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04/11/2016 9:05 PM IST | Updated 05/11/2017 10:42 AM IST

5 Beginner Search Engine Optimization Hacks For Small Business Owners

There's no denying that Search Engine Optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, is a key skill to learn if you want to increase your small business's odds of being found online by potential customers.

There's no denying that Search Engine Optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, is a key skill to learn if you want to increase your small business's odds of being found online by potential customers. The higher your business ranks for keywords in your industry, the more customers will find your product--in fact over 70% of traffic for a keyword is generated through the top 5 SEO results.

While you could hire a digital marketing firm to assist you, there are some very simple things you can do to improve your website's search ranking yourself at a fraction of the cost--and with similar results. Here are 5 things you can do right now to make sure your website is easily found on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

Site Audit

A site audit, put simply, assesses the present health of your site in terms of Search Engine Optimization. An audit tells you how easily your site can be found right now, so that you can pinpoint what you should optimize for better results in the future. This is the first step toward improving your search engine rankings.

During your site audit you should consider things like site and url structure, keywords, title tags, and inbound links. This guide from DigitalMarketingPro.net and this one from Reliablesoft.com are great for beginners--both include easy-to-understand checklists that will guide you through the process. Once your site is in a good spot technically, you can begin to build upon what you have.

Internal and External Linking

Getting links from other websites signals to search engines that your site is reputable and producing quality content. If your site is not being linked to, one of the fastest ways to improve SEO is to earn links from sites with high domain authority--this can be achieved in several ways.

One of my favorite tools for earning relevant links that convert is through Help a Reporter Out, or "HARO" as it's called within the industry. This site exists to bring journalists and sources together, and makes it possible for your brand to appear on sites like Huffington Post, Forbes, USAToday, and many others. It's free to sign up, and you'll receive 3 emails a day with dozens of queries, some of which might be a perfect fit for your small business. Respond with a qualified, concise pitch, and you may land your brand on a major publication and earn a backlink to your website.

You can also gain links by creating sharable content like infographics, videos, interactive maps, and exclusive studies. Some marketing agencies may offer to purchase links to your website in bulk, but these links are generally low-quality and do more harm than good for your site. Track your links for free using Google Analytics, or try some of these SEO tools that offer more in-depth information.

It's also important to place internal links within your website to aid in site navigation and distribute the value of your links throughout the site. For instance, it's smart to place links to sales pages that will convert within your best-performing content--like an infographic or blog post. Make sure that when you link internally it's helpful and natural--not spammy. Check out KissMetrics' Commandments of Internal Linking to get a better idea of how to effectively place internal links for better SEO.

Video and Social Media

Google and other search engines are increasingly looking to shareable content, like social media and video, to lend credibility to websites. If you search for many popular brands, their Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn accounts often show up first in search. Your small business could be losing out on valuable traffic if you're not populating social feeds with content that helps and entertains your customers.

Video is especially gaining popularity, and will likely play a large role in SEO in the future. While it can be intimidating to incorporate an SEO strategy for video, free services like Instagram Video and Facebook Live make it pretty easy to share short videos with your customers and enrich your website with video content.

Social Media also affects SEO, so make sure you are posting to your accounts regularly, sharing your most popular content, incorporating engaging content from other brands and interacting with customers in meaningful ways. Not only are your social feeds likely to be the first search result for your brand, but many journalists also take cues from what's trending on social media when they decide what to cover. If your content gets noticed on social, it could lead to quality backlinks for your site.

Mobile Optimization

According to eMarketer, by 2017 over half of digital buyers in the country will use a smartphone to complete a purchase. Consumers also often use their smartphones to locate and research local businesses. Search engines want to guide users to the most helpful result.

If your site is not optimized for mobile, you could be missing out on potential customers and negatively impacting SEO.

If you aren't sure if your site is optimized for mobile, use Google's Mobile Friendly Test. If your site isn't optimized, there are some tweaks you can make yourself if you're on a budget and can't afford to hire a designer and developer. Or, you can hire a professional to implement responsive design or create a separate mobile version of your site. Either way, it's definitely worth it to make sure your website looks slick on mobile devices.

Local Search

If your small business is local and has a brick-and-mortar location, listing it on online business directories is key for the health of your website. This is especially true of the online directories of the search engines you're trying to rank with, like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, which all offer free business listings. If you aren't sure where to begin, or how to list your business, try following this guide from VerticalResponse.

Search Engine Optimization can seem intimidating for the layman, but there are tons of free resources online to help you improve the health of your small business website. These 5 simple hacks are a great place to start the process, especially if you're working with a limited budget.