Most people believe they don’t have to worry about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) until they have a website because SEO is only about getting a website on the first page of Google. Right?
If this is what you believe SEO is all about then you’re like most people, even me! And if you’re like most people, you would be WRONG!
I’ll come back to this in a minute but, first, I’m going to take a little detour and talk about something that may be more familiar to you… networking.
[Affiliate Link Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Although you won’t pay any more for any purchases you make, the commissions will enable me to continue to provide free content to readers.]
A New Paradigm For SEO
Networking groups are opportunities for cultivating a community of people that:
- You know, like, and trust enough to refer your customers to
- In return, will refer potential customers to you.
These referral relationships help everyone in the networking group to reach exponentially more leads (potential customers) than they ever could alone because…
Just like the 80’s Faberge shampoo commercial whose tagline was, “You tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on.”
There are lots of examples of networking groups:
- Your local Chamber of Commerce,
- Professional associations like the American Bar Association or American Dental Association,
- BNI or Meetup groups,
- Special interest groups like Toastmasters.
Any group of people who share a common interest with you can be a networking group! You may already participate in several groups. And these are all proven opportunities to grow your business much faster and easier than you ever could alone.
You’ve probably heard stories about a local business experienced tremendous growth after a celebrity started talking about them or using their products. Celebrity referrals are even more dramatic examples of the power of networking.
Have you ever heard one of those stories and thought, “Oh man, I wish that could happen for me?”
What if I told you that you could get someone with even more influence than that to start referring people to you? … Someone who makes over three billion trusted referrals a day …
And, what if I told you this person would do this for you for FREE?
Search engines are exactly that… online influencers that refer their users to businesses they know, like, and trust.
This is why…
You Should Invest In SEO… Even Without A Website
Are you thinking, “If that’s what they are, and they do this for free, why do I need to invest time, effort and, most probably, money in SEO?”
Well, according to Internet Livestats, more than 700 million websites were created in 2017. That’s more than 1.9 million websites a day! And with more than 1.9 million websites launching every day, PLUS all the existing websites that have been churning out new content for more than a day, search engines are overwhelmed just trying to keep up!
So, you’d better put in the effort to make the proper introductions if you want to take advantage of this free source of referrals. Yes, even BEFORE you have a website.
There are numerous places your business can, and should, be listed online, eventually. But for now, let’s focus on 22 ways you can make a great first impression with the ultimate online influencer!
22 Ways To Boost Your SEO (with or without a website)
1. Business Name
Have you ever been in a meeting where two of the attendees had the same name? After the first few times of calling out their name and having both people reply, the speaker probably created a way to distinguish the two individuals. Maybe the speaker added the first letter of their last name or a number after their first name – like John1 and John2 or Mary J. and Mary R to distinguish them. And that’s just in a meeting room with a few handfuls of people.
Imagine all the millions of businesses in the world and their names… It stands to reason the same thing can happen with your business name.
It did for a client of mine, we’ll call him Joe. Joe had been in business since the early 1970s, operating his trucking company as Joe’s Trucking. He had a business license, fictitious name statement (d.b.a.), and other industry licenses under this name.
He had no idea that two other businesses were listed online, operating under that same name, until he asked me to create a website for him.
Imagine how confusing this would be for his customers to search online for Joe’s Trucking and get three different businesses!
It could be even worse if one of those other businesses had trademarked the name and found that my client’s website started to show up higher in search results than theirs. This would definitely be confusing for their customers – a primary test of trademark infringement.
As a business owner, you want to avoid this kind of headache. So, before you choose a name for your business, be sure you thoroughly research the name online. If someone else is using the name you want, find another unique name for your business.
- you’ve been in business for a long time and
- have earned a significant reputation for your business name
consider ways to make the name unique but still keep the base that you’ve come to be known by. Or, if you’ve trademarked your business name, you should speak to your lawyer. Your attorney can send out a cease and desist order to anyone you encounter using your name online.
