If you are doing business online, blogging or even just “surfin’ the net”, then you will have heard the term SEO, which of course stands for Search Engine Optimisation. If you’re like most people, you will be familiar with the term, will know that there are a lot of people selling SEO services but you probably don’t really understand what it is or how it works.
I’ve had numerous conversations over the past month with very smart, savvy people doing business online and a lot of them just don’t understand how SEO works and how it can help them win more business online.
The purpose of this post, is to explain in simple, non-geek language, how to win more business online using SEO to help potential customers find you.
Winning business online takes more than a good website
You’ve bought your domain name and developed your website but you need more than that. It takes a few other things to come together:
- The people searching for services you offer, need to be able to find you on Google, Yahoo, Bing etc.
- When your website is found by prospects, it needs to “speak to their pain” or answer their burning questions
- Your website needs to encourage visitors to take action – e.g. call for appointment, buy a product
- You need to capture visitor information and then communicate with them regularly to build loyalty
- Ideally you want visitors to return to your site and refer other people too
That’s all common sense but the big question is how to achieve that?
Three groups of activities to get business online
- You have to have something to sell that people are willing to pay for. To test this, you need to do some research to find out how many people are searching for your products / services and the value of those visitors to your business.
- Your website needs to be designed and coded correctly so that visitors can find it. This is achieved through good web design & development and on-page optimisation.
- The search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing etc) need to find your website and push it to the top of the search list for the key terms that your prospects / visitors are looking for. This is achieved through off-page optimisation and it takes time because of the complex, secret algorithms the search engines use.
Taking each group separately and what can be done.
Know what people are looking for
Websites and therefore businesses, are found online by people searching for something in a search engine. To make is simple, I’ll just generalise and call all search engines Google. If you want to see a list of all the search engines, then have a look at this Wikipedia list of Search Engines. I’ve never even heard of most of them!
The starting point to an online strategy is knowing the key words or phrases that your prospects are searching for and then working out which of these is most valuable to your business. This is known as your keyword strategy.
The common name used is keywords but that’s a bit misleading because keywords can be a single word or a phrase e.g. “Fitness” or “best fitness clubs for women”. You are trying to find the words or phrases that your potential customers search for. So think like a customer or if you’re too close to your own business, ask other people what terms they’d search for. To work out your keywords, you need to do some research. This includes researching your competitors, finding out how many people are searching for the keyword and whether it’s worth investing any time or effort in it trying to rank for it.
It can be very easy to get to the top position of Google if your keyword is not very competitive but if it’s not very competitive, chances are not many people are searching for it. If you have an uncommon name like mine for example, it’s easy to get to the top of Google but the only people searching for my name are people who already know me – so not so great for attracting new business.
Warning: Some unscrupulous SEO companies will guarantee to “get you on the first page of Google” in days but often the way they do this is by getting you listed for a keyword that just isn’t worth ranking for. What’s the point of ranking if no one is searching?
In my experience, businesses don’t put enough effort into keyword research which means they don’t know what terms potential customers are searching for or where to focus their efforts to attract more new business. Keyword research is an ongoing activity because the market and traffic changes. You should continually test and refine your keywords based on analytics. If you want to learn more, I recommend you take a look at James Schramko’s fantastic course Traffic Grab. You can even watch the first three modules for free, including one about research.
There are a number of different tools you can use to research keywords – some are free, others paid but even the paid ones often have a trial period. Here’s a list of a few that I use:
- Google Adwords Keyword Tool – free and easy to use. Check keywords by volume, check competitor keywords.
- SEO Quake – analyse keywords and competitor sites
- Wordtracker – find similar search terms to a keyword
- Alexa – similar to SEO Quake
- Market Samurai – the big daddy of research tools. Free 30 day trial then paid
Once you know your keywords, you can then build your on-page and off-page optimisation around these words.
On-page optimisation activities can be managed by the website owner as long as you have access to the website “backend”, CMS / cPanel. A quick side note, don’t ever pay for a website that doesn’t give you this access yourself otherwise you will be paying someone every time you need a small change made!
There are ten main things you can and should do with your site to increase its page position on Google. The good news for you is that if none of these things are currently done for your site, you should see results if you put these in place. The bad news is, it takes time and some of the activities are quite administrative. However, they can be learned quickly and therefore done cost-effectively.
- Get your site indexed by the search engines – Ana Hoffman at Traffic Generation Cafe has a good post on how to do this
- Give all pages and posts Titles, including keywords
- Give all pages and posts a Meta Description because this shows up in the search results
- Use headings on your posts and pages
- Use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for your important text – used for formatting text & can be read by all browsers
- Don’t use too many images and where you do make sure you include Titles, Alt Text & Meta Description
- Make sure your domain name registration is not due to expire soon
- Create regular content using keywords but written in a natural style that makes sense to your visitors
- Make sure your URL structure is correct
- Proof read and get rid of any obvious mistakes or poor layout
Unfortunately, on-page optimisation only accounts for part of the search results. It is very important though and should be done because this is what’s visible to your site visitors and prospects.
The main activities that influence your ranking with the search engines is off-page optimisation. As with on-page optimisation, there are a lot of things you can do off-page and most of these are to do with building authority – what other websites say about your website. The greater your authority, the better your website will rank with the Google.
One of the main influences of authority is the number of other websites linking to your website. This tells Google that your site is respected. The higher ranked the websites linking to you, the better but don’t get hung-up on only linking to top sites – a mix is good. The links coming into your site are known as backlinks (also called inlinks, inbound links, inward links).
There are a lot of ways to get backlinks:
- Submit your site to directories
- Submit articles to article directories
- Submit your blog RSS feed to directories
- Comment on relevant forums & other blogs
- Submit your site to Social Networking 2.0 and bookmarking sites
- Video marketing
- Online Press Release distribution
While all of this can be done yourself, it is very time-consuming and there are literally hundreds of places you can potentially list your site. This is why many businesses choose to outsource the off-page SEO to experts. The SEO experts do this all day every day so they have software, processes and know-how and the good ones keep up to date with the latest methods. Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income has an excellent post called The Backlinking Strategy That Works where he visually explains how all of this works.
If you decide to outsource you need to make sure that “white hat” techniques are used. This means that the company does not submit your site to shady, unethical or bad neighbourhoods and they don’t use techniques that the search engines frown upon. You also need to get a report that tells you what work has been undertaken and what results are achieved.
There is a lot more to know about SEO and this article only scratches the surface. I hope that it has simplified SEO for you and more importantly given you some ideas about what you can do to grow business online.
Have you paid for SEO services? What was the result?
What tools and methods do you use to win business online?
Do you think there are better ways to win business online?