When I attend small business networking events, it again seems that many of the conversations end up making reference to websites and internet marketing and what people are doing in an attempt to improve their site’s ranking in search engine results.
Most small business owner’s now-days recognise that having a strong presence in the digital world is an imperative for any chance of business growth. And once you start thinking about your website, you’ll probably also start reflecting on where it ranks for different keywords and phrases that you want your business found for online. And maybe that's when you start scratching your head, feeling irritated and frustrated that your competitor’s website ranks higher than your business – particularly when their site doesn’t seem to look anywhere near as appealing or impressive as yours.
I'm sorry to have to say that, even though your website may have been built by a professional graphic designer or website developer and equipped with all of the bells and whistles - they may not necessarily have constructed it on a solid foundation of SEO principles .
There is no question that search engine optimisation (SEO) is one of the most successful strategies for online success. It is based on ensuring that both your website design and construction is aligned with the criteria that search engines use to evaluate websites. This evaluation will then enable the search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask ….) to determine how relevant your site might be for keywords that can be entered as search terms.
I am convinced that the best SEO practitioners are worth their weight in gold. My experience over the past ten years confirms for me that both the success of my business – and at times, the lack of it – has been directly proportional to the search engine performance of my various websites. An analysis of your site for SEO purposes should identify both on-page and off-page issues that you can action in order to improve search engine ranking performance.
· Some tips from an SEO expertOne of the leading figures in the shifting SEO landscape within Australia over the past decade has been Jim Stewart. He is the founder of StewartMedia, a Melbourne based digital consulting agency that specialises in helping both small and large corporates improve not only their search engine ranking results – but also showing them how to improve their rates of conversion of enquiries into sales.
Jim agreed to share some of his experience with SEO and online marketing.
1. What motivated you initially to start your own consulting business – and what were the early challenges that you faced?In 1994 I was desperate to get a job in the then fledging Internet industry. I just loved the technology. I got several jobs from various internet related businesses but I finally realised that I was making myself unemployable. The skills I had at the time were a bit of everything. A bit of coding experience, some network management experience, sales experience, PC tech, public speaking, radio etc. Really not enough strength in any one area that would make me stand out from the crowd.
Also I did not like being told what to do by other people. That was the clincher. In my life as an employee I had more than once criticised upper management. So I decided it was time to put up or shut up. The one thing I knew that I was really good at was explaining the benefits of complex technology to business people.
2. What inspires you most about the work that you do?Helping others grow their business. Early in my career, from 1989 - 1991 I sold newspaper advertising. In that time I spoke to hundreds of businesses. Back then it was not only your job to sell the ad space in most cases you had to create the ad copy as well. I used to love getting feedback from clients on how well a campaign had gone for them.
With SEO & PPC (pay-per-click) advertising, you can see it happen in real time. We got a call from a client recently frantically asking us to switch off the ad campaign we had created for her. The reason; the phones were ringing too much and they couldn't cope. I love those calls – not a bad sort of problem to have, is it?
3. What do you think would be some of the most common mistakes that small business owners make with their websites and SEO?Probably the most common is duplication of content. Typically this is because Google can find the same page being on their site at more than one address.
Other common problems include slow-loading websites and sites full of technical errors (eg. incorrect use of H1, H2 and H3 tags in back-end coding)But the most damaging SEO mistake that we see now-days is lots of spammy back linking. I have lost count of the conversations I have had over the last 18 months with stressed business owners who have experienced their incoming enquiries drying-up overnight because of a Google algorithm change. If you are doing SEO the right way, then any change to the formula that Google use to evaluate websites should not result in your website ranking lower.
4. Can you explain the difference between white hat and black hat SEO techniques?Black hat refers to some clever techniques that were used in the past in an attempt to “fool” Google and manipulate their search results. These days when people say black hat they are more commonly referring to the practice (mal-practice) of buying backlinks. However, I would call this more of a dunce’s hat – because these are short term strategies that can damage your business in two ways.
Firstly you will eventually get found out and punished by Google. Every day we report sites to Google that are buying backlinks and that are ranking higher than our clients. So you can imagine how many other SEO companies are doing the same thing. The other reason that it is a bad idea is that it does not build a culture of publishing within an organisation. This is one of the most important areas for businesses that want to succeed in the digital world. If you are just relying on building backlinks, then you are probably not adequately focused on publishing compelling content that will naturally grow you quality back-links.White hat SEO is founded on an ethical approach that embodies and complies with all of the guidelines, policies and intentions of Google in their attempt to deliver search results that are most relevant for the search engine user.
5. How can a small business owner who is thinking of using an SEO agency or consultant, avoid the risk of incurring a Google penalty because the agency employed “spammy” techniques to get short term ranking success?I would suggest that they ask to see at least a couple of sites they have worked on before and examine their backlinks by using a tool like Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer . If you look carefully at the backlinks and they seem “spammy”, I would most definitely stay away. By spammy, I mean there doesn’t seem to be any real depth of quality content or information supporting the site from which the link is derived …..therefore it’s likely the site’s just been established for the purposes of “farming” links.
6. For a small business owner with a limited online marketing budget, what advice would you offer?Start a blog. It's one of the best things you can do, not only for ranking but also over time helping to establish yourself as an authority figure in your field You could also consider starting an adwords campaign to see what the popular phrases are in your industry ….. This can be done by varying the keyword phrases that your ad is based upon, and measuring which gets the higher response rate with clicks.
7. Any other final SEO tips for small business?Make sure you measure. Check in on your Google analytics and understand what you are measuring. Importantly, make sure you have Google webmaster tools setup for your website, so you can see exactly what Google thinks of your site. There, you can check to confirm that all of the pages of your site have in fact been properly indexed by Google.
You can actually receive instruction straight from “the horse’s mouth”” about any HTML improvements that may be needed in order to help improve your site’s ranking. For example, it will list any internal pages which have duplication of content or duplication of title meta-tags. Rectifying what are sometimes small technical errors has the potential to produce significant improvement in your ranking results.Finally, I would suggest that you try to develop some time management routines for generating new posts and fresh content for your blog by setting yourself an editorial calendar - and then sticking to your schedule.
Gee, there’s heaps more we could talk about – in particular how to leverage social media for building quality back-links – but I reckon that’s enough for now.
Thanks to Jim for sharing some of his business experience – as well as some great tips on SEO.In closing, if you’re a small business owner then I would personally classify having some basic knowledge of SEO as important as being able to read a balance sheet. OK, so maybe you have an accountant looking after your finances – but you still have to be able to recognise if they’re not doing their job properly.
I know you can’t be a specialist at everything – of course you must know when to outsource and leverage the expertise of others. But if you’re going to hire an SEO agency, the problem is that there seem to be so many of them out there - spruiking their SEO solutions and making extravagant promises .... I think you’ve just got to have some basic knowledge about internet marketing so that you can get good “bang for your buck” and not get conned by any black hat practitioners.
Associated posts - Starting Your Own Business and Social Media Marketing
Associated posts - Starting Your Own Business and Social Media Marketing
Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a corporate training company in Melbourne, Australia. He is a qualified psychologist, experienced management coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people develop their full capabilities. You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile