Updated: Feb 18
If you own a business, you've probably heard people say SEO is important for your website. But when they try to tell you why, the conversation turns all squirrelly. So here's the most straightforward answer.
SEO is a process that increases free traffic to your website by making it appealing to your potential customers, and especially search engines. If search engines see your website as a good source of info, it will send people your way — people who are looking for people like you!
How we do that involves a long list of regular tasks that change bit-by-bit as search engines evolve. A good SEO program starts before your website is built, guides its design and development, and adapts as technology and competition change.
But the bottom line is this — if your small business wants to attract new customers, an ongoing SEO program will make your website more visible to people who are searching for what you offer.
SEO Made Simple – What is it?
Google wants to be known for helping people find what they are looking for.
We usually only type in two or three words, so Google obviously looks for web pages that include these “keywords.” But with so many options to choose from, how should it choose which page to list at the top? In short, it takes into consideration everything it knows about the searcher, and everything it knows about the websites. We'll get into the details in a minute.
In case you were wondering
A “keyword” in SEO terms can be one or more words people search for.
The Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is the page you see after you click “Search.” It has links to web pages that fit your search.
Your Results Page will likely include Paid Links – ads that businesses like yours paid for to get higher placement.
Organic Links are the links on a Results Page that appear simply because the web page seems to be a good fit.
Organic Searches are what Google calls visits to your website from someone who clicked on an Organic Link
The biggest indicator that your SEO campaign is working is increasing organic search visits.
What Google Knows About Us
Don't worry. It's not creepy.
Most websites use Google to track what people do on their websites (anonymously). So it generally knows where you’re located, and what you’ve done online recently.
If you search for “pizza” for example, it’s going to assume you are looking for a restaurant, because most people are, and it’s going to show you pizza restaurants in your area. Because despite how good New York pizza may be, you probably can’t get there by dinnertime (New Yorkers excepted).
Hundreds of signals give search engines clues they can use to guess whether you are, for instance, researching “pest control” or looking for a pest control service.
The search engines want you to be happy.
What Google Knows About Websites
I don’t know about you, but when I click on a search result I pretty much hover over the “Back” button while the website loads, just waiting to bail if it’s not what I’m looking for.
So if people are searching for “hire an accountant” and they click over to your CPA firm’s website only to leave seconds later, Google sees that as a fail. So they’ll be less likely to recommend you for that keyword. Not optimal! (We monitor websites for “bounce rate” to determine if searchers are bailing.)
Google also knows a lot about how people are likely to respond to a web page.
People prefer short paragraphs and sentences
Subheading and bullet lists help people digest information quickly
People stick around longer if there are images, video, and links to other pages
If you’re searching for “keyword x” you’re probably going to be happier if the page or site also talks about “keyword y” and “keyword z.”
If reputable websites about “keyword x” link to you, you’re probably a good website for that too
But if spammy or risky websites link to you, they might want to steer clear
Fundamentally, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about convincing Google you’re the best source of information for a particular kind of searcher.
And what is at stake is whether you get that new client, or someone else.
How You Do SEO – 4 Things
Did I mention that SEO starts at the foundation of a website? I think I did. In fact, it affects just about every aspect of an integrated digital marketing campaign to some degree. So although we offer a standalone SEO service, we get the best results when we are also engaged to create and maintain the website, develop content, and manage any online advertising.
SEO Thing 1 – Research
With the right tools, knowledge, and time you can find just about any generalized information you want about what people are searching for.
So we start with research. Taking a guess about the keywords someone would type to search for a product, we compare all of the variations people use to see which are most frequent, and which have the most competition.
When creating the main page for your service, we won’t try to be cute. We’ll use the term most people are searching for. But we can increase our audience size by creating more pages that are optimized for additional related keywords.
We also look at your competitors – those that are already ranking for those keywords, not necessarily the other dentist down the street. Knowing which keywords bring traffic to their website is an important place to start in choosing your keywords.
Of course, we don’t know how often those people turn into customers, so we’ll have to see for ourselves what the best keywords are for attracting our best potential customers.
From month to month we track our clients’ closest competitors to see who is gaining and losing traffic, and what we need to do to rise in the rankings.
SEO Thing 2 – Content
Fundamentally, it’s content that brings organic traffic to your website. People who are thinking about renovating an old warehouse for their new offices may be looking for a highly rated commercial builder in their area that specializes in renovation. Or, they may just be looking at rough costs to see if such a project is even feasible.
Both of these people are on the “buyer’s journey” – the process someone goes through in researching and selecting someone to do business with. The questions they have will likely relate to where they are on that journey. If you want to attract people who are at different stages, you’ll want to provide the different topics they’re interested in. You may choose to organize those topics into a single page, or split them up into separate pages, linking between them.
The Quality of Your Content is Super Important
Remember our quick answer to “Why is SEO important for Small Business?”
“...an ongoing SEO program will make your website more visible to people who are searching for what you offer.”
Did you catch that? More visible. More visible than other websites. This is a competition.
In order for your content to bring significant organic traffic to your website, it needs to be significantly better than the other (local) options out there. So when we develop new content, we go all in.
But we may not go all at once. It’s perfectly acceptable to start with shorter, high-quality pages and develop them over time. We just have to make sure that at every step we are growing our audience with our revisions, rather than disappointing them.
From month to month we look at our opportunities to grow our organic search audience, and add high-quality content where it’s most likely to bring in more business.
SEO Thing 3 – Website Health
Google has high technical standards for the websites it gives top ranking to.
They should be secure, using HTTPS.
They should load quickly.
They shouldn’t have broken links, or broken pages.
Pages should in general have more words people can read than code they can’t.
They shouldn’t be linked to/from spammy or risky websites.
They should have an accurate sitemap.xml file.
They shouldn’t have any duplicate content.
They should conform to the most widely accepted HTML format.
And a hundred other things 😮
From week to week we conduct site audits to scan for potential problems, handling the more
SEO Thing 4 – Quality Links
Who you associate with, through linking and back linking, can add weight to what you have to say. (Or it can raise doubts).
If you're writing an informational article like this one, make sure to refer to respected websites when offering statistics or best practices. Doing so lends your site credibility until you've established yourself as a leader in your field.
If the people who generally buy your services belong to a community – whether that's an affinity group like fans of Mandalorian or a geographic community like "Flowers Crossing at the Mill", link to that group's website from within your content, and better yet, see if they'll link to you.
This includes all the relevant service directories that may be out there – many of whom will link to your site for free.
Finally, "site links" – links within your site from one page to another make your site easier to navigate. Google likes this. For instance, did you know that Yardstick provides SEO services for small businesses? See what I did there? By linking to our SEO service page, I not only increased the SEO health of our website, I gave you a chance to enter our SEO leads funnel.
Conclusion: SEO Is Competitive
You already feel this, every time you search for a keyword you want to rank for and you see other businesses ranking above you. The truth is that the quality of your SEO program will determine how many people come through your door, instead of your competitor's. Stay on it, and you'll maintain or gain in rank. Fall behind, and you'll slip off the results page.