Search Engine Optimization or “SEO” is the practice of optimizing your Web content for ideal visibility within search engines. While SEO is different from other outbound marketing strategies, the goal is still the same – increase traffic, prospects and sales to your Website. SEO is an important aspect of doing business online — you really can’t leave on a to-do list anymore.
Have you struggled to show up in the search engines? This comprehensive guide will give you 17 bulletproof ideas to establish your SEO strategy, get better rankings and attract more visitors to your Website.
There’s no question about it — generating traffic to your website is important for growing your business. It is so important in fact that sometimes, we take it for granted and neglect to optimize it to ensure we’re only getting the best, qualified inbound traffic. Admittedly, traffic will only get you so much business. Doing business online also involves quality content creation, SEO, lead capture, nurture and the ability to close those leads. This entry is about the optimization of your website so you can attract more traffic, more leads and more customers.
I must warn you though, good SEO is not an easy or quick thing to implement. It requires patience and careful modification to your website and a willingness to try new things. This entry will be a lengthy (and relatively geeky) because I want to have a thorough guide you can refer to when optimizing your site. I’ll prioritize this post with the most relevant items first, and other “nice to haves” toward the bottom.
17 SEO Tips for Small Businesses & Entrepreneurs
Short but Effective Titles
Top search engines rank results for the words shown in their title tag. The title is often referred to as the most important element of SEO, but that’s only true if it matches the content. A good title should contain your item of interest, followed by your website or business name, making sure it is fewer than 10 words.
Keyword Selection & Density
Selecting the right keywords for your website is an important part of the SEO process. The most successful keywords are two to four word phrases that people might realistically type into a search engine. Though it should not be a huge concern, the ideal keyword density is about 7% throughout your content. Simply write your content and include keywords meant for human consumption. Keywords are important because they will dictate the overall focus of the page itself.
Detailed Meta Description Tags
While ‘Meta Keyword’ tags are a topic of debate in the SEO world, what has remained is the frequent use of something called a “Meta Description” tag. This tag should contain an overview of what the visitor will experience on your specific page. This tag should be no longer than a couple of sentences. Omitting the “Meta Description” tag will result in the search engine quoting unintended parts of the page in the search engine results page.
Proper Header Tags
Within your page, you should limit your use of fake-headers by changing the fonts. Instead, choose header tags (<h1> to <h6>). These tags carry more weight for the content within them. Ideally, there should be only one <h1> tag, two <h2> tags and so on. These tags are intended to act as headlines throughout your page. To customize these tags, use CSS to format their display until you are happy with the look of the page. (You can learn more about CSS from w3schools free; it’s ideal for formatting Web content.)
Clean, Human-Readable Addresses
By using a human-readable address (URL), dubbed “Search Engine Friendly URLs,” you will gain additional visibility and ranking when the keywords in the address match the search phrase. Generally, the shorter and simpler the URL, the better it is. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket and load up a URL with keywords – there is little benefit in the long-term. Modern website software can auto-generate these clean URLs for you without a big hassle.
Content Freshness & Age
You wouldn’t turn on the TV if it was just the same old programming, would you? Search engines don’t really care for websites that aren’t frequently updated with fresh content. Publishing unique and interesting content is a great way to rank your site well. Old content isn’t bad, but keep making additions so that search engines know to keep coming back. As an added benefit, search engines frequently test fresh content on the first page of results and get you more traffic. To keep your content fresh, consider implementing a blog or server-generated rotating content, just don’t forget to keep the end-user in mind.
Logical Navigation Structure
Most Web surfers read content in an F-shaped format, left to right. It’s important to consider linking your website content in order of importance from left-to-right and top-to-bottom. Ideally, you want to have less than 9 links — saving less important links for the bottom of your pages. Keep your navigation consistent and well organized this will help when search engines want to look for what to index as they crawl your website.
Use of ALT text on Images
ALT or (Alternate) attribute tags on images make your website more accessible and help search engines index your images. While image searches usually result in people hotlinking your images, it’s also a great way for users to engage with your content. It’s a good idea to ensure the text is readable if the image is never loaded, by including a descriptor like: “This is a picture of John Doe climbing Mt. Everest.”
Nofollow usage for PageRank Sculpting
Attracting and Building Powerful Backlinks
It’s good practice to get more links for your website out there – but don’t pay for it. Paying for backlinks is a short-term solution when you need a long-term strategy. You can earn backlinks by producing great content, people will share it naturally. Try to engage in real conversation with other content producers out there and ask if they could link to you. Remember, consider the value to their audience in linking, too.
Deep Linking Strategy
The primary goal in establishing backlinks should be to link back to your homepage. However, it is important to consider the value in linking to different pages throughout your website. These links are known as Deep links and give search engines insight into which parts of your site carry more weight than other less-linked areas.
