SEO in 2015: Trends and Tips for Small Businesses

by James A. Martin

We asked some of the best small business SEO experts what you need to know to improve your search engine rankings in 2015. Here's what they have to day.

If it's a new year, it must be time for a new search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, right? Not so fast.

Granted, Google updates its search algorithms 500 to 600 times annually, according to SEO consulting company, Moz. Some huge updates, including Panda, Penguin, and more recently, Pigeon, were designed to provide more useful and relevant local search results. For more about Google updates, see What SMBs Need to Know About Ever-changing SEO.

Under these conditions, it's tempting to refresh or rethink your SEO strategy every Jan. 1. But SEO experts say that the basics of "white hat" (or Google sanctioned) SEO tactics don't change that much.

"We're all sick of Google algorithm updates making waves in how we write content," notes Susan Payton, president, Egg Marketing & Communications. "Just focus on delivering highly targeted, useful content to your audience. If the content is good and includes keywords used sparingly, the right people will find it."

small business SEO

If that were absolutely everything you need to know about SEO, of course, this article would end here. Instead, let's keep going with predictions for SEO in 2015 and tips for small businesses from online marketing experts.

SEO: What to Expect in 2015

1. The basics of SEO won't change

"The principles that underpin any good marketing campaign have remained unchanged for decades. In many ways, 2015 means business as usual for marketers. Successful SEO depends on two key factors: what you say about yourself (on-page SEO) and what other say about you (off-page SEO).

"On-page SEO involves both creative and technical expertise. As a marketer, you need to create fantastic content for your website that your audience will love. And you want to ensure that your website helps Google (and human users) find and share that content easily.

"Successful off-page SEO depends on promotion. You want to attract links from other authoritative sites by creating and promoting fantastic content." —Justin Deaville, managing director at Receptional, a digital marketing agency.

2. Mobile SEO will be even more important

"Google is taking a hard look into how user-friendly your site is, so it's more important than ever to be mobile compatible."

In the past, "mobile SEO was about serving the right URL to the mobile user or having a responsive design (whereby your website adapts to the display of the device used to access it) to provide visitors a better experience. Now Google report to users and webmasters whether a site is mobile-friendly, and if your site isn't mobile-friendly, don't expect it to rank well in Google."—Joe Balestrino, Internet marketing consultant, at JNB Consulting.

(Google offers a free online testing tool to see if your site is mobile-friendly.)

3. Small business SEO will be local

The importance of optimizing your website for your local area will continue to be important in 2015.

"Small businesses definitely want to focus on dominating local search queries…Much more attention will be given to local directories and citations. Additionally, companies will look to optimize their websites by including addresses, phone numbers and location pages that are consistent with off-page directory listings."—Jared Banz, founder, Banz Marketing Services.

4. More companies will think like a publisher

"More company sites will move to the news media formula with their content. They will credit their writer (not just for text articles but for video and podcasts as well) and give them their own voice. This gives more weight to the author versus the company as a whole. A lot of companies will have a hard time swallowing this, but it's reality. Search engines give a lot more weight to people now, not companies."—Ely Delaney, co-founder, Your Marketing University.

5. More businesses will optimize existing content

Small businesses will produce less new content in 2015, opting to go back to "fully optimize" and update existing content that has had the biggest impact on traffic and leads. "Instead of churning out new content that may or may not be effective, more companies will focus on improving what already works."—Dustin Christensen, digital marketing manager for legal firm Jackson White.

6. CTR, CTA, bounce rate, and dwell time increase as ranking factors

"If small business owners don't know what CTA, CTR and dwell time are, they need to learn now so they can be successful in their organic search traffic goals in 2015.

"CTR (Click-Through Rate) measures the ratio of clicks to impressions; a higher CTR indicates more successful online content. CTA (Call to Action), which can be as simple as "Call now," can increase the time a visitor remains on your site and the amount of links clicked.

