July 5

The Real Skinny on Search Engine Optimization

For most small business owners I talk to, the primary reason for developing a website it to improve their ability to be found online – referred to as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Let me say this right up front – SEO is hard work. It’s not easy or cheap.  And it is constantly changing.

We’ve all receive the spam emails and the unsolicited phone calls from vendors promising to get your business on the first page of the search engine results.  These are almost always hollow promises.

There are four effective ways I know to improve findability online: Local Search, Social Media, Organic Search, and Paid Ads.  To determine the right mix and strategy for your business you first need to focus on your business goals and objectives.  It is important to understand the pros and cons of each of the four ways.

Local Search: Establishing a Name Address and Phone Number (NAP) on websites that display search results based on the location of the business.  If your business is local, this is the most important thing you can do for short term and long term results.  Claiming you “place” on these websites is very important so you can ensure the information is accurate and so you can update it.  You can also optimize these types of sites.

The challenge with Local Search is that there are hundreds of these sites on the web so it can be time consuming so I recommend using a NAP management tool.  The most important sites are Google+ Local (formerly Google Places), Yahoo Local, and Bing Business Portal.

And don’t forget about smart phone apps designed to help find local businesses.

When someone searches the web for “plumber Hazelwood MO” these Local Search sites show results on a map of the business listing along with reviews of the business.

Social Media: Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ LinkedIn, YouTube, Foursquare, and Pinterest have become extremely important in making it easier to find your business online.  Social Media sites are online destinations, where people spend as much or more time as they do television.  Since people are spending more and more time on these sites, having your business be found via these sites has become a great source driving people to your social media profile or your website. I’ll address social media in more detail in another article.

Organic Search: These are the efforts you put into your website to make it more findable.  Site architecture, page URLs, page title, header tags, alt tags, keyword rich anchor text, the content on each page – are some of the criteria search engines use to index a web page.  Note: Google has over 200 criteria it uses.

Content is king for organic search.  Every page gives your website an opportunity to be found for a specific search phrase.  So having more web pages is a very important factor.  This as an investment for the future findability of your website.

It is estimated that Google assigns about 25% of the search rank weight based on the content and design of your website.  The remaining 75% comes from other websites linking to a page on your website.  Not all links carry the same weight either – Search engines look at the authority and relevance of the website that links to your website.  Note: Your website linking to another website does not help your website be more findable.

Organic Search efforts can take several months to show benefits, but they continue to provide value as long as the web pages are on your website.  This is the most cost effective strategy over the long haul, and it is the only strategy that you own and control.

Paid Ads: Advertising on search engines or social media sites can be a great way to drive short term results.  Setting up ads is relatively easy and can begin driving results within hours or days.

Paid Ads can be costly and to optimize their performance they need to be managed, so you can’t just create an ad and forget it to keep it performing effectively.  Also consider whether the type of ads you are running so up on mobile devices.  Ads and websites that you pay to be listed on only work as long as you continue to pay for them, whereas an organic effort builds assets that continue to add value over time.

People are using the web to find what they are looking for, so having your business be found online is critical.  Before you choose an approach, work with an expert who can help you understand the pros and cons of each approach as it relates to your business.  One size does not fit all.

This article was also published in “Our Town” Magazine, July/August 2012, which serves St. Louis County Chambers of Commerce, pages 16 and 18.


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