SEO for Small Business: Building a Foundation
This is a submission to the Small Biz Discovery Contest and part of our commitment to serve the small business community with quality Internet marketing resources. This article answers the question “What one recommendation would you give to small business owners to improve their online presence?” focusing specifically on SEO. It is part of a group of contest submissions sharing Internet marketing recommendations for small businesses. Public voting for the contest is now closed. Winners will be announced July 2, 2010.
|Author: Chris Harmon
SEO is a foundation of a good site. It’s not something that should be offered as an add-on expense. A properly developed site will perform the best-practices basics of SEO from the start.
Understand that you are communicating with two audiences, people and search engine robots. The most basic problem is that people can think abstractly, the robots can not. People can be communicated with purely through imagery, the robots are another story.
Robots are blind, lazy and a bit dumb. They can’t see your images, they won’t work very hard to overcome the obstacles on your site and they need things explained to them over and over.
Understand that your copy will rarely be completely read by people. They skim, they browse, they look for links but they never read copy word for word. Robots will read every single word.
The currency of the SEO realm are links to your site. Participate in forums that attract your customers. Not only will you engage your customers where they are at, but you will also gain links back to your own site.
Were you the grammar queen in school? Try writing articles about your industry. Write about problems you’ve encountered and how you overcame them. Talk about what you enjoy about your industry. Don’t go out and see if someone has beaten you to the punch, start writing and you’ll be amazed at the people you will attract. All of these can get you linked to. If you have a really good article, try to get it on Digg or StumbleOn. Articles will broaden the appeal of your site and give a search engine robot more to digest.
Plan your site logically. An exercise we suggest is to take all the names of items you plan to have on your site and put them on little slips of paper. Take a larger piece of paper and write down the categories you think you will have. Then place the names on the categories. Look at everything you have in a category and ask yourself if it makes sense to be there. If you have cheese with jelly, you have a problem.
Search engines look for related terms to figure out what context they are looking at. Think about a bass. Which one did I mean?
I was thinking low-frequency modulation. You may have thought of a fish, a guitar or Bill Bass the designer. When a search engine is in doubt, it looks are what is around the word in question to determine the context. These are what would be considered vertical-terms.
Vertical-terms are what you would call industry terms. When Google finds “bass” on a page, it categorizes the word by what else is there. However when you are using pictures and pronouns on the page, Google will make an educated guess. Google doesn’t give the #1 spot to a page that it guessed on. From your front page all the way through a category to a product information page, search engines like pages that stay on topic. Staying on topic helps the robots and helps the people too. In some cases search engines expect certain phrases to appear on a page in an industry. In other words, if you are talking about fishing, a search engine expects you to talk about fish, boats, water and tackle.
Think about click-expectations. If your link says “kittens” and clicking on it gets you “puppies”, not only is your customer confused but the search engine is penalizing you. Any time you say “click here” in a link, you’ve said the wrong thing. The copy in a link not only tells a search engine about where it is going but it also helps people navigate. Having real copy in the link let’s those skimming people find what they need without needing to read everything.
If you are overwhelmed by SEO, you can hire someone to get you where you need to be. However be aware that a lot of people that claim expertise in SEO will not be able to get you tangible results. Ask for sample sites then go a step further, ask what terms the site ranks on and what the rank was before the changes. Also make sure they will be willing to report your progress. SEO is a constant effort to stay on top of a constantly changing landscape.