For my client, who had not trademarked his business name, I suggested he consider a name like Joe’s Trucking & Transport Grand Forks. This would avoid the potential for trademark infringement and help him rank better in local search results. I had him consult his lawyer and accountant before making any changes. And, in the end, he took my recommendation and filed the necessary paperwork to make it all official.
Although it cost my client some time and money, it saved him from the risk of a trademark infringement lawsuit and any damages that might result from it.
So take the time and effort to ensure you select a unique name for your business. And, if your primary goal is to show up in local search results, consider using your city or county in your business name as well.
Once you’ve decided on a name for your business, I recommend purchasing the domain name as well. This will ensure it is available when you’re ready to build a website. You can purchase a .COM domain name for just $0.88 on NameCheap.com.
2. Point of Contact
When you’re starting out in business, it may seem like a good idea to set yourself up as THE point of contact for everything – after all, you’re doing it all right now. But it may not be what’s best in the long run.
As you make this decision, keep in mind that your business will grow. And, as your business grows and expands, and you become busier, you will begin to delegate certain tasks. You’ll probably want to have a virtual assistant, marketing specialist, or SEO expert manage your listings for you. So, remember to go in and update your profiles with the contact information of the person who is managing your listings.
It’s also a good idea to set up a centralized location, like Google Drive, to store all the important information about your business so you can quickly and easily share that information with your team.
Your point of contact will need access to the information about the online profiles you already created in #alltheplaces, so those profiles can be updated and maintained periodically, as well as:
- Copies of your business license, if applicable
- d.b.a. Statement, if applicable
- A utility bill addressed to your business name and
- Your E.I.N. tax ID letter
which will be used when search engines and other listing sites require verification of your business.
3. Physical Address
Cell phone users generally search for nearby businesses because they’re looking for an immediate solution to a need they have. Recent studies found that:
- approximately 56% of mobile searches have this local intent
- 78% of online searches result in in-store transactions
- 50% result in customer visits within one day, and
- 72% result in a store visit within 5 miles
If you’re a local business owner, you can see how important having a physical address can be for your SEO and business growth.
In addition, having a physical address for your business adds so much more value to your trust factor as a legitimate business. Think about it… if you invest in a physical location you’ve made a commitment. So you are no longer a transient, fly-by-night business that may be open one moment and closed the next. And this helps build trust.
Even if you:
- only provide services virtually (online), or
- at your customer’s location, or
- are using a co-working space, or
- really don’t want customers to know your physical location for any reason,
major search engines like Google and Bing require you to provide a physical address for your business in your profile, and they penalize businesses that do not provide this information.
Google’s guidelines specifically state that
“PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable”
and, if you “provide services to customers at their locations, you should use the address of your
“central office or location and designate a service area from that point. Google will determine how best to display your business address based on your business information as well as information from other sources.”
For Bing, it is especially important that you’re able to receive mail at your physical location because they mail you a postcard. This postcard contains a verification number that must be entered into their systems in order to complete your listing.
Google has updated their verification process recently so you can now verify your listing by phone.
So now’s a great time to determine what physical location you’ll use for your business address.
And a word of caution: If you choose to use a co-working space, there are other considerations you must address. I won’t take the time to cover that in this blog post. But, you can read Google’s Guidelines For Representing Your Business On Google.
4. Phone Number
Google requires that:
- You provide a phone number that connects as directly to your individual business location as possible,
- You use a local phone number rather than a centralized call center whenever possible, and,
- That the phone number be under the control of the business.
And, they’ve been known to call businesses to verify the phone numbers that have been provided.
Plus, most sites that list information about businesses use unique phone numbers as a method of distinguishing businesses. For example, a listing site may have one business listing for Joe’s Trucking, Inc. and another listing for Joe’s Trucking Services. How do they know whether these listings are for different businesses or the same business? By the phone number.
Also, to rank well in local searches, it is critical that your business phone number has a local area code and prefix. If you use a cell phone or VoIP with a different area code and prefix, you can set up a Google Voice phone number with a local area code and prefix to use in your listings.
5. Fax Number
Adding a fax number to your listings is optional; however, if you do list a fax number, it’s important that the number you provide has either a local area code and prefix or a toll-free area code.
