Search engines, mainly Google, have opened a world of opportunities for business to connect with their target audience online. While large scale companies do have the means to opt for highly expensive traditional marketing means such as television and radio advertising, billboards and the like, smaller businesses depend on either low budget marketing techniques or absolutely nothing. Before Google revamped the entire business scenario and brought the digital aspect into it, running a small business was hardly a possibility. Today, however, it is not just possible, in fact highly lucrative to run a small business because of the low cost of marketing involved. Any person can convert his skill set into a business factory by simply creating an online presence and connecting with his or her target audience.
When it comes to connecting with your audience online, there are various methods that can you take you far such as social media marketing, search engine marketing, email marketing, search engine optimization and video marketing. Search engine optimization stands as unrivaled king in this domain. Why? Simply because search engine optimization is the only marketing method that can give you long term results and has little to no cost at all. Unfortunately, the benefits of search engine optimization are not understood completely. While search engine optimization does take time, it is important to make sure it is the cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy because it is the only method that can reduce your marketing cost overtime yet increase results.
Identifying Major Challenges of Small Businesses:
When you launch any form of business, you step into the market and go head to head with your competitors. These competitors can be huge corporations, mid-sized businesses or other small businesses. Regardless of your competition’s nature, one thing is for sure, they are all in with their fiercest marketing plans. So, what will you do? How will you make sure that your business beats them even when you don’t have a big marketing budget? Well, first off, you need to identify the challenges you will face as a small business. Here are a few:
- Your marketing budget is either limited or is almost nothing. You will be dependent upon organic reach, which means you want to reach people while spending as little as possible.
- Your locations and resources will be limited.
- You will be standing up against other businesses that have a huge customer base.
- Creating your online presence with a smaller budget.
How Can SEO Help You?
In order to understand how SEO can help you, let us briefly go through what SEO is and how it has evolved over the years and has become more efficient and effective for small businesses today:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO):
Any business that has an online presence knows the importance of using keywords and optimizing the web copy for good search engine rankings. This is part of the search engine optimization process.
Similarly, your website’s performance and its design also contribute towards better search engine rankings.
Lastly, the number of quality links pointing towards your website (backlinks) add to the overall quality score of your website. In short, the following three factors contribute towards a better search engine ranking of your website:
- Keyword Optimization
- UI & UX (User Interface and User Experience)
The good news is that over the years, SEO has evolved and search engines have made it easier for small businesses to achieve better rankings. Here’s a glimpse of what SEO was before and what it is now:
What SEO was Before?
Five years back, SEO was a lot dependent upon factors such as backlinks and keyword optimization. This had a major disadvantage for small businesses as it allowed bigger businesses to invest in buying links from other websites and creating lots of pages for keyword optimization. This was overall allowing spam activities and businesses with bigger budgets were succeeding. Henceforth, the main purpose of promoting businesses ‘organically’ was not being fulfilled.
What is SEO Now?
Over the past five years and especially the last two years, SEO has evolved a lot. Today, the following factors play a major role in improving a website’s rankings:
- Keyword and LSI Optimization: Natural optimization of keywords with its synonyms to eradicate keyword stuffing. Only authentic businesses will use keywords naturally along with their synonyms. Anyone stuffing on only one or two keywords will be marked as spam.
- UI & UX: Today, search engines place a lot of emphasis on the overall user experience of your website, which means multimedia also contributes towards the overall score of your website. Similarly, your website’s performance and its speed also gets your scoring higher. This means that you don’t have to spend a lot on your website. Instead, you can keep it simple and mobile optimized for better search engine rankings.
- Backlinks: Today, search engines only consider natural links to your website. All other links from websites such as content directories, image directories and others are considered spam. This means that you don’t have to invest time and money in buying cheap quality links. You simply have to produce great content and links will be naturally built when others will post your content.
- Social Media Signals: This is one of the most important developments in the process of search engine optimization. Search engines today consider all the social media links coming from your social media profiles to your website. While these are not as powerful as standard backlinks, they still contribute a good deal towards your overall search engine ranking.
How Does SEO Work?
