SEO: What Small Businesses Need to Know
In today’s “Just Google it“ corporate culture, a business website can receive up to 80% of its monthly traffic from search engine results. Search engines have become the primary initial communication tool that customers use to reach out to businesses — usually before they make their first phone call or send their first email. Yet, many small businesses are struggling to properly leverage search engines as a highly effective communication tool.
Phone and email communications were once as issue-laden for businesses as search engines are today. But it’s now rare to get a busy signal or bounced-back email when contacting a business.
So why are businesses today struggling with leveraging the search engines as a form of inbound communication, when the search engines clearly have the potential to deliver so many customers?
The short answer is that most of what has been written about search engine optimization (SEO) is wrong and many of the so-called experts are incorrect.
SEO has changed drastically since I first got involved in Internet Marketing in 1996 - so much so that very little of what influenced search engine ranking back in the 90’s still holds true today. Nonetheless, many SEO “experts” still preach and practice the old SEO tactics, which can be, at best, ineffective. At worst, these tactics can result in a permanent ban from the search engine results and can lead to lost business.
It’s no surprise that business people are confused about SEO. This begs a very difficult question: What should a small business be focusing on when thinking about SEO?
Effective SEO for today’s search engines can be broken down into three parts:
Without using any industry jargon or web lingo, I will summarize why the search engines view these as important criteria.
Merchandising makes me think about walking into a department store. Department store employees spend time selecting and neatly organizing the racks of clothes and accessories, so that I, as an expeditious shopper, can quickly make a purchase and leave the store with what I was looking for.
Imagine, on the other hand, that I walked into the store and clothes were strewn everywhere and a mob of customers was fighting over the last sweater on clearance. I would probably exit the store immediately.
Search engines view websites in much the same way. If the content is disorganized, weak or not relevant to what you are selling, then it will be difficult to properly classify and rank your site. A well-organized, highly relevant website will form a foundation for your website to be classified properly and ranked highly for the search terms that are important to your business.
If merchandising were the only factor that influenced search engine rank, then arguably the websites with the most content would be ranked the highest. In the 90’s this was mostly true. However, it was relatively simple to game this system of ranking websites, which made the older search engines very susceptible to “spammy” web pages.
When Google launched in the early 2000’s, its founders added additional ranking criteria. Google added ranking points for trustworthy websites that receive a lot of publicity from other trustworthy websites. Basically, Google measures the consistency of the message about your website by how other websites view your site.
Why is this important? Let’s compare this to a social situation: I have just met someone for the first time at a party. My new acquaintance says that he has a great business opportunity for me. If, later at the party, I run into a few people whom I already know and trust, and these individuals confirm important characteristics about my new acquaintance, I might be likely to believe what this guy told me. If however, no one at the party knows him or if there is a conflicting message, I might not trust anything that my new acquaintance told me.
The search engines today put a similar emphasis on trust and publicity when ranking websites, and positive publicity with a consistent message from trustworthy websites will boost rankings.
The earliest business websites were online corporate brochures. The next wave of websites were online multimedia presentations. The newest wave of websites work to build relationships with visitors by utilizing social media such as blogs, forums, surveys and online chat.
On-site social media and user generated content now has a big impact on SEO.
I’ll compare this to another real-life social situation. If I walked into a room at a party and noticed that on one side of the room a few people were sitting and conversing quietly, while on the other side of the room people were standing in a circle and chatting raucously, I would think the people standing in the circle were having a more interesting and engaging conversation.
In May 2010, Google updated its ranking criteria to include observations like these from social media and placed an even greater emphasis on awarding high ranks to websites with engaging user generated content. Now, blog posts with many comments and forum threads with a lot of replies usually rank very well in Google’s search results.
So, here are a few key points to take back to your company’s board room:
· Your website needs a merchandising strategy - Make sure the content on your website is relevant to what your business is selling and neatly organized.
· Your website needs a publicity strategy - Make sure our website is getting the publicity it needs.
· Your website needs a marketing strategy - Make sure your website builds relationships with your visitors.