tool’s suggestions as your guide of what to troubleshoot. After testing your homepage, try another key page as well, like your company’s “Services” page or a blog post.

The #1 reason sites load slowly is that the image file sizes are too large. You don’t need print quality! Compress your images (here’s one free online tool). Videos can also slow down your homepage. If the fixes are outside of your control, contact your developer or host company (e.g., GoDaddy).

5. Do You Have Short, Unique Meta Titles?

Your meta title is a piece of code that tells search engines what that web page is about. It’s different from the title at the top of the page -- in fact, it’s probably invisible. It’s what shows up in the search engine as the title of your site. Here’s what ours looks like:

It’s important to tell Google what your meta title is, otherwise Google will make up its own (and who knows how accurate it will be). Meta titles live on the back end of your site -- here’s where in Wordpress and Squarespace.

To see if your pages have meta titles and descriptions, plug the URL into this free tool. It lets you input multiple URLs at a time. You want a unique meta title and description for each page -- that’s your chance to convince internet searchers to click your link, so make it compelling. And keep it short. They should be under 55 characters. Use this character count tool to see how long yours is and adjust accordingly.

6. What About Meta Descriptions?

Like meta titles, meta descriptions also show up in your Google result and give someone more info about what they’ll get if they click on your link. Rather than 55 characters, you have 155 total characters to describe your web page. The process to test and fix them is similar to meta titles.

Make sure you put your target keywords in your meta title and description (and of course in the page text, when appropriate). But there’s no need to put your keywords in a special field on the back end. That used to help, but not now that Google’s more sophisticated. In fact, they just tell your competitors what keywords you’re trying to rank for!

7. Do You Have a Google XML Sitemap?

Next up in our small business SEO checklist: making sure you have a sitemap. It’s kind of like the table of contents to your website. It lists out every single one of your site’s pages. If your site is pretty new, and few sites link to it, you definitely need a sitemap. It makes it easier for Google to index your site and then show it in search results.

Here’s a free tool to help you build your sitemap and submit it to Google. If you’re curious and want to learn more, you can read Google’s guide to building a sitemap.

8. Have You Picked a Canonical URL?

Did you know there are multiple URLs for your homepage? There are several subtle variations that involve adding or deleting things like “www” from your site address. For example, here are a few of ours:

  • http://www.delmainanalytics.com

  • http://delmainanalytics.com

  • http://delmainanalytics.com/

  • http://www.delmainanalytics.com/index.html

  • http://delmainanalytics.com/home.asp

You want to pick one of these and stick with it. Whenever you link to internal pages, and whenever external sites link to your site, you only want to use one of these formats. Otherwise Google thinks they are different pages, and your SEO juice gets diluted.

Here’s how to fix it. Start by finding out which variation of your site’s URL has the highest domain authority by pasting different URLs into this free tool from Moz (careful, you only get 3 free searches a day). Do you get a higher domain authority with or without “www”? Once you’ve decided on one, specify your preferred URL in Google Webmaster Tools.

Then create 301 redirects from the other variations of your site to the preferred version. For example, http://www.delmainanalytics.com redirects to http://delmainanalytics.com (without the www). To check to see if your 301 redirects are working, type in several different versions of your URL into Google and see if they redirect to the one you want.

9. Do Your Images Have Alt Text?

Google can’t see images, and neither can blind people. Both rely on your image’s alt text. When you upload an image, you have a field for the alt text. The alt text should describe what’s happening in the image, like a man standing at a chalkboard, or a smiling woman typing on a laptop. It’s ideal if you can fit a keyword or two in there, but only if it’s relevant. The days of getting away with keyword stuffing in alt text are gone.

In some browsers, the alt text shows up when you hover your mouse over the image:

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Here’s how that photo’s alt text looks in the HTML code:

<img src="http://delmainanalytics.com/wpcontent/uploads/2012/10/townestorage-building.jpg" alt="towne storage building" />

Here are detailed instructions on adding alt text to images in Wordpress. Note that the alt text isn’t the same as the image file name. That’s actually where you should start: by giving each photo on your site a unique, specific file name that uses your keywords when applicable. Google relies more on your alt text than file name, but both are important.

 

That’s it for our small business SEO site check! It’s a ton of info, so don’t feel overwhelmed. If anything was unclear, let me know in the comments below. I promise to respond.


Dan DelMain has a history of helping businesses realize their potential through online marketing. Before developing DelMain Analytics, Dan DelMain managed the marketing department for an e-commerce company. He left that company to form DelMain Analytics in 2009, where he could share his digital marketing talents with multiple businesses. A graduate of University of San Francisco with a degree in International Business, Dan enjoys being active indoors and outdoors, traveling abroad and playing bagpipes.

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