When it comes to small business SEO, I’ve noticed that certain questions come up repeatedly: How do I optimize my site for search engines? What keywords should I use? When writing a blog post, what should I do for SEO? How can I get my site to rank on the first page of Google?
These are, of course, important questions. Every website these days should be optimized for search engines. However, it’s important to understand that SEO is part of an ongoing, overall online marketing process. It can’t, and shouldn’t, be done by itself separate from your other online marketing efforts, including your business blog and social media activity.
What is SEO, Really?
Search engine optimization may seem mysterious, but it’s simply the practice of optimizing website content for search engines.
Though there are several different search engines, the largest by far (as you know) is Google, which has been sending clear signals in the last couple of years that the sites it will serve up in its search results need to have fresh, quality content. This makes sense from Google’s perspective because their entire business model is based upon giving users the best search results possible.
In fact, Google has identified “Steps to a Google-friendly site.” Do you want to know what their top recommendation is?
“Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do.”
This means that you can’t talk about SEO without also talking about creating content – and not just any content, but great content. If Google is telling you that you need to create great content so that they can show your site in the search results, then you need to figure out how to create this content as part of your SEO efforts.
Key SEO Factors
SEO is a dynamic field that is constantly changing. However, there are a few concepts that you as a business owner should know about:
- Content marketing: As you’ve just seen, Google has made it clear that great content is no longer optional: it’s a requirement. The sites that will see their results served up are those that produce quality, relevant content for users on a regular basis. This is one of the key developments in SEO and has crucial implications for how you market your business online.
- Backlinks: In addition to content, links back to your website a crucial for SEO. Basically, Google considers a link from another website to yours to be a vote in favor of your content. The more links back to your site, the more highly that your site will show up in the search results.
- Page speed: Sites that load faster tend to rank higher in the search results. A website that is optimized for search engines is one that will load quickly, which will also make it more user-friendly. Page speed is often checked during an SEO audit to make sure that any technical issues with the site’s loading are fixed.
- Algorithm changes: Google’s algorithm – the code that determines how Google serves up search results – is a closely-guarded trade secret, like the recipe for Coca-Cola. However, it’s important to realize that the search engine algorithms are not static – they are constantly changing, and you’ll need to keep up with new developments in order to ensure that your site is continually optimized.
- On-page vs. off-page SEO: On-page SEO refers to changes that can be implemented directly on your website. You can implement many best practices, such as having keywords in your page titles (this is one that a lot of small business owners miss!). Off-page SEO refers to practices that you can’t implement directly on your website but that affect your search results, such as getting links back from other high-quality sites. This is a fundamental distinction in the SEO field, and at a bare minimum you’ll want to make sure that you’ve implemented all the best on-page SEO practices.
- Black hat vs. white hat: Black hat SEO refers to shady practices that can violate search engine guidelines and provide a poor user experience such as stuffing so many keywords onto a page that it doesn’t even make sense when you read it. White hat SEO refers to working within the search engine guidelines and implementing best practices to optimize a site and improve the user experience. Beware of black hat SEO practices (tell-tale signs include spammy emails that guarantee to get you on page one of Google’s search results).
Strategic SEO for Your Business
Given these key factors and developments, it’s important to broaden your thinking about SEO from a stand-alone practice to one that is an integral part of your overall business strategy and online marketing efforts.
The traditional focus on keywords is still an important part of SEO, but now it needs to be positioned within a broader strategic context that includes:
- Differentiation: Take the time to define your niche. All of your competitors are also realizing that they need to create good content to compete online, and you only have seconds to capture a potential client’s attention. Your content needs to be able to meet your business goals, differentiate you from your competitors, and be relevant for your clients. It’s hard to do this if you’re not sure what your business niche is.
- Audience: Understand the content that is relevant for your ideal client. What questions do your clients ask you on a regular basis? What are the issues they’re struggling with? What tips and advice can you provide? Your answers to these questions can help your clients, provide great ideas for your blog posts, and give the search engines the fresh content that they want – it’s a win all the way around.
- Strategy: Develop a content strategy for your business. Since content is critical to your online marketing, you’ll want to make sure that you’re creating that content strategically. A content strategy is an important component of your online marketing plan, which will help you to ensure that your online marketing efforts and your content creation are aligned with your overall business goals.
- Content Creation: Figure out your capacity for content marketing and SEO. Creating good content and getting links back to your site takes time. Do you have the time to do it, or can someone on your staff help with this? Do you need to hire someone, maybe a freelancer who can help you? There are many possible solutions, and it’s important to find the one that will work for you.
- An Optimized Website: In addition to creating and sharing good content, you need to make sure that your website is already implementing best practices for on-page SEO. I see small businesses websites all the time that are lacking basic best practices for SEO. Having a well-optimized website is important because it can help you rank higher in the search results.
- Continuous Improvement: . After you’ve defined your niche, identified your ideal client, developed your content strategy, you’ll need to monitor your results to see what’s working. Are there certain types of content that generate better results than others? What keywords and social networks are driving traffic to your site? You’ll need to make adjustments as the data begins to come in. SEO is not something that you do once and then check off your list.
This may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be!
You’re probably already working on these elements in one way or another anyways, by trying to stay a step ahead of your competitors or get the attention of your prospective clients. This just provides a framework for making sure that your SEO, online marketing, and business strategy and goals are all in alignment.
When it comes to small business SEO, there are no short cuts. You can’t just think about choosing keywords for your website and expect search traffic to go flowing to your site; to effectively optimize your website, you need to create great content and get links back to it, and then monitor it continually.
A good analogy for this is actually weight loss… although there are hundreds of thousands of products on the market that guarantee you will lose 10 pounds in five days or some other variation on the theme, there is really no substitute for eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis.
In a similar way, there is no better way to do SEO for your business than to implement best practices and monitor them regularly for continuous improvement.