So, you need to bring in more customers and get your products and services in front of more people but you don’t know where to start. You’ve got some knowledge of marketing, but don’t have much of an understanding of this new “inbound marketing”, internet based methodology. It sounds technical and complicated, and you think you can’t tackle it. You are not alone. Many small business owners are just beginning to understand what internet marketing is, and how to leverage it.
Inbound marketing is different than outbound (traditional) marketing in that inbound focuses on “findability”- that is, the ability to be found easily. Unlike outbound marketing that focuses mostly on a more invasive methodology of putting your product or service in the face of a prospective buyer (like telemarketing or direct mail), inbound marketing simply makes your business easily locatable and contactable via marketing channels like websites.
Contrary to popular believe, small businesses can engage in this new form of marketing easily and almost immediately. This article demystifies one of the most impact-full and highly popular elements of internet marketing – search engine optimization (SEO).
In this post, we’ll break down organic SEO (not paid) into manageable, actionable phases that can have an immediate impact on your business, and help explain some of the various things you need to be keeping in mind when considering SEO for your small business.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Basics
SEO is the practice of optimizing your website so that it ranks highly, and is compliant with search engine requirements. The end-game – get more visitors to your website by being on page one of Google and Bing.
SEO is a process and like all marketing, it takes money to make money. SEO is not an overnight, easy button for small business success. However, when planned and then executed properly, a good SEO campaign can yield some of the highest ROI (return on investment) of any marketing method. What’s more – SEO can pay great long term dividends to your business if you keep up with it and maintain the higher ranks in search engines that you’ve worked so hard to get.
Search Engine Optimization Planning
A good SEO company will slow you down, and collect all the required information they need up front to do a good job. A good SEO partner will tell you like it is, so be prepared to hear that you might need to make some changes tot hat website your daughter build for you as a college project.
This planning phase is key, and almost always determines the success ratio of your campaign. It pays to take the extra time to do proper competitor research, keyword analysis, and strategic planning before you engage in an SEO campaign. If you choose to skip this step, all the money’s you allocate to your SEO endeavor can be wasted.
It all begins with gaining an understanding of your target markets and the strategic objectives you wish to aim for over a period of reasonable time. Here are just a few things that take place during this phase.
- Competitor research
- Keyword analysis and profitability research
- Content creation and management planning
Search Engine Optimization – The On-Site Phase
Post the planning process, on-page optimization takes place where your sites website code is dialed in to near perfection. A series of numerous tasks occur, some of which are very technical in nature and others of which you can easily assist with on your own. This all depends on your level of competency in the given task. In any case, being involved in your SEO campaign is good best practice.
In this phase you optimize your sites code, content, art, etc. so that those individuals in that market find you when they seek for businesses like you online.
Here are a few activities and tips/tricks with on page optimization. HINT: If you don’t know what these things are, consider hiring a professional!
- Improve Use of H1, H2 Tags
- Use proper title tags on your pages
- Create XML and HTML sitemap files, robots.txt files, etc.
- Add a “quick contact” hovering sidebar, making it easier to connect with you.
- Add Internal navigation links that link to and from other pages in your site.
- Use anchor text in your links
- Utilize Breadcrumbs which make it easy for visitors to move to track where they are in your site navigation
- Optimize images to have relevant and keyword rich names, alt tags and short descriptions.
- If your business is a service, add a page about best practice techniques and include a video on the process hosted at YouTube
Search Engine Optimization – The Off-Site Phase
After on-page work is completed, a more lengthy off-page phase begins where your site and content talking about your services and products is distributed strategically across the internet, ultimately yielding in sources that point to you and your website. These tasks often include:
• Social bookmarking
• Link building
• Directory submissions, etc.
• Article marketing
If you are a service provide who caters to local clientele, you’ll be placing heavy emphasis on local SEO. Local SEO entails, more specifically, focusing on ensuring prospects whom are seeking you in and around the city they are in and finding you over your competition. Getting properly setup with local directory sites like Google places (now called Google Plus Local) is key to ensuring you are located first over others.
Here are just a few must have Local SEO listing (please notate if a paid subscription is required)
- Facebook Local
- Yahoo Local
While this phase doesn’t seem like rocket science, it pays to invest the money and have a specialized firm handle the work and handle it correctly.
If you choose to do this yourself, here are just a few local SEO tips you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Add a newsletter signup functionality for specials and sales.
- Add City and State names in your Title tags, Meta descriptions, and the content on your site (as it fits, don’t just force it in there.)
- Make use of Schema local markup to better help search engines identify and show your location
- Include a KML file on your site (Keyhole Markup Language)
- Create a dedicated city specific landing page on the store, wheelhouse, etc.
- Add reviews – get the folks who gave you a testimonial to add legitimate reviews. Focus on Google places listing.
- Standardize your NAP (Name, Address, Phone.) No abbreviations. This will be used in citations. A citation is defined as any place online where a site mentions your company by name and address, but not necessarily linked to it.
- Put NAP on every page of site
- Increase Number of citations.
- Consider using a paid service like Yext to make sure that the information you’ve set up at your Google Places profile is distributed across all of the other major local platforms, in the same standardized format. Each of these entries will become a valid citation, which is extremely valuable in local SEO.
- Use paid tools like the WhiteSpark local citation finder to locate ideal citation sources for your specific city.
- Guest blog posts are a great way to add citations (manually approved by web master)
- Focus on getting new citations, social mentions, and reviews consistently
Search Engine Optimization – The Importance of Analysis
Now that you’ve got all your on and off page work done, you’ll want to be keeping a close eye on your results and making the required adjustments where needed. There are a ton of monitoring tools out there to assist you in this vital phase.
Keep in mind that SEO changes, as it’s an incredibly dynamic field. You’ll want to stay on top of new trends, search engine algorithm changes (like Penguin and Panda), new techniques, and changes in poor practice penalty.
Using tools like Google Analytics is just the start. Arm yourself with the proper arsenal of research tools (free and paid for) to see how you can one-up your competition and squeeze in that extra rank improvement in the SERP (search engine results page)
Search Engine Optimization – Setting Expectations
SEO can benefit your business in as little as one month, to as long as one year. It all depends on budget, your market, your product, your competition and the SEO company you choose to work with. If you choose to outsource your SEO(often a smarter choice) choose a company that practices white hat, ethical search engine optimization practice and will take the time to teach you about the service as you go – making you a better, smarter marketer. After all, your involvement (or lack of involvement) can play a vital role in the success in an SEO campaign.
At the end of the day, SEO can be on of the most effective marketing tools available to a small business owner. Although it’s just one of many (and you should choose wisely where you spend your marketing dollars), it can be the most rewarding.