Podcast: The Evolution of Small Business SEO

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To paraphrase an old saying… this is not your grandfather’s SEO. Today’s SEO is actually a while lot different than what it was just a couple years ago. Whatever you think is included in all the things you think go into getting your business found online… there’s probably a whole lot you’re forgetting… or just never knew at all.

But we’re here to fix that. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into today’s small business SEO.

Join Ian and Lauren as they talk with Gretchen Ast, Digital Product Manager at Hibu, about the evolution of small business SEO – all the things that go into on-page and off-page SEO today, including relevant content, high-quality backlinks, and the growing power of voice search. Give it a listen to see what your business needs to be doing now… and how Hibu’s new SEO update, “Local Ranking,” can be your end-to-end, all-encompassing SEO solution.

[Podcast transcript]

Ian
Hi, you’re listening to Small Business Small Talk powered by hybrid. I made messenger with my co-host, Lauren Blackford.

Lauren
Hello.

Ian
Thanks for joining us for this episode of Small Business Small Talk powered by Hibu. Today we’re talking with Gretchen Ast, one of Hibu’s digital product managers about the evolution of SEO. Gretchen, thanks for joining us.

Gretchen
Thanks for having me.

Ian 
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do at Hibu? And you know, how you wound up here and what your roles and responsibilities are in your kind of day-to-day life?

Gretchen 
Yeah, no problem. So I’ve been at Hibu now for just over two and a half years. And, and the primary focus of what I do is search engine optimization and working on our search engine products, as well as our other digital marketing products as well. So really trying to help small businesses show up online.

Ian 
So, to dive right in, because I feel like probably some ears perked up when we said SEO. And this is probably something I’ll come back to a few times… SEO is not new. I mean, it has been a buzzword within digital marketing for easily a decade at this point. And it’s there’s a lot to unpack, there’s a lot of, you know, facts and fictions and a lot of things that change frequently. So to kind of kick it off at that point, let’s just dive right in with, you know, what SEO is… what it isn’t… kind of where it stands today.

Gretchen 
Yeah, absolutely. So, SEO stands for search engine optimization. So essentially what that means, because when I tell my mom what I do, she just says, I don’t know, I just tell everybody to do something with computers. And essentially what SEO is, and what it does is that help businesses show up in search results on Google. Right? That’s really where we want to be when somebody goes… and… say they’re searching for a plumber in their area, you want your business to show up as an option for them to click on, and hopefully do business with you. So that’s essentially what SEO is going to help you with.

Lauren 
This specifically for their website, or does that extend beyond?

Gretchen 
That’s a great question. SEO is for their website, but it does extend beyond that. And on your website, you know, you want to have a well optimized site, so that Google knows what your business is about, and knows when to show people, your website, and so that it’s showing them relevant results, right? We all hate it when we go to Google and we search something and you see a whole bunch of things that are completely irrelevant to what you’re searching. But then there are other factors that take place off of your website that are going to help you show up in search results as well.

Ian 
And that’s kind of the traditional role of SEO is it’s all about getting further up in the search results. And, you know, more visibility, essentially, which is huge. I mean, you know, when’s the last time you found a local business on page seven of the search results? It’s it just doesn’t happen. But as SEO has kind of evolved over the years, keep me honest here it seems like today, there’s more of a focus on or more of an understanding that just showing up higher isn’t really a goal in and of itself. It’s kind of a means to an end. So how is SEO kind of evolving from just a tool to increase your visibility to a tool to increase your business?

Gretchen 
Yeah, absolutely. SEO has evolved so much. I’ve been in the SEO space since 2010. And in the past decade, we have seen so much change with SEO. And essentially, yes, you want your business to show up higher in search results. Because when you have more visibility, there’s a greater likelihood that people are going to click on you. They’re going to find your website, and they’re going to do business with you. And that’s essentially what SEO is designed to do and what our Local Ranking product is designed to do. We want to help generate more relevant leads for your business so that you can do more, and you can maximize doing that business and will take care of helping you get found.

Lauren 
It’s so great, because we hear from our clients all the time, you know, that’s great that you can get me on Google. But how do you get me more customers? That seems to be the goal. And you mentioned Local Ranking. So, talk to us a little bit about what that Local Ranking product is, and how you formulate it here at Hibu.

