What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

SEO is how you get listed in the modern phonebook: Page 1 of Google and Bing. Instead of being based on alphabetical order, it’s based on whose website and web presence does the most things search engines like Google care about.

You can read and obtain our Local SEO Checklist for 2018 here.

What is SEO not?

SEO is not something you pay someone to take care of technically behind the scenes without your involvement as a business owner or marketer. SEO is a process that needs to be integrated into all your marketing, writing, publishing, and customer targeting activities.

How do we even know what works on Google?

See our post “What Do We Actually Know about Google’s Algorithm?” to learn about what Google has made public and what others have discovered by testing.

Why is SEO important for small businesses?

Because it can send you qualified leads who are ready to buy your products or services, often the same day they search. You can see below the average percent of clicks for each position on Google.

(Up-to-date numbers for desktop and mobile can be found here)

Many business owners we network with tell us they’ve historically gotten their leads through their network and referrals. Those are kinds of customer leads. Inbound online searches is another kind of lead: one that brings business to you that had never heard of you before.

Do certain companies need SEO more?

Yes! Generally B2C companies who need to make lots of individual, point-in-time sales like plumbers, roofers, real estate agents, salons, used car lots, etc.

For someone like an executive business coach who needs to reach 10-20 CEOs in the region, LinkedIn would probably be a better tool than blogging and hoping these 20 people came to his website after doing a search.

How do I know if I need SEO?

When the keyword research shows hundreds of people are searching locally every month for what you sell and you’re not appearing at the top of page 1.

Note, you need to check your SEO with a private browsing window to clear out everything Google knows about you based on your search history, gmail, and location.

Check your own SEO

Where should small business owners begin?

Hire an SEO firm to do a keyword research report so you know what the demand is in your area. If you run Google AdWords campaigns you can try to use their Keyword Planner Tool to see some estimates yourself.

What does a successful SEO strategy look like?

It should generally focus on a handful of primary keywords with good search volume, high searcher intent (meaning someone Googling this phrase is ready to buy), and competition that can be beaten in under a year.

Read more about the phases of SEO for local businesses to learn more.

How much should small businesses invest in SEO?

This depends on the company’s goals and needs. For most local businesses that have done little-to-no SEO in the past, a 6-month campaign to implement all the needed changes at around $500/month is usually enough of an upfront investment to see results for years afterward. It’s also possible to do it for less if businesses want to move slower as they tackle each step.

Don’t be taken by directory companies that claim to just list you around the web; you need a full campaign to make a difference. Directory listings are only one piece of the SEO pie.

What can SEO do for a small business website?

Change it from a brochure people check out after they’ve already heard of you into a lead generation tool that brings prospects and customers to you.

Note that you need a good website with clear “calls to action” (like Call Now or Contact Us) so the visitor traffic that comes to your site contacts you or comes to your physical location.

What are essential SEO tactics?

Can you do SEO without a website?

Not nearly as well, though it is possible to create and claim a Google My Business page for free. Those can show up in the map 3-pack if the competition isn’t too fierce for your local industry.

SEO Middleton WI

Can social media help a company’s search rankings?

Social media can be a way to promote your blog content and bring people to your website for content they will find useful. Give first in the form of knowledge, and receive business second. You can read here about what local businesses should blog about.

Why are online business listings important?

Google and Bing check around the web to verify your business information, so make sure it’s correct across the web and you’ll see your rankings climb.

Here’s a list of the top SEO directories for for Madison, WI.

Directories SEO Madison, WI

Note that if you’re receiving calls saying things like, “Your Google listing is not up to date,” that’s not Google calling you! Unless you’re verifying your Google My Business page by phone, Google will never call you.

How can online reviews help?

We regularly see companies with fewer or worse rankings appear higher in the Google Map 3-pack that shows up on the results page.

In general, reviews help your SEO

  • when your reviewers mention your keywords in their reviews
  • Once you have 5 reviews, your stars start appearing, which can likely make more people click your result over competitors who don’t have visible stars.

You can send customers a link to give you a Google review and use our email template to ask for Google reviews.

SEO business ranking in Google

How should a company use keywords?

Use them throughout your major HTML tags and create entire pages of your site that target them. See our post about onsite SEO tags.

What are the best SEO tools?


  • Google autosuggest in the search box
  • related searches at the bottom of the results page
  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner


  • SEMRush
  • MozPro
  • Majestics

Which is better, SEO or Google AdWords?

You should be doing both strategically if you’ve got the budget because they both help each other.

AdWords allows you to jump to page 1 right away, but you must pay for every click. SEO can be more economical for long-term website traffic and business growth, but it takes longer to see results.

Search Engine Marketing (also called SEM, pay-per-click, PPC, or Google AdWords) can show you what queries led to clicks to your website.

Plus onsite optimization can increase your Ad Quality Score, which can decrease your cost per click (CPC). Google wants your landing page to serve the searchers needs exactly, and they evaluate that page’s content in a similar way they evaluate its SEO.

Google Analytics now hides the queries people searched when they came to your website organically, so running an AdWords campaign is a good way to see what people are clicking to come to your site.

SEO keywords not provided by Google

What do reputable SEO companies do?

Follow “white hat” tactics approved by search engine webmaster guidelines so your listing isn’t in danger of disappearing from results altogether.

How long does it take to see results?

Our clients often jump to page 1 in 3-4 months, but it can take longer for competitive keywords. See more specific guidelines in this blog post.

What are some reasons SEO might not work?

  • Not enough targeted monthly searches.
    • There needs to be existing demand for your product or service in order to capture it.
  • Inferior website that doesn’t convert visitors well.
  • Competitive first pages for competitive keywords.

What’s the SEO “to-do list” for a local business?

As mentioned before:

You can also Google search for a local SEO checklist.

Should I hire someone to handle my SEO?

If learning about SEO makes your head spin, outsource it. You pay an accountant to handle your books, so pay an online marketer to handle that side of your business.

Plan to stay involved because you know your industry better than your SEO expert. You should be ready to create content like blog posts, web pages, videos and before-and-after pictures for your services.

Contact us with your other questions or if you’re interested in finding out more about what SEO can do for your business.