At an event earlier this week, I had a conversation with a small business owner about his online presence. He talked about his online presence – primarily a website and a little bit of Google AdWords. He also mentioned that he had hired a firm to assist with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but after a few months it wasn’t generating any results so he stopped. He seemed pained and confused about the value of SEO and why he needed to spend any time on it. This confusion around SEO is a common theme I hear from many small business owners.

Small business owners do need to care about SEO.

According to Wikipedia, SEO is the most effective way to “naturally” influence how often people see your site based on the information they are searching on. It is the most cost effective way of being noticed on the web. And being seen more often in searches on the web is like having a store on the best location in town.

There are in fact two ways to show up on a search result page – either naturally be the “right” item that the user is searching for, or pay to have your information show up on pages where the user types in terms that you “bid” on. The former is SEO, and the latter is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising.

A great analogy was shared by a friend later at that same event. He described PPC as “hiring somebody to do all the chores around your house and exercise for you” while SEO is like “trainers at the gym who are supposed to help you get in shape”. PPC only works as long as you pay, and once you stop paying, it stops working immediately. SEO requires “sweat equity” – a little bit of manual effort each day. The best trainers are those that give their students the tools (and knowledge) to know that they need to exercise on a consistent basis to see the best results.

SEO usually stops working for one of two reasons:

  1. The “trainer” didn’t do a good enough job training the business and they simply can’t do it on their own; or
  2. The “trainer” does train the business and the business starts doing the SEO work, but eventually tapers off (similar to the exercise analogy, many people stop exercising a few weeks or months after they stop using their trainer).

Why is this the case? That’s a little harder to explain, especially since the “rules” for SEO keep changing. Even though there are many different search engines out there (e.g. Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo), it’s clear that Google rules the roost. And Google changes the rules periodically on what makes “good” SEO. This can be maddening to a small business owner who doesn’t have the time or expertise to keep up with all these changes. But we have a simple tip that can dramatically increase your chances of winning at SEO.

What’s the magic secret? Create compelling, consistent and fresh content about your business and the things that are important to you. These days, given the large volume of chatter on the Internet, it isn’t enough just to have a web page and frankly most of the stuff you’re posting on Facebook isn’t even getting picked up on Google.

The most typical advice is to blog – but we get that most small business owners don’t have the time or talent to blog regularly. An alternative is to get your customers to create content for you. Online reviews and feedback count! So does posting information about your Events, Promotions or any other relevant information about your business. Your customers and marketing activities are doing the SEO work for you.

The second step is to cross-post this content on your social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and other sites. Simple, right? There’s much more you can do (and we’ll get to that in a subsequent post), but let’s not train for the marathon quite yet!

Just like exercising, it’s not necessarily quantity, but quality.

They say walking 20-30 minutes a day 4-5 times/week is a great exercise plan. SEO is just like that. Have 1-2 pieces of feedback on your site every day, and respond to your customers. Post 1-2 events or promotions each week. Get in the habit of exercising your SEO. Getting into this routine will help get your online efforts “in shape”!