There are practically hundreds of SEO techniques that marketers adopt in order to get better rankings. This is exactly why SEO sounds so technical to the lay man. The good news is, you don’t have to get into the technicalities. Today, you can stick to the basics and get the most out of this process. Here are the most major SEO techniques that you need to focus on:
Improve Web Design, Performance and User Experience (UI & UX)
All search engines such as Bing, Google, Yahoo! and Opera use spiders (bots) that crawl through your web pages to determine its worth and rank it. The reason UI and UX matters is that if the crawler goes through a web page and finds slow performance, unnecessary content and page loading errors then it has a harder time going through the different pages. Now, since the crawlers are unable to extract the necessary information, it becomes harder to them to rank your website in their results.
Therefore, while you think that content optimization is king, you need to understand that if your website is not performing well, it won’t let the crawler reach the different content pages. Henceforth, neither will the content be indexed nor the page. In addition, your website’s structure allows crawlers to switch between pages easily. If the website structure is not maintained well and your website links are scattered, the crawler will not be able to index all your web pages. Also, note that search engines are unable to read images. Therefore, they only read your pages through the HTML of your website, a coding language most valuable for search engines and it makes UI and UX easier.
Now, there are different techniques to ensure search engines are able to read your website well. Here are some techniques that are used to make your pages more readable:
- Silo Structure: Silo structure is a method of ensuring all your different pages are aligned in proper keyword categories so that it is easier for search engines to switch from one page to another within the same keyword group.
- Meta Tags: Meta tags such as meta title tag and meta description are in the HTML of your web page. These tags tell the search engines what your web page is all about. Similarly, all content of your website is placed in HTML language to ensure search engines can read the html version of your content.
The easier it is for the crawlers to index your website, the more chances you have to make it to the top.
Page Ranking vs. Web Ranking:
Today, it is important for you to ensure each of your web page is optimized for its target industry and keyword. Why is this important? Mainly because search engines consider the overall bounce rate of your web pages for ranking as well. This means that if users are not staying on your web page for long, you might experience a tough time ranking your website higher. Here are a few tricks to ensure your visitors are spending enough time on your web pages:
- Simple yet Optimized Content: You need to make sure the overall content on your website is simple to read and understand. Long and complex sentences, content without sub-headings and fatty words will only make it difficult for your audience to understand your message. Your content should be engaging so that users stay for longer.
- Visual Appeal: Remember, a standard visitor only spends 2 seconds on your website to decide whether he or she wants to stay or not. Your content will not help you in these two seconds but only the visual appeal of your web page will. This is where the importance of a good web design, attractive images and overall structure of your website comes into play. Remember, web design also affects the search engine rankings of your website.
Thankfully, today search engines do take into consideration the amount of time users are spending on a website. In other words, search engines will favor websites that are favored by visitors. So, your target should be to convince your target audience in this regard.
Keyword Optimization of Your Web Pages:
Keyword optimization is the base of search engine optimization. It was what started the entire craze of search engine optimization and it still is the major factor for seo rankings. Keywords are simply the words that users are using to search for your business. Users will enter these keywords in search engines to find the most suitable businesses. The better your content is optimized on these keywords, the more chances you have to land on a higher position. Here are a few tricks to keep in mind while optimizing your content for search engines:
- Keyword Prominence: Keyword prominence is the technique of placing your keywords in the most favored areas such as the title, first paragraph, last paragraph and sub-headings. Many optimizers believe that keyword prominence is the most important aspect of content optimization.
- Keyword Density: This is the technique of maintain a certain amount of keyword usage in your content. A keyword density of 1% to 2% is considered best. Anything above 5% will be considered spam so be careful.
- Header Tags: Header tags are html tags such as H1, H2, H3 and so on. These tags can be considered as sub-heading indicators or important text indicator to search engines.
- LSI Keywords: LSI keywords or synonyms have an important place in the process of keyword optimization. Search engines take into account closest synonyms of your keywords to mark your rankings. Why do they do this? This is done to ensure the authenticity of a web page. Anyone can pick one or two keywords and optimize a web copy around it. But, only an authentic page will naturally use synonyms or related keywords.
- Web Urls & Links: Using keywords in your URLs and links make it possible for search engines to understand what a certain page is about and ranking it accordingly.
