SEO 101 For Small Retailers

Mar 15, 2023

SEO is something that every business needs. Every page, blog post or product page on your business website needs to be optimized for search. SEO isn’t what it was back in the early 2000’s.

There are continual algorithm changes and each algorithm change is something I consider more complex and dynamic because it’s based on the behavior of consumer search (thank you artificial intelligence and machine learning).

For independent retailers, taking ownership of your search engine optimization (SEO) could be one of the most lucrative investments of time you put into your business this year.

The customer insight gleaned through tools like Google Analytics has forced almost all of us to become statistic geeks, but SEO remains the obsession for most of us. Search engine optimization helps your customers find you online without the help of online ads.  Essentially, you’ll rise in the rankings for Google, Bing and other search engines for desired search terms without having to pay for it.  How is that possible?

First and foremost, there isn’t an end-all, be-all answer. It will always be a, “using-every-tool-in-the-toolbox” type of solution. In fact, Google, Yahoo, and Bing routinely change how their search engine algorithms work.

Here are some tips that have proven to be effective – some are easier to incorporate than others depending on your level of website expertise, but all of these things you can easily do right now.  Your store depends on it.

Develop a Search Friendly, Easy to Use E-Commerce Website

Creating an effective SEO strategy for your e-commerce website can be challenging, but it is crucial for attracting more traffic, increasing your visibility in search results, and driving more sales.

The key steps to creating a successful SEO strategy include conducting keyword research to identify relevant keywords and phrases, optimizing your website structure and content for search engines, building high-quality backlinks, leveraging social media, and measuring your results using tools like Google Analytics.

By following these steps and making data-driven decisions about your strategy, you can improve your website’s visibility and attract more customers to your online store.

Conduct keyword research:

  • Identify your target audience and buyer personas. Consider factors such as age, gender, location, interests, and behaviors.
  • Use keyword research tools such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Ubersuggest to identify relevant keywords and phrases that your target audience is searching for.
  • Group your keywords into categories based on user intent. For example, group keywords related to “running shoes” into categories such as “best running shoes for women”, “cheap running shoes”, “trail running shoes”, and so on.

Optimize your website structure:

  • Organize your website structure into categories and subcategories that make sense for your target audience. For example, if you sell clothing, you might have categories such as “men’s clothing”, “women’s clothing”, “children’s clothing”, and so on.
  • Create an XML sitemap that lists all the pages on your website. This will help search engines discover and index your content more quickly.
  • Optimize your URLs by including relevant keywords and making them short and easy to remember.

Build high-quality backlinks:

  • Identify relevant, high-quality websites in your industry that might be willing to link to your website.
  • Use tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz to analyze your competitors’ backlinks and identify opportunities for your own website.
  • Create high-quality, shareable content that other websites will want to link to.
  • Use social media to promote your content and build relationships with other websites in your industry.

Leverage social media:

  • Identify which social media platforms are most popular among your target audience.
  • Create a strong social media presence by posting engaging content and responding to user comments and questions.
  • Use social media to drive traffic to your website by sharing links to your content and product pages.

Measure your results:

  • Use tools such as Google Analytics to track your website traffic, rankings, and conversions.
  • Analyze your data to identify areas where you can improve your SEO strategy.
  • Make changes to your strategy based on your data and continue to monitor your results over time.


Become Your Target Audience

One of the biggest mistakes retail business owners make when first discussing their SEO needs and desires with me is when they say, “I want my company to come up first in Google when anyone types the name in.”

Here’s the truth –– if a customer types in the name of your company and it’s not the first, you’ve got bigger problems than SEO. All three search engines usually take care of that pretty well.  The bigger problem that needs to be addressed is how potential customers will find you.  Stop being a business owner and become your customer. What broad based search terms would someone use to find your business?

Set Up your URL with SEO in Mind

If you were a costume jewelry store in Spokane, Washington, wouldn’t you want a potential customer to find your business with the search term costume jewelry store in Spokane?

The very first step to increasing SEO would be to get some of those desired terms in the URL of your business.  If the business name were Deb & Daughters, a good URL would be or even   

Placing the desired search terms in the URL not only makes it very obvious what you do, but also helps place it in the three big search engine companies quickly.

