Small Business SEO: How To Launch That Web site


It’s hard when you’re small. Everything seems bigger and more intimidating. Puppies get toppled by bigger dogs,  middle schoolers are stuffed in lockers and small business owners back away in fear of this whole “Internet” thing. But like the chess player who grew up to be accepted by the Homecoming Queen, you, too, can overcome! The trick is to never let your fear stop you from your plans of Word domination.

Though you may be smaller, there’s no shortage of opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to compete in search. And that statement is made even more true when you consider that nearly 40 percent of searches include local intent and that the search engines are now using local results even when a user doesn’t implicitly ask for them.  If you’re a small business, that’s an opportunity.

Okay, so say you’re a small business looking for search on a dime. You have your domain, your hosting is squared away, you have a few pages of content up and you’re finally ready to attract the world (or at least your city) to your Web site. Being small means you need to be smarter. It’s about doing all the little things that will pack the big rewards. Where do you start?

Localize Your Site Content

Don’t be afraid to mention your location on your Web site. Don’t make it a secret to the engines or your customers. Let them know where you live (figuratively speaking. Let’s not endanger the fam), where you work and where you’re from. It’s natural information that both the search engines and your users are going to want to know. Who do you target? What area(s) are you relevant to? When are you open? How can people can find you? Tell them.

Where do you slip in these trust and location cues within your content?

  • Home page: While you’re out there telling people what you’re about, mention where you’re located. It shows customers you really exist, while also giving the engines’ local algorithms something to snack on.
  • About page: Your About page should not only tell people who you are, it should tell them where you’re located. It’s one of the many trust signals users will be looking for and it acts as a great citation for the search engines.
  • Press page:  Do you have a page on your site that encourages people to get in touch with you for media purposes? Don’t forget to include your address, phone number and email.
  • Contact page: This should be a no brainer but you’d be surprised how many people lose their brains writing Web copy. ;) Include your location, a map, your cities served, hours, email address, fax number, phone number, directions and other any information you have that establishes your location.

Create, Claim Your Business Listings

Okay, I encourage you to grab some coffee (and maybe some pizza) before setting in on this task. We understand it’s a bit time consuming, but it’s also important. With reports of nefarious others hijacking unclaimed business listings and then (virtually) closing down the company, you want to make sure you control what’s yours.

Google Local

Even if you don’t have a Web site, you can list your important business attributes in Google’s Local Business Center. This entails heading over to their Business Center and adding all your vitals (name, town, phone, description, URL, etc), adding images, video, etc. Be careful to put your business in the right category because if you don’t, you’re going to have a seriously hard time ranking for anything relevant. You should also be conscious of the terms you’re using when filling out important areas like Titles and Descriptions. Enter in as much relevant information about your business as you can. The more accurate your details, the better chances your company has of ranking for local queries. Google wants to provide users with the most relevant results possible. Show them why you’re relevant to a particular city, town or region.

If you haven’t played with Google Local Business Center, they just released a comprehensive user guide that can help you get started.

Yahoo Local

Your Yahoo Local listing will work very much the same as Google’s. You’re just optimizing your business listing for the Yahoo engine. So go in there and feed them all your important information like business name, URL, address, category, hours, payment methods, etc. Yahoo also offers an Enhanced Listing for $9.99/month and a Featured Local Listing for $24.99/month.  Both programs offers a moderately expanded list of options, including added Web links, photos, searchable descriptions, and even a basic 5-page Web site with the highest package. Honestly, a lot of the “bells and whistles” they include are just as easily done yourself (and probably in a more attractive fashion). Still, if you’re dying for the all-in-one approach, Yahoo has you covered.

Third Party Data Providers

SuperPages, CitySearch, InfoUSA, YellowPages, Localeze, Insider Pages, Open List and Yelp all offer businesses the opportunity to create accurate listings in their indexes. Just as with Google and Yahoo, you’ll need to go in and completely fill out your listing on each site. We know it seems tedious to complete all these listings, but it’s really important that you take the time to do it. Not only because it puts you in each site’s respective index, but also because both Google and Yahoo use these sites as citations to build their own local results. The more places you have your business information, the more the big dogs are going to trust and use it. Your goal is have accurate information about your company appear in as many places as possible.