"Bounce rate is the percentage of site visitors who navigate away after viewing only one page. Dwell time is "the time spent on a site overall, as well as the time spent on each page."—James Blews, online marketing and SEO consultant.

7. Links and keywords may become less important as ranking factors

"SEO will continue to move away from keywords dictating search rank. The algorithm shifts in search last year only cemented the notion that search engines are putting less importance on keywords and more importance on content. It's reasonable to anticipate that search engines will index your site and rank it based more on what it thinks your site means rather than what keywords you use on the website."—Austin Matthew Fiascone, digital media manager, TopFire Media.

8. Optimizing videos for search will grow

Consumers are 64 to 85 percent more likely to make a purchase after watching a product video, according to KISSmetrics. As a result, job descriptions containing the keyword 'video SEO' increased 57 percent last year "because businesses want to ensure their video content is found in search." In 2015, small businesses should submit optimized videos not just to YouTube but to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr as well.—Natasha Robinson, co-founder, CMO, MediaNest.

Expert SEO Tips and Advice for Small Businesses

1. Market your business equally offline and online

"Offline marketing will inevitably lead to users searching for the brand online, which instills some kind of trust in them from Google. In addition to this, I recommend that small businesses get as many reviews as possible on their Google Business Profile. Google uses this data, and this may be a factor in the search engine trusting the brand…Plus, it will never hurt your brand to have honest reviews showing when a user searches for your company—as long as they're good!"—Andrew Akesson, technical SEO strategist, Venn Digital.

SEO advice for small business

2. Make sure your website does its SEO job

"A great way to verify that you're doing your basic SEO correctly is to create a Moz account (free 30-day trial; afterwards, $99 and up monthly). Run your website through its on-site grader with the goal of achieving an 'A rating' on your homepage at the very least." Do this before focusing on your off-site strategies (such as link building), because "if your on-site SEO is wrong, nothing else will help."—Matthew Egan, CEO, Image Freedom.

3. Don't expect quick results

"SEO is never an overnight strategy, and people looking for fast, cheap wins are the type to have the least consistency in their strategy. Every time you change course with your SEO, you're creating a pattern that Google can see, and standing out is the last thing you want to do with Google constantly watching."—Egan

4. Optimize for local search

"Add location-based keywords, such as Columbus Ohio Wedding Venue, to your website and use free tools such as Moz Local to make sure local directories list your business information accurately and consistently. Additionally, work with local news agencies and related businesses to get more press" to help build links to your site.—Banz

5. Make business information consistent across all sites

This includes your business name, address, phone number, email contact, owner contact information, business description, home page URL, and brand logo. Doing so will "let you rank regionally…and to rank in any maps displayed on search result pages."—Blews

6. Make videos related to your industry or region

"Not only does this allow you to show and not just tell, it can increase the dwell time on your site. (Make sure the video is at least three minutes). Use a good title, description and links in your video description."—Blews

7. Keep your site fresh

Google tends to reward sites that contain regularly updated fresh content. A user-friendly content management system such as WordPress is key."—Blews

8. Deliver a great user experience

In 2015, site speed, site security, clear on-site CTAs, and site structure are all going to be bigger SEO ranking factors. "Sites that offer the best user experience should rank above those that simply get backlinks the right way. I can see why Google's algorithm would rank sites that are easy to navigate above sites that have links from high-authority sites, such as Forbes.com."—Jaimyn Chang, SEO analyst, Overit.

9. Never stop your SEO efforts

"One thing I've seen consistently in my 15 years of experience is the belief that SEO is a one-time thing. In reality, it is a process that never stops. The moment you stop improving your site and search rankings is the moment you fall behind. Once you fall behind, it's incredibly difficult to catch up, and catching up is not something a few code changes can fix. Small businesses that are serious about search and SEO must realize that it is a long-term investment."—Rich Missey, North American SEO manager for Newarkelement14.

James A. Martin is an SEO and content marketing consultant and frequent Small Business Computing contributor. Follow him on Twitter @james_a_martin.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday Jan 13th 2015
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