Search Engine Optimization: SEO Tips for Small Business

by James A. Martin

Incorporating SEO into your Web site strategy will help potential customers find your business and boost your bottom line. Jim Martin walks you through the basics.

A few years ago, John W. Tuggle made about $19,000 annually giving private guitar lessons. He had to work another job, too, in order to bring in more money.

Today, Tuggle makes $100,000 a year “and it just keeps going up,” he said. Plus, he no longer has to offer private lessons or work a second job, which gives him much more free time.

How did Tuggle do it? He hired a professional design firm to build a Web site, Learning Guitar Now, from which he sells prerecorded blues and slide guitar lessons on DVD. Tuggle also records podcasts for iTunes and creates videos for YouTube.

And to draw traffic to his site, Tuggle researched and continually refines the keywords he uses to optimize his Web pages for Google and other search engines.

Search engine optimization (SEO) can be a powerful tool to help potential customers find your site. “If you don’t do SEO, you probably won’t be found on Google,” Tuggle said. “And if you’re not found on Google, you’re losing about 65 percent of your potential customers from the Internet.” Currently, 65 percent of all search queries are performed on Google, according to comScore.

So what exactly is SEO? What’s involved in doing SEO? And how can you tell if your SEO efforts are working?

SEO Basics

SEO is an ongoing process in which you proactively use strategic keywords, links, HTML tags, and other techniques to increase the chances a page or site will organically land at or near the top of search result pages.

Organic, i.e., unpaid, search result rankings are not the same as Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. In a PPC campaign, you pay Google or other search engines to display a small text ad when someone performs a search using your chosen keyword or phrase. Many people who use search engines give more weight to organic results than they do to PPC ads.

SEO is important because there are billions of Web pages, and “the majority of people don’t click past the first two pages of search results,” said Matt McGee, a Search Engine Land editor, search marketing consultant and author of the Small Business Search Marketing blog. “In fact, most people only click on the top five or six search results on the first page.”

What’s more, search engine sites, in an effort to stay ahead of competitors, are constantly refining their algorithms and features. Small businesses and enterprises alike are increasingly learning and employing SEO tactics, too. Their goal is to push their pages as far up into search results as possible—at your expense.

Be sure to read James Martin’s article SEO Tips: How to Increase Traffic With Keywords.

SEO has its detractors. Some denounce it as a “black art” designed to manipulate search engines and, by extension, those who use them. And certainly there are many who employ dubious “black hat” SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing—the flagrant overuse of a keyword or phrase on a page in hopes of artificially enhancing the page’s position in search engine results.

That said, so-called “white hat” SEO, when incorporated into a larger Internet marketing campaign and employed both judiciously and continually, is essential to success on the Internet today, said Martin Falle, CEO of SEO Research, a search engine marketing company.

“The difference in being seen on page one and page two of search results can mean thousands, even millions, of dollars for a business in revenue,” Falle said. A high “findability” factor is especially important in an economic downturn, he added.

The Elements of SEO

There are many tactics for boosting a Web page’s presence in search engine rankings. A few basic strategies include:

Use your keyword(s) in your title tags. Every Web page has a title, which is displayed at the top of the browser when you’re viewing that page. The title tag is also shown in search engine results. It’s the linked title on which users click to visit a Web site page they find in the results pages for a query. And it’s arguably the most important place to use your chosen keywords.

A page’s title tag is key to helping Google know what the page is about, said Adam Lasnik, Google’s search evangelist. Ideally, a title tag should not just include your business’s name, but one or more additional descriptors—things that people might actually search for.

“If you’re an Italian restaurant, an ineffective title tag would just be the name of your restaurant,” Lasnik said. “A better title might include your restaurant’s name, plus something like ‘serving late-night pasta in the greater Mountain View area.’”

In addition, it helps to use your chosen keywords in your Web page’s headline (known in HTML as an h1 tag) and/or subhead (the h2 tag). You should also use the keyword several times in the body copy of a Web page. For best results, optimize each Web page on your site around one specific keyword or phrase. The more specific your keyword, the less competition you’re likely to have for it in Google search results.

Get relevant, high-profile Web sites to link to your site. Among the factors search engines take into account when ranking your pages for relevancy are the external sites that link to your pages. Having lots of highly-trafficked Web sites that are relevant to what you do or sell tells Google you’re a legitimate site, and that’s bound to boost your findability factor in search queries.

Example: On the Gibson Web site, the leading guitar manufacturer has posted some of John W. Tuggle’s tutorial videos along with links to his Web site and YouTube channel.

Gibson is a respected guitar maker with a large, popular, and trusted Web site. So the search engines are likely to consider the Gibson site as highly relevant to Tuggle’s Learning Guitar Now site. These factors make the Gibson site’s links to Tuggle’s site extremely valuable, both in terms of his SEO efforts and in driving targeted visitors—people interested in guitars—to his site, Tuggle said.

Minimize Flash. Search engines have traditionally had difficulty indexing Web content that isn’t in text, such as Flash animations, photographs, video and Javascript.

Google is continually improving its efforts to index non-text Web site content, said Lasnik. Still, in order to direct the largest amount of targeted traffic to your site, you should strive to put the majority of your most important information in text so the search engines can easily find it, he said.

Also, keep in mind that people are increasingly performing searches in mobile browsers on their iPhones, BlackBerrys, and other smart phones. Most smart phone browsers can’t display Flash animations. So while smart phone users might find your site, they won’t get its full impact.

Start blogging. In most cases, blogs have a simple structure (meaning little if any Flash and other non-search-friendly content), are updated often and, when well written, have lots of links on other sites pointing to it.

“Blogs are literally built to attract search engine crawlers and spiders,” writes Rebecca Lieb in The Truth About Search Engine Optimization. “Their architecture and design are structured for clear navigation, with every page set up to link back to other primary pages. It is no surprise that in recent years, many successful and profitable publishers have built editorial products entirely on commercial blog platforms.”

Don’t Forget Your Readers

While there’s a great deal of science behind SEO, making your efforts completely transparent to your site visitors is essential. That’s where the art comes in.

Ultimately, the ideal is to create great Web content first, with SEO a secondary though important consideration. When you regularly create compelling Web content, you’ll soon find that other sites are linking to it. You’ll become part of the online conversation, with mentions in blogs and in the mainstream media. You’ll generate that ever-elusive thing called “buzz.”

Conversely, if you make SEO a priority over your site’s visitors, your content will seem “fishy and unnatural,” said Lasnik. And that’s a sure turn-off to potential customers." However, he added,"if your Web content is good for your audience, it will be good for Google."

James A. Martin is the co-author of Getting Organized in the Google Era. He writes about SEO and helps businesses optimize their sites for search engines.
This article was originally published on Tuesday Sep 29th 2009
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