Guest Post: Practical SEO Tips for Small Businesses
[Updated from original publication of 24th Jan ’13]
Whilst I deliver training and coaching on social media and digital story-telling, I don’t specialise in SEO. So to bring you some practical advice on how to optimise your websites, I’ve invited Louise McCartan, MD of Search Scientist, to share her expertise with you. Read on for her easy-to-implement, practical steps which you can start using immediately.
For many, SEO seems like a dark art. When it comes down to it though, it’s really about ensuring there are no obstacles to the site being found in search engines. Then it’s a matter of providing the searchers with what they’re looking for.
When working on your website, put the user first. Without them your site is worthless. Don’t bother with ‘shortcuts’. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I know it’s hard, but it’s probably best to ignore the dozens of emails you get offering 50 links for £10. These are likely to do more harm to your ranking than good.
In this article I’m going to explain the core of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). I’ll note what you need to bear in mind when updating your website. Get this right and you’ll be on track for an increase in rank and valuable traffic.
Provide what your audience is searching for
Search engines work hard to give the user exactly what they’re looking for. There were ways in the past in which site owners could trick search engines into thinking their page was the best match to that search. Put that behind you. Search engines are getting much smarter, quickly.
- Find your nicheWhat are you really good at? If you’re an expert in a certain area, then you can create great content about that and place yourself as the best in that area. Providing the best content related to that topic makes you deserving of the top spot in the search engines.
- Find ‘Keywords’Once you’ve had a good think about your niche, make a list of search terms that you think are well suited to your business that you’d like to be found on. From those, do research to find the core search terms (aka ‘keywords’). Add your suggestions to the Google Keyword Tool, and choose suggested terms that have reasonable traffic and competition, that are well suited to your site.
- Have useful content for those searchersNow you have your niche and the related search terms you want your site to rank on. Make sure you have content matching what your audience is searching for. Add new, useful content regularly. A blog within your site makes this easier.N.B. Avoid using Flash and images as text. It’ll make ranking all the more difficult.
Tag site content so Google can match it to searches
There are lots of areas within your site that you can ‘tag’. These include images, headings, page titles and descriptions (that appear in the search results). If this is unknown territory for you, ask your webmaster how you can edit these tags using your website’s Content Management System (CMS).
- Have SEO-friendly URLsCreate URLs containing words that describe the page, separated by hyphens. For example, we used www.searchscientist.co.uk/adwords-tips rather than www.searchscientist.co.uk/item7?=789792379
- Have descriptive, unique title tags and meta descriptions for each page of your siteTitle tags should be approximately 60 characters long and meta descriptions approximately 160 characters or less.
- Have descriptive header tagsThat is, H1, H2, H3 etc tags wrapped around each of your page headers and subheadings, ranked by order of importance. Make sure these are descriptive of that page.
- Tag your imagesAdd an alt tag to each and every image on your site. When saving your images also be aware that search engines read the file names. Avoid using ‘picture 1’. Instead, use the product name, for example.
Publicise your site content
So you now have this great content that’s all nicely tagged. Next step is to spread the word about it. The more people that search engines see being interested in your content, the more weight they’ll give it and the higher it will rank.
- Make your content easy to shareAdd social media sharing buttons to any pages of your site worth sharing. It’s easy and certainly worthwhile. Check out Add This.
- Get links/recommendations from other sites to yoursThis is probably the most comprehensive and useful guide I’ve seen on link building, so check it out: Point Blank SEO Link Building Strategies Guide
- Don’t forget about internal linksIf on one page of your site you write about a topic mentioned on another page of your site, link from one to the other. These links encourage users to browse your site for longer; they help to establish an information hierarchy within your site and they help search engines to find and rank the linked-to pages.Along the same lines, remember to add both an XML and a HTML sitemap to your site.
Theory in action
To give you a success story, one of our clients, Sperrin-Metal.com, is a pallet racking manufacturer with bases in the UK and Ireland. Before we worked with them, they weren’t in the first few pages of search results, but by following these core steps we placed them prominently in the top positions on Google.co.uk and Google.ie when someone searches for ‘pallet racking manufacturer’ and other such terms. (Click on images below to enlarge. Note ads in yellow at the top of the search results are Google AdWords Pay-Per-Click ads; you can see Sperrin Metal is in 1st position in the actual search results just below.)
[Images retrieved 24th January 2013]
There is of course more that you can do to help your search engine ranking and increase traffic. If you get your head around the points above though, you’re well on track. These actions are at the core of Search Engine Optimisation.
Best of luck!