Small Business SEO – The Basics

There is little doubt small business SEO best practice has changed dramatically in recent years and the rate of change is accelerating. There is a mass of information on search engine optimisation (SEO) available online but much of it is contradictory (or plain wrong).

In basic terms, the www is simply links between documents (pages). It is a huge, and ever expanding network. Search engines are tools that help users find information among the mass of information (pages) within the network.

Given a search phrase the search engine companies (Google, Bing, Yahoo) prime mission is to deliver the most relevant results.Returning search results which do not match the search phrase or are of poor quality is against their interests.

When a user types in a phrase a search engine must select the pages that match the users intent and rank them accordingly. It is important to note it is the page that ranks, not a website.

Google uses several algorithms to determine the most relevant results. It is estimated over 200 interrelated factors influence page ranking.

You may find many commentaries online suggesting factor X is more important than Y which is in turn more important than Z. Almost all of them are complete rubbish, based on guesswork.

Occasionally, you may read a report on an experiment that shows that all any SEO person needs to concentrate on is X to see results (yeah right). In any valid scientific experiment, one factor is changed while keeping everything else constant. With the www and over 200 factors in play that is impossible.

So what do we know? We know a search engine compares words on a page with the words in the search phrase. We know that many pages will have those words and the search engine algorithm must use a range of ranking factors to decide which page to rank.

We know that inbound links to pages are relevant. We don’t know which links count or if they are weighted in some way. If links are weighted we don’t know how that weighting works. All we can do is make an educated guess based on experience.

It is obvious that some pages will always tend to outrank the rest. It does not appear that ranking is simply based on the number of inbound links. It is also clear there are many technical issues with web pages (and websites) setup that can significantly reduce the ranking of that page regardless of how good the content and link profile may be.

All any small business SEO specialist can do is assess the limited information published by the search engine companies, and call on their own experience of what works and what does not. Even then the job is not finished as the best practice will evolve over time.

For a small business with a local customer base the task can be made easier by concentrating on the subset of factors related to local SEO.

Search Engine Optimisation Costs – The ROI Calculation

Recently, while working for a small business client, I received a cold call from an SEO agency. I am always interested in what services may be available in the marketplace so I allowed the agency to go through their pitch. I agreed to accept a monthly search engine optimisation quotation.

Based on the phone conversation I was not expecting much but when the quote came in it was a bit of a shock. To deliver a list of basic SEO services the cost was approximately £2,100 a month!

Obviously, the SEO agency had their targeting all wrong as £2,100 a month is way beyond the budget of my client but the offer got me thinking.

SEO Costs – The Numbers

Let’s assume you install kitchens and your average sale price is £1,000. Assume your profit margin is 40% then you need to make approximately five sales per month to cover (break even) the £2,100 charged by the SEO agency.

How many leads (enquiries) do you need to achieve five sales? The SEO agency is only concerned with driving visitors to your website so to obtain a fair assessment we should only include leads generated by that website.

let’s be optimistic and assume you can have a reasonable conversation with (perhaps even quote) 50% of the leads received. Assume 50% of those conversations/quotes convert to a sale then you need around twenty website generated leads per month to break even.

Again, let’s be optimistic and assume 1 in 75 of those landing on your website make an enquiry then you need 1,500 (75×20) website visits per month to hit the breakeven point. How many visits do you receive now, do you know?

What increase in website visitors is required on where you are now 2x? 5x? 10x? Is that realistic? Think of it in business terms. If someone told you they could double your sales in 12 months you may believe them, if they could present a strong argument but 5x? 10x? I think not.

Now, it is true, the above is oversimplified. If you have a strong website, or nurture campaign, then the 74 website visitors who do not make an immediate enquiry may come back at a later date. Those 74 website visitors are at least aware of your business so the effort involved in driving them there is not entirely wasted.

Branding and awareness are all very well but they are difficult to measure. Vanity numbers such as website visits, social shares, impressions clicks throughs are no more than indicators. All you can really judge on is leads generated, the quality of those leads and ultimately sales.

