2020 has been a challenging year for most of us– especially small, independent businesses.
As we look into 2021, it's more important than ever to be strategic about how you're budgeting time and money in an effort to promote your business. This is particularly true for small businesses in the wellness and fitness space. Months of quarantining and limited public exposure has meant limited opportunities to work directly with our clients, which is where so many of us– whether through personal training, gym memberships, or demonstrations– excel.
More and more, we have to move online and rely upon digital touch points to solidify our presence in our customers' lives... and keep the revenue coming in.
In spite of the necessity of moving to digital spaces, it can be hard to stand out when major brands can pump thousands of dollars into search ads and social media. When your ad budget can't compete, you can still get in front of your customers by making developing an SEO strategy for your brand.
Search Engine Optimization is one of the most cost-effective tools at your disposal for getting found and bringing in new customers. While it often takes a lot of work to get the ball rolling, it can be a pretty low-cost marketing tactic that creates exponential returns.
The internet is full of SEO advice, and it can be difficult to cut through. This post isn't intended to be a comprehensive guide of the foundations of SEO. Instead, these are three tips for implementing an SEO strategy that can help brands stand out and up their SEO game.
Tip 1: Don't neglect local SEO
Local SEO is one of the most misunderstood (and incorrectly applied) concepts in Search Engine Optimization.
Let's start by looking at the definition of Local SEO as defined by Ahrefs, "Local SEO refers to the process of ‘optimizing’ your online presence to attract more business from relevant local searches. These searches take place on Google and other search engines."
Think about your own experiences using Google. Have you ever gotten in your car on the hunt for something specific and typed in "name of product or service near me" to see what your options were?
Google does its best to make sense of user intent. That's the whole point of search engines: they take the queries that you type in, make sense of those queries within whatever context they can determine, and then surface the results that their algorithms deem to be the most relevant.
If your website isn't clearly identifiable to people in your area, you're missing out on a large portion of your potential customers, especially if you offer services that are best delivered in person.
There are a few ways you can stake your claim in your local area.
Get set up with Google My Business
One of the foundational tools of local SEO is Google My Business. It's free to get setup in Google My Business, and the process is pretty straightforward. You'll need to be able to prove that you actually own (or are part of) the business, and you'll need to provide key information about your business, such as your industry, address, phone number, website, and social media links.
You'll also need to verify your business, and Google provides a few ways to do this. The default is to select to receive a postcard from Google at your business' address, which will contain further instructions for you to go online and complete your verification. Some businesses may also be eligible for phone or email verification as well.
Google My Business serves a few key purposes. First, it allows folks to leave reviews. If you have faithful customers already, put a link out in your newsletter or on your social media accounts asking them to leave you a five-star review. Businesses that are well-reviewed and which have an established customer base are more likely to be perceived as trustworthy by others who find you on Google. Plus, reviews build a sense of social proof, which is kind of like a healthier variant of peer pressure.
On top of that, by verifying your business' in-house location and address, Google knows the exact region of your in-person customers. If someone is just visiting your area or in your area long-term, Google will know that you are a feasible result and possible fit for their queries. Google can be even more specific in showing your business to users if the services you've described on your website and business profile are specific and descriptive. For example, a personal trainer who just puts "personal training" as their core service isn't giving us much to work with; one who describes experience providing bodybuilding competition preparation training, geriatric and modified training, and nutritional and dietary coaching lets users and search engines know exactly what value they bring to the table.
Write about your town
I don't mean "write about the history of your town" or anything like that. I'm specifically referring to relevant events in your area where you have something unique to say or an interesting point of view.
For example, I grew up in a small town. In the entire town, there were only about 3,000 people. But, every year during the holiday season, our small town had a 5k race called the Jingle Bell Jog. Local folks loved sharing stories on Facebook and newspaper clippings about the Jingle Bell Jog and what their friends and family members did in the race.
Consider what local events exist in your area. Are you participating in any of them? Do you have clients who are participating in them? Have you trained someone for the event?
A short write up that takes a unique point of view can be invaluable in further solidifying your expertise and authority on your home turf. It shows that you're connected to your area and that you care about your clientele. Plus, people love to share stories about 75 year-old grandmothers who have trained for their first physique competition, or bulky bodybuilders who put on tutus and knee socks to run 5ks with their daughters.
Some local wellness brands even find success in keeping a calendar of local events– it can include classes and workshops at your business, along with relevant local events. While this is a great strategy, I do want to flag that this requires quite a bit of dedicated time to keep updated, so take that into consideration before committing.
