The Small Business Owner's Guide to SEO

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: January 29, 2018
Photo credit: Jirsak/Shutterstock

As a business owner, it is important to understand SEO, how it works and why it matters to your business. For the uninitiated, this article provides everything you need to know about SEO.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a form of digital marketing involving several tactics designed to push your website to the first page of Google search results. This means that when someone searches for the product or service you offer, your site will appear at or near the top of search engine results.

This is important because when people type a query into Google, they expect to get the best results. If your business appears at the top of search results, people are more likely to click on your website and see your marketing messages, products or services.

This is what makes SEO so important for directing internet traffic to your website. Many people will not click on the second page of results or even scroll past the first three or four entries, so ranking highly is crucial to getting organic traffic.

Like many things, SEO is easy to understand as a concept but hard to implement without training. Optimization for website performance on internet search engines is a constantly evolving art form that has given rise to an entire industry around providing consultancy on how to do it right.

Despite the complex nature of SEO, a cursory understanding of its fundamental strategies is still worthwhile for a business to know. Knowing these strategies will help inform you on how to get started with your digital marketing efforts.

So let's explore some of the fundamental elements of SEO.

The Google algorithm

This is the primary reference point from which the majority of optimization tactics are derived. Since Google is by far the most widely used search engine in the world, businesses that seek to perform well on the internet seek to perform well with Google.

Google's goal is to serve its users with the best results possible when they do an internet search. The way that Google improves its product is by improving its ability to filter relevant websites to match a user's search query.

Because there are far too many websites for humans to evaluate, a computer algorithm is used to sort through them. This algorithm is continually updated with new rules that work to deliver search queries with the most relevant results possible.

This is the core dynamic that drives SEO. Businesses want to optimize their websites so they rank high using the algorithm. This is important, because the further down your website appears in the search results, the less likely it is that users will see you and then visit your site.

Therefore, SEO is dependent on understanding what this algorithm values in terms of rewarding websites with a high ranking. Every optimization tactic works to meet the ranking factors that are outlined by Google.

Keywords

A keyword is a specific phrase you type into Google's search bar in order to find relevant pages that answer your queries.

The term "keywords" is thrown around a lot in the world of SEO, and it's not hard to understand why. A keyword denotes the subject matter of a website, and this is what a search engine uses as the primary way to filter results for users.

In terms of optimizing a website, keywords are used to boost the relevancy of content so that it is served to related search queries. For example, a business that sells cat food would not only want to rank for the term "cat food" but also for terms like "cat products" or "pet food" in order to broaden its relevancy on the internet.

On-page and off-page optimization

On-page and off-page are the two wings of SEO that are applied to a website. Simply put, on-page refers to optimizing features on the webpage itself, and off-page refers to optimizing the site in external contexts.

Let's look at some of the most common forms of on-page and off-page optimization for your website.

On-page optimization

  • Content. This refers to the information on your webpage. Optimizing content means making sure that it is accurate, easy for people to read and is high quality. It also means using keywords correctly throughout the content to show Google that each part is relevant to search queries.

  • Images and videos. This is the multimedia content on your webpage. Optimizing images and videos means making sure they are named correctly, are relevant and of high quality.

  • HTML. This is the technical, code aspects of the website read by search engines. They let Google know how relevant your site is and how well it performs.

Off-page optimization

  • Link building. This means distributing links to your website to be featured on other websites to both drive traffic and make you search more relevant to Google. Guest blogging on other websites in return for a link back to yours is a great example of link building.

  • Social media. The popularity and reach of your social media presence is part of what Google uses to rank your website.
    Optimizing social media involves posting regular updates to your site that engage your audience.

Both of these areas are important for SEO and should ideally be used together to boost your websites' chances of increased discoverability in search engines.

Why does SEO take so long?

As a business, you obviously want to have quick results that help you reach your marketing or sales goals. You might hear that SEO can take a long time, and you might be reluctant to use it.

The truth is that SEO takes time because of the Google algorithm we discussed above. As the indexing algorithm gets smarter, it creates more factors by which it rates the quality of websites.

Many of these ranking factors are designed to reward websites that have a high authority in their field. The only way to have a high authority, especially in a competitive field, is to consistently meet the standards of a good website over a period of time.

SEO serves to help a website achieve its best organic relevancy. As opposed to paid advertising methods like PPC (pay-per-click), SEO generates traffic over a longer period of time.

SEO doesn't take a "long" time – just more time compared to other marketing methods. This is because the goal it aims to achieve is harder to reach but is ultimately more rewarding than traditional advertising.

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