Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are all the rage nowadays. Rather than waste money mailing or phoning traditional advertising out to people who probably have no immediate interest in your products or services, SEO/SEM allow businesses to present ads only to people who are more-likely on the verge of buying from them or a competitor right then. Would you rather pay for every instance of your print ad being displayed in every copy of some newspaper sold, or would you rather target your ad only to people who just performed a Web search for exactly what you sell? Even if each search engine impression cost orders of magnitude more than delivery to each recipient of the print ad, the return could easily be sufficient to make it wildly worth the cost … and better still, if you can follow some basic instructions, it might not even cost you anything!
Generally, people want to search for Websites, reviews, comparisons, and other information before they search for specific vendors and practitioners. If a search engine only showed sponsored advertising, it would be of less value to searchers, meaning that fewer people would use it, so fewer advertisers would pay to advertise there. This business model produces a downward spiral that is simply unviable. Instead, search engines show both paid advertising and “organic” search results. When Google’s Web crawlers find and parse a dentist’s Website, for instance, they find clues on it that it’s related to dentistry. They may also find localization information, such as an address or telephone area code. Later, when someone in that area searches for dentists, Google may show this dentist’s listing in the organic search results along with the paid advertisers. This impression costs the dentist nothing!
How, then, can businesses get themselves more free, organic listing impressions? This is what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) addresses, and while it may require an investment of time, effort, or capital to implement, the specific cost per impression (CPI) or cost per click (CPC) are nil. In short, the more sweat equity you’re willing to put in, the lower your cash cost of implementation will be.
Before you come to imagine that SEO is simply a checklist of things you have to do to get your Website to the top of the organic search results forever, let me point out that you’re not the only one working towards this goal; your competitors are, too. In an unrelated analogy, college graduates used to have no trouble getting jobs, but this prompted more people to get their sheepskins today than there are jobs for college graduates, so many are unemployed while others continue on to a graduate school … which will eventually make that distinction less scarce, too. Similarly, the distinction of being top-ranked on organic search is a moving target which requires a continuous effort on your part to keep improving your ranking as compared to your competitors.
Surely, you’ve heard the old adage that banks only lend you money when you don’t need it. Well, it’s similar with organic search rankings. If you search for “shipping,” you’re much more likely to find UPS and FedEx in your search results than some small local courier. Why? Google has nothing against small local couriers, but they want to provide the best possible results to the greatest number of end-users so those end-users will keep coming back, rather than jump ship to Bing or Yahoo. There’s a higher probability that UPS or FedEx would be able to handle any end-user’s shipping needs than would some small local courier.
Basically, you need to make your Website appear to be a large and well-regarded resource in your field in order to get search engines to present it as such. How? You need more referrals, more traffic, and more conversions. I hate to call them “tricks,” but there are some things of which you should be aware that will help you improve your ranking.
One “trick” is to specialize; instead of trying to be everything to everyone, try to be the best at something specific. That small local courier in my last example has no chance of beating out UPS head-to-head, worldwide, but they may be the best delivery service in the City of White Plains, NY. They may come on call, and make same-day pickups and deliveries at reasonable rates. They may offer packing services and shipping supplies at the time of pickup, so you could just hand them flowers, your grandmother’s heirloom glass vase, a card, and an address, and leave the rest to them. For that courier to try to become top-ranked in global “shipping” searches would be futile, but if it focuses on winning in searches around “White Plains, NY,” for “same-day delivery” or “packing and shipping,” it has a much better chance of becoming top-ranked. It’s easier to become the biggest fish in a smaller pond.
Again, I sense you thinking, “How?” Well, the most obvious answer is that the courier’s Website should emphasize that it specializes in such, um, specialties. (Note to self: get thesaurus.) The content of their Website should discuss the courier’s strengths in White Plains, NY in same-day delivery and in packing and shipping. The titles of the related pages should include the words White Plains, NY, same-day delivery, and packing and shipping. Headings on those pages should include White Plains, NY, same-day delivery, and packing and shipping. Metadata descriptions on those pages should include White Plains, NY, same-day delivery, and packing and shipping. Metadata key words for those pages should include the words White Plains, NY, same-day delivery, and packing and shipping. Lest you think I needed a thesaurus for those last five sentences, too, let me clearly state that you want to achieve exactly the repetitiveness I presented. The content, titles, headings, descriptions, and key words should present a clear, unified, unambiguous, unmistakable representation of the Web page.
