Yes, you do need to think about SEO
Posted July 11, 2011on:
Depending who you talk to, search engine optimization is either the central component of any online activity, a complete scam and waste of time and energy, or something in between. As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Here’s what small businesses should keep in mind as they’re trying to get the most out of their online activities.
What do I have to do?
While it’s easy to get oversold on the potential of SEO, anyone creating web pages for their business should understand some SEO basics. Here are some of the basics, with links for more detailed information:
- Write original, informative content. This is the single biggest component of good SEO – and of course, it’s an important part of having a great web site that your customers will value.
- Have most of your content as text, not Flash or images.
- Update your content sometimes. This includes both adding extra pages and updating existing pages.
- Make sure your pages are easy for search engines to crawl and read. Google and others use software programs called “bots” that automatically follow the links on your site to decide what it’s about and index the content. If you have errors on your pages, or pages that are hard to get to, the bots can be confused and your site may not rank well.
- Make sure all the links on your site work, and that there are text links to all of your pages (not just images)
- Include meta tags – but don’t make this mistake of thinking that’s all you have to do for great SEO results. It’s not hard to do, even if you’re not a web expert.
- Do not try to trick the search engines. Old-school tricks like adding tons of keywords in white text on a white background are extremely risky and likely to get your site dropped from results.
- Know what your keywords are. “Keywords” are the words and phrases that searchers use when they’re trying to find you. Decide what keywords you want to rank for, then make sure you have a page on your site dedicated to each one.
- Get links. One of the most significant ways that Google decides how to rank your web site is the number, type, and quality of links from other places on the web to your site. There are many ways you can get “backlinks,” as they’re called: simple directory submission, link exchanges, business associations, blogging, and many more. But the most basic is simply to ask: ask customers, vendors, and partners that you deal with regularly if they’ll link to your site. It doesn’t cost them anything, after all.
Of course there is much more to SEO than these basics – but you don’t have to do everything at once. Start with these foundations and you’ll be on your way to good overall SEO practices.
Is it worthwhile?
While it’s true that Google and other search engines will probably find your site regardless of your SEO skills, that doesn’t mean your site will be terribly visible in their results. If your business is Mahoney’s Widgets, chances are good that your site will be listed near the top when someone searches for “Mahoney’s Widgets.” But anyone using that exact term to search for you is obviously already familiar with your business.
What about people who search for “widgets in Springfield?” Or “used widgets for sale?” Or “discount widgets with 32-flange couplers?” This is where the concept of keywords comes in. Write content that speaks to your customers’ needs, in your customers’ language, and you’ll find that your site can bring in new prospects that you wouldn’t have reached otherwise. That’s the real value of SEO.
Do you need help?
As described above, there are plenty of steps you can take towards getting good SEO results that don’t require any special expertise. If your market is particularly competitive for search results, or if you’ve covered the basics and now you want to step up your game, you may want to hire an SEO consultant.
Many SEO consultants pitch the magic of being on the first page of Google’s results, and how it can drive streams of free traffic to your door. While great search results are great to have, it’s important to be realistic: great rankings are always beneficial – but they’re unlikely to live up to the expectations some of these consultants will describe.
Be very, very skeptical of any so-called SEO expert who promises specific results. “Guaranteed first page rank” is meaningless, as Google says themselves. There’s also no “priority submission” and little to no benefit to being listed in hundreds of search engines – almost all traffic is concentrated in Google, Yahoo, Bing, and a handful of others.
If you decide you want professional help, make sure you use your standard good business practices when hiring: research multiple providers, get and check references, don’t commit to huge investments until you see results, and hold them accountable to specific milestones and activities.
What’s your take on SEO? Let us know below.
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