Why? So all the information you provide is congruent.
If you were checking out a company you were considering doing business with and they provided a local phone number for phone calls but their fax number was outside your area, would that make you a little suspicious?
Incongruent information, like phone numbers and fax numbers that do not match the business location, are red flags for search engines, causing them to rank you lower in search results.
6. Email Address
There are two important things to know about your business email address.
You Never Get A Second Chance To Make A FIRST Impression
Using a non-branded email address (like Hotmail, Gmail, or Ymail) is unprofessional and hurts your credibility. These types of email accounts are considered transient or disposable. It gives the impression that your business may be temporary as well. So it’s worth it to invest in a branded email account, that uses your business name after the @ sign.
For example, my branded email account is @flexiblebizteam.com. When people see this, they have confidence that:
- The email they are receiving is actually from my business,
- I plan to be in business for the long haul, and
- They will be able to reach me if questions or issues arise.
You don’t have to have a website or invest a lot of money to have a branded email account either.
Plan For Growth
Right now, you may be the only one doing everything in your business and think it’s a good idea to create just one branded email address that has your name before the @ sign (ie: firstname.lastname@example.org). But that’s not the email I’d use for listings. Otherwise…
You’ll condition your leads and customers to contact you personally for everything. As your business grows and becomes busier, you’ll need to hire a team to handle routine tasks, like answering incoming emails. Because your leads and customers are used to reaching out to you for everything, it will be much more difficult to transition yourself out of these tasks when the time comes.
It’s always easiest to set things up right from the start, rather than have to go back and change them down the line. I recommend my clients create a few separate group email accounts for the important functions of their business such as:
Group email accounts enable you to retain control over the accounts AND grant several users access to the email addresses they need to accomplish their assigned tasks, without compromising security by sharing email account credentials.
Then, when listing sites ask you for point of contact information, be sure to use seo@[your_domain.com] or whatever email account you decide to designate for SEO matters.
This way, as your business grows and you bring on team members, the transition of duties is transparent to your leads and customers, and seamless for you. Because your leads and customers will continue to send emails to the same email address and, instead of you answering all the emails, your team members can handle those for you.
7. Website Address
Even though you may not be ready to build a website yet, it’s not too early to begin planning for that day. And a little pre-planning will help to ensure your website ranks in search results quickly.
The first thing search engines use to determine what your website is all about and how to categorize it is your website address (or “URL”).
And, when it comes to SEO, it is important that your URL:
- Is Relevant
If Amy operates a hair salon, a relevant website address would be www.hairstylesbyamy.com or www.amys-hair-salon.com. Notice that these addresses include the business name and a relevant keyword phrase. This makes it easy for search engines to classify Amy’s website, and know it has content that is relevant for users who search for a hair salon or hair stylist.
- Is Unique
Just as only one house can be built on a single-dwelling residential lot, only one business can exist on a website address.
- Contain Your Most Important Keyword(s)
Keywords help search engines know how to classify your website and which search results it should appear in. Keywords (such as your niche or industry, your city and state) also help potential website visitors know what to expect when they visit your website. This will help reduce the number of visitors who quickly abandon your site (a signal to search engines that your website content is not relevant for the search term).
If you are a caterer in Phoenix, Arizona which website address do you think is more likely to get clicked?
On the other hand, important keywords for global service providers may simply be business name and industry or niche. Which website address do you feel would be more relevant if you were looking for a virtual assistant?
- Easy to Remember
I recommend my customers choose a website name that’s simple enough for a third grader to remember and spell. You want to make it as easy for customers and leads to be able to find you as possible. And, although you may be able to remember “psychedelic,” could you spell it without looking it up? Same goes for hyphens versus underlines. It’s easier to type a hyphen than an underline (SHIFT+dash) because of the extra key.
- Something People Want To Click On
Link clicks are a signal search engines use to determine relevance. If a user clicks on your link when it appears in a search, your listing is deemed relevant. Search engines want to show relevant content in search results. So the more relevant (more clicks), the higher a website will appear in search results.Whereas links that are repeatedly not clicked when they appear in search results will get replaced with other, more relevant sites.
