Last updated on April 26th, 2019. Posted in Web Design For Business.
As a small business owner, creator, or self-marketer, I'm sure you've heard about the importance of SEO. But it seems like somewhat of a mystical art, doesn't it? After all, how come some websites consistently appear at the top of search engine rankings while others don't? And how can you get your website to start showing up in Google and other search engines, too? In this post, I'd like to give you a run-down on the basics of SEO for small business websites, and show how you can leverage it to get your business to start showing up in the search engines. Let's dive in!
In my post Small Business SEO Checklist, I walk you through a handful of key strategies that you can make use of to help you and your small business to leverage SEO. But without a clear understanding of SEO, what it is (and isn't) and how search engines work, then even your best efforts may fall flat. So here, I want to run you through some critical fundamentals.
To begin, it goes without saying that search is huge, SEO is huge, and learning how to use it for your small business website is also huge. Interestingly, the two most popular websites on the planet also happen to be the two biggest search engines on the planet: Google and YouTube. Of course, there's also Bing, Yahoo, and others, but these two are the biggies.
And of course, search engines are one of the most powerful and direct ways that we can reach our audiences. So let's clarify things here. As business owners and marketers, we need to recognize that SEO isn't the be-all, end-all. SEO will not make or break your business. Yes, search engines can drive a huge amount of traffic to your site. Yes, SEO is important. But keep in mind that search engines are just one of several lead generation strategies you may choose to make use of in your business. SEO is just a single tool in a workshop full of tools that are available to you and your online venture.
So let's be sure to keep some perspective on it!
I like to clarify and specify SEO as exactly what it is -- a method for generating traffic (or in business terms, leads) -- because I think that a lot of people put their entire focus on it and make it into something bigger than it actually is. I hold the same view with social media. The world's third most popular website is Facebook. So, many of people think social media is also one of these make or break issues with their business...as if getting your business on Twitter and Instagram will guarantee revenue. It won't.
If success were guaranteed by simply using SEO or opening a Facebook page for our business, then we'd all be multi-millionaires! It just ain't that simple. Instead what I'm suggesting is a combination of tools and strategies, and using them together. SEO is just one such strategy. Does that make sense?
So, dialing back, just know that SEO is simply a lead generation method -- one of hopefully several that you'll use in your business. SEO isn't a mystical force. It isn't a silver bullet. It isn't some dark art that's practiced at séances. And it definitely isn't a sure-fire way to instantly fill your bank account. It just doesn't work that way!
Case in point: If SEO is what gets visitors to your site, then what will keep them there? And what will keep them coming back? And of course, what will encourage them to buy whatever you're selling?
Said another way, great SEO just isn't enough. Done well, it can be a great way to drive lots of qualified traffic to your website...but what happens after they arrive? You need something else. Again, SEO is for lead generation...it isn't a sales strategy. Traffic does not equal sales. Once that starts to click, then you begin to understand what SEO is, and what it isn't.
So I hope this is making sense. Now, how does SEO work? Well, it all begins with regular folks just like you and I, and what they type into a simple search field.
Let me ask you, what were the first few things you searched for this morning? For me, I was searching for a coffee maker that had a self-timer, cuz I hate waiting for coffee first thing in the morning (I'm a diva, I know). Then, for whatever reason, I wondered how hard it would be to build my own potato cannon out of plumbing parts. And then I did some research on a few audio mixers I'm thinking about buying. Then, I finally realized that I should probably get some work done!
What were your searches this morning? No matter what they were, understand that on the other side of those searches -- on the websites you and I landed on -- there's a website owner (a person or an entity) with the same goals as you and I. If you were searching for a few products you were interested in (as I was with my coffee maker and audio mixer), did you stay on the site for a while or leave? Why?
The exact same thing happens for our websites, businesses, and creative ventures -- except we're on the other side of the table.
We've gotta give people a reason not only to come and visit, but to stay for a while, maybe come back later, and then ultimately (hopefully) make a purchase.
So all that said, let's take a moment to have a closer look at exactly what SEO is and how search engines work.
So we know that SEO is simply a lead generation method that we want to use in our businesses. So, if I had to define it, I'd say that SEO is the active practice of optimizing a website to become a recognized authority for a specific topic. Not bad, huh?!
Now maybe that's a bit wordy for you, but all I'm saying is that we want the search engines to see our site as a credible authority. But a credible authority for what? For the intersection between two things: The topics that are of interest to our target market, and the kinds of products and services we provide.
And this really starts digging towards some hardcore fundamentals of business, most of which I'll save for another day. But I will say this: The reason why your site may not have any traffic is because maybe no one's searching for hand-embroidered sad circus clown doilies. I mean, maybe there just isn't a market for that product!
If nobody's searching for it, nobody's buying it. And if nobody's buying it, then there ain't no business!
