The words “search engine optimization” (SEO) may sound a bit intimidating at first but, they’re critical to success for any business. However, jumping into SEO and not knowing how it works is like going to New York City without a map. You can wing it, but you may miss out by not knowing where you’re headed.
What is SEO?
If you can imagine the Internet as a New York City bus, search engine optimization represents the bus stops. Some of those stops are vital, and people need to get to them, and some of them are out in the middle of nowhere and aren’t as important.
Now, imagine that riders aren’t sure which stop they need, but they do know where they want to end up. They say to the bus driver, “I want to go to the most up-to-date library in town.” The bus driver considers all libraries along his route, remembers which one seems most popular with riders, and takes his passenger to that location.
Just as the bus driver makes an educated guess as to which library is best based upon the number of people who visit it, search engines guess which web sites are most relevant based upon how many visits they receive. When someone types something into a search engine, the engine goes to work to pull up websites that will best meet their needs.
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For example, if you type “Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe” into your search engine, it quickly makes two determinations: Which recipes in its database are relevant to your search and of those, which are the most popular.
As a business owner, you want your business to be both relevant and popular. One step to do this is by optimizing your rankings in search engines.
The Early Days of SEO
Not so long ago, people who wanted their web site to look important to search engines would simply fill it with words they hoped would match internet searches. Search engines weren’t terribly complex at the time, and they’d automatically send users to sites that may – or may not – have been worthwhile.
Content mills built a business out of promising their clients SEO-rich content. It became a matter of how “stuffed” a site was with particular search words, rather than whether those sites offered any meaningful information to users. It was frustrating for users and for legitimate businesses that wanted to get the word out.
Although users grew frustrated combing through pages of useless websites, the best sites began to receive more direct hits and search engine engineers took notice.
Because of this, there have been some recent changes in SEO resulting in a new set of rules, and we’re here to help you learn what you need to get started.
A New Algorithm
Recently, search engines decided to weed out “stuffed” websites and send users directly to sites with meaningful information to offer. They suspected that sites people were visiting over and over again were likely the ones providing the most relevant information.
The algorithm they devised is made up of hundreds of components aimed at finding the most useful sites for any given search. As a business owner, you want to position your website in such a way as to attract that algorithm.
Create a Clear Path
Creating an SEO-friendly website is really a matter of manners. Be honest with your potential customers about what they’ll find on your site. If you own a bike shop, don’t fill your site with words that have nothing to do with the services you offer in an effort to get people to “accidentally” visit. Doing so is called “cloaking” and is considered shady and won’t help people buy more products or services from you.
Think about every word used on your site and make sure it applies to your business. There’s no reason to use the word “parachute” if you own a dog-grooming business.
Experts tell us that the title tags and page headers are the most important places to plug keywords. You should also make sure that they’re scattered throughout your website: URLs, image names, and content pages.
The Key to Finding Strong Keywords
Coming up with the right keywords for your site is as simple as asking yourself what services or products you offer. Say you’re a spa that offers a full-range of services. Your natural inclination might be to count on the words, “hair” or “massage” to drive customers to your site, but think twice before using such broad terms. Using words that will be used by thousands of other spas drops your website into a deep pool of competition.
Instead, weed out some of your competition by using more specific phrases, such as “Kansas City salons,” or “Swedish massages.” Be specific about what you offer and where you’re located if you’re a brick and mortar business.
The idea is to think about how you personally search online. What words would you type into your search engine if you were looking for a product or service? Take a poll; ask everyone in your family or at the office to write down the phrases they would type into a search engine if they were looking for a business like yours. Those are likely to be the keywords customers search for. You can also use helpful tools like the Google Keyword Tool to help you quickly and easily research how many searches a particular keyword gets, and how competitive it is.
Avoid the “Spam” Label
The content on your website should be concise, honest about what you offer, and keyword-rich. However, loading content with tons of keywords will lead search engines to suspect you of spamming. Search engines are designed to ignore spam sites, meaning that your website won’t show up when customers come looking for your services. Integrate your keywords, but make sure they sound natural in the content of your site and are not just “filler” words.
The Bottom Line
Although at first glance SEO seems as vast as New York City without a map, there’s no reason to be intimidated. Take it one step at a time and you can build a great website full of relevant content that’ll help drive more business.