The SEO Agency Pitch – Smoke And Mirrors

Three other important points to note when assessing if search engine optimisation services will deliver a return for your business. They are, measurement and analytics, the time taken to generate first results and your level of involvement in the process.

The most common tool used to record website visitors is Google analytics. Not all website visits are valid and if you look at only the top level numbers a large proportion of the total may be complete junk. It is relatively easy for an unscrupulous SEO agency to deceive a business owner who does not have a basic understanding of organic, direct and referral traffic.

To generate SEO results takes time and you should not expect any significant results within three months. Remember you need to factor the monthly search engine optimisation costs during this ramp up time into your calculations.

Let’s say you keep spread the total cost of the SEO agency over 12 months. If 3 of those months are the ramp up time (25% of the total) then you need 25 leads per month and around 1,900 website visits per month during the remaining 9 months to break even.

Finally, there is the issue of content. At this point, the discussion can get a little complicated and is covered in greater detail in previous posts. In short, you need to assess what resources your business will need to allocate to the SEO process. Hiring an SEO agency is no longer a ‘hire and forget’ situation and whatever resources your business needs to allocate needs to be factored into the cost model.

Rounding Up

The above does not mean the right type (and size) of business, in the right market, with the right SEO agency in place cannot generate a return on investment on SEO services because they can. If your business can deliver the fuel for the process (content) if you can obtain good quality search engine optimisation services at a reasonable cost and most importantly if you can continue to fund the costs to the point you see a return then SEO can be worth the cost and resources.

There is no recognised qualification in SEO, there is no accepted approach that will work for every (or any!) business. There are some excellent SEO service providers out there but it can be difficult for those with no background in the subject to separate them from those who can simply talk a good game. It is important to remember good SEO takes time and effort and that costs. Often, that cost can be beyond the reach of small and micro businesses. It is, therefore, always best to work costs of what offered back to the number of sales required to break even.

What is a small business in need of more sales but unable to justify search engine optimisation costs to do? If that business only deals with customers in a relatively small geographic area then local SEO may be an alternative. This we will cover in future posts.

The Value Of Small Business Local Link Building

Small business local link building is essential if a website is to rank at a high position(page1?) on the major search engines. Building high quality links may be difficult and time consuming but there is no realistic alternative. In this post we discuss some of the best places to look for linking opportunities.

The major search engines rank websites based on what they perceive as thelocal SEM and the value of link building websites authority. For many years a key element involved in measuring this authority has been the number and quality of links (references) from other sites pointing at the website. Over the past 18 months there has been much discussion on the value of backlinks (more below) but there is no doubt they remain a major ranking factor.

Over the years many dubious linking techniques have been clamped down on by Google (lately via the so called Penguin and Panda updates) and today it is not the number of backlinks that is important but the quality and relevance of those backlinks.

There are those that suggest the focus should no longer be on backlinks at all but on writing and distributing relevant information (content marketing). They argue people will naturally link to this content and these links will have very high quality and relevance. It may be one to watch for the future but not today.

The online marketing world is highly competitive and it is difficult for a small business to compete and build customer awareness online. However, given that many small businesses have a potential customer base situated in a relatively small geographic location area specific marketing presents an opportunity. The challenge is simply to build prospect awareness of the business (online or offline) in a local area, reducing the potential competition considerably.

Local marketing includes a number of elements, one of which is a locally optimised website. Backlinks are an essential element involved in ensuring that website is found online should a prospect perform a geographic based search (e.g. Accountant in York). For local marketing purposes the backlink is best if it comes from a local source.

There are many opportunities for small business local link building. They include

  • The major (good quality) directories
  • Local sites that link to local resources
  • Create a local guide
  • Testimonials and reviews
  • Networking events
  • Offer yourself as an expert
  • Sponsor an event or local charity

Directory entries are perhaps the simplest to implement the only issue is to ensure that the business details (telephone, address etc.) are consistent across all directories and exactly match those on your website. Sites that link to resources are a variation on the directory but require some work to produce a guide or resource that is worthy of the link.

