Search Engine Optimization (SEO) requires a special skill-set. However, some freelancers and small businesses simply cannot afford to hire an SEO Professional or Company. In most cases, if you are tight on money you are probably tight on your time! If you Google SEO, you will find there is a sea of information out there. The comprehensive SEO process can be completely overwhelming to the Do-It-Yourself small business owner.
Professional SEO involves dozens of factors, strategies and techniques, that are applied differently based on business goals, the state of your current website, and the competitive landscape to name just a few. My advice to the DIY small business owner with limited time and money is to ‘Keep It Simple.’ Focus on the most important things that you have the most control over with an emphasis on efficient time usage. But what are those things?
CHOOSE YOUR KEYWORDS WISELY: Choosing the keywords to target can be a subject in itself. I can show you all kinds of keywords tools, reports and strategies and talk about ‘long-tail keywords’, etc. But for a small DIY business owner, especially one that is serving a local market, a simple, common sense approach will suffice. Put yourself in your ideal, qualified customer’s shoes and think what the majority of them will most likely search for if they were looking for your product or service. If you are a wedding planner in Seattle, obviously you want to rank high for Seattle Wedding Planner(s). Keep in mind the broader or more general the keyword, the more competition and therefore the harder it is going to be to rank high. So you wouldn’t necessarily want to say your primary keywords are Weddings or Wedding Planner or Seattle Wedding as the former is going to compete with all geographic regions and the latter is going to compete with wedding related services like wedding photography. If you are really unsure which of your identified keywords are the most popular, I recommend using the Google Keyword Tool to compare search traffic. There can be other conisiderations when selecting keywords including the selection and implementation of secondary keywords. This is one of the values of a Professional SEO. They can accurately identify the best primary and secondary keywords for your business and take out any of the guess work.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT NAME: An important decision is whether you choose a business and/or domain name that include one or more of your primary keywords versus a name that is catchy for branding purposes. For example, Amazon chose the name Amazon.com instead of Books.com or BuyBooks.com. If you are going for a nationally or world-wide recognized brand-name, branding is probably going to be more important than keywords in your name, especially if you are a well funded start-up that can purchase a lot of advertising. However if you are a small local business, calling your company Signs of Seattle as opposed to Zignage.com will probably provide more benefit.
Most websites linking to you will use your business name as the link text. Having your keywords in the link text that sites use to link to you is a ranking factor. In addition, although it has become less important as before, Google still factors in whether or not the keyword(s) are in your URL. If your domain name does not have your keywords in it, you can use page filenames that contain your keywords on any page, except the home page. This is why I recommend having a primary keyword in your domain name. Signs of Seattle with the domain name signsofseattle.com not only will they have their keywords (signs amp; seattle) in the inbound link text on other sites, but Google also notices the keyword in the URL of the most important page on the site, the home page. Search for any brand name on Google and the official brand website comes up #1 as it is easy for Google to pick out the official site, both the name of the business/site and the domain name is the keyword(s)!
If you already selected your domain name, in some cases it may still make sense to retain your brand domain name and still have a keyword domain for SEO purposes. A knowledgeable SEO can analyze your particular situation, including your website and the competitive landscape, to determine if it would be worthwhile. If you are just starting out, picking the right business name and associated domain name, one that contains one or more of your primary keywords, is not a silver bullet, but in some cases it is an easy tactic to give you an edge over your local competitors. And best of all, this tactic takes very little of your time. In a way, this strategy reminds me of when businesses choose names starting with A1 or AAA so that they will be listed first in the Yellow Pages.
OPTIMIZING YOUR HOME PAGE CONTENT: To coin the phrase from the late 90’s when web development was relatively new, “Content is King.” And with Google’s latest changes to their ranking method (termed ‘Panda’) this is becoming ever more important. Your home page carries more weight with Google than any of your other pages. While it is important to have a website with lots of good content spanning multiple pages, you really need to make optimizing your Home Page your #1 priority and worry about the other pages when you have the spare time later.
For many small businesses, you could probably describe your entire service or product offering adequately on your home page without making the page too long! Choose your page title wisely and make your content informative but concise with a moderate sprinkling of keywords emphasized in the right places. Ask yourself, does my home page look professional and respectable? Does my business and the information I’m presenting look trustworthy? Some people also choose to continually make changes in hopes of improving their rank. While Google prefers ‘fresher’ content, be careful you don’t ‘over do it’ (see ‘NEGATIVE On-Page factors’ in the reference page below) as your changes can sometimes negatively effect your rank as much as improve it. This is probably the most important value of a Professional SEO, they already know what works and what doesn’t.
To understand what is most important regarding the content of your home page, I recommend using the list on this page as a reference:
Google Ranking Factors – This page can be overwhelming. I recommend you scroll down to the section “1. Alleged POSITIVE ON-Page SEO Google Ranking Factors” and focus on the first 20 items.
CREATING USEFUL, COMPELLING ORIGINAL CONTENT: Once you have your basic website complete and are happy with your home page, in my opinion it is best to spend your time publishing useful, informative articles that are related to your business. How-To articles or articles that discuss solving a problem are typically most popular and can cause more sites to link to you (aka backlinks.) Be sure to include social bookmarking buttons on your article and if you are using a BLOG, host it on your own website. A Blog hosted on mybusiness.wordpress.com is not going to be as beneficial to your website’s ranking as a Blog hosted onwww.mybusiness.com/blog. Most Web Developers and some SEO Pros can assist you with setting up the Blog on your own website.
There are many many other things you can do to improve your website’s search ranking and it can be a part-time job in itself for you to stay on top of all of them, especially if you have a large website. This is why SEO is a profession in itself. But if you can’t afford to pay someone to get maximum results using a comprehensive approach, doing these things I’ve outlined will give you a good start. If you feel you have already done these things well and you are still looking to move above your competitors, then now is the time to think about allocating some of your budget to hire an SEO Professional or Web Consultant so that you can focus on the core activity of running your business.
ONE LAST WORD: One thing is certain — there will always be change. Good SEO Pros stay on top of all the changes and immediately adjust their techniques to account for those changes. SEO professionals that do not adapt quickly may still be using ‘old’ techniques that may have worked very well in the past but no longer work as well and maybe even negatively affect your ranking. Rand Fishkin of the local company SEOMoz put together a video with a high-level overview of the implications of Google’s Panda update. Both the techie and non-techie may find this video interesting as it illustrates how understanding the changes is so important.
WATCH: How Google’s Panda Update Changed SEO Best Practices Forever
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