According to The Outbrain Blog, 69% of online marketers use SEO strategies to drive traffic to their content. So what is SEO? SEO, or search engine optimization, is the art and science of utilizing various techniques to optimize your website and improve its search engine rankings. SEO is a great way to level the playing field for small businesses and allow them to out duel their larger competitors who have higher budgets for marketing. Small businesses have the advantage for mastering SEO because they are more agile, able to move faster because of their size and generally having less bureaucracy than larger businesses. This enables a smaller company to position itself higher in the search rankings by learning how search engines like Google work, devising a master SEO strategy and executing an seo game plan that will help their small business rank higher in the search engines.
A lot of businesses don’t realize all the hard work that goes into ranking high on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). They think they launch a site, and they type in their keywords in Google and their website should be right at the top overnight. Think about it, there are tens of thousands (if not hundreds or millions depending on your market) of other websites doing the same exact thing. So how does Google (or any search engine) know who should show up in what order? First, the search engines need to know what websites even exist. So they crawl through the Internet looking for new sites and revisiting existing sites to check out if anything has changed and if their search ranking should increase (or – gasp – decrease). Although Google and the likes all crawl through the web constantly, the Internet is a VERY large place. So it may take some time from when you launch your site to when Google even knows it’s there. There are, of course, ways to get indexed faster than others, but know that it won’t happen instantaneously.
Google plays aloof when it comes to their search engine algorithm and exactly what ranking factors impact your website at what percentage. Matt Cutts (Google’s head search honcho) has noted that PageRank is one of the important 200 + factors that go into search engine rankings. Another strong SEO factor that he points out is link building, or the amount (and quality!) of other websites that put a link to your website, essentially “voting” for your website as a credible source. This makes SEO an art and a science where trial, error and experience are what make true optimizers good at what they do. Also keep in mind that search engines don’t rank websites, they rank web pages. This means that each page under your domain is another chance to rank for a new keyword or rank multiple times for the same keyword.
When you’re planning out your small business SEO strategy, first you need to know what your customers are searching for. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience, what are their problems, what are their pain points? Make a list of these keywords and run them through the Google Keyword Tool to get an idea of how many people are searching for your keywords and if you’re on the right track. You have to remember that your customers don’t speak the industry language, so your idea of what’s being searched for may be slightly off. Using the Google Keyword Tool is how you can check your hunches on what words are being searched more. Search Engine Journal has a great overview post on conducting keyword research.
Become an authority on your subject by frequently publishing fresh content to educate your visitors – Tweet This
In order to create your keyword optimized site, you’ll want to have several pages of supporting topics based on your keyword research. You can create these pages as articles published to your website and not only will you be creating more landing pages for you to be found for, branching out for more long tail keywords to drive traffic to your site, but you will also be creating fresh content on a regular basis and the search engines like that a lot. Google will consider you more of an authority on your subject if you are constantly providing new information on your websitefor your audience and this will result in you climbing higher in the search rankings. If you were a searcher, wouldn’t you want to be given the most recent information on the subject you were searching for?
Now that you have your keyword research all set, how do you derive a plan of action to execute? Based on your business areas of expertise, create categories for organizing your upcoming web articles for your site. If you’re a life insurance agent, this could be the different types of insurance packages you offer. For a plumber, they may have articles about all the various plumbing issues people need fixed on a regular basis. Using your new knowledge of what your customers are searching for the most online, create compelling headlines for your articles.
Next, create a content calendar for your website and keep the dates frequent enough for your audience to want to come back, but don’t overwhelm yourself with a plan you’ll more quickly give up on rather than get comfortable with and become part of your routine. Once a week should be the minimum you post to your website though, and the more frequently the better your site will perform.
Using your headlines, fill out your content calendar for the next 3 months and schedule time for yourself to put together pieces of content to publish to your website. Your calendar can be filled with different pieces of media including articles, videos, photos, infographics, podcast or audio clips, PDFs or even PowerPoint presentations. If you’re publishing different types of media, host them on social sharing sites and then embed the content back on your web page. This will create yet another landing page for you on the social sharing site as well as your website and help encourage people to share your content on their preferred network. Don’t be intimidated by the task of putting the content together. Being the subject matter expert, it’s only a matter of getting the knowledge from your head onto the keyboard, it shouldn’t take you more than an hour a week to put out two quality articles of 500 words. To make it easier, think of typing the article as responding to an email from a customer that asked you a question about your selected topic. Most of the time writing an article is more of a mental hurdle than anything and once you realize that you already have the expertise to accomplish the task, it becomes a lot easier to complete on a regular basis and can sometimes even become addicting!
When you start publishing your new content to your website, use the big social media channels to promote your new page and add social sharing buttons to each page to encourage your visitors to share within their own circles. This will help your site popularity spread via online word of mouth as well as help build your credibility with the search engines. In addition to promoting, social media also has an effect on search rankings. Google has started tracking Facebook, Twitter and Google+ engagement and has made that one of its factors when determining search ranking for a web page. Although I think you’ll get more reach with retweets and Facebook Shares, Lauren Dugan posted this article testing the social channels against each other for their effects on search engine rankings. It shows that Google+ followers and Plus One Votes had a much stronger impact on climbing the search results than Facebook or Twitter promotion.
Encouraging social media engagement with your visitors has a direct impact on your search rankings – Tweet This
In addition to the social networking sites, I’ve also found results with social bookmarking sites like Digg, Delicious, Reddit and StumbleUpon. Once your site is launched, spread the word and encourage social bookmarking on these sites just as you would on the other social networks.
If you are a local business, it’s very important to create your profiles across all the local directories like Google Places, Bing Local, Yelp! amongst many others. Also, do some searching yourself for directories in your business’s industryand add yourself to those directories. This will again create more landing pages on the web for your business to be found. It’s important to own as many landing pages on the search results page as possible for your brand name so that if someone searches for your company, you’re everywhere they look, reinforcing your authority with your audience. In addition to these two added benefits, you’ll also keep competitors from being able to get in front of you and steal your potential business.
Owning the SERP for your brand name stops competition from stealing your business – Tweet This
I have done some research before on companies I was going to hire and ahead of them in the search results for their own company name were articles about how they were not professional. I immediately ended the relationship and then even went on to hire the company who posted the poor review (after doing my due diligence on them as well, of course).
As you can see, there are many factors and many angles to attack ranking high in the search enginesfor your small business. The most optimized approach is the holistic one,
This is an overview of small business SEO, but there are many tactics that you can execute. What have you found works best, has no impact or things that have negatively effected your search rankings?