Many small businesses do not understand Search Engine Optimization or the purpose of it. They are missing out on a great opportunity to be found online and may have spent thousands of dollars on a website that nobody knows exists. As a small business, it is already hard enough to stay on top which is why it is important to take advantage of every opportunity to increase your overall exposure. Search Engine Optimization is just as important for small businesses as it is large ones.
These are all legitimate questions that I have been asked by clients at some point in the past. In this article I am going to explore the answers to these questions and talk about what search engine optimization (SEO) is and how it is important to your small business and website. If you do not know what SEO is or have never heard of it before do not be alarmed. While this term is becoming more and more common amongst small business owners, it is still very new to most of us.
To get started, lets take a step back an explore the purpose of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and why it exists. If you have been online for some time now, say at least 10 years, you may recall some older search engines like Lycos, Ask Jeeves, and Alta Vista as well as those that we currently know, Google, Bing and Yahoo. Well in time, all those other search engines faded out and the search engine market changed dramatically. Most people these days us Google as their default search though there are still those that use Yahoo and Bing. With an explosion in the number of websites being launched everyday, that means that there are just three main search engines (really one- Google) that are being used to sift through all of those websites in an effort to find what the searcher is looking for. So ultimately, in a market where demand is steadily increasing (websites), the supply (search engines) has leveled out a a flat 1. What does this mean for website/business owners? This means that finding your website is literally like finding a needle in a haystack – if the haystack were the size of Texas. The good news is that you can change this by adding tools and features to your website that make it friendlier and easier for search engines to identify – a process called Search Engine Optimization.
According to Wikipedia, “Search engine optimization is the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results”. So what does that mean? Does it mean I can change how my small business website shows up in search engines? Yes and No. Here is a good way to think about it. Let’s say Joe Blow is an average guy with average strength. One day he decides he wants to be the strongest, most fit guy in his group of friends who right now, are all stronger and fitter than him. Now we all know this cannot just happen overnight. To achieve his goal, Joe changes his diet and goes into the gym every day until one day he is the strongest of all his friends. In a sense, and I know – it is a stretch, the same is true with an SEO campaign. You cannot just get to the top one day because you decide to. You must work hard to get there, both on your website (diet) and outside your website (exercise). It is a process that takes time and can take even up to a year or longer. The key is patience and to understand just how SEO works.
How does SEO work for my small business?
There are so many different things that play a role in gaining first page search engine results it is hard to know where to start. In an effort to keep this article short I will only be listing the major contributors to top search engine rankings. I will be dividing these up into two different sections: On page and off page. On page efforts are those which are actually done on your website like keywords and page titles. Off page includes things like links back to your website and submitting your website to online directories.
On Page SEO:
- Page Title – This is the first description/title of your website and includes important things like keywords and location. Page title is found on the top of the browser when you are at a website.
- Page Headings – This involves using the proper heading tags for section titles on each page. For example, the title of this article has special tags around it that tell the search engine to pay extra attention to the keywords within those tags.
- Meta Tags – You may have heard of meta tags before. They used to be very relavent until people began manipulating and abusing them. Now they are less important but still carry some relevancy. Meta tags are invisible on a webpage and are only seen within the code. There are two main meta tags: keywords and description. Keywords are used to tell the search engines what are the main keywords. Most search engines only pay attention to the first 10-15 keywords and ignore any after that so it does not help to have 50-100 keywords. The meta description gives you a chance to tell the search engine in about 20-25 words what your site is about. The description should read like a sentence and be to the point as some search engines will use this as your snippet of text underneath the page title in the search results. As a result, your meta description could be the difference between someone clicking on your link or moving on to the next one. (If you want to see meta tags and the page heading go to my website, www.moorewebexposure.com and then in your browser click on “view” (after file and edit) and then go down to “source” and click on it. A window with a bunch of code should pop up and about 5-10 lines down you should see something that says Moore Web Exposure – Portland…. After that you will see a tag that says
- Keywords – Keywords are just what they sound like: Keywords. It is important to have text on your web pages that you want to be found by search engines and it is even more important to ensure it is keyword rich. If you can manage to use the most important keywords or phrases more than once on a page that is even better. The important thing to remember, though, is that humans are reading this and you do not want your website to be repetitive and looking like a robot wrote it. It is also important to integrate keywords into your internal links which will help tell the search engines what each page is about.