BOTW Local

By now you should be able to recite your business name, tagline, and phone number both backwards and forwards at the drop of a hat. ;) We know you’re tired of entering in all your information, but we have one more mandatory site for you – BOTW Local.

BOTW Local is another place where users can find info, rate and review local businesses, get directions and more.  They offer a free JumpStart program where you can enter in your business details, tell customers who you are, list hours, get reviews, etc. If you’re looking for more power, visibility and functionality, they also offer  fee-based and still-in-beta Premium business listings ($19.95/month) and Sponsored business opportunities ($60/month). All three options provide business owners with a great opportunity to reach users in their community, but the two higher packages come complete with a link back to your site from BOTW. ;) I’ve spent a few days playing around with BOTW’s Premium package and it does pack quite a powerful punch. The SEO on that site is seriously tight which means pages will rank extremely well. There’s also strong evidence of Google scooping up these pages as citations.  We like.


Relax, with any luck you don’t actually have to do anything here. is the brainchild of Patrick Sexton and David Mihm and presents a HUGE resource for small business owners. If you didn’t want to have Pat and David’s babies before, the creation of this tool has probably changed that.

What does is help small businesses claim and enhance their listings in the search engines by giving them access to everything they need from one interface. The site offers a tool that will show you exactly how the major search engines see your business and let you know if you’ve remembered to claim your listing. If you haven’t, they make it easy for you to click through and get the job done. When you’re a small business owner with limited time and perhaps limited knowledge, it’s a huge resource. I’d also recommend you check out the Resource Center which is filled with more local SEO knowledge than one person could ever digest. It’s fantastic.

Build Local Mentions

There’s still a touch of mystery to the search engine’s local algorithms, but here’s what we do know about where they pull their information from:

  1. The information you provide when you claim your listing in their engine.
  2. Third party data providers like SuperPages, CitySearch and Localeze.
  3. Information they gather from Web crawls, aka the local signals you include in your content.
  4. Local citations.

If you’ve followed the guidelines above, you should already have the first three really well established. Now it’s time to go after those local citations. If you don’t know what the term citation refers to, GetListed gives a fairly good overview when they explain why citations are important to your local business listings.

Here’s a snippet:

Citations are defined as “mentions” of your business name and address on other webpages, even if there is no link to your website. An example of a citation might be an online yellow pages directory where your business is listed, but not linked to. It can also be a local chamber of commerce, or a local business association where your business information can be found, even if they are not linking at all to your website.

What does that mean? That means in order to rank in local search you need to reach out to the local organizations around you and help one another out. That means getting a link from your Chamber of Commerce, on local (and hyperlocal) blogs, local directories and resource sites, your school board association and anywhere else local business information is found. These types of links should be built in along with your regular link building efforts.  They’re fairly easy to come by and the rewards you’ll get for them are big.

Once you’ve got the basics done, it’s time to start focusing on your story and building all those other elements that are going to create brand awareness and put your small business on a serious level to compete. And keep up that offline marketing, as well.  Add references to your online presence in all marketing material and spread the word among friends, customers and those you have strategic partnerships with. Just because your small doesn’t mean you’re not in the fight. Get out there and claim your turf!

You can find additional resources for small businesses in our Small Business Marketing category page.

Your Comments

  • Reese Spykerman

    Nice, Lisa. I got a few more local profile links off this article that I wasn’t using before.

    Do you have any suggestions for clients located in the suburb of major cities? I have a client who needs to attract several markets: his major metro city area, as well as more poor suburbs. We know the poorer suburbs may not be using the Internet as much, so are focusing on offline efforts. But his business is in a ‘wealthy’ suburb. So while we could easily rank for that suburb, what to do about the other locations he wants to target–specifically the big metro. Any ideas?

  • Bob

    I think the citation mentions around the web is pretty fascinating. Have you seen any research/case study/testing that has shown how effective this is in where the listing is placed in the Onebox? I know it is pretty nitty gritty, but it would be interesting to see none-the-less.

    Thanks for the article – I know a lot of small businesses really need this service or need to do it themselves. Yesterday, I encouraged a prospect to do this and he straight told me he wouldn’t (because he knows he just won’t get around to doing it).