Writing a glowing review (including a link) of one of your local partners or suppliers (only if it is genuine) is another possible approach while offering yourself as an expert to local newspapers or publications can secure many local links over time. Local face to face networking is often a useful tactic for small businesses ensuring they are recognised in the local area. Looking for link opportunities makes networking time more worthwhile. Is there another local business it makes sense for you to link to and visa versa?

Finally, sponsoring an event can be a good source of local links if organised correctly and a great way to raise general awareness of the business. There are many more potential opportunities that just need a little thought and creativity. The value of local link building may be measured in raised business awareness and enquiries as a result of the business website ranking on Page 1 of the search engines for location based searches.

Avoid A Google Penalty – Is All The Hype Justified?

Much has been written about how to avoid a Google penalty but is it all hype? Is there really an issue? There are many banner ads and spam Emails proclaiming they have the solution to so the called toxic links issue but are they simply using fear and misinformation to generate sales.

Google panda penaltyOf course it is true Google implemented their now famous Panda and Penguin algorithm updates to clamp down on dubious backlink practices. Just recently they also announced updates to counteract fake rich snippet schemes but does this mean generating backlinks and creating rich snippets should be avoided – absolutely not.

Historically, Google (and the other major search engines) used the number and quality of incoming links (backlinks) to a website as a key measure of the authority of that site. However, generating relevant (high quality) links to influence a website search ranking is difficult and time consuming. This resulted in the rise of many dubious (link wheels, purchased links, reciprocal links etc.) schemes designed to game the system and gain an advantage.

If a website used one or more dubious link schemes in the past then, if spotted by the Google algorithm, the site may receive a penalty (a significant drop in the position on the search pages). If this happens recovery in the short term is difficult and in some cases impossible. Does this mean link building is no longer a valid practice? The opposite is in fact true, all that has changed is that Google has clamped down on automated link building schemes and moved the emphasis to quality of link versus quantity.

Link recovery schemes (methods to identify and remove penalised links) can help but to clean up a website that has used links schemes can take significant effort and they therefore come at a considerable cost. On the other hand a website that inadvertently picks up a few poor quality links is unlikely to be penalised and paying to have those links identified and removed is not cost effective.

Much of the comment on backlinks is over hyped as is the more recent chatter about rich snippets. The issue is exactly the same, there is nothing wrong with rich snippets but to indulge in automated / spammy rich snippet processes to try to obtain an unjustified position on the search engines is likely to be picked up by Google and penalised.

So in conclusion the so called Google penalty does exist and it can have a serious impact on a website position on the search pages but the solution is simple – don’t indulge in quick fixes or automated processes. New, bright shiny objects are to be avoided and if someone offers some quick fix in search engine marketing then it is almost certainly going to have a significant negative impact in the medium to long term. Ignore the hype, ignore the quick fixes, ignore those trying to make a quick buck by spreading fear and misinformation and build success based on best practice over the medium to long term.

Best Practice Small Business SEO – What’s Changed?

Much has been written about current best practice small business SEO after the major Google search algorithm updates of the past 18 months but has that much really changed? We review the changes, the mass of bad (and plain wrong) information written on the subject and consider what really is best practice.

The Changes To SEO

The Panda and Penguin search algorithm Google search algorithm updates clamped down on what Google considered were dubious back linking practices. The number of backlinks to a website (other websites linking to the site) have long been considered a major factor considered when deciding where to rank a website on the search engines.

Many bad linking practices were developed by those seeking manipulate the search engine rankings and gain an unfair advantage. Google tried to address this issue via Panda and Penguin by clamping down on bad practice and by considering link quality rather than quantity. Hummingbird was somewhat different and slipped under the RADAR to some extent but has the potential to be more significant in the longer term if, as seems likely, it was a sign of things to come.

The Myths Surrounding Small Business SEO

Perhaps the largest and potentially most damaging myth is that content is all important and that back linking and other technical aspects of SEO are no longer relevant.

While is it true the Google search algorithm is more focussed on the content (and quality of that content) on a website and how often that content changes than ever before to state that all that is needed for a website to rank well on the search engines is regularly updated content is plain wrong

To state that back links are no longer relevant is a mistruth. Back links are still of vital importance to website ranking all that has changed is the quality of back links is more important than ever before and dubious linking practices are to be avoided at all costs.

