No Money, No Problem: 17 Free Ways to Boost Your Website’s SEO

1. Find better keywords.

Optimize for keywords that are closer to your niche and have fewer competitors. Google Trends and Google’s Keyword Tool in AdWords are free tools that should give you all the data you need. For help, see this article.

2. Delete duplicate content.

Google Search Console will display any instances of duplicate content it finds on your site. Usually, these are the result of canonicity errors (not plagiarism), but you still need to correct this to keep your site in good standing.

3. Fix 404 errors.

These errors are like dead ends, and nobody likes dead ends. Again, refer to Google Search Console for help, and set up 301 redirects where necessary to close the gaps here.

4. Write a unique title tag for every page.

Every page should have a title tag, of under 70 characters, that describes the page, features the desired keyword and is unique from every other title tag on your website. For a more comprehensive guide on on-site optimization, see this article.

5. Write a compelling meta description for every page.

Every page should also have a meta description, under 160 characters, that more elaborately describes the page. The meta description probably doesn’t play much of a role in your actual page rankings, but it certainly affects click-through rates. There’s evidence that click-through rates affect rankings, though, so ensure that your meta descriptions are unique, concise and compelling.

6. Clean up your URL structure.

Your URLs should have a breadcrumbs trail and feature readable indicators of the content on the page, such as the page title. Avoid using numbers or random strings of text in your URLs.

7. Update your blog often.

More content, as long as it’s valuable to readers, is never a bad thing. Google recently released an algorithm update that seems to favor fresh content, so keeping your blog updated is more beneficial than ever before.

8. Include H1, H2, H3, etc. headers in your content.

Your content should be logically divided into subsections, with headlines and sub-heads. These need to be marked with html tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to help Google process and understand the intent and organization of your content.

9. Add internal links.

Linking together the relevant pages of your site is good for user experience, and helps Google better understand relationships between pages on your site. If your site is on WordPress, there are plugins that can automatically help, such as SEO Auto links.

10. Optimize your images.

Your images should be optimized for SEO too, and that task is relatively simple — title them appropriately, add descriptive alt tags and keep them in the proper format.

11. Reference authoritative outside sources.

Google pays attention to what you link to in an article. Citing authoritative sources to back up your claims will make your content more credible and trustworthy to Google as well as to your readers.

12. Include social media integrations.

Every article on your site should be accompanied by social share icons; social shares serve as indirect ranking signals, giving you the opportunity to earn more inbound links, which pass authority back to your site.
13. Optimize your website loading speed.

This can be as simple or as complicated as you make it; there are several ways to make a site faster, such as reducing image sizes, adding a caching plugin, switching hosting providers and deleting unnecessary plugins.

14. Optimize for mobile devices.

The majority of Google search now occurs on mobile devices, so if your site doesn’t display attractively for mobile users, you could be missing out on a huge chunk of traffic. Also, Google will not display your website prominently in mobile search results if your website isn’t mobile-optimized.

15. Earn some links.

As a consistent strategy, link-building demands heavy investment, but if you’re just getting started, you can earn some links by: 1) getting active enough in your community to earn media coverage; 2) publishing an opinion about a controversial topic you’re qualified to write about; or 3) reaching out to a publication in your industry to secure a guest posting opportunity. These days, there are really only three viable strategies for link building; this article covers them.

16. Remove bad links.

Use Google Search Console to download a list of links to your website. Then, evaluate your link profile and identify “bad” links from low-authority sources. Remove them manually or through an email request to the webmaster.

17. Syndicate your content.

You’re writing lots of great content, but what are you doing with it? Take a moment to syndicate your content through social media channels, which increases the likelihood that it will earn rank-boosting links to your site.

These tactics alone won’t guarantee you a top ranking for a competitive keyword, nor are they suitable to manage a campaign in the long term, but they will give you a strong boost and a good foundation to build an ongoing strategy. Building a full campaign from scratch takes time, effort and patience — and you’ll probably run into hurdles.

In addition, money is the substitute to addressing these problems — it spares you the time and effort of doing the work yourself, and connects you with experts right away. But even then, you’ll be paying for a return. Remember: This isn’t an expense, it’s an investment.

4 Tools That Make Your Small Business Look Big

Being a small company has its benefits: You’re agile, able to change directions at a moment’s notice. You’ve got autonomy, as your business is independent of a giant conglomerate. No, you’re not attracting the same number of consumers as a household name business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look every bit as professional to the consumers you do reach. You can make your small business look big.

