Although most small business owners recognize the need for a professional website, they often overlook search engine optimization (SEO). Simply stated, having a good SEO strategy is very important for small businesses. SEO is the process of enhancing your website to become visible in online search queries. It helps your small business be found online by interested consumers. The more visible your site becomes, the more prospective client leads you will generate. New companies and those seeking to grow their client list must utilize all available sales and marketing tools. While personal relationships, networking, and referrals are vital to your business's growth and long-term success, you cannot ignore the internet's power and reach.
To understand the power of SEO, think of how many times you "google" things per day and how much you rely on the internet for solutions to daily problems and questions. The internet influences many of our thoughts and behaviors, from the restaurants we dine in to the books we read to the household appliances we buy. Like us, prospective clients also rely on the internet to gather information and make purchase decisions throughout all phases of their buyer's journey.
So how does SEO work? First, let us review some basic vocabulary.
The term "search engines" refers to websites and software used by consumers to conduct keyword searches on platforms such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Search engines index and categorize all of the content and information on the internet, making it easy for consumers to find accurate information by typing in specific words and phrases. Because we all rely on internet queries to gather information, a good SEO strategy is very important for small businesses.
Search engines consist of three main components—crawlers, indexes, and algorithms. The terms "web crawlers, robots, Googelbots, and spiders" essentially refer to the same thing – bots that scan the internet web pages, following links, and reading content. Each search engine has its bots.
Crawlers go around the internet from site to site, continually searching and evaluating content. When they find new websites, they save them in the "index," which works like the library database.
Think of the index as a file that stores a lot of information about your website. When a person enters a query into the search engine such as "best hotels in Italy," the search engine scans its index for words, phrases, and content that match the search term and then generates the closest matches. The bots scan all the pages of your website to understand it and properly file it. Once created, the bots visit your site and update the files regularly. The frequency of their visits depends on the quality of your website and its perceived authority. Websites such as CNN, Fox News, and The Wall Street Journal get "crawled" continuously, whereas generic websites without much original content do not. A new website may take days, weeks, or even months to get indexed. If your site is not indexed, it cannot appear in search results, just as somebody cannot check out a book that has not yet been filed in the library.
Once your website is indexed, algorithms analyze all the pages of your site. They assess hundreds of factors, such as the quality of your content, keywords, speed, mobile-friendliness, and site authority. Because search engines prioritize quality, they assign bonus points to websites that are mentioned or promoted with backlinks on other credible sites. Essentially, the algorithm gives a grade to each page of your site. Search algorithms favorably score websites that load fast, have focused and well-trafficked content, and even consider how consumers rate the company represented by the website. The pages that receive higher marks get rewarded with higher search engine rankings. Are you starting why having a good SEO strategy is very important for small businesses?
For example, let's say that Yahoo travel suddenly begins to write about a new boutique hotel in New York City, called Hotel X. Their travel section reviews the property, including backlinks to the Hotel X website, and announces that it is one of the best new hotels of the year. MSN travel writers notice and also write about Hotel X. The web crawlers scanning Yahoo and MSN see the links to Hotel X and add those links to their index. The more credible the sites mentioning Hotel X are, the more credibility the hotel's website will gain. When hotel X writes a creative article, the search engine will consider all of the other websites that have mentioned this site and assign it a higher score. When people search "best hotels in New York City," articles mentioning Hotel X will appear. In truth, the web is a bit of a popularity contest. The more others talk about your site, promote it, and share your content, the more "popular" your site becomes.
Ultimately, good SEO provides lead generation. In contrast, while any site can improve its rankings with advertising, the revenue, and visibility generated from these ads only last as long as the company continues to spend advertising dollars. The benefits of building SEO rich content provides ongoing lead generation and is more valuable for customer conversion. SEO leads are not contingent on co-op dollars or marketing budgets; instead, they are influenced by the amount of time and effort you put into your site. A good SEO strategy is very important for small businesses because it makes a site more visible in organic search results, attracts higher-quality traffic, generates additional PR, and generally leads to more clicks than paid advertising.
Although SEO is the cornerstone of any successful inbound marketing efforts, it has become increasingly difficult for small and medium-sized businesses to remain competitive. For example, Google only shows ten results on the first page of any keyword search, and a staggering 75% of people never go on to page two. Websites that rank on the first page of a Google search receive highly qualified and targeted organic traffic without requiring paid advertising.
A professional website is essential for creating SEO, but building attractive, custom sites is often cost-prohibitive. Many small businesses opt to purchase professional-looking templated websites that can be white-labeled to include their name, logo, and color schemes. While this is a cost-effective solution, a generic site without original content will not rank well. Therefore, if you aim to improve your SEO while utilizing templated websites, you must add high-quality, original content. Unfortunately, merely writing the content is not enough. Small business owners who spend time writing creative content should also invest time to understand how their content contributes to their overall website ranking. Google continues to improve the algorithm used to correctly identify high-value content and rank it in organic search results. You will never compete with large businesses that invest thousands of dollars per month in optimizing their SEO. However, by making small changes to your website, properly using keywords, internal links, and generating credible backlinks, you can boost your ranking and generate local organic leads.
Incorporating a strong PR strategy into your overall business model can also improve your site's SEO. This strategy works because backlinks are one of the most important factors when ranking your website. Even a few high-quality backlinks from reputable sites can elevate your SEO, providing social proof, and long term benefits. In the example above, Hotel X improved their credibility because other sites vouched for them by linking to their content. To test out this theory, search for popular keywords and phrases that you would like to appear in. The more prevalent the phrase, the more difficult it is to appear on the first, second, or even third page. For example, if you google the term "travel agent," you will likely notice articles written by highly accredited sources such as Forbes, National Geographic, and Travel and Leisure, not the brick and mortar travel agency on Main street. These companies have a brand affinity, flexible budgets, and consistently produce high quality, creative content. Therefore the likelihood of a local, small business showing up in these searches is relatively low.
On the other hand, if you search for "travel agents near me," Google will show you agencies in close geographic proximity to where you are searching. Aiming to appear in your market's local search results is often the most successful way to improve a small business's visibility, even while competing with more prominent brands. Google's algorithm displays local businesses in geographically driven search queries and often favors them over nationally based companies.
In summary, investing in a good SEO strategy is very important for small businesses, even when you do not have a large marketing budget. Creating high-quality content, gaining backlinks with PR articles, and ensuring that your website is fully optimized will help you build SEO and scale your businesses.
By Janet Semenova and Angela Rice, Co-Founders Centered CEOs
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