The boiler has broken down. You need someone to repair it ASAP. What do you do? You call a plumber. But where do you get the number? You find it on the internet. But how? You type “plumber Milton Keynes” (providing you live there, of course) into Google or Yahoo! and see what comes up. You then spend a few minutes perusing the top five or ten results. If it’s a particularly cold day then you probably call the first number you can find from the first name in the list.
And so SEO has done its job – it’s brought you, the customer, to the business which it serves.
Put simply, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a strategy for improving a website’s position in search engine results pages when certain keywords are entered. It’s how the plumber won your business. They had probably invested a lot of time ensuring that their website appeared at or near the top of the results pages when the search term “plumber Milton Keynes” was entered. Depending on the resources available to them, they may have even hired an SEO ‘guru’ to do it for them. Larger business will often employ their own team of SEO specialists who spend their days trying achieve that elusive No.1 spot in the Google rankings (which, by the way, is never guaranteed).
Of course, for small businesses this isn’t really an option. The cash flow just doesn’t permit it. And yet a good SEO strategy remains vitally important: if your website isn’t featuring in those first few pages then you’re not going to receive a great deal of traffic, and you’re unlikely to gain many new customers. Worse, you’ll probably be losing out to a competitor who does have an effective SEO plan in place.
So, short of hiring one or two search engine specialists, what exactly can you do to compete? The answer is that nobody really knows, because it’s not entirely clear how the search engines determine which results to show and in what order. However there are a few known SEO techniques that can help, some of which don’t cost a penny. Put them into practice and you should start to see some results – a higher position in the rankings, more visitors to your website and more custom for your business.
1. Build links
Any SEO expert will tell you that link building is one of the most important aspects of a successful SEO strategy. The more links you have going to and from your website, the more likely it is to achieve a higher ranking. This is because Google and other search engines determine your website to be more authoritative and more trustworthy if there are other sites linking to it (and if you are linking away to other quality sites).
Links that direct browsers to your website are known as inbound links. Of course it’s quite difficult to get these on domains managed by people other than yourself. The best place to start is with the directories – you can add your company details to a number of general directories (such as Google or Yell), and you can also have your business listed on those that are specific to your trade or the industry you work in. This will often involve a listing fee, but the price you pay is far outweighed by the amount of revenue that can be generated from new customers (who are either immediately redirected to your website or drawn to it later on; thanks to an improved results page ranking).
TIP: Only list your company with directories that are relevant to your business or which cover a wide range of industries (First Directory, for example). Having your engineering firm listed on a directory for florists is not likely to pay dividends.
Another way of creating inbound links is through blogs (like this one) and social media channels. You can find out more about this in Tip Number 3.
Links that direct browsers away from your website are known as outbound links. These also help to improve your standing with the search engines, though the overall effect on your position in the rankings depends on how important the sites you are linking to are deemed to be by the likes of Google and Yahoo! It’s also important to note that any broken links will actually have an adverse effect on your position (because they make your website less trustworthy). Make sure you go through your website and check that they are all working.
2. Regularly update your website with fresh content
In the world of SEO, content is king. Google, Bing, Yahoo! and all the other search engines love it. They adore it. They worship it. Indeed, they give due prominence to any website with a lot of it. But there’s a catch: the content needs to be fresh, original and engaging. If not, the relationship will soon turn sour, and before long you’ll find yourself slipping down those rankings.
One of the most important things is to ensure your content includes keywords that will be picked up upon by the search engines when a search term is entered by the browser. Remember that plumber? He or she probably had “Plumber in Milton Keynes” written several times on his or her website. They may have even included it in page titles, subheadings or metatags. But what they certainly will not have done is have used the phrase “Plumber in Milton Keynes” over and over again. This is more than just frowned upon by Google et al – it’s actually punished. Your website will be pushed way down the rankings.
Another thing the search engines hate is copied content, so don’t be tempted to use somebody else’s work. Not only is this unethical and in some cases illegal, it’s also completely counter-productive. Spend some time writing new articles, blog posts or just general information about your products or services. And if you don’t have anything new to say then try recycling some old content. Re-word paragraphs, change the structure and add new photos – it all helps to freshen up your website. Do this on a regular basis and your position in the results pages should improve.
Don’t Force It
Always keep in mind who you are creating content for. It’s all well and good trying to appease the mighty search engines with paragraph upon paragraph of keyword-driven copy, but never lose sight of the people who really matter: your customers. Content that appears forced isn’t likely to impress or engage them, which defeats the object of bringing them to your website in the first place. Think carefully about what you upload and the way in which it is presented and you’ll soon be converting browsers into buyers.