This sponsored post is produced by Salesforce.

Over the past decade, search engine optimization has changed dramatically. What once consisted of trying to outwit an algorithm has now evolved into a sophisticated art of audience targeting, centered around delivering tangible value to prospects and customers.

Good SEO gives small businesses the opportunity to cut through the Internet’s noise and reach the right audience with valuable content designed to help readers solve their business problems. But where should they start?

We spoke with Todd Friesen, Director of SEO at Salesforce, to learn more about what small businesses need to know for SEO success.

The topic of SEO can be confusing. There are so many different viewpoints on what to do and what not to do. What should small businesses do if they haven’t focused on this area of their business?

As a small business, SEO can be daunting. You type your products and services into the almighty Google and you see big businesses and national brands in the top slots. You’re standing at the bottom of a steep hill looking up. What are you, as a small business, going to do to compete? You’re going to buckle down and focus on what’s important.

Okay, where should they start? What are the fundamentals to know?

The Google Webmaster Guidelines are a great place to start, and will help you build your website in a way that Google and Bing can easily crawl your website and abstract the information they need to rank your website appropriately. Your HTML should be clean  and your site should load as fast as possible. All search engines want to provide their users with the best experience possible. If your site loads slowly or cannot be crawled easily, you will lose points — because if Google can’t retrieve and understand your website, they assume their users can’t either.

You should also provide a proper XML sitemap to clearly define the exact pages that a search engine should be interested in and crawl. This should NOT include URLs that have session IDs or tracking parameters in the URLs. These parameters can create massive content duplication issues and dilute your internal linking and page authority.

Bing and Google both offer a suite of Webmaster Tools that can help you asses these issues and more. Every webmaster should be using these tools from the largest corporate empire to the smallest one-man business on the corner.

Keywords play a large part in SEO. Where should SMBs start in their research?

Define and track your keywords. It is vitally important that you know the keywords and phrases that your potential customers are using to find you and your competitors. This allows you to focus your content. It’s not about just getting people to your site. It’s about getting the right people to your site.

Competitive research is step one when it comes to keywords. Researching the paid search landscape of your competition will reveal a host of keywords that are worth looking at. If someone is willing to buy that traffic, there are good odds those keywords convert to sales.

My go-to tool for this is You can easily and quickly see the keywords you and your competitors are ranking for, the keywords they are buying, and the estimated volume of searches Google gets on a monthly basis. SEMRush is also an excellent tool for tracking your keyword rankings on a regular basis. If you don’t have the right keywords, the best website in the world with the best content in the world will not reach the right audience.

You mentioned focusing on content. Why is content so important to SEO?

Search engines want content. They want new exciting things for their users to find and engage with. Here, we’re talking about top-quality content, not content for the sake of content. As a small business, one of your best assets is, very often, your level of expertise and customer service. You can parlay this into becoming a recognized authority with your content. This content will be consumed and passed around and linked to. This is link-building.

So it’s a good, cost-effective tactic: social SEO.

Yes, it’s where the content you’ve been creating really starts to kick in. While people may passively find and consume your content, in order to really get the ball rolling — to get your content spread around, consumed, and producing links for you — you need to get social. Go find all the social profiles you can. Twitter, Facebook, and other mainstays are obvious, but there thousands of social sites out there that cater to a wide variety of interests. Find your customers and promote directly to them while offering help and expertise. If you simply show up as a promotion machine, you will be discounted and your content development efforts will have been wasted.

What else can SMBs do to stay competitive with larger companies?

Localize. Localization is a significant opportunity for small businesses that have a physical address. Each month, there are billions of searches with local intent. With the latest developments in personalization and localization, search engines are serving customized results based on specific searches and user location.

For example, when you search for “pizza” on Google, you get results that show businesses with locations nearest to you.  Localization is about consistency and registration in all the appropriate databases. This is one area when the easiest path is to use a local registration service like to take on this project for you. The relationships between the sources are complex and time-consuming to manage on your own. Search engines access this data to confirm the reliability of their local results.

Any last pieces of advice for small businesses?

SEO is a vital part of the marketing mix for small businesses online, but if you master the fundamentals and spend your time focused on quality content, in the right place, with the right keywords, you can add value to your customers and dollars to your bottom line.

Kim Honjo is a writer at Salesforce.

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