It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of looking at marketing options before you run across the term “SEO.” If you’re a typical small business owner, these three letters can seem both cryptic and overwhelming, but they don’t have to. With a few paragraphs of basic information at your fingertips, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can grasp the concepts, understand the trends, and start putting together an SEO strategy that works for your company’s needs – and budget.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation” and simply means modifying your website so that it is placed as high as possible on relevant search engine results.
Most companies want to be one of the first few listings. Everybody hopes to be on the first page. Obviously, with millions of companies competing for these spaces, it is pretty valuable real estate.
How does SEO work?
SEO is not a static thing, because the algorithms that decide what is placed at the top of these results changes regularly. To make matters worse, the changes are not always publicised, so there can be some trial and error in figuring out how to climb the list. Since each computer’s results are different, depending on the browsing history, you probably won’t even be able to check how well you’re doing. If you have a lot of browsing in the area of your business, and often view your own site, then searching your key words will place your company unusually high in the results.
In the early days, web designers could put a list of keywords in white on a white background and the search engines would see the page as a rich source of information on that topic – even though the viewer might be seeing very different content. Algorithms have come a long way since then, and are much more sophisticated.
Most algorithms bounce pages like that out of the results, and some are even analysing pages for the percentage of total words that are keywords, and comparing that to the sentence structure used (syntax). In other words, they can tell if you are repeating key words and phrases in an unnatural way. More complex sentence structures (normal writing, like what you’re reading now) indicate a higher quality of content. Fewer than 20% of the words should be key words; this also indicates quality content to a search engine. A good balance of text to images is also important. Search engines are starting to de-prioritise pages that have too many images, moving them instead to the “images” tab of the search results.
Current development is incorporating more artificial intelligence (AI) and upcoming algorithm updates will become even more difficult to manipulate.
How do I compete with bigger companies?
First of all, it is important to stare reality full in the face. The Internet is largely a marketplace, and the companies with money to spend on online marketing have a massive advantage – if they use it effectively.
That doesn’t mean that you have no chance though. With a well-conceived strategy and the willingness to commit some money and/or time to keeping on top of your SEO, you can move yourself up that list. Doing so regularly will increase your success over time.
Search engines are getting smarter, and are better able to spot the tricks people use. So the best solution? Don’t trick it; give it what it wants.
How can I maximise my Investment in SEO?
Here are a few basics that will get you started.
Mobile optimisation and SEO
One of the more famous recent changes to Google’s search engine made it so priority is given to sites that are designed to be viewed on mobile devices as well as larger displays. Make sure your site is optimised for mobile viewing.
Most developers will do this as a matter of course. If you use a service like WIX or Squarespace to build your own site, make sure you spend some time on the Mobile view and test it by viewing each page on your phone. Buttons should be bigger, images smaller (both the display and file size), and menus altered for ease of use. You should be able to swipe for navigation, and there should be no lag or delay.
This one is a must. Don’t consider it optional.
If you are one of those rare small businesses with a massive marketing budget, you can pay to have your listing at the top of the results. There will be some indication that you have paid to be placed there, often a small square with “AD” in it just to the left of the results. These spaces are usually purchased using an auction scheme, and will cost you money each time you win the auction and are placed on the list. The number of “ads” or “sponsored listings” is usually under five.
Many people (including me) skip over the sponsored listings though, and go straight for the “organic” search results. You’ll probably see some payback for investing in these listings, but even if you do, it is worthwhile placing yourself as high on the actual results as possible.
Quality SEO content
With search engines now better able to detect fake content, the best way to climb the list is to ensure you have real, quality content on your site. If you are selling a certain product, include pages with information about it. Articles and blogs should be at least 1000 words long, and contain a natural frequency of key words and phrases.
Manuals, user directions, and testimonials are great ways to increase quality content, even if you include links to PDFs of the same materials.
Clear SEO headings
Break your articles and blogs into clear sections. This is a great way to incorporate key words and phrases in a meaningful way, and it has the added benefit of pointing real customers to the sections they are most interested in.
This can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. If you have some skill in writing, and the time to apply it, sit down and make a list of as many relevant topics as you can. These should speak to some aspect of your product or business, so key words and phrases can improve your SEO.
If you’re not a writer, or feel your time is more effectively spent on other things, it might be worth hiring someone to produce content for you. There are specialists out there who write SEO content for a variety of businesses, and there will be one to suit you. Guest blogs and articles are another cost-effective way to increase content. These are usually less tailored to SEO, but do contain genuine content, and can assist you with the next important factor.
Be consistent. Pick one day a week to prioritise a new article or blog for the site. Search engines can detect a regular, fresh addition to your website, and will push you up their list because of it. Leave the older items up, but move them to an easily-accessible archive page. Put the new ones front and centre, linked from the landing or home page, if not right on them.
Last of all, don’t neglect good, old-fashioned networking… Internet style. If there are products that don’t directly compete with you, but are complementary, you might want to approach that other company and talk about cross-linking.
The concept is this: If you sell spoons and they sell forks, you send your spoon buyers over to them for forks, and they send their fork buyers over to you for spoons. Neither company loses business to the other. Each one gains traffic and customers by referring buyers to another item they may need.
This isn’t strictly SEO, but can have an effect. As users of the other site link to your yours, connections are established in the browser history, and the machines those people used to view your site will help to bump you up the list. Not only that, you’ll get more customers from the other company, and repay the favour by sending some of yours back to them.
You’re doing business in the largest marketplace the world has ever known. There are some big fish out there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t maximise your visibility and get a viable piece of that market. It will take time and work, or some monetary investment – whichever best suits you and your business.
The key is not to trick the system – we’ve moved beyond that – the key now is to provide quality content, regularly, and to use vocabulary and structures that help search engines to find them.
Need help getting found online? Check out my SEO services.