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SEO – What every small business should know

As most business people know, having a website is one of the most important tools for promoting your business in today’s connected world.  But getting a website up and running is only half the battle… how do you make sure potential customers can actually find it among the millions of other websites cluttering up the net?

Of course, you can (and should) promote your web address within your promotional material such as TV, radio, newspaper ads, business cards, etc. Directly promoting your website online via ads on Google and Facebook can also be effective. However, arguably the best technique for promoting your business (when done well) is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Search Engines such as Google are the gateway to the web for most people – SEO is the art of getting your website to appear at the top of the list of search results. An analysis of 2006 data leaked by AOL indicated that search results listed on page 1 received almost 90% of all clicks, so obviously, a high position is very important.  For instance, how often have you clicked through to Wikipedia from a search engine instead of visiting the website directly?  According to this 2008 study by Nielsen Online, Wikipedia generates almost 90% of its traffic from search.

So how do you get into this game?

If you read up on it, you’ll find there are a myriad of strategies and tactics advocated. However, at its core, SEO is about three things…

  • Indexability
  • Relevance
  • Trust

Let’s look at these foundations and what you can do to ensure the best chance of your website being found:

1. Indexability

Search engines use programs (commonly known as bots or spiders) that roam the internet finding webpages and reading the content to identify what the pages are about.  The bots use web links as the highways along which they travel.  So it’s important to ensure the pages on your website are as easy as possible for these bots to find.  Here are some basic things you can do:

  • Ensure the most important pages are linked to from your homepage – the bot may never find them if they are buried deep within the website.
  • Get other websites to link to your website – as mentioned above, links are the highways bots travel along,  so you need to create links to your website (links are also important for building relevance and trust – more on this below)…

Example of link from TechCrunch to Xero

2. Relevance

Once the search engines know about your webpages, you need to make it clear to them what the pages are about and match them to keywords that searchers are likely to use.  It’s recommended you:

  • Encourage websites that link to you to use anchor text (the actual text used for the hyper-link) that matches search terms likely to be used by searchers.  For example “accounting software” is much more useful than “Click Here” for search engines in determining what a page is about.
  • Include likely search keywords within your page content and title tags to more closely align search queries with your content.  Be mindful of ‘keyword-stuffing’ however. You still want your content to make sense and be pleasurable for real life users to read so don’t make it seem unnatural!
  • Where possible, present content using text rather than images or fancy Flash animations. Bots can read text but cannot determine what images or Flash widgets are about.
  • Use friendly URLs that describe the topic of each page – URLs are one of the signals used to determine what pages are about - www.xero.com/pricing/ is a lot more likely to appear in a search for “Xero pricing” than a URL containing some random collection of numbers and letters.
  • Write good descriptive title tags and meta descriptions for each page.  Not only do the search engines use these to determine what pages are about, but they also appear in search result listings, so they need to be compelling for the user.

Xero Title Tag and Meta Description

3. Trust

Google and Bing are not going to present just any old website – they give precedence to those thought to be credible and that can be trusted to present high-quality answers.  This is why Wikipedia appears so highly for so many queries – it has built up a reputation for providing solid answers.  Here’s what you can do to try and improve your website’s credibility:

  • Encourage as many other websites to link to you as possible (but DON’T pay for links or participate in link exchanges – these are against Google/Bing terms of use and can result in search penalties).  The number and quality of links are two of the most important determinants of trust.  Try to target websites that are influential within your industry to further increase relevance.
  • Pay attention to spelling and grammar! Spelling errors will make your website seem amateurish and may reduce the amount of trust the search engines have in it.  Its not very nice for users either.

So that’s SEO 101. As the proliferation of SEO agencies shows, there are a lot of nuances and specific tactics available which can become very involved and complex. However, for most small businesses out there, if you just follow the basics, you are 80% of the way there.

 

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1 comment

Melissa
11 April 2012 #

Sorry, but when you say pay attention to spelling and grammar, perhaps “It’s not very nice for users either.” will work better ;) Jus’ sayin’….hehe

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