    It’s a small service for SEO companies, but it just might lead to bigger things like Seth has mentioned before at

  • Missy

    Good stuff, Lisa. I have pretty much implemented all of the above – EXCEPT the extra local directories and citations part. I kept hearing the term citation – i figured it was a link on the web, but i see now that it’s essentially a “mention” on the web, which may or may not include a link. Didn’t realize it was valuable, like that.

    Also on our family business small town website, i created a wordpress blog and initially had the blog as front page and a seperate About Us page, but then decided to change it up. And now the About Us page is the homepage. Does this affect anything, as far as SEO or findability? Probably not, but was just wondering.

    We get the occasional searchers online, not many. But actually i’ve been thinking of targeting the two bigger towns next to us, as these are bigger through the blog. Just to see if this brings in customers via search.

    Anywho – good stuff! Thx.

  • Alan Blewieiss

    Great advise of course, given that it’s coming from YOU Lisa! I’ve also found that a little digging can usually turn up relevant locale based directories that help when a business is in a suburb. Like here in Marin County. The trick with those is being able to evaluate the quality of the site , both from a PR and trustworthiness perspective (yes those are two different things for those who think otherwise).

    I have also found that in some cases, having the business full address info (in readable html) on every page helps a site get a bump up in the geo-targeted keyword process (as compared to just having it on one or a couple pages).

  • Lisa Barone

    Reese: Glad you found some more nuggets!

    Many of the resources listed above (including Google and Yahoo) will allow you to list the cities/regions that your company serves, so you’ll be able to add those surrounding regions into the listings and have them act as citations that way. You may also want to consider creating content on your site that addresses the specific areas his business serves in more detail. Throw them on your About page or find ways to talk about them on your home page, Contact Page, Footer Links, throughout the site, etc. It’s really all about gaining those citations wherever you can.

    Bob: I couldn’t agree with you more. The citation stuff is really interesting to me, as well. I think the person with the best handle on it is David Mihm, so I’d check out his blog (linked in the post). I believe he has a number of good articles on it. I don’t have much first hand experience with it since I don’t touch the nitty gritty SEO side of things, but perhaps Rhea or Rae [cough] could make an appearance and give us their insight. ;)

    Missy: The citations are super valuable. I think that’s where a lot of small businesses miss out on opportunities. I’d be more interested in knowing why you’re using an About page as your home page? Your About page should tell people who’s behind the company, but your home page should really be geared towards customers looking to get information on what your business offers, how they can help them, and on targeting your broad keywords. If your About page isn’t acting as a landing page into the rest of your site, then I’d be concerned from a usability side of things, not just SEO.

    Alan: [blush] Have I told you lately how hard you rock? :)

  • Jack Leblond

    A tip for off-line promotion – when picking your domain, avoid the urge to do something cute. You really don’t want to have to explain it to people on the phone or at your chamber of commerce meetings. When you tell them check us out at, they should not wonder how it’s spelled or get tricked by dashes etc. and end up on someone else’s site by mistake. If “” is taken, don’t for a second think that “” is OK to use.

  • David Mihm

    Lisa, thanks for all the plugs for both myself and

    If I can attempt to shed a little more light on citations: anecdotally from clients and from other relatively random research, they do seem to make quite a difference in ranking…for a little more background, this post is my initial realization of their value.

    Mike Blumenthal and assorted other top-notch Local SEO’s also did a more quantitative research project last summer where we found empirical evidence for the impact of citations on ranking.

    My speculation is that the reason they’re important is that they build up trust at Google and Yahoo that the information they’re presenting about a particular business is accurate: the more times they see that information across the web, the more confidence they have in ranking that business as a relevant result. Keep in mind there are still a TON of small businesses either without websites or with very poorly linked websites, so the Local Search Engines need some indicator of authority…citations seem to be a significant part of that indication.

    Hope that helps!

  • Jared O'Toole

    Great stuff. SEO is one of the biggest challenges for new websites I feel. Especially when you don’t know to much about web design. I’ll try these things out!

