Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a hot topic for small businesses these days. Every florist wants to be the first listing on Google for “flowers.” There is an entire industry now devoted to help businesses optimize their websites for search engines.
Now, before my list, I am not the world’s expert on SEO. I do, however, spend significant time each week reading about SEO tactics and the changes in search engine ranking methodology.
Before you worry about SEO
For many small businesses, SEO should be a secondary concern. If you create an informative and engaging online presence, your website will build traffic. With the increased traffic will come incoming links and higher search rankings. Search Engine Optimization should not be your main website concern. Engaging and “converting” your current traffic is always priority #1.
Why search engine optimization is important
Assuming you have good content, a strong product, and strong conversion rates, search engine traffic will become a consistent source of new prospects, even for small localized businesses. Gaining traffic on the right search terms is important.
Unfortunately, my own site holds a good example of what not to do. I started writing mini sagas as a way to generate writing momentum and keep my loyal visitors entertained between heavier posts. Because I have written several, and tagged them appropriately, the #1 search term for people finding my website via Google is now “mini saga.” The problem is, most people looking for entertaining mini sagas are probably NOT looking for a marketing expert for their small business. While I appreciate the traffic, it is not a traffic source that leads to sales. If my top search term was “Cincinnati marketing” I would have higher prospect conversions. (Note: I am going to keep posting mini sagas anyway. I like writing them, and my clients seem to like reading them.)
Be sure to align your website and search engine targets with your niche. If you are a florist, having huge traffic on terms like “tooth ache” probably are not going to help your business. Being on the first page of Google listings for “Homecoming flowers” is probably a better goal. Keep in mind who you want to find you.
The 10 simple rules for solid SEO
“Alright Jeremy,” you are thinking, “how much am I going to have to read to get to the list?” Look no further, here are my basic rules for search engine optimization:
1. Use the right tools – If you are building your own site, or make frequent updates to a blog, please be sure you are using a format the search engines prefer. (A CMS built for optimization.) Avoid MAC sites, these flash sites are INVISIBLE to search engine crawlers. My recommendation for most business that do not have a dedicated IT/IS person is to use either WordPress or Drupal.
2. Monitor your speed – Loading time is now an important factor for rankings. Google does not want to send people to slow loading sites. Remember when you played tag in grade school and counted by thousands? Type your web domain in a blank browser and count how long it takes to finish loading, one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand. Did it take longer than 3 seconds? If so, find a better hosting service, or seek an optimization expert to figure out what is slowing the load time. There are also several good tools to monitor the load time for your website. Just search for “website ping tool” or “website loading time.”
3. Use and tag images – Don’t overdo it, but using images on your site will improve your search rankings. Be sure to include image tags, alt tags, and descriptions.
4. Use video and audio – With so many images now on the web, the next level of separation becomes use of video and audio on your site. (Note: I HATE sites that have video or audio play automatically. Please let the visitor decide when to start the video, when the boss is not around. Besides, auto-started video can slow your load time.)
5. Add new content – Keep new and relevant content on your site. There are a variety of ways to do this, but the most common and familiar way is through blogging. If you just don’t feel comfortable writing something new each week, do the math and see if the increased traffic it would bring justifies hiring a writer.
6. Ping new content – A good website platform will have tools to help you keep the search engines aware of your new content. WordPress, for example, has plug-ins that ping Google and other engines every time new content is published. The search engines will eventually see your new content, but it is simpler and more efficient if you use automated tools to tell them.
7. Get links – I will add more on how to accomplish this in another post, but having incoming links to your site generates traffic. It also increases your search engine rankings. Why? The search engines evaluate the sites that are linking to you. If those sites are credible and have decent traffic, the search engines assume your site is trustworthy. Also, if you are a local business, having links from other local businesses helps the search engines know to send local IP addresses to you.
8. Emphasize key words – Remember how I mentioned all those folks looking for “mini saga” arriving at my site? I don’t mind, but that is not a good keyword for my business. Pick two or three specific phrases and keep building new content to tag with them. Be realistic about search terms you could lead in. Our local florist, for example, should probably not use “flowers” as a key word. Using “flowers Cincinnati,” however, might allow her to dominate that phrase. Two common ways to narrow your phrases are through geography or tight vertical markets.
9. Be relevant – I know I talked about this in the beginning, but it needs to be emphasized. Having relevant and engaging content for the search terms you choose to target is critical. Did you ever leave a website after less than ten seconds? That, my friend, is not what you want. The search engines will see those trends. Besides, huge traffic with zero conversions is worth NOTHING to your business. Quite the opposite, wasting prospects’ time will do serious damage to your brand. One more time, with gusto: BE RELEVANT
10. Take a breath – It is not uncommon for businesses following the best of online practices to take years to generate big web traffic and conversion. Search engine optimization is not a tactic you can try for 60 days and evaluate. Search engine optimization is a strategic decision, an ongoing investment, and an evolving process. The minute you believe “my site is SEO,” or “my site will never benefit from this,” you will be proven wrong.
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