Let’s begin by covering on-site optimization. Remember, these include things you and/or your web designer can do when developing or updating your website. Here are three general rules to keep in mind.
Rule #1: Begin with a content-rich website. Many small business owners mistakenly believe that sparse content is best for websites. They may even get advice from designers who think their attractive graphics are far more important than the words, and thus advise their clients to minimize text.
But that’s not how search engines see things, and it isn’t really what people want, either. Remember, the Internet is the “information highway,” and people come there to get detailed information–not just generalities or pictures.
Invest in good content to differentiate your business and give people reasons to do business with you. Good content helps sell people on you–and it’s also what search engines look for. Of course, it must be easy for people to browse and read, too. That’s where a good web designer really earns his/her pay.
Rule #2: Optimize the pages. There are a variety of techniques that should be used when building and optimizing a website. Unfortunately, many web designers don’t know much about on-page SEO, and I have seen plenty of sites that have absolutely nothing a search engine can grab onto.
Keep in mind that many of these steps take expertise and involve extra time. Assuming your web designer knows how, you should be prepared to budget more for a site that includes these steps. A well optimized site may also involve advanced keyword research and SEO copy writing–additional skills that are worth paying for.
Rule #3: Refresh your content. Once the site is built, search engines look for periodic changes as a sign that content is updated and relevant. Even small changes in headlines and body copy can satisfy this requirement, and the cost can be minimal. Fresh content is one of the best investments in keeping your site higher in the search rankings. And, given that few of your competitors probably do it, site updates may give you a competitive advantage.
Off-Site SEO: Creating Links that Point to Your Website
While search engines are definitely interested in what’s on your website, they are even more interested in what the rest of the cyber universe thinks of your site. Search engines gauge how relevant your site is by the number and nature of the links that point to your site.
Think of it as the difference between you saying how good you are vs. others saying how good you are. Which source is more credible? That’s why search engines place greater emphasis on links than they do on your website. But, you may wonder, how are those external links created?
The simple answer is that anything that includes your full domain name (or a page on your site) creates a hyperlink that, if followed, will lead to your site. (See list of ways to create “backlinks” at right.)
Important: Be sure that any linking opportunities are properly tagged with your keywords, including a live hyperlink to your website.
How to Select the Right SEO Provider
If you want to embrace SEO as an online marketing strategy, it’s important to make sure you select the right provider from the very start–when you have your website designed. To select a good provider, ask your web designer about on-page SEO, what he/she can do to optimize your site, and what it will add to the cost.
For the most honest results, don’t ask if your designer does X or Y. Most likely he/she will say, “Oh yes, I do that.” A better strategy is to simply say, “Tell me about the specific steps you might take when building a website that will help with search engine optimization.” Then compare his/her answers to the 10 actions listed in the On-Page SEO section of this guide. If you don’t hear most or all of these, then your prospective provider is probably not qualified to help you with SEO.
Ongoing SEO, particularly by off-site providers, can be costly for a small business. Make sure you give thought to the cost vs. the return on that investment. It’s typical for a local business to pay $150-$350 or more per month to maintain good search page position.
And, watch out for scams. SEO providers often promise results that don’t materialize. Or, they ask a significant fee up front to optimize your website content-often more than the cost of a new site. Another issue is “black hat” providers who attempt to temporarily game the system with techniques that Google does not approve of. Once discovered, Google will penalize the site and remove it from search results.
Five Key Takeaways from this Guide
No doubt you’ve learned something from reading this guide. But, it’s also probable you’re not sure what’s most important and what to remember. So, following are key takeaways I recommend you note or review-things that are most important to you as a local business owner who wants more local traffic from search.
- Hire the right web designer. Before selecting a web designer, ask him/her specific questions about how he/she can help optimize your site. Compare the answers to our list of 10 actions.
- Invest in good content. This means both quality and quantity, since content (not images) is what search engines look for.
- Optimize your website. All things being equal, well-optimized sites have a higher chance of landing on page 1 of Google than those that are not optimized for search.
- Update your website periodically. Google assigns a higher value to sites that show continuing evidence of fresh, relevant content being added. Stale sites slowly sink to the bottom of search results.
- Use off-site SEO to build links that point to your website. Even on a small budget, you can improve your site’s search rankings through blogging, videos, articles, social media, directories and other actions that are within your grasp.
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