An essential guide to SEO for small businesses.
If you own a small business, you’ve probably been pitched by an SEO company at some point or another. Or maybe you’ve read about the recent changes at Google and wondered how it might affect your website. Or maybe you just thought, what on earth is SEO anyway?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the practice of making a website more visible to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. The idea is to “optimize” your site so that it shows up more often, and more prominently, in search results for topics that are important to your business. For example, if you own a store that specializes in purple laminated widgets, you’d ideally like your website to pop up when people search Google (or the others) for “purple laminated widgets.”
That’s the basic purpose of a very complicated, and ever-changing, enterprise. Fortunately, you don’t need to understand all the ins and outs of SEO because there are a gazillion SEO companies out there vying for your business. To help you choose the right option, here is our essential guide to what small business owners need to know about SEO.
SEO is all about making your site user-friendly.
This may be dumbing it down a bit, but at its core, SEO is all about making your site a better, easier-to-use source of information on a particular topic. This means improving things like navigation, website coding and the content on your site. Essentially, if Web users can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily on your site, then so can Google and the other search engines. There’s a lot of art and science that goes into it, but that’s what it boils down to.
SEO is built on a foundation of quality content.
SEO is about making your site easier to use, including smart design that directs users to your core content quickly and easily. Make it easy for people to find what they need.
The content on your website matters, now more than ever. Google, who dominates the search engine world, has repeatedly updated its search algorithms to eliminate many of the SEO tricks of yesteryear. They were tired of people gaming the system with sneaky, techy workarounds, rather than optimizing their sites with information that was truly relevant. With each update, Google is essentially telling website owners, “Make your site relevant and helpful to your target audience, and we’ll take care of the rest.” So, yeah, your content really matters. Small businesses could invest in much worse things than professional copywriting for their websites.
SEO constantly evolves.
SEO has changed dramatically in recent years—so much so, in fact, that many of its central concepts have become known by new names, or rolled into new processes with different focuses. You may have heard the terms “inbound marketing” or “search engine marketing.” Processes that incorporate other elements, like social media, may be called “social media optimization” or “social search optimization.”
Regardless of the name, the job of getting more potential customers to your website changes by the day, sometimes by the hour. For that reason, we recommend that small businesses embrace a fundamentally sound online marketing and communications strategy. Emphasize things like good content, good Web design and architecture, and good outreach through social media, blogs and other tools. Stay out in front of the evolution by speaking to your target audience directly and genuinely.
SEO is linked to social media.
The connection between SEO and social media is for real, and it’s increasingly important. This connection is called “social search,” and it’s an progression from what search engines have always done—try to find relevant, authoritative content to match online searches for particular topics. There are boatloads of stats demonstrating the correlation between social media and website traffic. For small business owners, the key is to maintain an active social media presence on a few key services, and to make sure those social media accounts are well branded and connected to your professional profile and website.
SEO is not a set-it-and-forget-it activity.
Search engine optimization is a constantly evolving enterprise. Yes, there are best practices for setting up your site and your social media accounts, but you can’t simply set these things up, leave them alone and expect to get results. At SMO Pros, we like to say that’d be like building a house but never maintaining it. If you don’t fix the little cracks that pop up, then eventually things will start to fall apart.
SEO and online marketing work the same way. Yes, you build a solid foundation, but that foundation needs to be maintained to keep pace with the changing world of commerce. Good SEO requires constant updates, monitoring and adjustments based on changing analytics, search engine algorithms and Web usage trends among your audience. If you neglect these updates, your foundation will crumble.
SEO is not just about getting ranked #1 by Google (or by any other search engine).
For years, SEO companies sold clients on the idea of ranking #1 for particular search term. Everything revolved around that goal. The problem was that a #1 ranking didn’t necessarily translate into results for the clients’ businesses.
We could get into a lot of confusing metrics about conversion rates and click-through rates and keyword search volume, but we won’t, because no one likes to slog through those figures, even people who work in this world. Instead, here’s the summary: Being #1 on Google, or another search engine, is great. Does it help? Yes. Is it the be-all and end-all of online marketing? No. For small business owners, delivering relevant content, a good user experience and a targeted marketing program will serve your objectives much better than topping the charts on Google for a particular search term.
SEO is part of a bigger process.
SEO doesn’t work in a vacuum. It’s part of a larger system of online marketing, customer communications and website optimization. Ultimately, success in today’s market requires a comprehensive online marketing program that integrates SEO, social media and a strong Web presence. Everything is connected. As a small business owner, it’s time to get connected and get busy.
By Jeff Kent, S.M.O. Pros
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