  • Dana

    Thanks for providing yet *another* well written article that I can put into my arsenal on why my small business clients need to get with it on local search. Some are really warming up to it, but I have some others that are still skeptical of this whole intertubes thingy.

  • Danna Crawford

    Great information! I appreciate you sharing this and I look forward to reviewing it even deeper. Keep up the good work!

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Every small local business should localize their website online to get a local crowd online.

  • Mal Milligan

    – Google Local Maps business listings are the greatest free advertising on the web right now… that is if you can GEO target yourself with a physical location. I can’t help to suspect Big G will start charging for those Maps listings some day. I hope not because it’s so much fun seeing one of my sites on a 10 pack or a 3 pack. Clients love it.
    – Nice directory list !!! The more directory links the better… especially if they are the do follow variety. It used to be automatic to buy a Yahoo DIR listing and BOTW.
    – I like Yahoo local but personally I’ve experienced a pinch of difficulty trying to get meaningful interaction from their support as of late.

  • Jon Payne

    Good tips, but I hate how this started. I think being small is very often a huge advantage online. Sure you don’t have the benefit of tons of links pointing back to your site b/c of your brand name, but you do have many benefits that big brands don’t… namely:

    – agility, or ability to react and implement quickly, quick approval and short timelines
    – less red tape, ability to actually implement things without having someone else reject them b/c of who knows what silly corporate policy
    – niche focus

    I can’t tell you how many big brands I’ve consulted with where I am happy to have 30% of my suggestions actually implemented. With smaller guys, we typically don’t have as many people pushing back and can do a lot more.

    Anyhow, just wanted to add that piece.

  • Lisa Barone

    John: Hey, thanks for the comment. I totally agree that small businesses have many things working in their favor when it comes to actually being able to get stuff done. I think there’s also a bit of fear from their camps sometimes, because they don’t know what they don’t know and everything just seems so complicated and time intensive. Or at least that’s the feeling I get from many of the small business owners I’ve spoken with. So that’s where I was coming from. Didn’t mean to offend with the opening though. Glad you stuck around for the rest of the article. :)

  • BobbyD

    Other than the completely misleading title, this article is really helpful in acquiring brand recognition in location based SERPs. You might want to also consider a followup article on how to effectively implement service/product based keyword strategy when you’re taking advantage of local search.

    What good is it to get your company name and location into Google or Yahoo!, when people don’t know who you are or what your company does? Isn’t it MUCH more important to focus first on optimizing your website’s content for the services you provide or the products that you sell? I would use this article as an afterthought.

  • Internet Strategist

    Than you for highlighting one of my pet peeves: Web sites for local businesses that do not have locations on them. I have seen so many over the years that don’t include the state (I guess they don’t realize their city name is used in other locations) or leave off their phone number area code!

    I suggest that businesses create individual pages that target their primary search phrase(s) and include any cities they serve – a separate page (or blog post) to target each city).

    I have to totally disagree with BobbyD. This is NOT an afterthought – it is EXTREMELY important! Perhaps you don’t understand how local search works.

    Do you know that I can go to Google Maps or Yahoo! Local, type in the type of business or product I’m seeking along with a location and find businesses I never knew existed?

    Do you realize that these are major sites so incoming links from them provide enormous value to getting your site found in the regular organic search engines for EVERY phrase you use?

    Have you any idea of the value of reviews and recommendations on these major sites? (If you aren’t there your existing clients can’t put in a good word for you!)

  • Stever

    Local small business owners have a nice opportunity in “reciprocal linking”. Most small businesses have relationships with other small businesses in their area, this is a great way to trade some links. Not the free for all reciprocal linking of the old days, but a page with 10 to 20 local links, they don’t all have to be reciprocal, some can point to other interesting local resources, presented in a way that provides some value for visitors, is one great source for locally relevant links. These links can help a lot on the organic search side of things. For many local small biz sites organic rankings can be relatively easy to get with good on-site optimization and a handful of links.

  • Sujan Patel

    Lisa, your company’s blog has become one of my favorite SEO websites. I feel that there’s always helpful for people of all level of SEO from OutspokenMedia Blog

  • Andy Brudtkuhl

    Great post Lisa! One of the first SEM items we mention when working with local small businesses is that they can list themselves on Google Maps / Yahoo Local for free. I then jump in and do a search result and they are amazed that those listings are on the first page of results – without any additional SEO.