Tip 2: Have a fast, functional, modern website
I'm going to be transparent with you all. This is one of my pet peeves. So many great local gyms and trainers– even some that are thriving and beloved by their clientele– just have bad, outdated websites. Interestingly, this isn't as common of a phenomenon with supplement and e-commerce brands, but the advice applies to them as well.
It's already underway and will fully come to fruition in Spring of 2021, but Google is shifting the variables when it comes to its methods for evaluating and ranking websites. In particular, there are two important elements that fitness brands and businesses must take into consideration:
- Mobile-first indexing
- Core Web Vitals
Mobile-first indexing describes the way in which Google will view and index your content. It will prioritize mobile-based viewing. This means that the way your website looks on a cell phone is the way that Google is going to primarily be evaluating it. If your site is hard to use, slow, or awkward when navigating it on a mobile device, it's not going to rank as well in search engines.
Do some quality assurance testing on your own. Get on your phone, disconnect from WiFi, and go to your site. See how easy it is to find important information (such as your hours of operation, costs, and amenities), get a sense of how quickly each page loads, and make sure that important links (such as clicking on your business' phone number or email address to contact you, reservation links for specific spaces or events, and your expanded menu if you have one) can be clicked.
Core Web Vitals are similar in purpose. I won't get into the nitty-gritty of what each metric is or measures, but in a nutshell, Core Web Vitals are a series of measurements that gauge how fast your site is, how much elements move around while pages load, and how long it takes once a page starts loading for users to be able to interact with it.
If all of this sounds highly technical and too complex to fix without being a web developer, you're both right and wrong. For existing sites that don't perform well by these measures, it can be a hassle to rework them to perform better. But, most website hosting platforms and content management systems allow you to select pre-made templates and apply them to your content. You can often make huge improvements by intentionally finding something that is sleek and minimal.
I always advise clients this way: it's better to have a fast, functional website than a complicated, ornate website.
Just because you can do something with your site doesn't mean that you should, and in my opinion, it's best to strip out any apps, plugins, or dynamic features that aren't absolutely necessary if you don't have a developer handy to make sure everything is working as fast and efficiently as possible.
This isn't just my bias. For every second delay in mobile page load, conversions can fall by up to 20% (source).
Tip 3: Focus on your existing customers- they are a gold mine for SEO
If a goal of using SEO to market your business is to find new potential customers and clients, it may seem counterintuitive to focus on your existing customers. After all, you already have them in the door. Why would you keep giving them your attention when there are plenty of potential clients out in the wild you want to meet?
Well, knowing your existing clients and the value that you provide to them is how you can clarify and better understand your target audience.
At the heart of any marketing effort is having a clear customer persona. If you try to market yourself to everyone, you won't craft a message that sticks with anyone in particular. Casting a wide net isn't likely to have a strong impact unless you're approaching it with big-budget methodologies, such as traditional radio and television ads that are targeted to your region. When you're online and trying to connect with new clients, the more specific you are and the more context you provide, the easier it is for Google to put your business in front of the right clients at the right time.
Talk to your existing customer base. Find out what their unique goals are, what they like about your business, and how you could make their experience even better. If you plan on creating new content on a regular basis, consider creating a way for your existing customers to send you their questions so that you can answer them and address their concerns.
As much as we all like to think we're unique, special snowflakes of distinct individualism, the truth is that we all operate within the constraints of society, culture, community, and norms. When you know what makes you successful for your existing customer base, you'll know what types of content it is important for you to have on your website because it will give you clues as to what similar people out in the wild are looking for online.
That's how you standout and clearly define your value and carve out your own niche. If you're a personal trainer, for example, think about how many articles there are on the internet with titles along the lines of "best workout for a bigger back" or "the five best exercises for a broader back." Even if that's a topic you know a ton about, if you write a blog post about that and publish it, you're going to be 1 post among 1,000,000 similar posts– it's insanely difficult to stand out. But, let's say that you've chatted with some of your best long-term clients about the benefits they've experienced and their unique goals. From these conversations, you've learned that they're not so concerned about having a broad back as they are having one that isn't sore from sitting in a chair at their day job all day.
Suddenly, you've got a case study to share: "how an accountant in his forties exercised away his back pain" is way more specific and compelling than "five exercises for a broader back" when your target audience is middle-aged professionals who want to feel younger and stronger.