As a new small business owner, you may not have much of a marketing budget to work with (maybe even none!). So although you need to help your future customers and clients find your newly launched website to grow, paid advertising is probably not an option right now. What do you do when faced with the challenge of building up a following before you can afford marketing to do so?! Ugh, sounds pretty frustrating, doesn’t it? But before you give up or take on debt to help launch your business, let’s take a look at the free opportunities available in organic search rankings.

It is true, paid media can give you immediate results, but it comes at a high price. You are paying top dollar for top placements in front of people whose searches and behaviors show high intent to purchase your products or services. You could say it’s “Nice, but with a price (zing!).” Unpaid, or earned exposure, is a long term strategy that takes planning and time, but requires little to no budget if you’re willing to do it yourself. (Sorry, not as catchy! Maybe “Free, but will need all the coffee”?). Your marketing mix will ideally include both types for ongoing success so that you don’t become reliant on any one source of traffic.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) needs to be your friend. It might sound scary, nerdy, or maybe even boring, but accept that caring about search rankings is going to be part of your life now. SEO can be simple or complicated, depending on how deep you go. The need will depend on what you do, where you’re located, and how competitive your market is (locally or within your industry online). I believe everyone can learn basic SEO techniques, so if you’re interested in some simple best practices to incorporate into your business, keep reading!

A Word on Keywords

You will need to create a good keyword list so you know what you’re targeting when you write your website content. There are lots of powerful keyword research tools available, but they come with subscription-based fees. These are used by professional SEOs and agencies for rank tracking and, luckily, you won’t need that level of data to create your list. (If you want to see where you rank, check out BrightLocal’s free Result Checker to input your keyword and target location.)

First, think about what you do and where you do it. Your standard geo location + service/product. Add in any variations of the words. Ex: Chicago hair stylist, Chicago hair salon, Chicago haircut. Try to get more specific with anything special you provide. Ex: women’s cruelty free hair color services Chicago, Chicago hair salon open on Sundays. Now add in some specific questions people may search for where you can show up by offering detailed expertise in blogs. These are called longtail keyword phrases. Ex: What is the best purple shampoo to tone blonde hair? What are the best type of extensions for fine hair? These types of searches will have lower search volume, but because they are so specific and less competitive, it is easier to get top results, even possibly outside your local area.

Not a local business? If you don’t have a physical location, but are an online business, you have the added challenge of trying to rank regionally, nationally, or even worldwide. Be prepared to work on carving out your niche and building a brand that stands out to break through the depths of the search engine result pages (SERPs). There are only 10 organic listings on a page and most people won’t look beyond the first 3 pages, so you need to get hyper focused on who your target audience is and recognize that you may never rank for the most competitive keywords. However, don’t stop trying – look for different ways to get more creative than your competitors for free exposure. Plan content around more longtail keywords, produce videos on Youtube answering frequently questions (and searches), and share your expertise in articles posted on other sites to reach different audiences.

Meta Titles + Descriptions

Your listing in the SERPs is made up of a meta title link and meta description that give a searcher a quick summary of your page. Titles are a primary ranking factor, so it’s definitely worth the time to fill in these fields. Descriptions are not required, but if you don’t add anything, Google will pull from your content to fill in the blanks and it might not be good. The text you use also needs to convince searchers that your link is the best option and worth clicking, so remember you’re writing for people and not bots. You only have about 160 characters before Google cuts your text off with ellipses (…), so keep it concise.


This is another high impact place to add keywords. Many websites are set to create the page URL using the page title as default. Ex: SEO-basics-for-small-businesses-on-a-budget. You can change this if your title is too long or you want a title that has a friendlier headline, but an SEO keyword boost in your link.

Page Titles

There is a hierarchy in placing keywords in different areas of a page and the title has a lot of weight. You want to use your keywords, but in a natural way that will still be interesting to read. Consider turning your title into a question or list. Ex: Clueless About SEO? Or Learn All You Need to Know for Your Business or 5 Easy Tips for Effortless Small Business SEO

Headings (Hint, This is a Heading!)

A lot of people think that SEO is all super technical code that works its magic behind the scenes, but there is a lot you can do with your actual content. In fact, this is really the most important, since any coding you add won’t work if you don’t have any information to support it! So along with choosing a title with intention, you should also use headings to break up different sections on your page. This is an easy way to add keywords into another high level area and it also improves the usability of your site, as it makes your information easier to scan and find quickly.

Image Alt Text

Images make your content more interesting, highlights your brand, can help explain your information visually, and in general helps break up lots of text to make it more digestible. There is a place to add alt text that describes your images. This does not really help SEO these days, but is a best practice for accessibility because it helps screen readers understand what is visually represented in the image to assist the visually impaired. There isn’t much benefit in having your stock photo rank for a keyword, but if you have original content like an infographic then definitely use the alt text as another opportunity to expand the potential exposure of your brand in search.

Internal Links

Any time you create a new page or blog, ask yourself what related information you have that you can link to in your content. Yes, your visitor could find the link in the navigation or blog archives, but make it super easy to be a click away while they are reading. This is a great way to show visitors your other content and keep them on your site longer, so that they hopefully engage with you and convert into a lead. It is also helpful to link to external sources that provide value for your visitors like financing options or statistics from credible sources (just remember to set these links to open in a new window so that your visitors don’t leave your site).


Backlinks are like professional references for your website. These referral sources can help build your reputation in the eyes of Google, but only if the reference is credible! Look for free directory listings within your industry or community (your chamber of commerce for example), see if any of your business partnerships will list you on their site, and create your own opportunities by guest blogging or contributing a quote to an article and asking for a link back to your site. You’ll benefit from sites that have higher domain authority (DA) than you, but lower level sites can actually negatively impact your rankings, so choose wisely. You can check the DA with a free tool like Moz Link Explorer.

Social Media

Social media provides a huge opportunity for free brand exposure and site traffic. When you plan posts, always look for relevant ways to include a link back to your site whenever possible. The strategy is to capture the attention of someone on Facebook, but then send them over to your site where they can directly do business with you. Social signals are very helpful for SEO, so work to create buzz around your brand – facilitate engagement on your posts and get people talking about and checking into your business online.

Ready, Set, SEO!

And just like that, you’ve got some new tools in your tool kit. These simple SEO recommendations will help you build a good foundation for your digital marketing strategy. This route will take time and there is always more you can add if you have the interest and time to get more technical, but this is a great place to start. If you looking for some personalized SEO consulting, sign up for a Compass Call to speak to me (Andrea) or another expert on our team.

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andrea kalan

Digital Marketing Director

Tampa, Florida USA

Living by the mantra, “Do no harm, but take no shit,” Andrea believes that everyone deserves a fair shot at happiness. She brings her advocacy, desire to connect with clients on a personal level, and 10 years in digital marketing to help women pursue their dreams and define their own success.In building Wildernest, she’s created the lifestyle she needs to be her most full, creative self and has found the power to use her voice to help other women do the same.

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