What is clear that best practice small business SEO is based on an appropriate mix of activities. Back links remain vitally important as does quality content that changes regularly but so are over 200 other factors that impact on the position of a website in the search engines.

The best way forward is to continue to focus on long established page factors such as Meta tags and backlinks but to also focus on the user experience. A user is likely to find a site slow load speed frustrating, they will find poor site navigation a turn off and when they do reach the required page they want their questions answered via information (content) that is useful and engaging.

What is Google Local And The 7 Pack

In recent months Page 1 of Google has changed to feature a local element. This post considers what is Google Local and the 7 pack and how they can help a business with a local customer base secure more enquiries.

Google+ Local provides business details and information on what Google defines as a local businesses. This information shows up in search results and is directly linked with the Google Maps listing for the business and the main business website (if one exists).

A Google Local page is effectively an mini website and includes information on the business Address, phone number, and reviews. Once a listing has been verified it also includes business descriptions, images, videos, and latest business news.

Google displays local listings on Page 1 according to a number of ranking factors. In the following example all the businesses shown with a letter are displayed whereas all those shown simply as red dots are other businesses that match the search criteria but are not shown. Up to seven businesses are displayed in the local panel on page google local map example1.

 

 

Part of a typical panel is shown below. A click on the business name takes the user to the main business website. The business contact details are clearly shown with the number of reviews (if any exist) a rating and star system. There are a number of ranking factors used by Google when deciding which listings to display but it is highly likely a claimed listing that has a appropriate content and reviews has a much higher chance of display.

Example of Google local listing

 

 

 

No charge is currently made by Google for the service and any local business is free to claim and set up a listing. There is a simple verification process to follow that can take a week or two to complete but once verified any business can go ahead and update the listing. The one critical point to consider during initial set up is the address and telephone details for the business during the verification process must precisely match those given on the business website.

As a standalone entity a Google local listing raises the profile of a business and builds the business credibility via content and its ability to post reviews and testimonials. It can be even more effective as an element of an integrated local marketing process built around a locally optimised website, a formal review collection process, best practice content marketing and a local linking strategy. Future posts will cover set up of a professional Google+ Local listing.

Organic SEO for small business – Why there is no quick fix

Don’t shoot the messenger but when engaged in organic SEO for small business there is no quick fix. It is true, for a small business website targeted on a local customer base a lot can be achieved in a relatively short period of time but with the initial surge over what follows takes time and effort. That said, the medium to long term returns on that effort should not be underestimated.

Google is the largest search engine and what they (and the other search engines) are looking for is quality content that helps, informs or educates. They are trying to interpret searcher intent and rank pages that satisfy that intent in a high position on Google.

A valid view could be that it has taken the search algorithms some time to catch up with this stated aim and quality content is far from the only ranking signal, the basics are still vitally important but Google has made major strides over the past 18 months (Penguin and Panda) with Penguin 2.0 due within days

Dubious organic SEO practices – particularly related to link building – have, and will continue to be penalised. The way forward is to create quality content (as defined above) and to publish that content on your own site while not forgetting quality local link building and the value of reviews and citations.

If sub-contracting small business SEO activity the implications for search engine optimisation service providers are profound. It will no longer be possible for a business to hire a SEO agency to improve the position of their website on the search engines then simply leave them to it. What will be required going forward is a partnership between the business and the SEO agency where they both contribute to the production of valuable information (content) in all its forms.

There is little doubt a Google update is coming and there is evidence it will again go after dubious link practices and poor quality content, demoting sites using these practices and promote those delivering quality content.

Without content it is difficult to build high quality links. Content can be used to fuel EMail and nurture campaigns. High quality content distinguishes a small local business form its competitors, it builds trust and keeps the business front of mind. All positive marketing activities but the time and effort involved should not be underestimated.

When introducing a new small business website there is always an initial surge of interest and activity. In the early days organic SEO for small business can all seem relatively easy with positive short term results but as discussed above ,beyond that initial surge the only real way forward is based on the creation of content. Results will come but it takes time. It is important not to become discouraged.

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.