Part of building your business is building your business online, and part of that is delving into the somewhat mysterious world of SEO. In the old days, I could’ve just told you to include a few keywords and you would be good to go; nowadays, it’s not quite so straightforward. I’m often asked where and how a small business should get started in SEO and what strategies work best. While it’s not completely cut and dried, there are definitely some things you can do right now to get your business moving in the right direction in search results. Read on for all the details.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of getting your website to appear as high as possible in the natural results of a search engine. This is not something that you can pay for (sponsored ads don’t count), but you can use certain tips and techniques to raise your ratings. Your SEO depends on things like website structure, keywords and key phrases, and backlinks from other reputable sites around the web.
Why, you ask, is SEO important to me? Good question. The simple reason is that because the majority of traffic to any given website comes in through a major search engine, even when people already know the business they are looking for. For example, when a person is looking for a Chinese restaurant in your city, they may search “Chinese restaurant St. Louis” in Google. You want your restaurant’s name to appear as close to the top of that list of search results as possible. Additionally, a person who knows that they want to visit a certain Chinese restaurant will still probably search for that restaurant by name in Google rather than typing out the full URL. Again, you want your name to appear high in this list.
SEO Self Help
Sure, you can hire a pro to do your SEO, but there are a lot of easy things you can do yourself without spending a lot of extra money. This is good news, especially if you’re running a small business. If your website is large and complex, then bringing in the gurus may be your best bet, but most of us are not running huge websites and can greatly benefit from the basics. A little bit of SEO put to practice, in fact, can really change the way that search engines “view” your website and will in turn bring more traffic your way.
A piece of advice that Google gives when it comes to SEO is to build your websites and pages for your users rather than for search engines. That being said, it is also important that you understand the way a search engine works so you can structure your website in such a way that it can be “seen.” This means that your site needs to be primarily written in the language of search engines, which is HTML. If your website is entirely in Flash or Java, this can be a huge SEO problem, but it can be solved if each image is also labeled with HTML text. You also need to make sure that your website has a crawl-able structure in which all of the pages are properly linked.
The Importance of Keywords
Keywords are an important, albeit tricky part of SEO. The reason that they are so important is that this is the way that anyone looking for your site will interact with a search engine. If I’m looking for a dog walking business in Los Angeles, I will probably type “dog walker L.A.” or “dog walking Los Angeles” into the search box, so you want your website to find a way to tell Google that these searches are relevant to what you’re all about. The more specific you are, the better your results will be, so keep this in mind. Most folks looking for a dog walker won’t search “dog” by itself, because this search is not meaningful enough to them. Keep in mind and carefully analyze the keywords and search terms that you would enter if you were the one doing the search.
I think it’s important at this point to mention that search engines are smarter than we think they are, so overloading your page in an unnatural way with keywords is not going to help you get found and may actually work against you. Here are the rules of thumb for using keywords properly and effectively in your website:
- Title tag – Use the keyword or words once in the title tag as close the beginning as possible.
- Meta tag – Keywords should appear at least once here, too, but more for the benefit of the searcher than that search engine.
- URL – Use the keyword at least once in the URL address of your site.
- Images, Java, Flash – Keywords should appear in the alt attributes so search engines will know what these are all about.
- Body – Keywords need to appear once toward the beginning of the content and then several more times evenly spaced throughout.
Content is King
Content is king. We’ve all heard it a million times. And when it comes to SEO, it’s true: there is no substitute for good, original content. This means adding a space to your website, such as a blog, that is regularly updated with informational articles that are of use to your audience. You can make these articles keyword-rich, as well. If you create regularly updated, truly original content on your blog, this serves to do two things: 1) attract traffic to your website, which will potentially result in quality backlinks to your site, and 2) give the search engines something else to find that is related to your keywords. Remember that a big part of SEO is having other good quality sites link back to you, and they are more likely to do so if your site is meaningful to them.
Things to Avoid
One of the worst things you can do when trying to boost your SEO is to hijack content from another site. While snippets here and there (in quotes, of course) is not harmful, grabbing large sections of somebody else’s text is a big no-no. Not only is this not morally sound and considered plagiarism, it also will do nothing to build your rankings in the search engines. If you are using a freelance writer or someone other than yourself to write content for your site, make sure to run it through a checker such as Copyscape to ensure that the content truly is original. You should also tell your writers ahead of time that you will be doing so to avoid wasting time and money on work that will get you nowhere.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of other things you can do as far as SEO goes, but optimizing your site for search engines and creating high quality original content is a great start. Once you get these things done, then you can move on to bigger and better things. You can find literally hundreds of sites with a ton of great free information about SEO, and don’t be afraid to ask for more guidance about anything you don’t understand. Now, go out there and boost your ratings!