SEO for Small BusinessMost small business owners know they need to pay attention to boosting their search rankings, but don’t know how– it often feels like a black box. Depending upon the day and the latest article, it’s hard to know what to believe. Advertising is a lot easier to understand, but very expensive for small companies with minimal marketing budgets. Fear not. In the first of a two-part series, I am going to demystify search engine optimization (SEO) and help you avoid being punished by the Google Gods for bad behavior.

Getting Started

SEO relates to the process of getting a website listed (or ranked) as high as possible on Google Search Results Pages (SERPs). And it’s full of its own jargon, terms and abbreviations—don’t let it put you off.

If you do one thing for SEO benefit, create a Google account. On the Google homepage click the “sign in” button on the top right hand side. Sign up for a Google account, and put your business on the (Google) map, getting it listed on the SERPs with your telephone number and address. This process can take a couple of weeks as Google will often want to confirm your existence with a postcard (weird but true!).

A Quick Intro to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

To get an idea of the importance of SEO, picture our buddy Dave. Dave owns a tennis shop in London and he wants to rank high on the SERPs when somebody in London searches for “tennis balls.”

Terminology you and Dave should be familiar with when tackling SEO for small business include:

1) Keyword: For Dave this would be “tennis balls.” A keyword is the search term (word or phrase) that someone uses and enters into the Google search bar.

2) Google Algorithm: This is the mysterious equation that Google uses to calculate who should be featured at the top of the SERPs. Its exact form is unknown to those outside of Google, but it certainly considers “hyperlinks” pointing to your site, “social noise” and shares of your site.

3) Hyperlinks: These are links that are clickable text or sometimes images that will direct your web browser to a different page on the internet. They are often blue and underlined.

4) Link Anchor Text: Hyperlinks or links are usually text. The anchor text is the clickable text.

5) No-follow Links: These are hyperlinks that, in theory, do not help your site appear higher on Google SERPs. Some people dispute this however and state that it is important to have both no-follow and do-follow links pointing to your site.

6) Social Noise: This relates to how many times your website’s address or brand name gets mentioned on websites like Facebook, Twitter, in forums, etc. How many likes, followers and how much interaction your company’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos and other social website pages get is also important.

Optimizing for Tags and Keywords

Any SEO professional will highlight the importance of keyword research. When trying to ‘optimize’ your website or blog, it is important to have a clear idea of phrases and words people search for in your niche. Keywords are normally separated into “head”, “mid-tail” and “long-tail” terms. Let’s break it down.

Head terms are the most common search terms used in a particular niche or industry. Using our buddy Dave and his tennis shop again, head terms in the tennis niche may include “tennis”, “tennis racket”, “tennis balls” and “tennis players.” These are keywords or search terms most commonly entered into Google. Mid-tail keywords will be more specific, and long-tail keywords more specific still (and often longer). For Dave, an example of a long-tail keyword may be something like “Tennis racket that Agassi used when he won the Wimbledon title.”

Long-tail keywords are very specific and, although they do not represent a lot of traffic, visitors searching with long-tail keywords are more likely to convert. “Convert” means they are more likely to make a purchase or interact with your website in general. Conversion is more likely because they are searching for something very specific. People using long-tail keywords have generally done their research and are ready to make a purchase. Those searching with head terms may be casually surfing the net or starting to research a purchase. For this reason, it is very important to pay attention to long-tail keywords. Writing guides and articles around your niche is a good way to naturally include a lot of long-tail keywords.

Use Google’s keyword tool and websites like Übersuggest to get ideas for terms you should tag your blog or optimize your website for. Web CEO also provides its own Keyword Effectiveness Indicator. This provides a score for each keyword depending on how many people search using it, and how competitive it is–i.e., how many other websites are competing to target traffic around that keyword. You should also perform your own Google searches on keywords you are thinking about optimizing for. If websites like CNN and ABC news are ranking top for it, you will have to have an amazing SEO team to reach the top of the Google results pages for that particular keyword!

Find a happy medium–a keyword that is searched for a lot, but isn’t too competitive. Using Google’s keyword tool, this would be a keyword with high local search and low competition.

Once you have decided upon which keyword(s) you want in order to optimize your site, particular page or post , then include it in the URL, the header of the page too, and if you an do it naturally, without shoe-horning it in there, put your most important keyword(s) near the start of your page copy/text. If you insert images, put your keywords in the alt text too. If you have access to your website’s meta details in the head of the HTML code, put the keywords in the description and title too.

I hope this helps. Remember, SEO is fun! Good Luck! Stay tuned for the next installment when we discuss actionable SEO for small businesses.