Build/Update your Website:

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) estimated last year that 50 percent of all small businesses still didn’t have a website. Without a presence on the web, your small business can easily go unnoticed by potential customers. Now the good news: It’s easier than ever to create a website, especially one that your customers can access from their mobile devices. More than 75 percent of mobile phone users access the internet through them, and the number will rise to nearly 86 percent by 2018. Google now favors sites which work well on mobile in its search results: You definitely want to be one of the top results when people go looking.

There are many free or low-cost tools now to build a website. Choose a design labeled “mobile-friendly” or responsive, which means it will automatically adjust to any platform, from desktop or laptop computers to tablets and phones. If you have an existing website, you should be able to update it to the newest technology simply by choosing a mobile or responsive design. Remember, there are ready made designs for every industry now, from healthcare to restaurants.

Establish a marketing budget.

Procter & Gamble spent $2.64 billion on marketing in 2014, the most of any company in the world. A small business certainly can’t match that, but any small business that hopes to grow must budget some amount to get its products in front of consumers. While people may say a product “practically sells itself”, nothing does, which is why many companies spend so heavily on marketing.

How much do you need to spend to look big? A recent survey by CMO magazine found big businesses spend, on average, 11 percent of their total budget on marketing and advertising. If you don’t have a budget, take a look at your revenues. CMO found that marketing spending was about 6.6 percent of revenue, down from 11 percent in August 2012. (Generally a business which sells to other businesses can put less into marketing than a business that sells to consumers). If you want to launch a big campaign but don’t have the resources in hand, you may be able to secure outside funding to do so. One chiropractor I know planned a large mailing about some new services. He knew 10 new customers would be more than enough to justify the cost of the marketing and secured short-term funding to pay for it. With careful planning, he met his goal and repaid his funding.

Grow your social media presence.

P&G shocked the ad world in 2014 when it sharply cut its traditional advertising budget and put more money into digital ads and social media platforms. Social media is an absolute necessity now.

But which social media platform will make you look bigger? If you’re in a professional business and you need to connect with professional colleagues, I’d recommend LinkedIn. If you run a restaurant and you want to show people how great your food looks, try Instagram, which is also a great tool for connecting with teenage consumers. See which sites the big brands in your industry use, and use that as a guideline.

While social media started as free, it is becoming increasingly less so. Big brands pay big money for placement in front of the right consumers, and Facebook has been trying to nudge more of its small business users into becoming advertisers. If it’s going to be hard to run your social media presence and your business, you may need to invest in someone to do your posting for you. Ask to see their past work, and if they are going to be freelance, make sure they’re not also working for a competitor.

Beyond simply creating content on Facebook or Twitter, it’s vital to track your conversations there. Luckily, there are social media tracking tools like Perch, which lets you watch not only your activity on social media, but what your customers are saying about your business and what your competition is doing.

Spend money to make money.

Big brands invest in their business every day. The right website, consistent marketing and the use of modern marketing tools like social media are all key–and they are easier than ever for small businesses to have as well.

3 Ways to Find the Right Investor for Your Business

There’s a point along every entrepreneur’s path to success where the option is either to acquire capital or watch your company crumble. But there are subtleties to capital that all entrepreneurs should know.

It’s important, for instance, to know that the right kind of funding can have a huge impact on the direction of your company. In a recent survey of small business owners, fully half of the businesses surveyed, with 11 to 50 employees each, listed “cash flow” as their top concern. Twenty-one percent reported a closely related issue, “raising capital/funding,” as their top concern

These concerns reflect what small business owners everywhere face. Capital is easier to access than it has been in the past, but it is still imperative that owners choose the funding source that will best match their specific needs.

Even billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson has pointed out that an investor’s deep pockets are “not the essential quality that will sustain the relationship and the business in the long-term.” So, if you are unfortunate enough to choose the wrong financial partner, your move — according to Branson and common sense — will “dim the spirit and enthusiasm of a new enterprise, muffling the spark that prompted you to launch this project.”

That spark, Branson said, is the one that “is most likely to make your venture different from your competitors.'” Here, then, are some tips for recovering that spark and finding the right investor(s).

1. Understand the different investment options you have.

The Small Business Administration Venture Capital Guide provides a detailed overview options in the types of investment options you should be aware of.

  • Private equity (PE). PE covers a number of investment types that are usually made by private individuals or privately-owned institutions to purchase a company, fund a project or make a private investment.
  • Venture capital (VC).  VC investments are managed differently and usually designed to fund startup companies with the potential for high growth. VCs also provide startups business-planning expertise and assistance.
  • Angel investing. Angel investors are high net worth individuals who seek high returns through private investments in startup companies.They provide similar startup financing as venture capitalists in smaller amounts.

