Search Engine Optimization (or, as it’s commonly referred to, “SEO”) is an important aspect of your web marketing strategy. SEO refers to putting your website in the best possible position to (1) be indexed by the search engines (such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and (2) appear higher up in the search results when a user searches for a product or service you sell.
For the purposes of this blog entry, I’ll concentrate on the way Google works; partly for simplification, but also because roughly 65-70% of all searches are done through Google.
Organic vs. Paid Search Results
When we talk about SEO, we generally are talking about positioning yourself for the “organic search results” (pictured below in the Green box). Google also offers “paid search results” (pictured below in the Pink boxes) through their Adwords program, in which you bid on particular keywords with the goal of having your ad appear when a searcher uses particular search terms (picture below in the Blue box).
Organic search results and paid search results have little effect on each other, according to Google. They stress that the organic results are based on an algorithm—which basically amounts to a popularity contest—that does not factor paid search results into its calculation. They want website owners to know that paid advertisers receive no special treatment when it comes to the organic results.
You will see above that for the search term “car insurance”, Progressive has the #1 organic listing. They pay nothing to Google for this—though they probably invested some money in executing an SEO strategy. On the other hand, Allstate has the #1 paid listing, which is also the top listing that a searcher will see. By bidding against its competitors for this spot, Allstate likely ends up paying millions of dollars to Google for this top spot in the paid search listings.
Simple Steps to Improving Your SEO
There are several simple things that small businesses can do (or make sure their webmaster does) to greatly improve SEO.
- Make a Quick List of Keywords. Take a piece of paper and write down 10 or so unique search terms for which you’d like your business to come up in search results. The more specific the better. For instance, if you happen to sell car insurance, you are unlikely to compete with the huge companies in either organic or paid search results for the search term “car insurance”. However, you would have a better chance to come up if someone typed in “car insurance rutland vt”.
- Make your HTML <title> Tags More Relevant. Many people use default titles or just list the name of their page in the <title> tag. Google gives great weight to the <title> tag, so make sure it has the page name, your business name, your location(s) and a few keywords from your list. Your title shows up as the link in Google and you can also check it by hovering over the tab in your browser that contains the page.
- Use the HTML <meta type=”description”> Tag. This is another area to which Google gives great weight and is an opportunity to tell Google what your page is about. Your description should be relatively short, but try to weave in some of your keywords. If you’re already using a <meta type=”description”> tag, you will see the text just below the link on a Google search results page. If you’re not, you will likely see a jumble of whatever text appears on your page first.
- Use Keyword-Rich Content. The more times you use your keywords throughout your website, the more apt Google’s algorithm is going to determine that searchers would want to see your page when they use those keywords in their search terms. One thing to remember is that Google “robots” can’t read text that appears in images, so try to make sure all of your text content is actually text generated by the browser. It might not look as nice to use the browser fonts, but it makes a big difference when it comes to SEO.
Last but not least, you need to make sure you’re getting indexed by Google and the other search engines. The search engines send out computerized “robots” every minute of every day to crawl the Internet and index all of the text, photos and other content for every website they can find. They usually finds new websites by following links from websites it already knows.
However, if you put up brand new website, sometimes it takes a while for Google to find it … and sometimes Google may never find it! So before you do any of the above, make sure Google is indexing your pages.
In order to check, you can type in “site:Bloomfo.com” into the Google search bar. (Typing in that exact command will give you a list of all the pages Google has indexed for our site. You’ll need to replace “Bloomfo.com” with your website in order to get your results!)
If you’re not getting indexed, a good idea is to submit a sitemap through Google’s Webmaster Tools program. Bing/Yahoo have a similar program. This does not guarantee that the search engines will crawl you immediately or ever, but we’ve had good luck using the method for our clients and it doesn’t cost anything to try!
AUTHOR: Matt Bloomer, President of Bloomfo Websites (www.bloomfo.com).