In Marchex’s field research and surveys with small businesses, SEO consistently surfaces as a growing priority for small businesses. When we asked small businesses how important SEO was for their business, 53% said “very important.”
Further, considering the ongoing changes to search engine algorithms (e.g., Google’s recent “Panda Update”) and the big impact these changes can have on a business’s ranking, it is imperative that small businesses take a thoughtful approach to their SEO strategy.
Here are some simple SEO techniques any small business can do today to boost its search engine rankings:
1. Ensure the technical setup of your website is search engine friendly
Most platform hosted websites do this naturally already, but if you have a custom built website you need to think about your folder structure, site map, and HTML readability.
Most website designers spend lots of time making the graphics layout look visually appealing to their human audience, but you also must remember that search engines look at your site through a very technical lens.
There’s no “style points” here! If your site is heavy on Flash, make sure there’s a text based description that lives in the HTML to help clue in the search bots. Consider removing your splash or welcome page, and instead build a homepage with descriptions and pointers to the main content areas of your site.
2. Make a list of keywords you want your website to appear for
Without thinking about it too much*, jot down the three or four ways you’d search for your website if you had to find it quickly. Ask your friends and family members the same question and tabulate the results. Chances are there will be some overlap, and you’ll quickly see which terms are more likely to be searched on first.
Next, run the searches yourself, and for each query try to find what position your website has in the results and jot it down. Stop if you can’t find it after ten pages. If you can find it by then, don’t expect anyone else to either!
If you can, also take note of the other sites that come up on the results of the first page for each query. Are they similar to yours? Local or national? Are they competitive to your business?
When picking your top keywords, it’s important to be honest about how competitive certain terms might be. You must assume that others will try to keep their site listed high in the search results as well.
See if you can break the list into three buckets:
- Lower rank, great term, low competition - This is the perfect place to start. Put these terms at the top of your priority list. You should see the best results on this set first.
- Lower rank, great term, high competition – Another great opportunity (as evidenced by your competition), but unless you feel you have to take them on directly, it could be more costly in the long run to start here unless you have a higher performing base of keywords.
- Higher rank, great term – The good news is that you’re already doing awesome here, but you should continue to track performance just in case. You can always come back to this group later if you’re still not satisfied with the results.
By this time, you should have two or three keywords that are at the top of your priority list.
3. Ensure your homepage contains a text description with 2 or 3 of those top keywords
This is where we start crossing over to the artful/creative side of the process. The goal of this step is simply stated: “If you want someone to find your website by searching for these terms, where do you have them listed on your website for the search engines to find them?”
For small business sites, they typically have one main page. Make sure you add a couple sentences that naturally describe your business, and weave in your top three keywords somehow. To gauge success of these keywords, keep an eye on your site ranking to see if there is movement.
4. Write a page or blog post on your site that’s dedicated to each of your top keywords
This is also a good way to show your customers you know all about the product or service they’re interested in. Picture yourself explaining to a friend or relative in five minutes what you do in that specific area.
The write up doesn’t have to be more than 200 – 300 words and should list the target keywords no more than two or three times. Remember this should be as natural and easy to read as possible, but have the keywords mentioned in a way that makes sense.
5. Post links to your site and/or key pages on social sites like Facebook & Twitter
Once you have these blog posts or articles on your site, it’s ok to post them out on the web. Start with the social sites as these offer the easiest access and contacts.
Search engines are starting to crawl and track these links back to your site, plus it’s an easy way to get your friends and top customers involved. Seems like everyone has a Facebook page these days!
6. Ask friends or contacts to post something about you on their website
Ideally, they can use one of the keywords on your list and highlight them as a link to your page. Traditionally, this is may also be known as a “link exchange” and although sometimes frowned upon when done in large quantities, it’s a great above-board practice for genuine websites with original content. But the link should be relevant and provide actual value to the reader.In other words, the link must be “contextual.”
The search engines tend to favor sites with more external links pointing to them from a variety of sources over websites with few or no backlinks. A simple way to view this is that search engines view relevant links to a website as a “vote of confidence.”
*Editors Note: This is a simple first step to looking at keyword selection, more specific tips and advice can be found here, and will be addressed in future articles on small business SEO.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.