- Alt Tags – Alt tags are attached to images on a webpage and are there for users who are typically visually impaired. A good alt tag would describe what the image is. This can also be used as a SEO tool as search engines will use these tags in ranking a web page.
- Robots & Redirects – These are files that your webmaster can upload for you that tell the search engines which directories not to index in their database and tells them where to find your sitemap.
So there you have a list of some of the very basic on page SEO functions available. Optimizing your website for search engines can get incredibly in depth and is usually very time consuming (An example would be researching all the keywords available and their popularity and deciding which ones will be most effective). There is no true “formula” on how to do this so it typically takes time and much trial and error until you get it right. Now let’s move on to the off page SEO.
Off Page SEO:
Off page SEO consists of optimizing your website so it ranks well by using tools that are not actually on your website. Off page SEO is typically more time consuming than on page SEO and can be very costly depending on how far you want to go with it. Here are just some examples of off page SEO to help you understand it better.
- Search Engine Submissions – You can submit your site to search engines if they have not found it yet. Sometimes they will actually find it before you get around to submitting it but if your site is brand new and you can’t wait you can manually submit your site. It will take some time before it shows up so do not re-submit it every day or you risk being banned from the engine.
- Link building – Link building is perhaps one of the most important processes during an SEO campaign. With most search engines, they rank a sites importance by how many other sites are linking to it. A good way to think about this is as if it is a popularity contest and links are votes. The more people voting for you the better. There is a catch, though. Each “voter” is also ranked by popularity and the more “votes” (links) you get from other popular voters then better. So, if you have sites that are more popular than yours linking to you then it counts much more than if you have a site that is unpopular linking to you. It is a little complex but hopefully that analogy helped. The main point is that having other sites linking back to your site is VERY important.
- Directory submissions – Directory submissions are a way to get links back to your site but typically are not as highly ranked as other links. You can manually go and submit your site to directories or pay someone to do this for you to get you links back to your site. This is effective but very time consuming and sometimes costly.
- Social Media – Due to the onslaught of social media, search engines have began paying more and more attention to what is relevant within them. Websites like digg.com and delicious.com are becoming critical players in SEO. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are also joining the SEO ranks and it is becoming more and more important to have your small business represented within these sites as a result. You can typically find help with this from a web consultant or you can do it yourself.
I Understand the Basics of SEO, Now What?
I hope this has helped you understand SEO at least just a little bit better than you did before. If not, there is plenty of reading you can find just by doing a Google search or you can contact me directly and I would be happy to answer any questions for you. At this point you may be wondering how to get started with an SEO campaign for your own website. There are two options: you can invest the time and money to learn how to do this yourself or you can hire someone to help you.
If you choose to try and go at this on your own I would highly suggest you start by going to the local library and educating yourself as much as you can. There are some great books available on the subject as well as many free online resources that can help. You will also need to be able to edit the content within your website or have someone that can help you make changes to your site. Overall this is a time consuming option but may be the best choice if you are on a budget and have the time to learn about SEO. It is also very rewarding and can be fun at the same time.
If learning SEO and optimizing your site on your own is not an option then I would suggest hiring someone who can help you. A simple search will return results for so many “experts” it can be mind boggling. Depending on the level of competition your industry has you may not need to spend a fortune hiring a large SEO firm. The best option for you may be to try and find someone local who can help you get started and simply ask them for a rough quote. Just beware that the quote will depend entirely on how thorough of a campaign you wish to implement so you should have a budget in mind and put together some details of what kind of results you would like to see.
It is important to remember that SEO is a process and not something that can be achieved overnight. If there was one single black and white way to perform SEO then people would manipulate search engines so that their site would sit at the top. For this reason actual “algorithm” for getting to the top of a search engine is typically one of the search engine’s closest kept secrets. If I could offer any words of advice I would be to remain patient and if at first it does not work try, try and try again.
**Moore Web Exposure is a Portland, Oregon based website design firm that specializes in web content for small business including SEO campaigns. To contact Moore Web Exposure for web design or Search Engine Optimization call (503)895-2523 or visit www.moorewebexposure.com