    Great Points!

    Also – great work on the Thesis theme! We love it too!

  • David Corman

    Great post with some amazing resources. Do you think these types of sites are helpful in SEO link building or are many of them nofollow?

    • Rae Hoffman

      David, I know the question was aimed at Lisa, but I’ll toss my answer in – as long as they send traffic, they are valuable to your SEO efforts – followed or nofollowed.

      • Brian Zenor

        Hello Rae, I just started a small business, I hand code HTML and design custom Advertisements for small businesses, instead of the regular text ad’s you see on craigslist, I make custom ad’s with animation and full HTML. My question to you is, after have made about 30 Ad designs, (I just started hehe) I have been making them with full addresses and phone numbers with area codes, and all of the ad designs I have done so far have made it to first page on Google under the keywords I selected, do my ad designs even though they have a no follow, count as citations ?

  • Kevin McLaughlin

    As a small business owner, I am always looking for new ways to increase traffic to my web site. I don’t have a lot of time to research SEO but I stumbled on your blog and implemented a few of your suggestions. The results were immediate and impressive. Just wanted to thank you for sharing.

  • Curtis Chambers/Chambers Financial Group

    Lisa, thanks for a really terrific article. You pulled everything together so well!

  • Ottawa SEO

    I went through this guide step-by-step, to sharpen my saw, and learned some new tricks for the arsenal. Thanks, Lisa!

  • metin2

    Not the free for all reciprocal linking of the old days, but a page with 10 to 20 local links

  • Gavin

    Great article, but for those who have no idea on seo, get a small business outsourcing company to provide you this service.

  • goldendog

    I am an American transplant to the UK. Many of you local links are either not here or anemic and clearly do not work the same here. Where does one find these types of links. How does one break into another culture with search?

    “Which?” is a well respected consumer report, that in June just launched “Which? Local” but it new and has not taken off as yet.

    I attended yesterday a workshop funded by the UK government on this exact topic but nothing you wrote about here was covered.

  • Dominic

    There’s also a new thing called Fireroll, where you can announce your app.

  • Abe Miessler

    Great article. Just finished adding my friends business website to all of those. Thanks for the help!

  • Web Xperts

    Good tips Very helpful article for Local Business owners and small business advertiser.Thanks So much.

  • Broadway Seo

    Great post, these tips will be saved…will share.

  • Reputation Management

    A friend of mine was struggling to get his website to page one; but after following your suggestions, he ended up at the top of a local search in San Diego.

    Glen Woodfin

  • Anna Lilly

    Yes this is what I was looking for. Nice writing

  • Jennifer Voip

    I had a horrid, horrid experience listing my business on! All I wanted was the free link, which I signed up for. Then their sales reps called me five times a day for a month trying to get me to upgrade to a paid listing (for something crazy like $200 a month) even after I told them multiple times that I wasn’t interested and didn’t want them to call me again. I guess they are pretty desperate for revenue these days. So in my opinion, it’s not worth it to submit to . . my site has yet to get any referrals from the free link. All I got was phone harassment!

  • Cilt Maskeleri

    Great post, these tips will be saved…will share.

  • Parker Converse

    With competitive keyword phrases localization is the only way to gain visibility for most small businesses unless they want to invest hundreds of hours developing content and backlinks.


    I think a lot of businesses underestimate the need for SEO even though they construct their company’s website only as a source of convenience for their customers. Getting listed first on the SERPS is very important for local businesses.

  • Rick Noel

    Great post Lisa. SEO, and in particular, local SEO is critical to be part of the marketing plan of small businesses launching today. Though this post (which is totally awesome by the way!) is now over three years old, it is still as relevant as the day published, especially given the number of users today that rely on the Internet to find local businesses. I saw a figure recently 80+% of people (US?) cited in a recent study. This means that local search optimization has never been more important than now for small businesses, especially those with a local serving area. With more users accessing the Internet though smartphones, marketers need to factor in location based offers to realize the greatest ROI for their local marketing efforts. Thanks for sharing.