Entrepreneurs looking for funding should also consider government venture capital programs available through the SBA’s Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program. SPICs are privately owned investment funds guaranteed by the SBA to offer equity and debt investments to small businesses.

The SBA itself has loaned out more than $19 billion in 2014 to small businesses. Many of the restrictions that have been implemented in the past have been lifted, and more loans are now available.

How do you choose between seed investors vs. angel investors and venture capitalists? A post on the Grasshopper blog explains: “If you need a small amount of money to get going, you’re looking for seed money. A seed investor invests tiny sums into a company during its earliest days, hoping to grab a percentage of companies before they explode.

YCombinator is an example of a seed investor, the blog says, continuing: “If you need a larger investment, you’re looking for angel investment. Angel investors are typically retired businesspeople who keep an eye out for investment opportunities. Substantially higher investments tend to come only from venture capitalists.”

2. Know what you want investors to provide for you.

How involved do you want your investors to be?

Bo Yaghmaie, a partner at law firm Cooley LLP, has written inEntrepreneur that when meeting with potential financial partners, “You’ll want to ask questions about their most recent investments, what they typically provide to companies, their expectation of CEOs and how involved they like to be.” All of these questions can help determine whether the partnership will be the best one.

Other factors you should aware of when it comes to potential investors include: their area of focus, the stage of development they invest in and their reputation.

3. Perfect your pitch to find the right match.

Take time to think about what you want to say. How will you share your mission and attract someone who shares your vision? Yaghmaie provides pointers in another Entrepreneur article. He says: Here’s the short answer: start with a great pitch deck. The pitch deck is arguably the most important document you will generate in the life of your company. It is ‘the hook’ by which you will capture the attention and imagination of an investor.”

Discuss how your product or service will solve a problem. The SBA recommends fine-tuning your pitch based on the investor you’re pitching to.

Finally, have a clear business plan and “be sure to include realistic financials and market research to back up your predictions,” advises the SBA. “Plan on being able to communicate sound bites from your plan, particularly how you will generate profit and how that will flow into your investor’s pockets.”

When you’re raising capital, you may feel that you should accept any money that comes your way. This approach is wrong, says David Cohen, an angel investor and co-founder of startup accelerator TechStars. In his book Do More Faster, Cohen explained why the investor-entrepreneur relationship is important. Like any relationship, he wrote, the wrong one can pull you in the wrong direction, whereas the right one will take you where you need to go, faster, more efficiently and as part of a winning team.

 

5 Morning Rituals to Keep You Productive All Day Long

Most of us work long hours: 40, 50 or even 60 hours each week. But chances are, given distractions like online entertainment, office snacking habits and ill-designed time management, we’re only churning out high-quality work a portion of each day.

Here are five practical steps to incorporate into any morning routine to optimize your time at the office and maintain productivity all day long:

7 minutes of exercise.
Yep, not 10 — just seven. Why? It’s short enough that it won’t impact the rest of your morning routine and long enough to shake off any residual sluggishness from the night before — including that extra glass of wine.

There are endless fitness routines to turn to, but the one I like best is called the 7 Minute Workout (and yes, there’s an app for that). In just seven minutes, it works all major muscle groups with 12 total exercises.

Start your day out green.
Sure, we’ve all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it’s pretty easy to reach for a bagel, bowl of cereal, egg sandwich or cup of yogurt to get your metabolism going.

While all of these options are fine choices once in a while, you’ll be shocked at the morning lift you can get from a green smoothie. And healthy juicing requires less time in the morning than toasting a bagel and slathering it with low fat cream cheese.

I go quick and easy, blending (for about a minute): one apple, one banana, one orange, a handful of spinach, half of a cucumber, any juice or coconut water on hand, a few cubes of ice and some flax seed. It’s cheap, easy and energizing.

Pick 3 wins for the day.
While you’re waiting for that smoothie to blend, get ahead of the evening’s conversation with your significant other — you know, the one that starts, “How was your day?”

Decide on the three things that you’d like to accomplish in the next 12 hours in order for you to feel like the day was a success. Sure, not every day will be an epic win, but strategizing in this way will help to move the ball forward.

Block your calendar to achieve wins.
One of the most common mistakes people make at the office is not turning to-do lists into time-bound, effective project lists. I’ve found that people who have mastered this hack are far more likely to deliver tasks on time.

It’s simple: For each of the big things on your list, block off the amount of time on your calendar that you estimate the task might take — and then add 33% more time just to be sure.

