All companies want to show up at the top of the list whenever someone searches for their type of business. SEO seeks to accomplish this goal. It involves a thoughtful approach to the use of words in your website’s content and “meta tags” (code elements read by search engines). The result is higher and more visible ranking for your site in the unpaid or “organic” search results on search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo — and more visitors to your site. We’ll cover paid search in the next post.
Some key SEO considerations:
- What words do your target customers use to search online for a business like yours? To ensure that potential customers find your site in their search results, it’s important to include words that customers are likely to use. Internet users tend to use two or more keywords or a key phrase to get more specific results. For example, the search results for the keyword “jewelry” contain sites that sell a wide variety of jewelry, whereas the key phrase “lampwork jewelry” narrows the results. Adding a location, such as “lampwork jewelry pittsburgh,” narrows them further. You can drive more targeted traffic to your site if you optimize your content for similarly specific terms. Brainstorm a list or, better yet, talk to customers to see which words are most relevant. Think about different categories, such as your type of business, where your customers are located, the products and services you offer, the type of problem a customer might want you to solve, etc.
- How visible is your business when you search those keywords?Now you can test the list of keywords you think might be relevant by searching for them yourself. If your website is new, you probably won’t find your website in the first couple of pages of search results. Search engines determine a site’s relevance by sending out programs called “spiders” that read text on websites and follow its links to other websites. If no site is linking to yours, the search engine will not know about your website unless it knows the exact URL (website address). Search engines factor a website’s content, meta tags, and inbound links to determine a website’s position in a search result.
- Which businesses like yours do SEO well? You can gain a deeper understanding of the online marketplace by looking at successful businesses located near you or those selling related services. Try to get ideas by checking how well their sites appear in search results and how they optimize their content. Then, if they aren’t a direct competitor, you might offer to take them to lunch in exchange for some advice.
Getting Started with Optimizing Your Business Website for Search Results
At this point, you should have an idea of which keywords your customers may use to find your business and how visible your website currently is on search engines. With this baseline established, let’s discuss the first steps toward search engine optimization.
- Update your site to include keywords in its text and meta tags. Refer to your list of target keywords and make sure your website contains these words in a natural, readable way. Additionally, websites have meta tags that search engines use to determine what your website is about. Because your website’s title and meta description are visible on a search result page, it is important to use your website building software to define tags with the right information to help bring customers to your site.
- Network your site. To help search engines find your site more easily, consider listing your website on directories, which can help increase the number of links to your site. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, there are plenty of wedding resource sites you can contact regarding linking to your site. Building up links from a network of sites helped Ken Wolfson of Wolfson Lofts in Las Vegas get more website visits. “Most of my business comes from different advertising portals on the internet,” he explains. “People looking for vacation rentals find my listing, then check out the website.” A win-win SEO approach is to partner with bloggers and other businesses and link to each other’s sites.
- Repeat. If you want your site to sustain or even improve its placement in organic search results, you should plan to keep testing ways to expand the number of sites that link to yours and, of course, refine the keywords you use. We heard this from Astrid Gaiser of Astrid Gaiser Garden Design. “The most important part of a website is the keywords. I’m always checking and adjusting my keywords so more people can find me on the internet. Then, the information and pictures on my website convince them to hire me.”
As you may sense, improving the visibility of your business in search engines’ “unpaid” results takes time. It may be a few weeks or months before you see your changes reflected in search results. But working to put — and keep — your site at the top of search results is a good investment.
Here are some additional resources that describe our best SEO practices and provide tools to help you get started:
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