Gretchen 
Yeah, absolutely. Local Ranking isn’t just, you know, going to your site and making a few updates, to make sure that Google knows what your business is about Local Ranking really works with your online presence, right? Your listings, your reviews, your reputation, your social media presence, and really works with all of those. To help you get found, we know that people are searching differently today. We also know that more than 50% of users who do a search on Google, are leaving Google to do business with you, they’re seeing the results on Google, they’re getting enough information from there, and then they’re making a call to that business or clicking you know, contact us and filling out a form. So, we really want to make sure that your business is going to be showing up on all of those places. We search is another huge thing that’s been happening. And that’s just been evolving more and more as you know, people get more smart devices, like Google Home, Alexa, any of those, even theory, you know, when we say, hey, Siri, find me a former in my area, and we want to help make sure that that you’re able to come back in in those results as well, for your local area.

Ian 
It’s interesting that you talk about both voice search and some of those other sections of the search results. Because I think, you know, for most, most consumers, and probably most small businesses, you know, you, we all Google things every day. And unless you’re looking at it with a real eagle eye, you know, you probably look at those results and just go, yeah, they’re there. Those are all search results. But really, when you kind of dissect the anatomy of that page, you have all those different sections that SEO can impact, a lot of opportunities to show up. And a lot of opportunities to… this will sound pessimistic, but… to be disappointed. I mean, if you’re only showing up in the map, you’re probably going to go “well, that’s nice. But, you know, I want to show up in the organic results. And I want to show up in one of the you know, the knowledge cards, and I want to show up in the answers box.” So, there are a lot of different areas where SEO can impact your visibility.

Gretchen 
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, with Local Ranking, we, we want to help you account for all of those things. And by doing things like adding FAQs that are voice-search ready and optimized to your site that now not only helps you show up in voice search results, but actually, if you do a search on Google, you’re eligible to have your FAQ’s returned in those search results. So, you know, when somebody is saying, Hey, you know, I need help with this problem I’m having, and you’re the business that’s giving them the answer that they need, the chances of them doing business with you is that much higher. We’re also going to be posting to your Google My Business Page. And so again, this helps keep your content relevant, helps people see Oh, they’re engaged. They’re taking care of their online reputation. They want to make sure I know what’s happening at their business now, which is a great signal for Google as well. But it’s a greater signal to your consumers. They want to know that your information is updated, it’s relevant, and that it’s not just something that you’ve posted once and then it’s done.

Lauren 
It’s interesting going back to the FAQs your you discuss. It’s like you are creating these for multiple audiences. Not only are they optimized for the voice search, so that that voice search will pick up on those keywords in the FAQs. But also, if a consumer is searching, the question that you’re answering is going to show up in the traditional search. So, you’re hitting all kinds of different, different consumers and the way that they search with just this one optimization within Local Ranking.

Gretchen 
Yeah. Yeah, and it’s really amazing to see all of the different ways that these elements all work together to increase that presence on Google, it really helps you dominate those search results. And you never know what’s going to be the most important for consumer when they’re doing their research. You really want to give them as many opportunities to provide the information that they’re looking for. So that, you know, again, you want them to click that that call button, or fill out that form so that they’re going to do business with you.

Announcer 
You’re listening to Small Business Small Talk, powered by Hibu. Hibu is the country’s leading provider of synchronized Digital Marketing for Small businesses, delivering more visibility, more visitors, more leads and more customers. Visit us today at Hibu.com. H-I-B-U. Hibu.com.

Ian 
And we’re back with Gretchen Ast talking about small business SEO.

Lauren 
So, Gretchen…you talked about the things that Google looks for to serve up your site or your business in search engine results. What are the things that businesses need to optimize their site for? Or what are the things that Local Ranking optimizes businesses sites for so that Google will serve them up higher in the search engine results?

Gretchen 
Yeah, that’s a that’s a really great question. And one that I think most businesses want to know the answer to, we have been hearing for the past several years, that content is king when it comes to SEO. And that really hasn’t changed. You want quality content on your site. And you want to make sure that the keywords that people enter when they’re looking for a business, like yours, are incorporated into your site, as well in a natural way that flows, that that’s going to be relevant to what they’re searching for. So really, content is still King. That hasn’t changed. But we also see that the off page ranking factors are pretty much just as relevant now as the content that you’re posting on your site itself. And backlinks, a lot of people may not know what exactly we mean by that. Essentially, if another website links back to your business’s website, that’s what we call a backlink. You want to be providing quality content on your site that allows other businesses other URLs to say, hey, they’re posting about something that’s relevant. Let me link back to them. And that’s going to be a huge indicator to Google and other search engines that, hey, this business is about this is relevant to what this person is searching for. And a lot of people are noticing that and saying, hey, it’s relevant, hey, it’s quality content, and that’s going to be a huge, huge indicator for them. Right?

Ian 
It’s almost like a recommendation. You know, like, yeah, word of mouth, by way of, you know, links.