Preventing the Indexing of Duplicate & Premium Content
Search engines have a tendency to index duplicate content and penalize the site itself for it. Also, a concern among marketers is the availability of their premium content, like PDF files, being indexed. This can be solved by using a robots.txt file, which will instruct the search engines to exclude specific directories or filetypes. However, note that a robots.txt file itself is public, so consider that someone even marginally determined could see what you’re trying to restrict. To limit duplicate content from your CMS like Joomla or WordPress, do a quick Google search – there are plenty of suggested robots.txt templates for you to use. Google has a nifty service which lets you test and confirm the implementation of your robots.txt, too.
Proper Use of Ordered and Unordered Lists
While not of major importance, listing items with the appropriate ordered or unordered lists instructs search engines to take each item and treat it as a related asset. By properly displaying items in a list format, you will also promote healthy Web standards. Not only will it look better, it’ll behave like a list should when you want to add or remove items.
Are you still using a Meta Refresh redirect? No, no no… Use a proper server redirect known as a 301 Redirect. These redirects instruct search engines to keep indexing the content, update the URL to the new one and pass along any relevance to the new URL. This is important if you’re switching to a new domain, changing folders of a page or if you want to send visitors along to a new Web address. Alternatively, using a 302 Redirect is a temporary redirect and should be used when you want to keep the original URL relevant regardless of where you’re redirecting.
Website Performance Matters
I like to say, “A website is only as good as how quickly it loads for visitors.” This is also true for search engines – they love to index content that loads quickly and will tend to crawl your website at very fast rates if your server can support it. Be sure to lean your website down by eliminating bulky graphics and implementing high-performance Web caching techniques. To get insight on your website performance, check out this free tool made by Yahoo!; it makes optimizing your site performance a simple process. (Google has a similar tool called Page Speed, but is slightly more technical to use.)
CMS Platforms & SEO
Many CMS platforms like WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal (among others) all have plugins or tutorials on how to best optimize your content for search engine purposes. They all function in similar ways – trim the junk and auto-generate Meta tags, define canonical URLs, include Meta Robots data and so forth. Using a simple Google search of your platform and “SEO” will significantly help you with a free or inexpensive solution.
What Hurts SEO?
It’s important to be aware of what hurts SEO. For one, using “blog blasting” or other Free-For-All link services are poison for your reputation – don’t use them. As I mentioned earlier, don’t purchase backlinks- search engines are known to blacklist entire networks of purchased backlinks. Also, doing anything deceptive or tricky (Black Hat) in anyway will result in your site becoming penalized, or worse, banned from the search engines entirely. Having pages with weak or minimal amounts of content also hurts the overall equity and value of the website. Every page should be valuable and interesting to the visitors who see it. We’ve also learned (from experience in the late 90’s) that keyword stuffing doesn’t help either – keep it legit and real and you’ll get real results.
Along with these tips, I need to explain why SEO, is necessary and why search engines make it difficult to rank number one: The goal of a search engine is to provide relevant results, all the time. If every website utilized proper SEO, the algorithms would need to be tweaked quite a bit to account for many weak sites out there. In the end, the goal of SEO is to make the visitors happy – not necessarily the website creator. It’s OK if you can’t hit the number one spot. If you’re in the top five for a number of search terms, that will yield a higher pay off than a number one spot for one term.
I can’t emphasize enough that you can actually improve your own SEO with these pointers for free. You don’t have to consult with a SEO firm if you don’t want to. The main benefit SEO firms provide is their expertise at using a handful of tools to make educated decisions. I asked a reputable search engine optimization consultant, Chuck Reynolds, about what he recommends when choosing a SEO firm. He advises, “Research them a lot – from checking their Twitter, blog, website and recommendations from their clients. Check your relevant business community for recommendations and they will weed out the snake oil SEOs. [A lot of SEO firms] out there blog the same stuff over and over – it doesn’t make them an SEO if they don’t deliver results.”
My list of tips and pointers on SEO are intended to be a helpful and thorough guide for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Search engine optimization is only one element of many in the process of doing successful business online. All the SEO and traffic in the world won’t give you a dime of business if you can’t follow up with them. Using a powerful email marketing solution, you can capitalize on your traffic and SEO relevance quite easily.
If you have questions on SEO, don’t hesitate to ask it in the comments. You have an entire small business marketing team standing by to help. If you found this helpful, why not go ahead and share it?
[Photo credits: rkimpeljr, Marshall Astor, Cambodia4Kids, Danny Sullivan, Editor B, Yomi955, Rosenfeld Media, Andrew Currie, essepuntato, mahalie, Kunstee, Joel Telling, Jayel Aheram, Phillie Casablanca, YsteJam Photography, koka sexton, tom.arthur on Flickr, CC license]