The question of whether a small business can do its own search engine optimization (SEO) is complicated for a number of reasons.
According to Brent Eaton, managing director of Sales Sauce, there are three essential things to take into consideration when managing your own SEO.
The first is a technical concern: how easily can a search engine index your website? If the site has been designed in accordance with established web standards, this should not be an issue.
Part of this initial step is actually getting your site listed on search engines. While search algorithms are very accomplished at cataloging even the most disorganized of websites, it can never hurt to give them a helping hand with this task. Peter Guiliano, director of PeterGuiliano Local Marketing suggests creating an XML sitemap, adding it to the domain root directory of your website, and then submitting it to search engines (via a Google Webmaster account, for example). This effectively gives the search algorithms a directory of all pages on your site for faster indexing. There are a number of free XML sitemap generators available online, which can be found with a quick Google search.
The second major step with SEO is the content that appears on your website. The text on each page needs to communicate to the search engine what the site is about. One of the best ways of doing this is to establish what the best keywords are for your site and to make sure that you’re using them appropriately in your content.
Sarah Mathiesen, director of Harshmellow explains that the simplest and cheapest way of finding out what they are is with the Google Keyword service.
“Google has a really great keyword tool that just allows you to input your own URL, or your competitor’s, and find which words are directing traffic to those sites,” she says. “That tool also lets you search keywords that you think may be relevant to your website to find out which search terms are most relevant, and how they’re performing.”
The tool can also provide a list of alternative terms that may be relevant to your site.
Once you have an idea of the keywords you need to use, incorporate them into the site’s copy. Mathiesen suggests picking about 20 and then repeating them a couple of times each throughout your homepage and secondary pages.
If you’re concerned that some pages are stronger than others, then Guiliano suggests that you investigate creating a robots.txt file, and submitting that to search engines in much the same way as an XML sitemap. A robots.txt file effectively tells search engines to disregard certain pages on your site in favor of other, more relevant ones, meaning that your search results will only be based upon the best parts of your site.
“Let’s say there are five good pages and five weak pages. If you don’t put in a robots.txt file, Google looks at the ten pages, and sees half of them are good, so you’re only getting 50% value from that visit from Google,” explains Guiliano. “But if you tell it not to go to those five weak pages, and it only indexes the rest, then as far as Google’s concerned, all of your sites are worth reading.”
As mentioned in a recent Nett article, it can also work wonders if your domain name correlates to one of your core keywords. Regardless of whether or not you’ve secured a domain name that is both keyword-rich and relevant to your business, you can use the same tactic with the titles of your categories.
“Rather than having pages called ‘about us’ or ‘our products’, what you should do is use what you specialize in,” suggests Sales Sauce’s Eaton. “A law firm might have ‘commercial law’ and ‘family law’ as categories. It’s all about usability. If I do a search for family law, and the site that comes up when I click on it, I want to see family law straight in the navigation. I don’t want to have to search for it within the website.”
The third, and possibly most important aspect of doing your own SEO, is convincing search engines that your site is relevant to visitors’ search phrases. Keywords suggest the relevance of a page, but search engines count the number of incoming links to your site as a way of confirming that relevance.
“Link building or ‘off page’ SEO is critical to getting on the first page of Google, says Eaton. “Some even say that 80% of your success will be directly due to link building.”
Guiliano has a number of methods to help sites build links.
“If you have a Local Business – one that gets its customers and clients from a particular area (no matter how big it is) and especially if you have a physical location – it’s really important to register with as many free online directories as possible,” he explains.
This involves conducting a search for your target keywords on major search engines and noting which directories list among the first few pages of results.
“The directories that show up there are obviously the ones that [search engines] think are good for your search term,” says Guiliani.
Not all link building has to be incoming, however.
“Google seems to reward your interest in high-quality sites that are related to your field of business,” explains Guiliani. “If you link out to other high-quality keyword-related sites, Google sees that you are helping your visitors learn more about your industry.”
So it’s relatively simple to optimize your own site, provided you know how to access the source code, and have a reasonably good idea of what keywords your target market is using to find businesses like yours.
But as Brent Eaton of Sales Sauce explains, the effectiveness of this kind of effort depends on two things: how competitive the keywords are for the business’s industry, and how much time and in-house resources a business can afford to dedicate to SEO every month.
“Firstly, how competitive is the industry or the keywords that you’re trying to compete for online? Secondly, how much time and resources can you dedicate to SEO every month?
“The more competitive your industry is, the more time you’ll need to spend keeping your SEO competitive,” says Eaton. “I found one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is that they are very time-poor. With all the government compliance, managing staff, cash flow management, and lead generation, the small business owner simply does not have the time to manage SEO themselves.”
Eaton suggests that a best practice approach is for businesses to learn how to research keywords and Copywrite for SEO, but have a professional complete the work and manage the ongoing link building.
“It is critical for the business owner to have an understanding of SEO and more importantly know exactly what keywords/phrases they want to rank for and should be ranking for,” he says. “However, unless the small business is a purely online business or one that has minimal online competition, then doing the work themselves simply doesn’t make sense.”
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