For security reasons, it is also important that you use the SSL (Secure Socket Layer) Protocol, meaning that your website address begins with HTTPS:// instead of HTTP://.You should also know that the first name you select may not be available. So it’s best to have a few different names chosen. You can check the availability of the website name(s) you want at Namecheap.com. Then, when you find one you like that’s available, you can purchase the domain name for as little as $0.88. If you need some inspiration for your website name, check out LeanDomainSearch or Name Mesh.
8. Social Media Accounts
Believe it or not, search engines expect businesses to have a presence on social media. This is a factor search engines use to determine a website’s rank in search results. At a minimum, your business should have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn profile. And it’s important that the key information about your business – business name, address, phone number, and website address if you have one – be consistent on each of these accounts.
The easiest and most affordable type of logo is a name-based logo. If you’re just starting out and money is a concern, you can easily create a name-based logo on Canva for free.
For great SEO, it’s a good idea to include a keyword-rich tagline or motto in your logo image. This is because search engines use optical scanning technology to “read” text included in image files. And they do this because it helps them properly categorize your business for search results.
Also, when you name your logo file, be sure to use relevant keywords in your file name. Many people name their logo something like “logo.png” or “website_logo.png” and miss the SEO opportunities that a keyword-rich file name like “Flexible Biz Team Website Logo.png” or “Flexible Biz Team SEO Services Website Logo.png” provides.
And, it’s important to have a dark and light version of your logo created. Here’s why: a dark text logo with a transparent background will not be legible on pages that have a dark background, and a light text logo with a transparent background will not be legible on pages that have a light background.
Many people think a tagline is just a catchy phrase that is used to pique interest or draw attention. But a good tagline explains what your business is about, and what distinguishes it from the competition, in seven words or less. So it’s important to carefully select and include relevant keywords in your tagline.
Joe’s Trucking Tagline Example
An acceptable tagline for Joe’s Trucking might be
- Local and Long-Distance Transportation
But better taglines would be
- #1 Local and Long-Distance Transportation in Fargo
- Best Local and Long-Distance Transportation in Fargo
- Experienced Local and Long-Distance Transportation in Fargo
- Reliable Local and Long-Distance Transportation in Fargo
- Trusted Local and Long-Distance Transportation in Fargo
11. Business Category
Your business category is a keyword that describes the type of business you own. Now, many businesses can be described by several keywords. For example, Joe’s Trucking might be considered a Trucking Company, a Transportation Service, a Freight Transporter, etc.
And because SEO is about getting as much exposure for your business as possible by ranking well in mobile and online search results, the more categories your business is listed under the more visibility you’ll get.
For this reason, it’s important to consider all the ways your business can be described. Write them down in a list, and then see which ones are available in Google’s category list. You can use the PlePer Google My Business Category Tool to generate a list of Google’s most recent categories in your country for free.
Caveat: Google’s guidelines specify that you should “use as few categories as possible to describe your overall core business.” So don’t just stuff a bunch of categories in there.
And for more help on how to choose the best Google category for your business, check out this article from BrightLocal.
12. Business Description
You also need to be able to provide additional information about what your business is, who you serve, what products or services you offer, and the results you help your customers achieve. That’s why it’s a good idea to know the things that are important for others to know about you and your business.
I recommend having two versions of your business description available.
Short Business Description
- 1-2 sentences
- Business Name
- Niche or Industry
- Main Keyword you want to rank for
- Your City and State (for local ranking)
- Results Customers Achieve
- What Sets You Apart From Your Competition
Long Business Description
- Up to 250 characters
- Business Name
- Niche or Industry
- Top 3 Products or Services You Offer
- Your City and State (for local ranking)
- Results Customers Achieve
- What Sets You Apart From Your Competition
When you use your business description (like for social media profiles), be sure to make each description a little different so they’re similar but not identical.
“Impressum” is a fancy word for legal disclaimers that are required for businesses in certain industries (like health and wellness, financial, real estate, certain franchises, etc.).