Another “trick” is to cultivate inbound links. For the uninitiated, the idea is that when other Websites link to yours, search engines treat it as a testimonial for your Website, and it improves your Website’s ranking in organic search results. The ranking of the referring Website is taken into account, so testimonials from Microsoft.com or WSJ.com are more valuable than ones from smaller Websites, but any ranking points are better than none, so ask friends, clients, and suppliers if they would do a link-exchange with you. Rather than dilute your Webpage content, you’ll probably want to put their links on a “links” or “resources” page other than your main page, but keep in mind that it will get less traffic than your main page, and that they’re going to want to do the same thing to you, too. Also, the best way to implement this is to have your desired search keywords serve as your link, so this, for example:
For the best value in Westchester small business IT support, contact Maverick Solutions IT, Inc.
is less preferable than this:
For the best value in Westchester small business IT support, contact Maverick Solutions IT, Inc.
Other ways to generate more inbound links are to blog, tweet, wall post, answer newsgroup questions, or publish articles. Having articles published with “about the author” links or making newsgroup posts with links in your signature block are obvious ways to generate inbound links – especially if they’re highly-trafficked, well-regarded, widely-read articles (like this one). However, even blog entries on your own Website may be retweeted on Twitter, shared on Facebook, or syndicated on sites looking for content. We use Google Alerts to monitor any online mention of our company, and find that many of our blog entries and articles have turned up in the strangest of places … but they all count as free, inbound links! Even just creating Linked-in and Facebook pages for your business are good ways to pick up a few more search engine ranking points, and they give you more ways to showcase yourself to your prospects.
Many a small business will just link to its main home page, but if you create individual landing pages and think of them as separate campaigns, you can optimize each of those titles, headings, descriptions, key words, and content, individually. For example:
- MaverickSolutions.biz is our business’ main page
- MaverickSolutions.biz/solutions_sec.htm is a sub-page for when we promote our security & surveillance systems
- MaverickSolutions.biz/schools.htm is a sub-page for when we’re marketing ourselves to schools
- MaverickSolutions.biz/promo/ is a landing page we established for a Free PC Tune-Up campaign we ran a few months back (Yes, you’re welcome to take us up on it if you’re in the New York Metro Area.)
- You can even link to individual blog articles you may have published on particular topics, such as MaverickSolutions.biz/blog/2010/how-did-i-get-a-virus-and-how-do-i-get-rid-of-it/
Once you’ve started to generate some momentum in your Website ranking, you can begin to focus some effort on more ranking optimization. If you and a friend promote each other on your own small business’ Websites, since each of you has a low ranking score, the benefit for each of you is low. However, if you could get links from bigger companies, they would be more valuable. One way to do this is to partner with larger companies; we are a Microsoft partner company, so we are listed on their partner directory and have a link from there. Another way is to be involved in high-profile projects; we have worked as a subject matter expert (SME) for the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), and have had links from them. An easy way is to join local business networking groups and get links from their Webpages to yours; we joined our local BNI chapter. There are even “tricks” to get reporters to quote you as an expert in articles they’re writing in your field, and they’ll frequently provide links, too. When these articles are syndicated on dozens or hundreds of secondary online publications, you can get some terrific exposure.
By reading this article, you’ve already taken the first steps. You’ve separated yourself from the throngs of people who don’t care, don’t know, and don’t want to know. You’ve demonstrated that you’re willing to learn and to take action to improve your search engine ranking. You can do more independent researching and reading to find more practical information about SEO, but if at some point you hit a roadblock or need more help, Maverick Solutions is just a click away, ready to advise and assist you with SEO or any other small business technology consulting and support. We’ve helped moving companies, real estate agents, mortgage bankers, title companies, business coaches, contractors, and attorneys with their SEO, and we’d be happy to help you, too.