Gretchen 
Yeah, that’s a great way to put it.

Ian 
Now, you mentioned, just because I agree, I think a lot a lot of small businesses out there, you know, kind of want to know, what are the specific things I need to focus on? And they’ve probably heard over the years, a lot of jargon and terminology. You mentioned off page SEO. And I just wanted to take a quick step back and kind of talk about the two different types of SEO, which are pretty self-explanatory. But if you could enlighten us a little bit, that would be great.

Gretchen 
Yeah, absolutely. So off page SEO is really everything that is going to be taking place off of your website, that increases the possibility of your business showing when consumers are searching for a business like yours. And, and we want to make sure that we’re hitting that for you guys as well. This is something that for a long time, it was kind of like a secondary strategy, something that people didn’t really focus on him as much it was like get your on-site optimization completed. If you have time to focus on your off-page optimization. That’s great. But we’re seeing that this is just as relevant as getting on site optimization done on site or on page optimization. You can use those terms pretty interchangeably there. That’s going to be anything you do on your web. by updating the content to incorporate your keywords, updating the title tags on your website, making sure that that URL string is relevant to what that page is about updating your alt tags, updating your schema so that Google can more easily read all of those elements that your business is about and know when it’s, it’s relevant to return your website in search results, all of those things would be considered on-page.

Ian 
And on-page is interesting, because I feel like those items you just listed are both, however, want to say this, there, you can take a deep dive into any one of those. And that’s really where you get into some of the bad recommendations for SEO. You know, while I heard you should put a list of you know, hundreds of keywords on your site, but make it the same color as the background. So, no one sees it, but the search engine, and it’s, it’s also I think, traditionally kind of where, you know, folks have put all their eggs in that basket, you know, well, I updated my title tags, I added all tags, how come? I’m not on page one. So, it’s, it’s really, you know, to your point off page, moving out of that kind of secondary, if I have time around is really where you’re going to see movement?

Gretchen 
Yeah, absolutely. And you bring up a good point. You know, one of the things that we want to keep him is that SEO changes constantly. And, you know, what we’re doing today is going to be doing is going to be different than what we do six months from now to stay relevant on search engines. And so, a lot of the things that you pointed out, I remember when I first you know, got started in this industry, that’s exactly what people were doing. They were keyword stuffing. They were putting it on their site. But changing that, that is that is not what you want to do today, there are you know, lots of updates to that there are character maxes for, you know, title tags and, and your meta description and things like that. And you want to make sure that whatever Google says, Hey, this is what we look for. And these are our recommendations. You want to stay within those because they’re, they’re the people that you want to make sure show you. We want to make sure we update that. And the other thing to keep in mind, with backlinks becoming more relevant. If it’s a really time consuming process to go out there and try to get backlinks to your site, you really need to establish relationships with lots of different publishers, and let them know, hey, I’ve got this content that might be relevant to an article you might write about. And that’s, that’s a full-time job, at least. And so, you really want to have somebody help you with that that already has those established connections that will help get your site out there on to relevant publishers that can link back to your site. So, you’re not just going alone.

Ian 
Right. If you said to me today go get a backlink. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t know I wouldn’t know who to reach out to what to what to say to them.

Lauren
So that brings up an interesting point, Gretchen, because you’re talking about keeping the content relevant and fresh, forming these relationships to continually get backlinks to improve your SEO. So, it sounds like SEO and Local Ranking. It’s not a set it and forget it. It’s not a one-time thing. It sounds like something that needs to be continually massaged and worked on and improved.

Gretchen 
Yeah, absolutely. And one of the biggest mistakes we see when we’re working with businesses, and they might come to us and say, Hey, we don’t know what happened. We were ranking in the number one position on Google. And so, we said, okay, we’re done. We stopped doing SEO, we started focusing on other things. And now nobody can find us. And we’re like, Well, yeah, because you have to keep feeding it. And you can’t just as you said, set it and forget it. It’s an ongoing strategy. If you’re in the number one position today, you’re going to have to keep optimizing your site creating backlinks to your site in order to stay in that position. So ,you certainly don’t want to say okay, I’m in number one. I’m just going to stay there. People are constantly trying to Bye, bye for those positions. So, you’re going to need to make sure that you’re doing your best to stay. Where do you want to be as well.

Lauren 
It’s like a muscle continues to needs to be trained. If you stop working, it’s not working.

Gretchen 
Yeah.

Ian 
It’s funny because we always … when you’re talking about SEO, you’re talking about organic, non-paid search results. And I think it’s, it’s very easy for us to say, you know, well, SEO is organic and paid is paid. But it’s, it’s really no different than, you know, if you stop running your ads, the phone stops ringing as much, you know, it shouldn’t be a mystery that once you stop paying for SEO, your ranking starts to drop, that’s the nature of it.

Gretchen
Yeah, that’s a really great point, it’s a great way to look at it. We know if we’re running Google ads, for example. And yeah, and you no longer decide to run them, you’re not going to show I mean, it’s really that simple. With organic, it’s not an immediate difference. It’s not going to the day that you stopped doing SEO, you’re not going to fall off of search engine results, it’ll happen slowly over time. And that’s actually a really great point. And when we talk about, you know, paid search, and we talk about SEO, and there’s, there’s a huge difference here that you just pointed out. And that’s really, SEO is something that takes time to build, right? When you decide to start your Local Ranking campaign. Your site’s going to get optimized backlinks are going to start getting generated, but you’re not going to see that immediate difference. on search engine results, it’s going to take some time to get there. Meanwhile, if you decide to do a paid search, campaign, instead, you’ll be able to show immediately, the biggest difference there is really the price that you have to pay to get there, right. And so, we always recommend doing both of those things together, you know, do your paid search, start showing up immediately, build your Local Ranking campaigns, so that you start showing up organically as well. And then you can start to strategize. Alright, I’m showing up really well, organically, maybe I’m going to pull back a little bit and focus a little bit more on SEO. But you really, you have this great opportunity to dominate the search engine results. When you’re showing up for both paid and organic. Right point, whenever

Lauren 
I do a Google search, I always feel more confident in a business when I see them show up in that top paid block. And then I see them show up first in that organic block. I’m like, okay, they’re, they’re definitely relevant to what I’m looking for. So let’s click on that website,

Gretchen 
They’re willing to pay for those, those keywords that you just entered into Google, right, and they’re also making sure their site is optimized. So, you do feel much more confident clicking through to that, and assuming that they’re going to be able to give you whatever it is that you need in that moment.

Announcer 
You’re listening to Small Business Small Talk powered by Hibu. Hibu is the country’s leading provider of synchronized Digital Marketing for small businesses, delivering more visibility, more visitors, more leads and more customers. Visit us today@Hibu.com. H-I-B-U. Hibu.com.

Ian 
We’re back again with Gretchen Ast talking about small business SEO. So, we’ve talked a few times, or we’ve mentioned a few times the term Local Ranking, which is a high boost new product. And if you could just talk a little bit about what makes Local Ranking kind of that next stage of SEO that next that next flavor of SEO beyond just you know what we’ve what we’ve seen before.

Gretchen 
We touched on it earlier. And you know, some of the elements that really make Local Ranking a different product from the traditional SEO products. One of those is, is helping consumers show up for invoice search results, which we know is just taking off every year. And the number of people that has a voice ready device in their homes increases in the number of voice searches increase. We know that you know most consumers are doing a voice search almost every day. And so, we really want to make sure that however consumers are searching you’re going to be showing up. The other trend that those of us in the SEO world have noticed over the past couple of years, is the fact that it’s not enough just to have your website show that in search results. That doesn’t guarantee that someone’s necessarily going to your website, right. That’s the ultimate goal. You want to show up. They click on your website. They read about you they go oh yeah, that’s great. But Google has done so Much in recent years, to try to give consumers the information that they’re looking for, right there. So Local Ranking is also going to help you by making sure that that consumer can find that information about your business right on Google itself. So, if they’re one of those people, that’s not likely to click off to your website, hopefully, you’re able to give them the information that they need. And they’re still going to click to call, right, you’re from Google. And then we’re also able with the Local Ranking products, to capture those leads to be able to tell you, Hey, you know, maybe they didn’t click through to your website, but they saw you in those results. And then they called you, and we’re able to track that and provide that information to you as well. So Local Ranking, is really trying to just make sure that however consumers are searching, you’re going to show up. Another thing that it does is it it works with our listings and reviews products, and to make sure that the information that’s on your listings that are out there on the internet, including Google and Google, my business is relevant, and up to today. And when people see that you have a lot of good reviews in your results. They tend to click I know when I was looking for a painter for my house. You know, that’s one of the first things that I’m going to do if I see the search results, and I go, Okay, yeah, they have a five, but it’s only one review. But then here’s another business, they’re a 4.7. But they’ve had 250 reviews, sure, I’m likely to click through kind of browse those reviews, okay, they’re saying good things, nothing here is a deal breaker. And I’m going to contact that business. So Local Ranking really integrates with all of that. And hence, the name says, the focus is on local, we want to make sure that you’re showing up where you’re doing business, whether you’re a brick-and-mortar business, or your service area business, we want to make sure that you’re showing up in your local market.