For example, if you sell a product that helps promote sound sleep, you’re required to include a disclaimer. This disclaimer must tell consumers that:
- your product is not designed to treat an illness or disease
- the information you provide is not a substitute for medical advice, and
- they should consult their physician or licensed health care provider before using your product.
It’s important to speak with an attorney to obtain legal advice about any disclaimers you may need for your business. Knowing this information up front can save you from expensive and time-consuming litigation later on.
14. Business Hours
Leads and customers will want to know what hours your business is open so they can interact with you. They may want to ask questions about a product or service, make a purchase from you, or they may need help with a purchase they’ve already made. So it’s a good idea to set “normal” business hours for your business and ensure that you’re available during those hours.
Be sure to list the days of the week and the hours you’ll be open each of those days.
15. Special Business Hours
Holidays, vacations, and emergency situations may be reasons you temporarily change your business hours. Knowing how you’ll handle each of these circumstances in advance will make it easy for you to set appropriate expectations with leads and customers.
Holidays or Seasonal Business
- Which holidays will your business be open?
- Which holidays will your business be closed?
- Will you have extended hours during certain seasons (ie: spring break, summer, Christmas)?
- Will you have reduced hours during certain seasons (ie: religious holidays, off-peak season for your industry) or be closed during certain seasons?
- Will you have special sales or events for any holidays (ie: Valentine’s Day, Black Friday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Christmas, etc.)?
Everyone needs a chance to rest, relax and rejuvenate so vacations are a MUST. With a little pre-planning, you’ll be able to take time off and really relax. Clear communication with your customers about planned vacations will help set appropriate expectations and facilitate project and workload planning.
It’s also a good idea to create an Out Of Office email template that lets your contacts know you’ll be out of the office for an extended period of time with no access to emails and you’ll contact them when you return to the office.
Having an alternate point of contact for urgent matters while you’re on vacation is a great way of providing exceptional customer service. So consider if there’s someone you know and trust to respond to urgent matters while you’re on vacation.
There are all kinds of unexpected situations that might arise. Natural disasters, illness, hospitalization, death in the family… any one of these may require you to be unavailable for an extended period of time.
Rather than worry about what will happen to your business in the event of an unexpected emergency, consider implementing a Contingency Plan that includes:
- Out of Office Message on your emails
- Back-up Person or someone your customers can contact in the event of an urgent need while you are unavailable
- A list of your clients and important contacts, and someone who can discreetly notify them in the event you will be unavailable for an extended period of time, and provide them with appropriate updates about your situation.
Customers prefer to do business with people they know, like, and trust. And, because visual cues comprise more than half of the message received in any communication, photos and videos are a great way to quickly establish rapport and trust with leads and customers.
Types of Photos Every Business Needs
- Business Interior and Exterior
If customers come to you to do business, it’s helpful if they know what your business looks like so they’ll be able to easily find you. If your business is strictly online, consider showing a picture of you working in your office or at your computer so customers can visualize what it might be like to work with you.
- Full-Length Photos of You and Your Team
Make sure and include a variety of pictures showing everyone separately and together as a group.
- You and/or Your Team Members Interacting With Customers
This is particularly important for local, brick-and-mortar businesses. Seeing happy, satisfied customers interacting with you and your team sets the expectation that they are going to have a positive experience when working with you.
- Customers Enjoying Your Products and/or Services
Again, this sets the expectation that they’ll enjoy your products and/or services too.
- Before and After Photos
If your product or service provides visible results, it’s important to show the results you’ve been able to achieve for other customers, because it implies you’ll be able to achieve similar results for a new customer.
- Photos of Events
These can be events that you host, sponsor, or participate in, including charitable events.
- Awards, Recognition, Licenses or Certifications
These can be awards, recognition, licenses or certifications that you, your business, or your team members have received.
- Flagship Products or Services
Share pictures of your most popular products or services.
17. Flagship Products & Services
Being able to quickly and easily describe your most popular products and services, and what customers generally need after their initial purchase, will help you attract great customers and keep them coming back for more.
So take some time to:
- List each of your products and services
- Rank them by popularity
- Include a brief, keyword-rich description and the results customers who purchase them have achieved
- Include prices for each of your products and services
- List the next product or service customers typically need after purchasing each of the products/services on your list
18. Special Offers
Everyone loves deals and discounts. And offering special deals or discounts can be an easy way to introduce new customers to your business. It’s easier to get a new lead to purchase an item that costs $5 to $49 than it is to sell them an item that costs $100 or more, unless the item is an absolute necessity, like a life-saving surgical procedure.
Having a low-cost initial offer that enables new customers to experience your business for relatively low risk can be a great way of generating more conversions and paying customers.
A word of caution, though. Unless you want the majority of your customers to be “bargain basement” shoppers, use special offers judiciously in your business.
If you decide that special offers are something you want to use in your product/service mix, be sure to identify:
- What you will offer
- How much of a discount you will offer
- How long that offer will be available
- Who will have access to that special pricing (ie: will the special pricing apply only to first-time buyers of a specific product/service, will a discounted product only be available to webinar participants during the webinar, etc.)
Being visible in your industry or niche, on social media, at charitable events, and in the communities you serve is a great way of generating visibility and popularity for your business.
So be sure to identify:
Any Events You Will Host
- In-person or online?
- The purpose of the event – training, product launch, informational (ie: ask me anything), charitable, etc.
- Date and Time
- Will RSVPs be needed?
- Limited number of participants?
- How to participate – prior enrollment, just show up?
- Special tools or equipment needed?
- Prerequisites required?
- Point of Contact for questions
- Other Speakers?
The Events You Will Participate In
- In-person or online?
- Open to the public or members only?
- Registration required?
- RSVP required?
- Date and Time
- Other Speakers?
- Point of Contact for questions
And Events You Will Sponsor
- Date and Time
- Open to the public?
- Will you actually attend? And will attendees be able to meet you?
- Charity or cause you’re supporting and why
20. Customer Reviews
- having positive customer reviews within the last month, and
- responding to each review,
is an important component of good SEO, whether you have a website or not. This tells search engines that you’re a reputable business.
You can also use a customer review management platform like TrustPilot to gather and manage online reviews.
And if you get a negative review, it’s important to respond to this just as you would a positive review. This builds your credibility and trust by demonstrating that you care, even after a purchase has been made.
21. Online Profiles
Whether you have a website or not, you can create profiles on the major search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo!), data aggregators (sites that collect information about businesses and share it with publishing sites, like smaller search engines), referral sites (like Yelp, Nextdoor, Angie’s List), and business directories (like the Chamber of Commerce, professional organizations).
When you create those profiles, it is important that you use the same:
- Business Name
- Business Address
- Website Address, if you have one
- Phone Number
Networking enables you to develop opportunities to share your business, products, and services with customers of other businesses in your community – whether that community is in-person or online.
Through events sponsored by these other businesses, events that you co-sponsor with them, backlinks to content on your website, referrals, and more, you can get favorable SEO traction. You’ll also enjoy the benefits of your local community, and potential customer pool, seeing you actively engaging in a positive way in your shared neighborhood.
Networking can be done on:
- Social Media
- Forums (like Reddit or Quora)
- Networking Groups (like BNI or your local Chamber of Commerce)
But don’t think you can just pop in, hand out some business cards, and be handed leads, referrals, and opportunities. There are some important things to know about networking that will make a huge difference in the success of, and return on, your networking efforts.
And, if you’re an introvert and find networking especially difficult, I recommend Networking For People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack.
So this is why I say…
It’s Never Too Early For SEO
SEO is just a super powerful form of networking… using the influential power of search engines and other online listing sites to get referrals for your business.
And, even if you don’t have a website, you can use these 22 ways to begin building a strong foundation for SEO and start getting more visibility for your business:
If you’ve enjoyed this information and want to know what ELSE you can do to benefit from SEO, you’ll want to check out my FREE webinar: 10 SEO Secrets to Boost Your Biz even if you don’t have a website (swipe files and template included!).
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