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Search Engine Optimization (SEO): 10 Essential Things You Need to Know
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Search Engine Optimization (SEO): 10 Essential Things You Need to Know
Increasingly, we small businesses are coming face to face with the realities of the Web. After all, customers expect to find our businesses online – for many businesses it is NOT optional. Buyers are now researching purchases and service providers online before ever setting foot in a place of business. And more and more types of transactions are being handled online or with a combination of online and telephone.
If you can’t be found online easily, your business could be losing money while your competitors – who’ve cracked the code for Web visibility – get farther ahead. With so much at stake, you can’t just leave it to chance. That’s why search engine optimization is a required knowledge area for any small business today.
But search engine optimization, or SEO, is a huge field that gets more complex each passing month. Where do you start? Here are 10 quick tips for making incremental improvements in your Web presence:
(1) Good Content: Shoot for having good solid content on your site. You’ve probably read this 100 times before, but that doesn’t make it any less important. You see, the search engines need content to index, and content is also key to attracting visitors, encouraging them to share your pages on social sites, and encouraging them to link to your Web pages. Too many sites try to shortcut the process with thin content, or simply underestimate the time and effort it takes to create quality content. They are missing out on an opportunity to differentiate their websites, engage visitors and improve search position. Make sure you have a great “About” page, with your company’s story and team bios. Create interesting videos showing the use of your products, testimonials from satisfied customers, and/or a quick tour of your headquarters.
(2) One Domain Name: Some small businesses and entrepreneurs make the mistake of creating multiple separate websites for projects, events, initiatives, interests, etc. That isn’t the way to go. You’re better off creating a separate, dedicated section on your site for the content to appear on, but still “under one roof.” That’s because it’s easier to build brand recognition and authority for one domain, than for multiple domains.
(3) Text in Conjunction with Images, Videos and Audio: If your homepage consists of a large photo and an “Enter Here” button or a video, the search engines have no text (content) to identify with. To the engines, this is a blank page. Make sure all of your site pages include text on them. Add text beneath the image. For videos, consider adding a transcript of the video on the same page, below the video player. Same goes with audio.
(4) Links Pointing to Many Different Pages in Your Site: You’ve probably heard it said that links are like votes for a Web page, in the eyes of search engines. The more votes (links to your pages) the better. Notice I said pages, not site. Too many bloggers and small businesses make the mistake of seeking links just to the home page. But your homepage may not be the most relevant place for all visitors. If visitors are looking for something specific, why not point them directly to where they can find what they want, instead of letting them wander around aimlessly.
(5) Keywords: Keywords or key phrases are the words and/or phrases that a visitor searches on in search engines. Use such words or phrases in your website to increase the chances that people will find your site when searching for same in a search engine. Also use keywords when placing pay-per-click ads, to get your ads to show up when someone searches for such keywords. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers or audience. Focus on the words and/or phrases they are likely to use, not industry lingo that your team uses internally. If you’re not sure which keywords to target, start by inputting your industry keywords and/or phrases into Google’s Keyword Tool. Don’t just look for popular keywords; look for ones with lesser competition, as it is typically easier to rank for those keywords and cheaper to buy ads for them.
(6) Links to Other Sites: If another site has created a legitimate link to your site or blog, it’s perfectly acceptable to link back to that site. But be careful. Those emails that everyone receives “Link to us and we’ll link to you” – steer clear of those. That type of “reciprocal linking” mostly is not useful – the sites wanting links are usually low quality sites with little traffic. The subject of the sites is often completely unrelated to your business, so any traffic they drive is nontargeted or worthless. And in the future you may wake up to discover they have redirected the page you’ve linked to, to some undesirable page you don’t want to be associated with. Not to mention… engaging in reciprocal linking schemes or “circles” could get you into trouble with Google.
(7) Using Keywords In Article Titles/Page URLs: This can really give your site a boost. Make sure when you’re crafting titles for blog posts, for example, that you have keywords in mind. I know that sometimes it’s much more tempting to create a headline that’s “catchy.” But the catchy headline may not reap rewards in the search engines if the article’s title words are meaningless to a relative search. Here’s an example: “Hot New Offers!” versus “Embossed Leather Belts.” A URL that reads “Hot New Offers” will not yield you the results that “Embossed Leather Belts” will. Why? Because there’s nothing relating to belts in your URL or title for Google to identify you with and cause them to display you in the search engine results. On the other hand, using “Embossed Leather Belts” will work for you in several different ways. “Embossed belts” and “leather belts” and “embossed leather” are keywords that will now all be working for you if contained in the article’s title and page URL.
(8) Three Targeted Keywords Per Page: When creating content for your site, don’t just think of creating a long list of keywords and scattering them willy-nilly throughout your site, or repeating the same keywords on every page. Instead, associate individual pages in your site, each with a shortlist of specific keywords. A consensus among some SEO experts is that 3 targeted keywords per page yields a good result. So, choose your keywords and/or keyword phrases wisely and intersperse them naturally through your text so that the content reads well – but no more than 3 keywords per page.
(9) Avoid Black Hat SEO Tactics: Google considers certain tactics to be “black hat” tactics and they will quickly penalize you for them. Let’s say you would like your site to rank highly for the search phrase “document storage.” So you put the phrase “document storage” 50 times on a page. And you put the words in white font against a white background so that your visitors to the page do not see them. But guess what? The search engines will see that repetition of the keywords and recognize that you are trying to not only game the results by “stuffing” keywords, but hide it, too. That’s a double no-no. The biggest challenge is knowing what is black hat versus what is legitimate. Sometimes it’s easy to tell – such as my example above. Clearly there was an attempt to hide the activity – that should tell you it’s wrong. But other tactics are not so black and white (pun intended!). The best thing is to read up on what’s legitimate, and what’s not. Or, if you use an outside SEO provider, talk openly about this issue and let them know you are not interested in crossing the line.
(10) Education, education, education: The better educated small business owners and Internet marketing managers are, the better equipped we are to position our sites to achieve real business results. That means you and/or your staff, are going to have to invest some time, money and effort into learning enough about SEO to find your way around. Obviously if you are going to try the do-it-yourself route with SEO, it will require a considerable ongoing investment in learning. Many of us won’t have that kind of time and will want to hire a firm to help us with SEO. Even if you use an outside SEO provider, I think you will find that you will communicate better and work together better if you understand some basic elements of SEO. Plus, you won’t have to pay your SEO team to educate you or your staff as much, and that will keep your costs down. Read up on blogs; visit conferences; and attend webinars – you’ll be glad you did.
Online resources for learning SEO abound. For starters, check out Google’s SEO Starter Guide (PDF), SEOBook's Guide to SEO for Bloggers, SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO and for businesses needing to attract attention from their local communities, see Local Search Ranking Factors. And if you’re looking for a more general guide to ease into, along with a workbook, explore Google’s own Guide to Getting Your Business Online.
Finally, I’d like to give a nod to Lisa Barone, a writer for my site, Small Business Trends, who has written several articles about SEO for small businesses that I’ve used as a guide for this piece (the articles are owned by me, so it’s OK for me to use them).
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