Optimize Websites Pages

In order to build success with SEO, you need to proactively optimize your website pages. In order to do this, you want to:

  • Create high-quality, engaging content that is optimized for your target keywords. This includes product descriptions, category pages, and blog posts.
  • Use relevant keywords in your content, but avoid keyword stuffing (i.e., overusing keywords to the point where it becomes spammy).
  • Use header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to structure your content and make it easier for users to read.
  • Use internal links to connect related pages on your website.
  • Keep page titles and descriptions short and to the point.
  • Include keywords when appropriate in page titles
  • Use no more than 55 characters in a page title
  • Page / blog title come before business name in the title
  • When appropriate use the desired keywords in the first sentence or first paragraph
  • Try to use the desired keyword 3-6 times per page or blog article (or about 1% of your total words)
  • When using photographs/images, edit the file name to be descriptive and relevant and edit the ALT tag to match (an alt tag is a text alternative for an image or object on your page.
  • When making links to other websites always ensure they are target=”_blank”
  • When making any hyperlink always edit the ALT tag to include a description

Set Up Your Blog

I can’t emphasize enough just how important a blog or news feed on your website can be.  Google specifically looks for new and fresh content and values it almost as much as any other content online.  Moreover, it’s a free way to connect with your customers to let them know about new products, sales, promotions, open house events and changes in store hours.

Set a realistic goal for updates, too. Far too many businesses will make five or six blog posts a week for the first few months then cut back to two or three then one a month and before the end of the year, they aren’t doing it anymore.  Start off with a realistic goal and then build up from there.  It’s also a great way to drive social media users to your actual website.

Pro Tip: Your Web Content = An Extension of Your Front Counter

Be fun and be relevant.  For retail business owners, one approach that always works well is to think of your website as an extension of your front counter or customer service team.If the information is there, and the content you create has meaning, then your customer will care too. Don’t just publish another blog article because it’s that time of the week to publish another blog article or because you’re dying to be number one for a specific search term.

Setup a Google My Business Page

I know, I know, Google My Business is another one of those silly stepchildren of the Internet that only a select few use and those who do love it, while you may love Facebook, Instagram  or TikTok, Google is simply the OG of paid and organic marketing.

What Google will do for your SEO results though may surprise you.  Not only will it enhance how your business appears in results on organic Google searches (sorry Bing and Yahoo users), linking your website and newest blog posts from a Google My Business business page will actually get them indexed faster.

Also, a company’s My Business account is how they manage their brand presence across all of Google –– and it’s FREE to use. My Business gives companies the ability to manage their hours of operation, their website, integrate delivery options, manage customer reviews, enhance mobile Google Search features and generate driving directions from Google Maps.

Sitemaps Are Important

Signup for and use Google Webmaster Tools.  Google will monitor your site and has some simple steps to ensure you’re doing everything possible by their guidelines to show up well in their searches. Bing has a similar toolkit. Create a sitemap to help bots crawl your site.

That’s pro-talk for basically helping Google, Yahoo and Bing know your site exists and promote that it’s ready to be scanned so it will show up in searches better.   Some content management systems (CMS for short) like WordPress have simple plugins that can help make this faster. There are also options in the previously mentioned Google Webmaster Toolkit.

Submit your site to the DMOZ, the largest and most comprehensive human-edited directory of the web.  While most people have never heard of the DMOZ, it is one of the most important lists on the Internet.  It can take months before consideration and not all websites are listed, but having a backlink from the DMOZ will certainly increase the value of your site when search engine bots crawl it.

A Word on Google Analytics

Monitor your website traffic but don’t obsess about it. Google Analytics is considered to be one of the best ways to monitor website traffic in many different ways, but it’s also easy to become fixated on or discouraged with what you’re seeing. Look at the stats month-over-month, not day-over-day or week-over-week.  When you see big spikes or deep dips in traffic ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did I do differently today?
  • Is the traffic coming organically (searches) or referrals (from another website)
  • For spikes, ask yourself how you can repeat the trend
  • For dips, look at the day of the year and see if it coincides with other cyclical trends.

Images created with Canva Pro. 

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Macala Rose

Macala Rose

Macala Rose is a writer and researcher who specializes in health, wellness, and consumer behavior. Her expertise has been published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and many more publications. When she’s not writing about consumer behavior or food, she can be found scouring for deals in antique shops or on the back of her horse. You can with her on Linkedin at or via