In 2008 I noticed more and more smaller businesses coming to TM looking for help with their website, online marketing and search engine optimization. Actually I am surprised how frequent I hear the term “SEO” coming out of the mouths of the common folk. It’s amazing! Especially when they really don’t seem to understand what they are saying. Maybe SEO is the new “I’m sorry” statement? It just flows out of ones mouth without much forethought.
Day after day I frequently find myself repeating the same advice to each new client. To put it simply; it is very tough for a small business to compete with larger companies on a global-term, especially on a smaller budget.
But don’t give up: this does not mean that hard work, elbow grease and determination won’t help your overall goal. There are a number of things you can do to help yourself along.
So with this being said… Mr. (or Mrs.) Small Business, please start here with our 12 SEO & SEM Tips:
1. Goals – You need to start by determining your real goals. Think of your website like a big overweight person that needs to trim off 100 lbs ASAP. Can you do it in a month? No. Should a target be 10 lbs that first month? That’s more plausible. Know what you want and be realistic on how you can get there.
Do you have a budget? Is it substantial or shoe string? Understand what you think you can handle yourself, know that it won’t be easy and that it will probably hurt a little too. You are going to need to allocate resources, primarily your time and money, and still complete the regular tasks to run your business.
2. Come to Jesus -Have a sit down with yourself. Of course we all want to rank #1 for a term in Google. However take a look at your site. Then look at your competitors’ sites. Does your website really deserve to be numero uno? Do you really offer a better experience, more information and superior product?
Yes, I agree, we all offer the best customer experience, blah blah blah. Be different and really show why you’re better. Again, knowing where you stand against your competition and “coming to Jesus” early in the process is an important step.
3. Website Design – This is an important investment that many people get wrong right off the bat. The age-old saying holds very true: “You get what you pay for” and your website design and development is an area that you should not skimp on. If you had a business on Retail Main St. you wouldn’t spray paint a piece of plywood and place it over your door would you? Would you invest in a cheap sign that everyone else has and modify your logo to fit on it? No. It is the same for websites. Hire a professional company that can give you an attractive and intuitive design, not a cookie-cutter website.
Unless you are a website designer by trade or married to one that has been doing “real” html coding for a while, go look and find a company digital agency to complete this for you. The template you buy and alter in FrontPage or Dreamweaver will not look professional no matter how many hours you spend on it.
Here’s another brainchild idea – Your nephew, neighbor’s kid or Craigslist person will probably drop the ball because of exams and college parties so he may be out of the running. Get real, it’s 2009 and there is no reason for a business to have a website that looks like you have a limited budget. If you don’t invest on an attractive, well designed website, the next steps won’t matter- no amount of traffic to your web site is going to help you convert traffic, leads and sales on a poorly designed or poorly built site.
4. Website Usability -Your visitors’ experience is more important than the design itself, but design and usability should go hand-in-hand. Please, please, please do not hire someone who is a print designer or skilled illustrator familiar with the Adobe Creative Suite and can do fascinating things with color. They may make it pretty, but chances are the site usability will be poor. Spend time with a professional web designer who understands site usability and user experience. Proper placement of calls to action on each page and the navigation are important elements to consider if you want your traffic to convert, and complete your business goals.
5. Content – Poorly written content, syndicated news feeds and stolen content are among the biggest problems I see on small business websites. While some news feeds do have a place and are relevant to your visitors, don’t rely on them as the sole content. Stolen content will do you no good since it will be crawled by search engines and will be determined to be duplicated from other sites. Poorly written content is just sad and unprofessional. You can always add in a few keywords here and there in your copy that will help you rank a little, but they won’t help you convert sales. Invest the time, money and work with a professional copywriter who has experience in writing sales copy.
6. Hosting – Hosting is very cheap and a necessity for a website to live. Just like having to get tabs for your car every year, you need to have hosting. However not all hosting is created equal. Spend a little extra and get hosting that has 24/7/365 technical support in the event of an emergency or service disruption.
7. Keyword Research – Don’t guess on keywords. I guarantee that you cannot identify all the possible words that people would identify your products and services with. Use Google AdWords or Trillian Keyword Discovery and see which keywords have the highest volume and least competition. Take a look at what your competitors are using as well. If you are focusing on a brand or a geo-specific location then consider long-tail keyword phrases and local-specific keywords. They will be easier to obtain and will help build your foundation to eventually achieve relevancy and rank for broader single phrase terms. Do a search for a keyword you want to rank for. How many results are there? If your trying to go after a top 3 ranking with 27 million competitors you’ll be better off growing a pony tail. It might happen quicker.
8. General On-Page SEO – Make sure your site is search-engine friendly. Get a Google webmaster account and submit your site. Understand their feedback and what it means, remember you are trying to rank for them right? Title tags, meta description tags, H1 header tags, keywords, Alt, valid code all play a factor in general SEO. To check your website’s validity get the free WebDeveloper Toolbar plugin for Firefox. Check your html, CSS, Section 508 and feeds against the W3C suggested guidelines. Read up on internal link structure.
9. SEO URL’s – Internal page structure is very important to search engines and helps get visitors to a site as well. Instead of naming a page”/default_12.html” go more for something like “/stainless-steel-sinks.html”. Having a descriptive URL laden with keywords relevant to your products and services will assist search engines in identifying what your site is about to properly include you in the right place in their directory.
10. Link Building – This is an important but tricky step to successful SEO. Google and other search engines want to see a website gain link popularity naturally. You need to gain text links, with relevant keywords from relevant websites like yours. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It can be by all the misleading services offered out there for cheap prices. Don’t get caught up in link trading and “Submit your site to 1 million search engines for $59” schemes. Don’t submit to spammy directories. Spend some time and go comment on other related blogs. Be a regular. Get a listing in Yahoo Directory for $299/year. Submit to DMOZ and Business.com. Talk to the local Chamber of Commerce about getting a listing on their website that links back to your site. Submit press releases to the media that are optimized. Donate to or sponsor a charity so they will list you on their website with a link. Build links back to your site- this is a backbone to SEO.
11. SEO Redirects – If you are building a new site take the time and do proper 301 redirects from the old pages to the new pages. If your not sure what kind of tax form this is (…joke) then read up on 301’s or contact us. You’re basically telling Google and other search engines (when you launch your new site) that this old page called “/pagename12.html” is now called and located at “/stainless-steel-sinks.php”. It’s like USPS address forwarding for your regular mail, but for search engines. And using this analogy, if you don’t do it Google and other search engines won’t know where to forward the old mail to. Eventually they will think you died and went to heaven, so you would be starting over. Building creditability to all your website pages – all over again. Ugh. I know, it sucks and I see it happen all the time. (..cough…traditional ad agencies trying to be a professional SEO web development agency….cough)
12. Social Networking – No kids, it is not for everyone. Remember that treadmill machine you bought that you no longer use? Yeah, social networks need this kind of time ongoing to see results too. You need to be committed, have specific goals and be aware on how to track them as conversions for your efforts. If your customers click to your Twitter page and see that you have 31 followers and have not updated it in 4-1/2 weeks they may equate the lack of social marketing efforts with a lack of customer service.
So in closing, use these tips to get you on your way. Remember that Rome was not built in a day and didn’t cost $400 either. You need to invest time and money and no matter how you look at it, it comes down to money. Spend it wisely, and please make sure you track your results. Know what is working and what is not working. Dedicate the time and effort, learn from your mistakes and like a treadmill the continuous hard work will yield positive results.