Four Essential, Free SEO Tools For Small Business

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SEO Tools

When we recently polled private schools asking them what questions they had about search engine optimization, one of the most popular responses/questions we got was “How do I get the most bang for my buck?” I would be willing to bet that this is the most popular question for any small business. Most small businesses are busy doing what they do, and the sometimes-messy world of SEO and Internet marketing probably comes across as a big blooming, buzzing confusion.

Businesses may look into purchasing search engine optimization services but typical costs might simply seem impractical or too much of a gamble, especially considering that there are many questionably credible SEO operators out there. So the question would remain for most businesses, “Where do I start?”

The advice we put together for private schools applies to many other small businesses, from print shops to auto mechanics to electricians to just about anyone with a business and a website… and no understanding of why they do not get much in the way of search engine traffic.

With that in mind, we put together a list in order of quickest bang for your buck. In addition to having high return on investment (ROI), everything on our list was in fact free or came with a built-in manageable budget.

Here goes, four maximum-bang-for-your-buck tips for small business SEO. As well, I share some interesting insights into average website owners we learned along the way:

1) Get Listed in Google Places
Google Places” (formerly called Google Local Business Center) was developed specifically for local businesses.  It’s free. When we presented this to schools, we had people ask us several times, “So there’s no cost?” In some cases, they said, “Are you sure?!”

It’s probably safe to suspect that many small businesses also assume that this is some form of pay per click advertising (Why does Google advertise this service?) so they never look twice at Google Places.

Tip: when you fill in information in Google Places, consider what people might be looking for (SEO 101, here, I know, but most businesses do not get this). In the case of private schools, we found examples of schools appealing to the best and brightest students. Look it up in Google’s keyword tool: people are most likely refer to “gifted kids.” This is what the people in your market call themselves; just go with it.

To elaborate on that….

2) Market to your audience with the keywords they’re using
Google’s keyword tool is a free tool that helps you investigate what people are typing into search engines. Keyword tools like Google’s have been around for a long time and they are better all the time. Google’s tool, for example, allows you to separate out country searches. For example, for Canadian audiences go to Advanced Options and select Canada. There are more options if you are trying to reach a specific audience by language or keyword or platform.

You can drill down into keywords to find longer phrases that you might be able to rank for. Google’s tool is actually targeted at Adwords users and it shows market competition for keywords; what applies to Adwords is probably very much true for organic search.

We still see so many small business websites and private schools that title every page of their site the same or insist on marketing themselves in terms that are not used by searchers. For example, many schools insist on calling themselves “independent schools” when this phrase means much less to parents than the much more popular phrase “private schools.”

If you build your site using the words people are looking for … they will come.

3) Download the Google SEO Starter Guide
Once again, it’s free. And it tells you what Google wishes every webmaster knew. The Starter Guide explains the importance of title tags, good url structure, site navigation, internal linking and a bunch of other things that – if applied – will improve the search engine visibility of about 90% of the small business websites I’ve ever seen. And yes, people, it’s free.

4) Install Google Analytics
Also free. And everyone should take advantage. (By the way, if you’re keeping track, this has all cost you exactly ZERO DOLLARS, so far).

Google Analytics is absurdly easy to use and easy to install. You create an account and drop the code into the footer of every page of your site and start measuring traffic. You’ll find out what keywords people are using to come to your site and you can see – for example – that if you increase your ranking (using info in the Starter Guide, along with adding some keyword-targeted content) for some important keywords, you could reach a much broader audience.

All of this is advice that most SEOs will consider very basic. Or they may be angry because I’m giving away so many sources of information that they are reselling for typically high fees.

Because many businesses are frustrated by their lack of visibility in search engines, they build a mistrust of Google. This mistrust is misplaced; Google gives all this stuff away for free for good reason.

Google’s “prime directive” is to index information… not to make people pay to get indexed, not to make it hard for your website to get found, not to make it necessary to hire an SEO expert, not to… not anything else. They want you to get found for keywords you ought to be found for.

Take advantage of these free and easy to use products and I guarantee that you will see your web traffic improve.

Jim Huinink, the Private School Marketing Guy here,  is Director of Web Strategy for Our Kids Media, a Mississauga, Ontario company specializing in marketing private schools and summer camps as well as retirement homes marketing, through print publications, consumer expos and the websites ourkids.net, camps.ca and comfortlife.ca.

Image Credit:Denver Web Design

Article by Jim H

Jim has written 1 articles.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Laptop Briefcases August 13, 2010, 2:56 pm

    I agree that those are all great free resources. I would have to disagree with something you said towards the end of the post though: “They want you to get found for keywords you ought to be found for.” If that was truly the case, they would not be looking so closely at factors like backlinks and site age. Google is an advertising company and profit by selling ads. If everyone was automatically ranked favorably, a lot less people would use Google AdWords. Of course, it is impossible for everyone to have the best rankings in their niche. So if you really want a significant search engine presence, you have to pay someone to help you or be willing to put in a lot of work.

  • Car Rental August 13, 2010, 7:00 pm

    Google keyword tool is really awesome. We have rcently sign up for Google places, still have to see it’s effect on traffic.

  • Mathew Day August 13, 2010, 7:44 pm

    I already knew about and use a few of these seo tools already, but I was unfamiliar with Google Places. Thanks for sharing your insight about these great seo tools.

  • Property Marbella August 14, 2010, 4:08 am

    Good and true article, Google SEO starter guide is fantastic to start with, it give you all information you need and it help you a lot to get a good ranking in the SERP.

  • harly August 14, 2010, 5:30 am

    You have write some great tool some of them i already use but some i really want to use.Google keyword tool is the great one.

  • evan schulte August 14, 2010, 9:21 am

    These are great tools. I have found Google analytics to be the best help for me to track my traffic.

  • used tires August 14, 2010, 11:33 am

    Google’s keyword tool is definitely awesome but I would also go ahead and use Google’s Webmasters Tool, Google’s really done a fantastic job to add so many new features to that!

    Till then,

    Jean

  • Colleen@Kennewick Homes August 14, 2010, 7:37 pm

    Very good. Perhaps, engaging is something like SEOMoz is in order as well. Or, some other SEO forum.

  • Car Rental August 14, 2010, 11:58 pm

    You can use woopra along with Google analytics to see real time analytics live.

  • Bidet August 15, 2010, 11:34 am

    Google Place looks like a great place to submit your site, I never heard of it before. Google Analytics is a must for all websites, its a great way to see where your traffic is coming from and your best conversion sources. Its also fairly easy to add to your site and set it up.

  • Online Property Lab August 16, 2010, 11:17 am

    It always amazes me how few people seem to truly spend time looking at their analytics. There is a wealth of information there that can improve your website in an instant yet people choose to ignore it, probably because it can be somewhat intimidating at first.

  • Professional SEO services August 17, 2010, 1:09 am

    thanks for the nice tips, i want to ask one thing if we don’t have any office then how will we use Google place for our promotion rather we used a fake place to show the visitors.

  • WebpageLottery August 17, 2010, 8:42 am

    Nice all Google products. I also use google.com/webmasters. Is a pretty useful and powerful product.

  • Private School Marketing Guy August 17, 2010, 12:29 pm

    @Laptop Briefcases:
    I’m merely trying to emphasize that Google’s main business is providing relevant search results based on their ability to index info on the web. That’s the ideal they pursue. Unfortunately, yes, they are far from perfect in indexing all the info available (e.g. persistent privileging of text over Flash, a seeming distaste for shopping sites, etc.) I’ve dealt firsthand with people’s distrust of Google which I think goes too far quite often.

  • Dany Event Planning August 18, 2010, 5:32 am

    I got one option for you do all that for less than USD150 per year. If you are interested just contact me through my profile. I will then give you the link for you to evaluate it yourself before making any commitment. If you need my feed back on it you can ask me then.

  • Grant- Web Designer August 18, 2010, 10:56 pm

    Great article. We recently interviewed the owners of small restaurants and most said they spent over $400 just to get links in a few directories and a place on google maps.

    These were one-shot attempts. No ongoing link building. You could get a great website, and follow the great advice on this site for more results than that.

  • HP Bryce August 19, 2010, 2:02 am

    I think it is outragous how much money people spend on SEO software that does exactly what Google gives you for FREE! These are great tips for the person just gettig into SEO.

  • Software Development Company August 20, 2010, 12:14 am

    These are really good tools for small business. You can also use Google Webmaster tool.

  • free stuff August 22, 2010, 7:56 am

    Hi,
    This post is really informative especially the link to the PDF version of SEO starter guide by Google. In addition to the tools that you have mention I use Google webmaster tools, yahoo site explorer for checking backlinks etc.

  • Plumber Sydney August 22, 2010, 4:39 pm

    Great list – it pretty much covers everything i would recommend to small businesses wanting to learn a little more about SEO.

  • Brian August 26, 2010, 2:47 am

    I would agree with some of the other comments – you should definitely include Google Webmaster Tools – essential for any campaign.

  • Patricia McGuinness March 24, 2011, 10:21 am

    All great tools that every business should utilize. I agree Google’s Webmaster tools is another good one.

    I suggest doing a little research on how the keyword tool works because I find newbies don’t usually know what they’re looking at when it comes to the competition portion. Also, always play with multiple phrases. I’d suggest writing up a list of keywords that someone unfamiliar with your industry might search for if they were looking for your product or service.

    Patty
    Unlimited Resources for Limited Budgets