Friday, November 23, 2012

Small Business Tips - How to be found by Google

Small business tipsIf you run a small business and you have a website, your goal no doubt is to be found on the first page of the Google organic (unpaid or narual) search results. If you’ve achieved a first page ranking for your website and your targeted keyword, then congratulations ! …. And there is probably no point in you reading any further, because chances are that you will know all this stuff.    

But for those small business owners out there who feel frustrated that their website seems to be hopelessly lost in the search engine wilderness and failing to gain any traction in search engine results, here are some basic tips that could help improve your website Google ranking. However it should be noted that Google are quite regularly updating the criteria they use to evaluate websites - and in particular have been changing the weighting they attribute to various factors in the evaluation formula they apply.

We will focus upon Google here, because they retain the lions share of search engine enquiries - however the ideas still largely apply to being found by Bing and Yahoo

·       Search engine optimisation, to help your website be found
Some small business owners engage  “SEO” experts for their Search Engine Optimisation services. SEO involves both "on-site" optimisation and "off-site" strategy.

On-site optimisation is about ensuring your website design and construction is done in a way that will have optimum appeal to search engines  The off-site strategy is about generating links from other respected sites to your site. If this seems a little cryptic, don't worry - we'll explore this further as you read on.

There are certainly many of these SEO firms around …. Just enter SEO, or Internet marketing, or digital marketing into Google as a search term and you will find quite a large list of potential suppliers providing SEO services. You may even receive spam email from SEO companies based in India, with grandiose promises that they can achieve a number one Google ranking for your website ! (I automatically delete them into junk mail)
For me as a small business owner, there is no question about whether there is merit in SEO. Having been in small business for more than 20 years, and having experimented with many approaches to marketing and advertising, I am convinced that SEO and Internet marketing have been powerful drivers to the growth of my business.  So the more pointed question for me in the past was whether to invest the time in attempting to learn and master some of the science of SEO myself, or whether I should outsource this responsibility to specialists.

·       Teach yourself – or outsource to experts?
I am not averse to outsourcing to specialists, for example we have an accountant do both our business and personal tax returns …… However SEO was something that had some inherent interest for me, so I decided to learn as much as I could. I am pleased to say that I have constructed several websites and blogs promoting different parts of my business that have achieved top three search engine ranking for reasonably popular search terms.
By no means am I suggesting that I am an expert in this field - far from it. The more I learn, the more I realise there remains still much to learn. However in the same way that although I'm not a mechanic, there are still some basic things I can do to service my car and keep it running efficiently. And having some working knowledge of key SEO principles means you're less likely to get ripped-off if you decide to contract-out your SEO. 

Here are seven basic guidelines I have learned and would like to share with you, that small business owners often seem unaware of .......
1.     Identify the keywords that your potential customers are likely to enter as search terms into Google to locate your type of business or service. If your business targets a purely local market, then you might also include the names of the suburbs or city that you service as actual keywords

2.     Ensure that the key words you have selected are naturally woven into the text of your website landing page, particularly appearing in the top part of the page, and also in your heading and sub-headings on the page ..... If your page has around 500 - 600 words, then you want your keyword phrase to be repeated a few times. This idea of how often you repeat your keyword phrase on your page is referred to as "keyword density". Many experts suggest that around 2 - 3% is the optimum rate of repetition. If you repeat your keywords too frequently, then Google may see this as "keyword stuffing" and penalise the page as spam. Using some synonyms of your keyword phrase is more acceptable.

3.     Place these keywords into the website title metatag and also the website description metatag. If you’re not sure what metatags are, that’s OK. Just instruct your webmaster or web designer to include these. But the meta-title tag is viewed as one of the most important "on-page" SEO elements - so ensure this is done properly. Also ensure that there is no duplication of these metatags on different pages of your website - each page should have their own unique title and descriptions tags.

4.     Consider also developing a blog that links back to your website ... Google definitely like blogs, because they tend to involve regularly fresh and updated content.

