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Search Engine Marketing For Small Business – Best Practice.

search engine marketing improvements for small businessThere is little doubt search engine marketing for small business has changed dramatically in the last three years. The speed of change is accelerating with major changes in just the past 12 months and updates continue to be rolled out on a regular basis. What worked well just 18 months ago will not necessarily work today and, worse still could actually result in a website being penalised and demoted significantly in the search engine rankings. This article reviews the recent history of search engine marketing, the current situation and how to get results today.

Search Engine Marketing – A Brief History

The search engine algorithms are complex so what follows is only a basic overview of the key issues. Three years ago all that was required to give a website the best chance of appearing on page 1 was to have some basic content cram it with keywords and build some backlinks (relevant or not).

The search engine companies (Google, Bing, Yahoo) prime mission is to deliver appropriate results against any search phrase a prospect may type in. Returning search results which do not match the search term or are of poor quality is against their interests. Google (and others) therefore make every effort to take out those who may wish to game the system. Over time the search engine algorithms have devalued (penalised) sites using keyword stuffing, irrelevant links and other dubious practices.

So what search engine marketing practices work today? It is important to remember, in very basic terms, the internet is simply links between documents. When there are more than one document relating to a subject (and in most cases there are many thousands, on a single topic) the search algorithm needs to decide which is more relevant to the search query. In basic terms it looks at words (keywords) in the document and makes a match with the query.

Keyword match alone is rarely sufficient to make a judgement between pages so the algorithm must make many other evaluations to rank pages effectively. At this point the debate rages over what factors the algorithm considers but it almost certainly makes a judgement based on relevance and trustworthiness. This is a subject too deep to consider in detail here but it is likely one of the methods used by the algorithm to measure relevance and trust is the incoming links to a document (page).

The SEM Basics For Small Business

The basics revolve around keywords and links. Good quality keyword research and choice is key as is the use and placement (tags, descriptions, headings, content etc) of those keywords. Appropriate link building is also key. However, more important than ever is content that is relevant and useful to the target prospect.

Content builds credibility and engagement with customers and prospects. More than that, it is difficult to build good quality links without content and, increasingly it is becoming a ranking factor judged by the search algorithm. Again, debate rages about how much of a ranking factor it is today but the indications are it will be a significant ranking factor in future.

Without worrying too much about detail, best practice search engine marketing for small business involves producing a website filled with relevant content and updating that content via a linked blog on a regular basis. Good keyword choice and practice and placement also have significant benefits.

Related posts you may like:

Do it yourself SEO

The value of local link building

SEM – What’s changed

6 Ways To Generate Website Traffic

Your website may look exceptional, be technically smart and have great content but if there is no focus on how to generate website traffic all that effort will be wasted.

Google Search Queries

Ensuring a website is found in search is perhaps the most obvious route and one that drives over 80% of traffic to a website (source). A website should be built around keywords so when a prospect types a relevant search phrase into Google, or the other search engines, they should arrive at your website.

Of course almost all keywords will be sought after by more than one business so there will always be competition. Appropriate search engine optimisation or pay per click (see below) are the two main routes to ensure your business appears higher than competition for the same keyword. Search engine optimisation tends to be the cheapest route over the medium to long term but it also takes significantly longer to generate the required website traffic.

Video

There is a mass of published research that shows the human brain is able to absorb (and understand) visual information better than it is the printed word. Video is therefore an excellent medium to get your message across and if placed on a website is an excellent way to improve the position of the website in search engines.

The second largest search engine in the World (after Google) is You Tube. A You Tube video on your product or service with a link back to your website is a great way to generate website traffic.

Blog Posts

Ideally a blog should be attached to your website for maximum SEO benefits. Blog posts are relatively short comments (usually 400 words minimum) on issues of interest to potential customers. These posts can rank on the search engines as stand alone items and, if read, drive traffic back to the main website.

Blog posts providing detail commentary or instructions on a particular issue may generate backlinks and therefore improve SEO. Posts also deliver the opportunity to cover a wider variety of keywords delivering further SEO advantages.

Articles

Basically the same format as blog posts but they are not attached to a website but published elsewhere on the internet on good quality article directories, forums etc. Again, there are SEO benefits of producing articles but the prime aim is for them to rank on the search engines, be read, interacted with to drive traffic.

Social Media

Blog posts and articles can be published on various social media channels to further expand your potential audience and generate more website traffic..

Pay Per Click

Potentially a faster route than organic SEO (see above) to be found against specific search terms (keywords) typed into a search engine. Choose keywords, write a short advertisement around those keywords and pay only when a prospect clicks on your Pay Per Click advertisement and is taken to your website.

The above represents only a short overview of potential methods to generate website traffic. The detail of how to build and apply each technique is more complex but not beyond any business intent on taking the task on in house. All that is required is content (the key to each technique) commitment to learning and delivery on a consistent basis.

Outdated Small Business Marketing Techniques To Avoid

When trying to attract more customers It is all too easy to be seduced by small business marketing techniques that appear to offer fast results with little effort. In our experience there are several sales messages that should set alarm bells ringing, they are:

  • Any guarantee to deliver a Page 1 listing for a website on the search engines.
  • Anything ‘custom’.
  • Gold, silver or bronze anything (particularly SEO).
  • Websites with built in SEO.
  • Any individual (or business) claiming “every business should embrace social media.”
  • Any suggestion you should broadcast your sales message to a purchased Email list.

These sales messages are flawed because:

  • Page1 against what search terms (keywords)? If the keyword has low competition (few sites trying to rank against the keyword) it will be relatively easy to rank on Page1 against that keyword. That is great but if few people search for that keyword (no traffic) what is the point.
  • Custom tends to mean expensive, difficult to change, and locked in to a single supplier.
  • It was once possible (in principle) to deliver a set number of “standardised” SEO services each month to improve a websites position on the search engines but no more. The World of SEO has changed.
  • Websites with built in SEO can only deliver a small part of the solution. Good SEO is far more complex than any simple, out of the box, solution.
  • To suggest any small business marketing technique will work for all businesses is wrong. Social media may generate for some small businesses but certainly not all. If your prospects are not using social media what is the point. Research customers and the channels they use (if any) before diving in. Research shows less than 5% of all B2B sales leads are delivered by social media.
  • Email can be an excellent marketing technique for any small business but there are two key problems – the quality of the list and ‘sales messages’. Deliver pushy sales messages and even if the prospect reads your message it is likely to end up straight in the trash bin. Many purchased lists include general Email addresses that are unlikely to reach the target and also tend to have a very low open rate.

Unfortunately in the effort to find more customers there is no overnight solution. Only a solid plan based on the best set of small business marketing techniques for the particular business situation will deliver results over the medium to long term.