I attended a series of special classes about SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) about ten years ago. I was not yet into digital marketing at that time, but I had a compelling reason to study SEO – to ensure that my business gets found online by potential clients.
While its technical aspects (algorithms) have since undergone many changes, many basic elements remain the same. Present day online marketers still have the same reason that I had ten years ago why they practice SEO (get found online) plus they do so to achieve a high ranking on search engine page results.
Let us discuss how SEO can help small businesses enhance the effectiveness of their digital marketing efforts.
What is SEO?
SEO is the process of ensuring the visibility of a website and its content on the search engine results page (SERP) through organic or free traffic generated by search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
Visibility of a website refers to how high up the SERP a website is for specific keywords or search terms.
SEO has two methods: on-page and off-page. On-page are the techniques done on the website itself while off-page are those intended to promote the website off the page like backlinking and social media marketing.
How is SEO done?
Hereunder are some common on-page SEO techniques:
- Site speed
The loading speed of their website is of prime concern by marketers especially now when a larger percentage of the target audience is using mobile devices to search online.
A slow-loading website (taking 3 seconds or more particularly on mobile) has a slim chance of being viewed by potential customers.
- User experience
Users of online devices would naturally prefer websites that not only load fast but also give them a good experience in terms of site navigation, simple but aesthetically pleasing page designs, useful and engaging contents, logical and easy-to-understand presentation of information, and functioning links.
Good user experience fosters positive actions from users that result in sales.
The content of a website should be clearly relevant to the search queries of online users. The content should not only be useful but also highly relevant to the specific terms used in the search.
- Content quality
The importance of content cannot be overemphasized. Content basically refers to two things: copy (the text or written information) and creatives (the images, videos, infographics, slides, and other graphical or artistic representations of information).
Content is at the heart of digital marketing. Content should resonate with the target audience. It moves them to take the desired positive actions. It is important to note here that content should be written for humans and not for search engine bots.
Besides content quality, the frequency of publishing good content also matters for SEO.
Keywords are words used by searchers when looking for products/services online. These can be one or several words they key in when looking for products/services using search engines.
It is therefore important in order to get found online that websites use the most appropriate keywords that describe their business and those that would be most likely used by potential customers searching online.
Determining the appropriate keywords require not only a deep understanding of one’s business but also of the potential customers. Resources for researching keywords are available online. It is important to consider only a short list (of no more than ten) of the most appropriate keywords rather than a long one.
- Domain name
A domain name that contains your brand and a simple description of your product/service is advisable.
- Title tag and meta description
The title tag tells the search engines what a webpage is all about while the meta description is a short description (just a few words) of what the users can expect from the content of the webpage.
Both the title tag and meta description (collectively known as metadata) are written in codes and are not visible on the website itself but only on the search page.
- Headline and permalink
Headline is the title of a specific page or article within the website. The permalink is the address (or URL) of a specific page which is commonly used in creating a link to that page internally or externally.
- Alt text
As search engines bots cannot read images, the alt text is a word or group of words in the website coding used to describe what an image is all about.
- Internal linking
Internal link is a way of connecting a webpage with other pages within the same website. It is done by creating an anchor text in the website code. It facilitates navigation and understanding of a website content by search engine bots.
- Multiple device optimization
A website should load, appear, and function well in any type of online devices such as smartphones, tablets, and desktops.
- Visitor engagement
Another element that improves SEO is how well visitors engage or interact with the website. A good website will encourage visitors to stay or engage longer with the website or read more pages. If a visitor does not stay long or just look at one page, the website is said to have a high bounce rate.
The commonly used off-page optimization techniques are the following:
Backlinking is getting a link to a website from another website (inbound link).
What contributes to good SEO though are only those links coming from websites considered as recognized authorities particularly in the line of business or industry that a website is operating in. More backlinks from authority websites contribute to higher credibility.
The first authority site I heard of when I was in SEO class was Wikipedia. A link from a friend’s website is not considered good for SEO.
- Social media marketing
This is now a popular way of establishing links to a website. Publishing articles from a blog page or website page on social platforms where the targeted audience spend time online is a good way of creating links back to the website which potential customers may click.
There are other practices that SEO professionals/experts use that are not taken up in this article.
The abovementioned SEO practices are categorically referred to as white hat practices or the good, ethical practices. There are black hat practices too which are the bad ones and are frowned upon and penalized by search engines. I will not discuss here the black hat practices such as keyword stuffing, use of link farms, and others.
Why is SEO important to small businesses’ online success?
SEO enables small businesses to succeed for free by getting them found online by potential customers searching for the product/service they offer.
Big businesses have big budgets for promotion – online and offline. SEO somewhat levels the playing fields for all sizes of business. Even when a small business does not have the budget for promotion, they can have a highly visible presence online if they practice good SEO. High visibility gives a business a high probability of getting more website clicks, more website visitors, and more customers.
As organic search still comprises the bulk of web traffic, SEO will continue to be a major approach for small businesses to get found online and generate sales. While businesses with promotion budget can certainly use search engine marketing and social platform ads to dish out paid ads online, good SEO practices can still provide visibility for small businesses.