Local SEO is part of search engine optimization. The process is carried out by using a couple of techniques such as creating a Google My Business page and placing your business on the map with its address and contact number, registering on local business directories and using geo tags (location keywords) in your content to indicate the search engine that you are targeting a specific location. Local SEO is highly beneficial for small businesses as it allows them to focus their rankings on a certain location. For instance, if a huge international business is competitor then you can use local SEO to tell search engines in that in your particular area, you are the better one. Search engines favor local businesses over outside businesses, making it possible for a small business to beat an international business in a certain location.
Benefits of Search Engine Optimization:
Search engine optimization brings with it a plethora of benefits for businesses. Here are a few benefits that you need to keep in mind:
Organic Rankings are More Influential:
When a potential customer is searching for a business, he will see paid listings and organic listings in the overall search results. Note that 67% of visitors click on organic results and not paid results. Being placed top in the organic results increases your chances of being clicked. Similarly, Google snippets such as review snippets influence your target to click on your website, if you have good reviews.
Cost Effective yet More Beneficial:
Compared to paid marketing, search engine optimization is a lot cheaper in terms of the resources you need to invest. It might take some time to reach the top but once you are there, you can easily maintain the rankings. Search engine optimization has long term benefits. Your rankings won’t go down if you are maintaining them with white hat techniques (techniques allowed by Google to be part of the SEO process), unlike paid marketing where you pay for your links to appear. When you are unable to pay, your links won’t appear in the search results but your organic listings will be there.
Increases Customer Retention Ratio:
One of the best things of organic marketing is that it helps you retain customers. When you have an optimized website (one that appeals to your audience), you are more likely to retain customers, as they will be mesmerized by your web presence and will also share it on different social media platforms. This is where the importance of blogging comes in. With regular quality blogging, you can attract potential customers and allow them to share your quality content on other platforms too. This creates a domino effect as others realize that the business is being trusted by many and they fall for it too.
More Chances to Link with Other Businesses:
Just like you, there will be other businesses as well looking forward to building relationships with quality websites. If your website has a good ranking, other businesses in your industry will share your content and link back to you in order to earn the trust of their customers by linking to a reputable business. For instance, if you run a hotel website then chances are that tourist websites within your locale will try to link to you in order to earn your trust and your customer’s trust, so that visitors coming on your website can go their website as well. This will earn you and the other business more backlinks and customer trust.
Lead Nourishment and Education:
All the activities you will undertake to optimize your website, on-page and off-page, such as blogging, web copywriting, social media management and content marketing will educate your potential customers of your services. In other words, you will receive more and more educated leads and not the ones who are unaware of your services and its benefits. Lead nourishment increases your conversion rate, which means it will reduce your bounce and not only increase your customer base but also reduce your bounce rate, giving you better rankings. It’s a circle of life of your online business that can only be improved by search engine optimization techniques.
Compels You to Maintain Proper Online Presence:
As mentioned earlier, today search engines take into consideration your social media presence as well for ranking your business. As a small business, you are most probably already involved in maintaining your social media pages and trying to get customers through social media platforms. If you didn’t know it yet, then you would be excited to learn that this in turn can add positively to your website rankings. With just a few social media widgets on your website for users to like or share and a few links from your social media profiles, you will be able to boost your search engine rankings and even appear in social media feeds in search engine results, such as your twitter feeds, YouTube videos and the like. You will be maintaining a healthy overall online presence naturally while earning good rankings in search engine results.
Should You Invest in Search Engine Optimization?
Yes! Search engine optimization is something that you cannot overlook. It is the most genuine marketing method that can get you the most leads. With an effective search engine optimization strategy in place, you can not only improve your search engine rankings but also increase your customer base and save on the marketing cost. Search engine optimization is not a quick fix but a permanent one for your online marketing needs. With consistency and time, it will hardly take 6 months for a well-optimized website to reach in the top position.
Expert Advice: I would suggest breaking down your search engine optimization strategy into two parts:
- Local SEO: Initially target getting higher rankings for local searches. This way you will be able to beat bigger businesses that are not within your location of business.
- Standard SEO: Once you are done with Local SEO, you can start off with the standard SEO practices to reach a wider audience. If your business is restricted to a certain location such as a restaurant then probably you won’t have the need of going beyond local SEO techniques. But, if you are selling products to an international audience then you will have to undertake techniques to boost your rankings on the international front as well.
Photo credits: Archiwiz from Shutterstock