What’s in your business plan this year? Do you want to raise the profile of your business and your website? Are you aiming for a higher ranking in the search engine listings? Well if you have some free time, what about brushing up on a little DIY SEO (that’s Do It Yourself Search Engine Optimisation) to give things a kickstart?
If you have a look around the SEO-focused blogs, you’ll find a lot of people telling you that you MUST do this, and you MUST do that, because you MUST get to the front page on Google. They’re often the people who are in the business of selling SEO services. As usual, I prefer to take a more moderate approach.
In my last post [An SEO Reality Check for Small Businesses] I offered some insights into what SEO is Not (ie. it’s not cheap, it’s not quick, it’s not easy, and some of the SEO experts aren’t really what they’re cracked up to be). I hope that hasn’t scared you off SEO completely! You don’t need to be an SEO expert to make some inroads. There are some basic fundamentals that, if applied consistently and carefully, will improve your website’s search engine listing without going down the SEO outsourcing route.
- Good quality content that is updated regularly;
- Use of keywords in all the right places;
- A well-structured, fast-loading site;
- Quality inbound links.
1. How to Create Good Quality Content
What constitutes good quality content? Generally things that will be useful and of value to your website’s visitors. You may not be an SEO expert, but you’ve developed expertise in your own area of business so think about imparting some of that knowledge. Blogs, FAQs, how-to videos. Just make sure you spell-check everything and write clearly, without a lot of jargon or abbreviations.
Plan to add new content on a regular basis, rather than all at once. It keeps things fresh which keeps both Google and your visitors happy.
2. Keywords are crucial for SEO.
There are keywords, and then there are key words (note the space). The “quest to be on page 1 of Google” for a single keyword shouldn’t be your main focus. Page 1 means what exactly? Being on page 1 for “website designer” might be nigh on impossible for a small business like Right Hand Design, but “website designer Neutral Bay” gets my site on page 1 and connects me with local clients, who I like to work with. My aim isn’t to have everyone in the world or even Australia find me at the top of Google.
So one important factor is your target market. If your market is local, TrueLocal and Google Places will help get your business in front of local customers, directing people to your website URL. Maybe your market is more widespread but attracts people who are passionate about your niche product? In that case, building a social network following may be a better option, and from there you can drive them to your website.
If you have a niche product, or a specific differentiator in what you offer, you want to rank for more specific keywords. You may have heard the term “long tail keywords”. These are more likely to match the specific search criteria of someone who is serious about finding a product that meets their needs. As an example, say you sell organic, healthy snack foods for kids in Australia. Rather than rank for “snack foods”, which returns 55 million results, try a long tail keyword phrase such as:
- “healthy snacks for kids” (27 million results),
- “organic healthy snacks for kids” (12 million results),
- “organic healthy snacks for kids Australia” (4 million results),
- “organic healthy snack foods for kids Australia” (1.6 million results).
Think what your customers would search on and make sure you use those phrases in your website copy. You don’t have to match them exactly. In normal speech, you wouldn’t write “snack food kids Australia”. But the search engines know to ignore all the bits such as “the”, “and”, “to”, “for”, so you can just as easily match when you write “we provide healthy snack foods for kids in Australia”.
There used to be a free Google Keywords tool, but it now requires you to sign up for AdWords. You can do this and gather some keyword info without actually starting up and paying for an AdWords campaign. So you can do a little research first and make sure you use some of the obvious phrases (or long tail keywords) that you believe people will search on for your particular line of business. After all, who knows your customers better than you? Certainly not a generic SEO company…
3. Create a well-structured, fast-loading site
By “well-structured”, I’m referring to what Google sees (which is only the underlying HTML code of your website) and what people see (how effectively your content is laid out so they can find what they need). Use the different heading tags to create hierarchy – Google knows that H1, H2 and H3 headings are most important; plus people can see the difference in the font sizes and their eyes are drawn to these sections.
Google can’t see images. Even though Google can serve up images from a search, it’s only because there are words associated with them. All images, if they have something meaningful to do with your product (and aren’t just there as a pretty background on your website) should have descriptive text in their title and/or their alternate text (aka “alt text” – which is revealed when images can’t be displayed by a browser).
Speaking of images, make sure they’re sized correctly and optimised for web use. Often the largest part of a site is the images and these can affect your website’s load-time. I use Photoshop, but there are plenty of free image resizers available online, or you can even use MS Office 2010 to edit and resize pictures.
You can test how fast your pages load at webpagetest.org/
4. The attraction of links
Quality inbound links (aka backlinks) are links to your website from other associated, reputable sites. To some extent I’d say these will look after itself if you look after the first 3 points.
If you have good content that’s being updated regularly (like a blog or “how-to” articles), people will link to it and share it out. This is much better than the mass link-building and link-buying that some SEO companies employ. To get links shared, make sure you post them on your social media pages (FB, Twitter) along with a nice lead-in so that people want to click on the link and find out more. Or include great images or videos that people will Like or Share or Comment on, or add to Pinterest. You don’t need to be active on all these forums yourself, as other people will disseminate them across their own favourite social media, but make it easy for them to do so by adding share links to your webpages and blog posts.
A few extra SEO tips:
- Your content must be unique. Your SEO will be penalised if the same article is posted (in its entirety, or in large part) on other pages or sites.
- Don’t cheat. Tricks such as hidden text, keyword stuffing, etc, are like bad karma.
- Don’t feel you have to reciprocate when someone links to you. Only link out to other sites that are relevant to your business and that also produce quality, credible content.
- The future will likely see more emphasis on “social proof”. I’ll leave that for another blog, but make a start by using sharing buttons on your website and blog (see my blog Connecting your Website and Social Media).
- Read more about SEO and usability (especially the section called Short-Term SEO Mostly Implies Good Design)
2014: SEO Secrets for Small Business 1 Day Training Courses
If you want to DIY but don’t know where to start, check out these courses being held in Sydney and Melbourne this year. Click the links or images below to book.
Courses are being held in Sydney (August 23) and Melbourne (October 10). Book before June 1 for early bird pricing (before it goes up another $100).
These courses are presented by Kate Toon (“Sydney’s favourite copywriter”). Her website maintains number 1 ranking on Google for “copywriter Australia” (and that’s no mean feat). She presents a practical, hands-on course where you get to setup simple SEO techniques on your own site. Do yourself a favour…