Ian 
It’s interesting that you mentioned, you know how it integrates with listings and reviews. And we’ve talked already about, you know, how it’s different from paid ads, whether that’s, you know, pay per click text ads, display ads, ads running on social and it’s, it’s interesting, because it’s, it’s both, or I should say Local Ranking is both, you know, a kind of a new offering from us. But it’s also in some ways, that core thing that businesses are looking for, and they think about online marketing, like they may have ads on Facebook, and they may have text ads on Google. And yeah, they’ve got their reviews up. And maybe they’re lucky enough to have you know, those 240 odd reviews and a really great rating. But I can just hear small business owners going. Yeah, but I’m not showing up on Google. This finally ties all of that together, and gives them a strategy to say, well, now you will, now you can.

Gretchen 
Exactly! Essentially Local Ranking is this, you know, core foundation element. And it’s SEO right. And SEO has been there for many years. It’s not going away. But it’s really leveraging this evolution that we’ve seen, not just with search engine optimization, but with how all of these digital marketing elements work together to help consumers want to do business with you. I mean, that’s, that’s really the bottom line. It’s integrating everything, and helping you understand how you’re getting found, and increasing your chances of getting found when the consumer needs your service.

Lauren 
It’s really the next level of SEO. And it’s really great. You know, you mentioned that if somebody clicks to call from Google, we can track that with Local Ranking. So not only are we tracking your ranking, with this product, but also the leads, which is, as we talked about before, something that, you know, businesses are really looking for, it’s fine that they’re found on Google, but they really need you know, those feet walking in the door, those phone calls, you know, coming in. So, it’s great that we can show them, you know, the calls that are coming in.

Gretchen 
Yeah, and now more than ever, online and digital is so important. We have a lot of businesses that are conducting more business online than ever before. We have contractors that can provide virtual estimate. And so you really want to make sure that customers know that about your business. And they are able to find you online because you’re not going to be seen as you said, you know as many people walking through the door right there, they’re going to at least start online. More than ever before now, and we want to really make sure that you’re, you’re leveraging that to the best of your ability.

Ian 
It’s really kind of an end-to-end view, I think I mentioned at the at the top of this, that, you know, folks tend to look at showing up on Google as the end game until they get there. And then it’s, well, I’m showing up, but I’m not getting anything out of it. And this really gives us the ability to say, listen, we can take you from Page Six to page one. And Lauren, to your point, you know, really proved to you that that increased visibility is now driving an increase in leads, and hopefully business for you as well. So, it’s not just about kind of the, the window dressing of well, I want to be on page one, because I think that’s a benefit, we can really prove out you know, what that’s doing for your business.

Gretchen 
Yeah, and one other thing to mention with that, I know we’ve touched on this before, but we don’t want to just generate leads for you. That’s great. But we want to make sure they’re relevant leads as well, so that the chance of you being able to then close that and do business with that consumer is that much higher. And so we’re not just, you know, looking to make sure people are calling you, we want to make sure they’re calling you and then booking your service and making that appointment, buying your product, whatever it may be. So that’s really what we’re trying to do.

Ian 
Okay! Gretchen, thanks again for joining us today. Is there anything you want to kind of impart to folks on the way out the door any parting wisdom? Just summing up today’s topic about small business SEO?

Gretchen 
Yes. You know, for small businesses, the thing that I think is the most important to keep in mind, when you want to make sure that people can find you is that digital marketing is an ever-changing landscape. And you want to make sure that you’re doing whatever you can to help your business show up. Whenever a consumer is doing a search that’s relevant, and you want to make sure that not only are you showing, but you’re giving that consumer enough information that they’re going to want to click and call your business and then and then do business with you.

Ian 
Gretchen, thanks again for being here with us today.

If you found this episode informative, please make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss one. If you have a moment, feel free to leave us a review, which really helps us out. And with that this has been Small Business Small Talk, out.

Announcer 
Thanks for listening to this episode of Small Business Small Talk powered by Hibu. Hibu is a leading provider of synchronized Digital Marketing for small businesses across America. With Hibu you get all the digital marketing your business needs, all from a single provider, all working together to maximize results. Visit us today at Hibu.com. H-I-B-U. Hibu.com

[Transcribed by https://otter.ai]

Michael Shapiro
Michael Shapiro
Michael is Hibu’s Manager of Copy & Design. He specializes in creating digital marketing and content that speaks to the customer and inspires a response. Before coming to Hibu, he was Creative Director for Chase and Sr. Writer/Writer-Producer for HBO.

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