So, a large part of SEO (and business) is narrowing down your focus and becoming a known authority for a specific topic. I'll give you a few examples. Pets are a pretty broad topic. Pet treats is a narrower topic. Pet treat bowls are even narrower still. Dog treat bowls is very specific. Or, consider what I do here with Ten Ton. I teach web design, but that's really, really broad. So instead, I teach web design specifically for business. But not just any kind of business, small business -- cuz I love entrepreneurs and the go-getter lifestyle. And not only that, but I also talk a lot about subjects like graphics, marketing, design, pricing, and other topics as they relate to small, online businesses.
In SEO lingo, this is called the long tail, or long tail keywords. So, not cars, not race cars, but Ferrari race cars. Or even better, Formula 1 Ferrari race cars. Or better still, vintage Formula 1 Ferrari race cars. See what I mean?
Typically, the narrower your focus, the more you can be recognized as an authority on that specific subject...not only by the search engines, but also by your audience -- you can provide for them exactly what they're looking for.
So, SEO isn't about sneaky tricks or hacks to try and fool Google -- that kinda stuff will get your site de-listed faster than you can spell SEO! Instead, SEO really gets into the marketing side (and really, the core business side), of web design. It relates to the positioning of your business, the audience you serve, and the value that you provide.
If you can provide real, quality value, you'll be loved by all. If you can't or won't, then chirp, chirp go the crickets.
So let's jump back to that person sitting at their computer or on their phone, typing some words into a search box. What do they search for? They likely search for a solution to a problem they're having, or for a product they'd like to buy. And that's where your long tail keywords, your narrow focus, comes in. Often times, people are searching for exactly the kind of content you publish -- after all, isn't that how you found me? Isn't that how you found products you might be interested in, or answers to questions you've had?
So that's how it all works. Now speaking of how things work, let's now take a quick look at how search engines work. This'll help further your understanding of how you can leverage SEO for your business.
Okay so we're getting a good sense of how SEO works. Now, what about search engines...how do they work? Well, search engines perform two key tasks. First, they send out automated bots to crawl through the web, following links, and index website content. All of this content that gets crawled through is stored in huge databases.
Second, when someone heads to Google or Bing and searches for something -- again, an answer to a problem they're having, or for a product they want to know more about -- the search engine digs through it's databases to find the most relevant search results and displays them for the person who's performing the search.
A search results page, by the way, is often called a SERP -- Search engine results page.
How search engines determine what's a relevant search result and what isn't is largely a mystery. Search engines like Google are very secretive about the search algorithms they use, and how they rank results. But they do provide us with some useful information and best practices to follow. After all, it's in their best interests to serve up the best search results for their users.
And of course, the vast majority of search traffic that'll wind up on your site will come through Google. That goes without saying. There are others, of course -- Yahoo!, Bing, and others -- but Google is king. Google has something like 90% of the search engine market, while Yahoo! and Bing have less than 3% each.
So that's the gist -- that's how search engines like Google work. And because of this process of search engine bots going out and crawling through the web and creating massive databases from what they find, all of this can take time. Just how much time is something that I'll talk more about in just a second.
Alright, now let's start pulling these ideas and concepts together. While your initial thinking might be, "I want my site to show up in Google," understand that this is the goal of every other website owner. What we need to do is refine that. You can't just "show up" in Google unless you're providing content that matches what people are searching for. And the competition for certain keywords and keyphrases is fierce, which is why it's important to narrow your focus down to a much more targeted audience, which we talked about earlier.
Also know that applying a solid SEO strategy to your business takes time. Because Google and other search engines have to crawl through so much content, index it all, and then sort it all out in giant databases, you won't see results quickly. SEO is playing the long game. Patience is mandatory. How long will your content take to appear in search engines? Weeks and weeks. Maybe months.
And I think it's important to know this up front. That way, you're completely clear on what you're signing yourself up for. None of this is easy. If anyone's told you it is, they're being fraudulent. But it's all definitely worthwhile -- that's the key. That's the silver lining. I've said this in other posts and I'll say it again: We're running a marathon, not a race.
And before we close out, I'll wrap up with one final thought: Do not, I repeat do not hire someone to handle your SEO for you. The "SEO marketers industry" (if we can call it that) is loaded full of hustlers, former used car salesmen, and failed politicians -- at least, that's been my experience. Not a week goes by where I don't get at least four or five emails from "SEO experts" promising big results. Once you know the fundamentals and develop a simple strategy, SEO is a task that you're more than capable of handling yourself. Again though, it just takes patience.
Did you learn lots here? Did you have a bit of fun, too? I hope so. I hope I've been able to provide some clarity and help you get a grip on some of the root, key fundamentals of SEO.
And now that you're well on your way to being an SEO grand master (!), let's jump into some specific SEO strategies for you to use in your business. I get into exactly this in my post, Small Business SEO Checklist.
I'll see you there!