As a small business owner or marketer, keeping up with all the changes in online marketing, SEO, SEM, PPC, and social media can be a daunting task. However if you focus on the most important parts, and hire an expert for the rest, it’s actually pretty straight-forward. Be wary of anyone who says we don’t know how SEO works or it’s just too complicated to explain.
Firstly, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is also referred to as Organic or Free search. These organic search results show up in the center of the Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP). In the graphic on the right, the SEO results are highlighted in blue.
The Paid ads (or Search Engine Marketing (SEM) results) are generally the top 3 on the SERP and the ads along the right-hand side of Google. In the example to the right, the Paid Ads are highlighted in red.
The third type of result is a Google Places listing which is Google’s own version of an online Yellow Pages directory. Those results are highlighted in yellow.
SEO is important to a small business for a few reasons:
- You don’t have to pay per click. Once you’ve optimized your site and got to the top of the search results, you can get a thousand clicks per day and you don’t have to pay a penny extra.
- Studies show only about 25% of people click on Paid Ads. Those numbers are even more skewed when you take into account the searchers level of education. Individuals with a Phd only click on paid ads 1-2% of the time so keep that in mind if your target market is highly educated.
For this article we’re going to focus primarily on local SEO. That means instead of someone typing in “plumbers” they’ll be searching for “plumbers in Pittsburgh.” In the screenshot above, I searched for “plumbers in pittsburgh.”
Google and other search engines are getting much better at determining the location of the web searcher and therefore assume that for a search like “plumber” you are looking for someone local and so will tailor the search results to provide you with local information. Nonetheless, the results page is still going to be much different with and without the city. Currently, about 20% of searches on Google are locally focused and that trend has been increasing over the last few years.
So here’s the 4-step process to search engine optimizing your small business’ website:
- Get in as many online directories as possible. This includes Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Yellowpages.com, Manta.com and others. The more directories you are in, the better off you’ll be. Notice in the screenshot above that both organic results (highlighted in blue) are actually for online directories eLocalPlumbers.com and SuperPages.com. Make sure that each online directory has your correct website address! This is crucial to optimizing your website for search engines. Also, make sure that you take full advantage of the “Description” section of each directory listing focusing on the keyword terms that people looking for your product or service are most likely to use. For instance our plumber wouldn’t say, “Providing plumbing services in and around Pittsburgh for homes and businesses.” Instead he would say, “Bonded and Insured expert residential and commercial plumbers providing plumbing repairs, plumbing service, emergency plumbing, new home plumbing, hot water heater installation, and fixture replacement.” See how I used keywords throughout the description that someone might be searching for?
- Have other people link to your page. – Are you running radio or TV ads also? Have those TV and Radio stations put a link on their website to yours. Every link to your page from another page (with a few exceptions like Twitter) is seen by Google as a vote that your page is useful. The more “votes” you have the better Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines will treat your site and the higher it will be listed.
- Focus your page titles and web page text locally. If you’re a plumber in Pittsburgh, make sure all of your pages list out the cities you serve. Generally this can be done inconspicuously in the footer of a page. Just make sure the text is visible. It’s against Google’s policies to have “hidden text” that is, for instance, white text with a white background so the visitor can’t see it. If you are buying a “pre-made” website for your industry make sure that you have the ability to add information for your local market. Also weave the names of cities into the copy on your site. A great way to do that is with a list of testimonials that include the city and state of each person providing the testimonial.
- Fill-in the blanks with a strong SEM campaign. Since 20% of online searches are locally focused, that means that 80% are not. So don’t ignore those 80%. Target them with SEM which is also called Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or Paid Search. Notice in the screenshot above that without scrolling down the searcher will see 2 organic results, 2 Google Places results and 9 paid results! In other words, SEM is a significant part of your online marketing plan. One of the great benefits of SEM is that you can get tons of information on what terms are most popular in your local area and then use that information to better optimize your site in step #3 and your descriptions in step #1. My recommendation for this is to work with experts like my team.
In reality, to be a guru at online marketing is a lot more complicated than just 4 steps. However, like hiring a lawyer, accountant, or IT specialist, it’s beneficial to understand the basics even though you will most likely want to work with an expert in small business online lead generation.
Now that you understand these 4 points, you can work on optimizing your own web presence very quickly and cheaply with a few of the suggestions above. At the very least, you now know the right questions to ask and what answers to listen for when soliciting the help of an online marketing expert.
If you’re a small business owner or leader and have any questions, feel free to comment on this blog or contact me directly. This is a crucial area of your marketing plan where you are losing leads daily so don’t wait to address it!
To your Search Engine Optimization and Marketing success, Bryan