Improving Search Engine Visibility Using SEO Red Kite Creative LLC A 2005 study by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that 56% of Americans used search engines on a daily basis. That can be great if your small business has a website. But simply having a site doesn't necessarily mean it will be easy to find - it could be buried so deeply in the results that your customers can't find you. If you’re a typical user of Internet search engines, you don’t often look beyond the first few pages of results. That’s why it’s important for small business owners to consider ways to help their websites show up in those first few pages. One of the most important ways is through SEO, or search engine optimization. So What Exactly is SEO? SEO is a set of activities used to make web pages more easily and correctly indexed by the search engines. If done properly, this has the added benefit of also making those pages more relevant and useful for your site visitors. Each search engine has its own algorithm, or rules for indexing and ranking sites. No SEO professional knows exactly what’s in an algorithm. However, there are a number of techniques that can make your site more search engine-friendly while still conforming to the rules of the algorithms. SEO includes keyword research, competitor review; making changes to your text and site code; pursuing links and directory listings for your site; and ongoing monitoring. All of these activities have one goal: increasing site traffic by making your site more visible. An Advantage of SEO over PPC PPC (pay-per-click) results are the ones that show up on the top and right side in Google, Yahoo and MSN results pages, listed as ‘sponsored links,’ ‘sponsored sites’ or ‘sponsor results.’ You bid for keywords and pay when someone clicks on your link, so you have the ability to choose your site’s positioning. However, depending on the competitiveness of your keywords, you may spend a lot of money on PPC. ‘Organic’ or ‘natural’ SEO is free and focused on long-term results. Parallax concentrates on organic SEO because this is more cost-effective for our small business clients. Common SEO Myths #1 Ranking Guarantees – This is unethical, because no one knows what’s in the algorithms of any major search engine and no one has ‘insider information.’ It’s relatively easy to find an obscure keyword that may have no value for your visitors and little competition, optimize a page for that keyword and rank on the first page. But what good will that do if it’s a keyword no human visitor will ever use? Google itself says this: “Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a ‘special relationship’ with Google, or advertise a ‘priority submit’ to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or through the Google Sitemaps (Beta) program, and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.” If someone promises you #1 or top ten rankings, walk away. “Submit Your Site to 1,000 Search Engines for only $29.95” – There’s no need to do this. There are only a few major search engines with which a small business needs to concern itself, and all of them have free submission. Search Engine July 2006 Searches Google 43.7% Yahoo 28.8% MSN 12.8% AOL 5.9% Ask 5.4% All others 3.4% Instant Results – Companies that claim you will see immediate returns on your SEO investment are likely using techniques like link farming. These techniques, known as black-hat SEO, can get your site penalized or even banned from the search engines, and this could have a serious impact on your business. If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is. Ethical SEO takes time. META Tags are Key – If a company tells you that META tags are the most important aspect of SEO, that’s incorrect. The emphasis on their importance changes over time; the META keywords tag is now considered irrelevant, but META title tags continue to be quite important. Resubmit Your Site Often – Some SEO companies tout the importance of resubmitting monthly. Resubmitting a site that’s already included in a particular search engine is totally unnecessary. It’s a waste of time, and it can hurt your rankings because many search engines consider multiple submissions to be spamming. Ethical SEO Parallax does not engage in any black-hat SEO techniques. These include: keyword stuffing; doorway pages; cloaking (presenting one thing to a search engine spider but another to visitors); and invisible text, among others. Black-hat techniques break search engine rules, provide little or no benefit for visitors, and can get your site penalized or banned from search engines. Common Sense Having a cleanly-coded site with compelling, well-written content, links that make sense, and a solid navigation scheme goes a long way toward search engine-friendliness. Sites that are designed with web standards and accessibility in mind lend themselves to easier optimization. Our SEO Process Our professional SEO services have evolved through experience to include the following activities: Keyword research. This is the foundation of all SEO work. Our research includes review of competitor sites, review of your current content, and analysis of keywords to determine whether they’re actually being used by human visitors. The keywords we recommend are both relevant to your business and being used by real people. They are typically 3-4 word phrases with high specificity, not general terms like ‘vacations’ or ‘marketing.’ On-page changes in code and content. A number of on-page elements, such as the META title tag, navigation system, ALT and TITLE attributes and text content, among other elements, are adjusted to intelligently incorporate the chosen keywords and improve search engine-friendliness while making the page more usable for human visitors, too. Pursuing directory listings and inbound links. Inbound links from high-quality sites are considered to be very important, especially by Google. Getting your site listed in relevant directories is an excellent way to build inbound links, but it’s just one way. Link building is a time-consuming activity but is essential to continued good rankings. Monitoring. How will you know if your SEO campaign has been successful if you don’t monitor the results? Keeping track is very important; algorithms change from time to time; new competitors come onto the scene; sites are frequently dropped from the rankings altogether. They often bounce back by themselves, thankfully, but unless you’re keeping an eye on your site, you might not even notice. What to Expect from SEO How long does it take? This is a very common question and the answer rarely pleases anyone! If you have a brand-new site, it can take between 6 and 9 months before your site begins showing up in the results for your keywords, particularly on Google which usually takes longer than any other search engine. If your site is more than a year or so old and you’re optimizing for the first time, expect to wait 3 to 6 months before you notice changes. To Summarize… Having a well-optimized website will, over time, improve your chances of better search engine results and increased site traffic. SEO is an important element in your overall marketing plan for your business. For small business owners (any business owner, for that matter), SEO is a viable alternative to PPC marketing, which can be quite costly over time, but organic optimization requires patience. It’s a long-term investment, and it requires ongoing attention from both the site owner and the SEO consultant to maintain good rankings once they’re achieved. About the Author Debbie Campbell is the owner of Red Kite Creative (formerly Parallax Web Design) and has been developing sites since 1995. She is also the owner of an online retail store, and her real- world experiences with search engine algorithm variability ignited her interest in the practice of professional SEO.