You’ve probably heard the terms “Search Engine Optimization” and “SEO” but if you are not a web designer, marketing professional or “techie” there is a good chance that you may be confused about exactly what search engine optimization (SEO) is and whether it matters to your small business or organization.
The simplest explanation of SEO can be summed up as techniques to make sure that your website, products, events and business name are coming up as high and as often as possible on search engine results.
So if you sell cupcakes in Raleigh, NC, then you ideally want your cupcake shop to come up first when someone in your area goes to Google Search and types in “cupcakes near me” or “best cupcakes in Raleigh.” As a small business, it may not be possible to get to that very top spot in search results, but there are still many ways to improve your ranking on the results list.
Why you should care about SEO
When internet searching, over 50% of users click on one of the first three links presented to them. So the higher on the results you can get, the better off you’ll be, as traffic drops off considerably for links further down the list. And if you aren’t at least on that first page of results, your web traffic from search engines will be almost non-existent.
You could pay for your site to feature at the top of search results as an ad, but if you can get your site to rank high using organic methods, it is more cost effective.
So how do I improve my ranking in search engine results?
This is where search engine optimization comes in. SEO involves a set of techniques and strategies to optimize your website and other web content so that the search engines will be likely to move it further up the list of search results.
Search engines like Google use a bunch of ever-changing criteria for determining what pages and web content are the best fit for user searches. They do not make public what those criteria are, however, there are a number of things we do know that they prioritize.
- Good quality content that is helpful and relevant to the user;
- Sites that have new content or are at least kept updated and current;
- Keywords and phrases that match the search terms;
- Site that are easy to use on all platforms;
- Fast site speed;
- Natural links to the content from other trustworthy (non-spammy) sites;
- Some other technical stuff that your web manager should be handling, including proper use of meta tags, header tags and creating links that make sense (i.e. yoursite.com/blogging-for-fun rather than yoursite.com/5478292.html).
The Basics of SEO
If you really want to improve your SEO, you may need to hire a professional to dig into all the nitty-gritty details and fine-tuning of your website that is required. However, even if you have no budget at all, there are some things that non-techies can do to improve your search engine rankings.
Check your site speed. If your site is really slow, the search engines will penalize you for it. Use free online tools like PageSpee , Pingdom and/or GTMetrix to see how fast or slow your website is. If you get a poor score on your loading time, this is something you should investigate and fix.
Start a blog. Or if you already have one, use it. Many companies have a blog that sits unused and are missing out on a potential tool to drive traffic to their website. If you offer financial consulting, you could write articles like, “How to Budget for Selling Your Home,” “Great Investments for People Under 30,” “The Most Affordable Places to Retire,” and so on. When someone searches for one of those topics, they may find their way to your website.
Encourage other sites to link to you. If you make a charitable donation or provide great service to a fellow business owner, especially if you give them a deal, you can gently request that they credit you and link to you on their website or on social media.
Check your keywords and phrases. A great trick to find terms you might want to include in your website text is to go to Google Search and type in some words and phrases that you think people might use. Let’s say you sell hair care products. If you search “hair care products” and then scroll to the bottom of the page, you will see these other related suggestions based on the types of things people search for (see image below). You may find related terms that you’ll want include on your site.
Don’t be afraid to claim you’re the best. Did you notice that three of the related searches above included the word “best” in them? Your web copy may currently use phrases like, “we offer superior quality” or “our service is unparalleled,” but no one searches for “unparalleled pizza.” The average person searches for the “best pizza near me,” the “best web hosting,” or the “best wedding band in Hartford.”
Watch your website stats. Using a tool like Google Analytics which shows where your traffic is coming from and which pages they are visiting is invaluable in learning what visitors are looking for, what pages on your site are working for you and which ones are not.
Stay away from “black hat” techniques.
“Black Hat SEO” practices are deceptive tactics to try to drive people to your website. Some black hat techniques involve stuffing a page with tons of keywords, copying another site’s content, using bots to drive up your web traffic to make it appear more popular than it is, and so on.
The search engines are getting better and better at sniffing out spammy websites and you could find that your website is penalized in the rankings or even banned from searches. It’s not worth it. Stick to legitimate SEO techniques.
[ Related: How to Use Social Media to Grow Customers ]
These are just a few tips to get started in improving the ranking of your business on web searches. Be aware that SEO is not a “quick fix” solution for web traffic or sales. You won’t see results immediately like you would if you placed an advertisement. You need to play the long game when it comes to SEO. If you build good quality content and continually manage the technical aspects of your website, you will find that your web traffic performs better and better as time goes on.