If a project is multi-day or has dependencies, break it up into digestible chunks. Use one block to plan and a second or third block to accomplish.

This simple method will help hold you accountable and immediately help you refocus on the tasks you’ve prioritized when you do get distracted. Too often, we let one distraction steamroll an entire morning — now you don’t have to let that client email derail you from your winning plan for the day.

Power up after lunch. Take the 15 minutes right after lunch to refocus on the day — a kind of professional meditation. Get away from your computer, turn it off, go sit in a conference room and determine what you have on tap for the rest of the day.

Think about how the list you set in the morning is shaping up. Are you ahead of schedule? Behind schedule? You’ll find that these 15 minutes help you identify how you got derailed, what’s causing you distractions and help you to rediscover a rhythm to be productive all day long.

Give this simple formula a try for a week and I think you’ll be pleased with the results. Here’s to a more productive 2014!

 

10 Skills That Are Hard to Learn But Pay Off Forever

The best things in life may be free, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take time, sweat, and perseverance to acquire. That’s especially the case when it comes to learning important life skills.

What are the hardest and most useful skills to learn?
We’ve highlighted our favorite takeaways.

1. Time management

Effective time management is one of the most highly valued skills by employers. While there is no one right way, it’s important to find a system that works for you and stick to it.

“The hardest thing to learn for me was how to plan,” she writes. “Not to execute what I have planned, but to make so epic a to-do list and to schedule it so thoroughly that I’m really capable of completing all the tasks on the scheduled date.”

2. Empathy

“You can be the most disciplined, brilliant, and even wealthy individual in the world, but if you don’t care for or empathize with other people, then you are basically nothing but a sociopath.”

Empathy, as business owner Jane Wurdwand explains, is a fundamental human ability that has too readily been forsworn by modern business.

“Empathy — the ability to feel what others feel — is what makes good sales and service people truly great. Empathy as in team spirit — esprit d’corps — motivates people to try harder. Empathy drives employees to push beyond their own apathy, to go bigger, because they feel something bigger than just a paycheck,” she writes.

3. Mastering your sleep

There are so many prescribed sleep hacks out there it’s often hard to keep track. But regardless of what you choose, establishing a ritual can help ensure you have restful nights.

Numerous studies show that being consistent with your sleep schedule makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up, and it helps promote better sleep in general.

4. Positive self-talk

“Ultimately it doesn’t matter what others think of you, but what you think of yourself certainly does, and it takes time to build that level of confidence and ability to believe in yourself when nobody else does.”

5. Consistency

Whether you’re trying a new exercise routine, studying for the LSATs, or working on an important project, consistency is vital to maintaining any kind of success.

People often stop working hard when they reach the top, he explains, but to maintain that top position, they have to work harder and be more consistent in their work.

6. Asking for help

“I once was told in a job interview, ‘You can’t have this job if you can’t ask for help when you need it, naturally, I said I could. Later, I found out that the previous person with that job had screwed up big-time because he was in over his head but couldn’t admit it and didn’t ask for help.”

She explains that knowing when you need help and then asking for it is surprisingly difficult to learn and do because no one wants to be perceived as weak or incompetent.

But a recent study from the Harvard Business School suggests doing so makes you look more, not less, capable. According to the study authors, when you ask people for advice, you validate their intelligence or expertise, which makes you more likely to win them over.

7. Knowing when to shut up — and actually doing it

“You can’t go around whining about every other thing that seems not-so-right to you in this world… Sometimes you just need to shut up.”

There are many instances when keeping to yourself is the best course. “When we are angry, upset, agitated, or vexed, we blurt out anything and everything that comes to our mind.” And later, you tend to regret it.

Keeping your mouth shut when you’re agitated is one of the most valuable skills to learn, and of course, one of the most difficult.

8. Listening

Along with shutting up comes listening…

“Most of us in the workplace are so overwhelmed with things to do — instant messaging, phones ringing. I mean, our brain can only tolerate so much information before it snaps.”

One tip for active listening is repeating back what you heard to the other person. “It makes things so much easier when everyone is on the same page,” she said.

9. Minding your business

“It takes ages to learn and master this.”

Sticking your nose into other people’s work isn’t helpful and wastes time and resources, she says. “You have no right to put forth your two or four cents, even if you are the last righteous person standing.”

10. Mastering your thoughts

To do what you want to do and accomplish what you want to accomplish, you need to consciously direct your thinking.

“The challenge is that we are the product of our past experience and all of our thinking is the result of this,” he says. “However, the past does not equal the future.”

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