What you need to know about SEO
John M. Haddad
As small & medium-sized business (SMB) owners, my clients constantly ask me how they can improve their search results when their customers are searching for their business. Over the past few years, Google has repeatedly rocked the world of search engine optimization (SEO). In its efforts to provide people the most relevant, spam-free results, the search engine giant has made several major upgrades to its search algorithm.
Gone are the old days when web designers with try to “stack the deck” on web pages by embedding keywords galore on the site or sticking keywords everywhere in the background of the page. Google has become much more sophisticated and in some cases, can “punish” search rankings if someone tries these tricks.
Here are some tips for small business owners that you need to know to succeed with SEO. These are snippets of advice I’ve been giving my clients on new web design.
SEO is primarily all about content
SEO has always been about creating high-quality content. Over the years, however, many marketers and small businesses have used old tactics to try and get a leg up on competitor, such as publishing spammy, low-quality content stuffed with keywords, buying links from questionable sources, and so on.
To win at SEO today, and for the foreseeable future, focus instead on producing high-quality content, period. In fact, the Google algorithm changes in recent years give a big push to content marketing—the practice of using content as a marketing tool to attract new customers. If you have web pages that are not rich with content and relevant information to your business, no matter what you spend on online marketing, your site will not easily rise to the top of the Google search. You just need to create useful, interesting, topical, insightful content for your target audience and make that content easy to share on social media.
Keywords are still important, but less so
Optimizing your blog posts and website pages with relevant keywords has always been the easiest part of SEO, because it’s directly within your control. And keywords are still important to SEO. They help Google understand the subject matter of a page or a piece of content.
But keyword phrases are becoming less important to search ranking success. Try to think more in terms of keyword themes for your content. Instead of worrying about getting the best keyword phrase and making sure to use it in the content title, headline, and copy, pick a theme and use keywords that support it.
Are you blogging?
Many small businesses use a static website as a way to act as an online brochure. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that. But when you add a blog, suddenly you have a much more dynamic website—one that’s refreshed regularly with new content.
Google makes an assumption that its users typically look for the freshest content on a topic. As a result, the search engine often ranks regularly updated websites over static ones. Regularly posting to a blog can help the blog (or the website where it lives) rank well in Google search results.
Make sure you have a strong social media presence
Maintaining a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ will only become more important for SEO. There’s still debate within the SEO community about how much a heavily shared and liked social media status update affects the search engine ranking for the content linked within the update.
But even if social media shares, likes, and retweets aren’t playing a role in search rankings now, there’s no doubt that they will. And while some people often dismiss Google+ as a digital ghost town, don’t forget: it’s the one social media network whose data Google can fully access. If you’re not sharing your content on Google+, you could be missing an opportunity for great search engine rankings.
Look for opportunities to “cross post”, in other words, linking your site to your social media sites … and on posts you do on social media sites, make sure you link back to the appropriate web page on your web site.
Make sure you claim your Google Places page
Notice that some businesses in Google search show a picture of the business along with a map and contact information on the right of the search window? That is all done with Google Places for business. A lot of small businesses never think to claim their free Google Places page. Having a Google Places page for your business can help it show up in local search engine results, which is especially important for businesses that cater to local customers (such as mom-and-pop shops). Go to Google’s Places for Business to get started.
Don’t buy links, earn them
The only trustworthy link, in the eyes of Google, is one that your content has legitimately earned from another site. Anything else—paid links, links in dubious directories, and so on—can do your site more harm than good. Google has become more sophisticated to discard some of these directories listings.
Again, it comes down to posting great content that will cause other people to link to it and share it over social media. These links are pure SEO gold. It’s one reason why media attention can pay off. You’ll get the word out about your product or service, and you’ll likely earn links from media outlets that report on you. It’s a double win.
Winning at SEO today and in the future is actually quite simple, for the most part. If you only focus on one item in this article, it is the content. Produce unique, interesting, high-quality content on a regular basis: blog posts, articles, videos, slideshows, infographics, photos, and such. Use relevant keywords or groups of keyword phrases. Make sure your content is easy to share on social media.
Keep doing this, and you’ll do exactly what Google wants you to do: create content its users will want to find