5.     Try to make the content of your website / blog interesting and genuinely appealing to your target group. Then it becomes more likely your readers will either link back to you from their blog, or mention you with a link in their social media conversations (eg Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). By regularly producing quality content over time, you and your website or blog will become recognised as an "authority" figure on your topic. You also might want to ensure that you receive credit for writing your content - particularly if some other party copies and duplicates your content. Here is a link that explains how to claim authorship of your content by registering with Google+ 

6.     If you are currently in the process of building your website or blog, then try to select a domain name that incorporates some of the keywords that you are targeting

7.     Absolutely avoid the temptation of being a party to buying back-links - never pay for backlinks . ...... But let's first take a moment and consider why backlinks are important. It is known that Google regards having other sites linking back to your business website as a vote of confidence in you – and this in turn makes your site seem more credible in their eyes – and therefore worthy of a higher ranking in their search engine results. But in the past, there were SEO firms that artificially contrived to generate backlinks for their clients and attempted to manipulate the evaluation process that Google applied  …… Google woke up to this and now explicitly warn against buying links and threaten that the ranking of your site will be penalised if it is discovered that links have been purchased from “link farms”. They also emphasise that it is the quality of the sites that link to you, rather than the quantity or volume of backlinks, that they weight more highly in the way they evaluate your site.
Also, ensure that you have listed your website in as many local directories as you can - for example in Australia, there are directories such as Gumtree, TrueLocal,  Hotfrog , AussiePages ..... And also make sure you get listed in Google's own Local Places directory and have your business website registered. Then you'll be able to appear as a local result for search enquiries - and what's more, you won't have to pay for this prominent search position.

These seven tips certainly do not constitute all there is to know about SEO, but they do offer you some of the most essential ideas for gaining organic (natural) search engine ranking for your small business website.
  • Paid advertising
Another option for you to consider is paid advertising through Google Adwords  It is a quicker way of getting your website of he first page of Google. Your ad with your website URL link will appear on the right hand side of the search results page - or at the very top of the search results page if you are prepared to pay premium price for the more prominent position. The popularity of the keywords that you associate with your advertisement will determine how much  the advertising will potentially cost - however you only pay if your ad is clicked.

Again, pay-per-click advertising is something that you can either manage yourself, or hire an agency to work on your behalf. Search engine marketing agencies tend to use a combination of both SEO and paid advertising to achieve visibility for your website. My suggestion if you decide to venture down this path is to initially place a strict limit on your advertising budget (it can be as little as $10 / day if you manage it yourself) - and regularly review whether you are gaining a sufficient return on investment to justify continuing with a paid advertising campaign. If possible, speak to other small business owners in your network who may have some experience with online advertising and can offer you useful tips on getting best value for your online advertising dollar.
  • If you decide to outsource your SEO
But let's return to the topic of achieving organic (unpaid) first page search results. If you ultimately decide to outsource your SEO to an expert, at least the above tips offer you some insight into the language to use when speaking with them about their proposed strategy. And remember, just because they claim to be an expert, doesn't mean they are

Have a careful look at their track record, speak to some of their clients - and see if they are willing to be engaged on the basis of a success fee (ie. a payment formula based on results and improved search engine ranking performance for your keywords).

And by the way, if one of these experts says they can get you a number one Google ranking, check what keywords this result would be achieved for. There's not much point being ranked  number one for a search term that is so obscure that no-one will ever actually enter it.
You will find some other useful marketing ideas at Marketing for Small Business.
  • An insider reveals what Google is looking for in your website 
Here is a short video clip that features Matt Cutts, who is head of the Anti-Spam team within Google itself, who shares  advice along the lines of what was listed above. So when it's straight from the horses mouth, you can believe it. Although it must be recognised that over time Google makes regular changes to the way in which it evaluates websites - there are generally certain principles and criteria that remain constant
Here's another video clip with Matt Cutts speaking about some of the common mistakes that Webmasters make with their websites. So this can offer some useful tips for small business owners who might be developing their own websites rather than contracting this out.

By the way, if you check out Google Webmaster Tools then you will find a treasure chest of tips and advice from Google that will help you gett your small business website found by search engines
Copyright 2013 by Brian Carroll.  He is the founder of Performance Development - a corporate training business based in Melbourne, Australia that delivers management training, coaching and leadership development services/ You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile