Following is the outline of a presentation I’m giving as part of a panel of experts this afternoon:
What is SEO, and why is it important?
Let’s start with a few statistics:
- Roughly 90% of people start their search for a product or service by searching the web – not Yellow Pages
- Nearly 40% of all clicks on Google go to the first search result. 90% of people don’t look beyond page 1.
- 57% of B2Bs surveyed say SEO makes the biggest impact on lead generation activities
SEO, or search engine optimization, is what helps move your site up through the rankings so that you appear first. There are two main areas we consider in an SEO campaign: on-site factors like proper keyword usage in the right places, code quality, etc., and off-site authority, which is generated largely by the quantity and quality of links coming into your site, as well as the sharing of your links and content on social networks.
Professionals vs. Snake Oil Salesmen
Following are things you’re likely to hear from snake oil SEO salesmen, and corresponding statements from real professionals. If any of the “Snake” statements below sound familiar, you may want to reconsider your web marketing strategy!
- Snake: We’ll get you to the top of Google, GUARANTEED!
- Pro: We’ll improve rankings for target terms in order to generate more leads and drive measurable business value. Simply improving rankings (or even traffic) is useless if it doesn’t lead to a clear impact on your bottom line.
- Snake: We’ll improve your meta keywords and descriptions.
- Pro: Google announced in 2008 that meta keywords were no longer a factor. That is generally accepted to be the case for all the major search engines. We constantly track the impact of the hundreds of ranking factors, and focus our efforts on what will do the most good.
- Snake: We’ll outsmart Google and boost rankings using tricks Google isn’t aware of.
- Pro: This short-term strategy may boost rankings for a while, but isn’t sustainable. We recently saw a chiropractor get blacklisted by Google for this exact approach – it became impossible to find them, even by searching their name and address. With our approach, everything we do should have intrinsic value outside of simply inflating rankings. If you build great content around the right keywords, it adds to the value of your site AND helps rankings, encourages linking, social sharing, and all those other good things.
Actionable SEO Strategies for Small Businesses
If you’re a small business just considering SEO for the first time, you’re probably feeling pretty overwhelmed. There are a number of things you can do without ever getting into the code:
- Choose your keywords – Create a list of relevant keywords you’d like to rank for. Start with the type of business you’re in (i.e. plumber) and the specific products and services you offer (i.e. sump pump installation, water heater repair). If you serve a specific geographic area, add your city and state to the list. Try out the Google AdWords Keyword tool for more ideas and traffic estimates.
- Use your keywords – Be intentional about using those keywords in your content. Pay special attention to page titles and headings.
- Local businesses: get NAP citations – Name/Address/Phone (NAP) citations are key to ranking well locally. These are less scary than you think – a NAP citation is simply any reference to your business by name, address, and phone number in a single location on a website. The simplest way to get more NAPs is to claim your business on directories like Google Places, Yelp, YP.com, and others. Check out GetListed, which dramatically streamlines the process of finding and claiming these listings on all the most important sites.
- Pro Tip 1 – Make sure your name, address and phone number are formatted exactly the same in every possible place. Inconsistent listings cause confusion and hurt rankings.
- Pro Tip 2 – Fill out as much of your profile as possible on each directory. Add pictures and unique content (with keywords!). Pick as many relevant categories as you can, too. Google allows you to list your business in up to five categories – use all five! Some directories even let you type in your own categories, rather than just picking from a list.
- Create great content– with SEO, it all comes back to content. If you create great content (using relevant keywords), it will make your social media and linkbuilding efforts much easier. Here are two broad content ideas:
- Create resources for your customers – Even if only indirectly related to your product, if you create value for your customers, that’s a win. One of our clients sells shipping pallets – not the most interesting niche. Not much to write about, right? We wrote a series of posts about warehouse safety, and another about ergonomics and workers’ comp. Their customers found the information extremely useful, and several major industry publications shared it.
- Support a local charity – People love a feel-good story about companies giving back. Get involved with a charity that fits with your business, and blog about those activities.
- Measure your results! – Use a tool like Google Analytics (free) to track your site traffic. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Keep an eye on your site’s traffic, and traffic by source. If you’re doing it right, search traffic will begin to improve, and so will referral traffic!
There’s a whole lot more to SEO beneath the surface, but if you do these things, you’ll be off to an excellent start.
We’re organizing an SEO For Small Businesses boot camp for this fall – likely to start in late September. If you want to be able to manage SEO for your business, this is a great place to start. If you’re interested, let us know and we’ll send out details when the schedule is formalized!