This is Art here from the business development team at name.com. Thanks for the warm welcome to the community! I’m very excited to start posting information here regarding SEO topics in the weeks ahead. For my first post I’ve decided to discuss search engine basics for small business. Enjoy!
Search Engine Basics for Small Businesses (SEO)
Do you have a website that is not getting any traffic? Are you thinking about starting a website for your small business but want to hold off on investing any time and money before first knowing that the site can get found by potential customers? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you will benefit by learning at least some search engine basics, which we’ll discuss in this post. If you are looking for intermediate or advanced SEO information, watch for our future posts coming soon!
I’ve personally optimized over 300 websites over the last few years and roughly 85% of all those sites started getting found on page 1 or 2 of Google, Yahoo, or Bing within 3-6 months time (we’ll talk about the 15% of sites that didn’t get ranked later). What’s been amazing to me with this experience is to discover that it doesn’t matter how big or small a site is, there is a core set of principles which apply to every single website (in most industries) that maximize your chances of getting your website found near the top of the results in search engines.
Before we get started, here are some basic definitions that are important to understand:
Search Engine: A website such as Google.com which allows you to search for websites using certain keywords.
SEO: Search engine optimization, or changes that you can make to your site in order to make it appear higher up in search engines.
SEM: Search engine marketing, which refers to the combination of SEO and paid advertising (PPC) to make a website visible and/or rank higher in search engines.
PPC: Pay per click advertising, or sponsored links that appear in the search results, usually on the right hand column or in a different color near the top of search results.
SERPs: Search engine results pages, or what you see immediately after searching for a certain keyword in a search engine.
Keywords: The words that users type into a search engine to view web pages related to a specific topic.
Organic Search Results: The left hand side of the search results page which occurs “naturally” for a well optimized site (this is where you want to be because it has the highest ROI).
Backlinks: Incoming links or links from other websites coming back to your website.
Anchor Text: A certain keyword within the body of your website text which is a link to another location on your website.
Meta Tags: Information on your website which is visible only to search engines that tells the search engine what your site is about.
Now that you have a few basic definitions, let’s talk about some specifics of SEO.
The Most Important Search Engine
There are three primary search engines that people most often use: Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Google is the big daddy of them all and 90% of your traffic will likely come from there. Therefore, you want to make sure you work hardest to impress Google above all others. How do you impress Google? You need to build trust and relevancy with your website by making your website content match the keywords you want your site to get found for.
Think about this from Google’s perspective. If you searched certain keywords and Google displayed websites that were completely unrelated to what you were searching for, you would probably stop using Google very quickly. This is why it does not work to stick popular, unrelated search phrases like “Michael Jackson” in your site text or meta tags. Of course there are lots of other things you should never do like hide keywords in the body of your content (using same color text as background, etc). We’ll talk more about “black hat SEO” in later posts. Just plan on being completely honest and transparent with your text content and Google will reward you by moving your site up higher in the search results.
The Meat and Potatoes of SEO
There are around 200 factors in Google’s algorithm (or so Google says) which determine whether or not your site will pull up high in search results. However, there are just a few main things that I consider to be the most important and which you should spend most of your time focusing on. The two most important things are:
Over the years, I read lots of articles that talk about how content and backlinks are most important for SEO. However, it wasn’t until recently that this fact really solidified in my mind. At my previous employment, I analyzed the web traffic data from our top 500 customer websites. These top 500 sites were getting more traffic than all other 300,000+ customers being tracked in our system.
I narrowed down this list further to just 110 sites – the ones getting at least 50% of their traffic from organic traffic sources (the left hand side of Google). What I discovered is that these sites all had (not surprisingly) lots of content, backlinks, and fairly old domains. To be exact, these sites had an average of 387 pages, 1275 backlinks, and domains that were over 6 years old (see graph below).
What’s important to note here is that these sites weren’t doing many of the other SEO tactics correct. I discovered a lot of these high traffic sites had frames, slow loading pages, poorly written meta data, etc. but they were still ranked very well in search results. It’s the content, backlinks, and domain age which outweigh everything else in the world of SEO.
So what makes good content? Again, your text content has to be relevant to your main topic or keywords you are trying to get found for. I built and optimized a website for an attorney from Texas last year and I was surprised to find that the majority of his text content he provided for the site was dedicated his favorite hobbies and TV shows – NOT relevant content.
In addition to having relevant content, you have to have lots of it. As noted in the example previously of the top 110 sites, several hundred pages of content were what drove those sites to the top consistently above the rest. Although it is not necessary to have hundreds of pages of content in most cases, you should have at least enough text content that describes every aspect of your business and products/services. If you run out of things to write about, think about the conversations you have with customers in person or on the phone – and put that dialog in writing. Write about anything you have knowledge of that’s related to your main focus and Google will love you. Also, keep in mind that creating many individual pages is better than having just a few very long pages of text.
Backlinks are the incoming links to your site from other websites. One way to think of backlinks is to consider them as votes for your site. The more “votes” you have the better, as long as those incoming links are primarily from sites that are popular and not just small sites without any traffic. You can get backlinks by submitting your site to popular business directories, posting comments on blogs, or writing articles to large article submission sites, to name a few.
Domain Name Age and Keyword Domains
As noted from the study mentioned above, the sites that performed extremely well among all others were older, more established sites. Now, if you are starting up from scratch, your domain is going to be new unless you are building on an older domain you purchased previously. The best advice I have to choosing a new domain name is to pick something which includes the keywords you are targeting.
One of my favorite tools I use to select domains is our own domain suggestions tool at name.com. As you’ve probably noticed, nearly every domain name that matches your exact target keywords is not available. However, our system generates a list of available domains in order of SEO relevance. Another thing I really like about our domain suggestions tool is that you can have it scan through Google keyword suggestions which can reveal some very good domains.
A couple of years ago, I optimized a website for a dentist in Longmont, Colorado (near Boulder). The dentist was smart in that he previously registered dentistlongmont.com. After just a couple of weeks of working on his site, he started showing up on page #2 for Google, page #1 on Yahoo and page #1 on Bing with the keyword dentist longmont. This happened very quickly because his domain included his most relevant search term (and he had registered it two years prior so it had aged a bit).
Think Like a Gardener
In conclusion, I wanted to end by giving a little info about the timeline involved with SEO. In my experience, brand new websites and domains typically take around 3-6 months to rank very high in search engines (again, invest some time in selecting your domain name to shorten that time). Hyper competitive industries such as real estate, professional legal services, etc. can take the longest. One of the best ways to think about search engines and SEO for your small business is to think like a gardener.
You have to first prepare the ground, plant seeds, water, etc. then patiently await the harvest. It’s exactly the same with SEO. Plan on investing several months at least for your efforts to pay off. While you wait for your website to grow in popularity and move higher up in the SERPs, you might consider using PPC to support your SEO campaign.
Be sure to watch for future posts regarding SEO where we will give up all our SEO knowledge and give experts tips regarding link building, content development and tricks (all white hat), and much more!