Do you want your new website to be seen by brand new prospective customers?
If so, you’ll need to learn how to leverage the power of search engines like Google. Search engines have the power to drive customers to your website.
This article is really about SEO – search engine optimization. When a website is optimized for search engines, its visibility to people looking for sites like it on the internet increases.
This article is intended to be a very basic guide to almost everything that a small business owner should understand about SEO. Many important details aren’t covered but we hope you receive the “lay of the land”.
The Real Problem You Have: Getting Found Online
Here’s the key problem:
Your website is one face in an EXTREMELY large crowd.
There are over 1 billion websites in the world today (this line was actually crossed in 2014.) Think of the internet and all of the websites on the internet as the world’s biggest haystack containing needles to be found.
The challenge that you need to face for your website is being seen by customers who need you when they search for businesses online.
Your Prospects Have The Opposite (but Similar) Problem…Finding the Right Business for Them
That over 1 billion website haystack of needles that we just mentioned is also your ideal customer’s problem. They can describe what they need but they can’t directly lay their cyber-hands on it.
Enter Google, Yahoo, Bing, and several other search engines. Search acts as a digital matchmaker between web visitors and the content they want to see.
How Web Users Find Businesses: They Search
Consumers use internet search today – Google, Bing, Yahoo – the way that everyone used the yellow section of the phone book decades ago.
According to an article in AdWeek: “Eighty-one percent of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase. Sixty percent begin by using a search engine to find the products they want, and 61 percent will read product reviews before making any purchase.”
Here’s an example. Suppose a customer – a traveler – driving through a town types into Google on their phone:
Italian fast food 43085
Or they might even use the search
Italian fast food near me
The customer isn’t going to know about any specific restaurants already. They won’t type the name of your restaurant.
They just know two things: what they want to buy, and where they want it.
Do you want that customer to come to your Italian fast food restaurant close to area code 43085 when they search online? Then you literally need to tell the search engines that your business belongs in the search results that the customer requests.
How you tell search engines about your content’s audience and purpose is called SEO. If you have effective SEO, more of these internet searchers will find your business.
If your SEO is poor, almost nobody will find your website by online search.
How Search Engines Work – For Your Website – or Against
Search Engine Optimization or SEO means that the written content in your business website signals to Google – and other search engines, such as Bing – that you sell certain items of a specific or general type. Along with any other attributes of your business or products that will be of interest to customers.
Please make note of that phrase “written content”. All that Google cares about in ranking websites is the words, articles, sentences and written content in your website.
Not photos. (No matter how gorgeous). Not taglines, slogans, and self important primping such as “best in class”.
How this happens: Google and other searches continuously and automatically analyze the content of all web sites.
This ongoing process is often called crawling or web spidering. From that information, Google calculates how important each web site page is to show when some user searches for related subjects.
This means that SEO placement in search results – where your site winds up on a search page when someone searches for your type of product – is a competition between all similar websites whose owners want their site to be found.
Google’s Company Religion is Providing the Most Relevant Search Results Imaginable
Google’s early fortune was built on getting everyone to use its own search
as a #1 public information source.
That meant (and still means) not wasting the internet searcher’s time and patience.
Google achieves this result – minimal visitor effort to find intended search results – by providing the “right” answers on the first search.
Why can SEO be such a challenge to get right to so people can find your business?
Because providing great SEO results – more traffic to your site – requires technical and subject matter skills. And specialized knowledge.
Google does everything it can to guess which web sites have what internet users want to find. You have to help Google do its job so Google can help your business.
Your Goal: Showing Up First (or Early) in Search
The holy grail of internet search and SEO is your website showing up as early as possible in search results, before your competition or other sites.
This is one of the most important results that you can hope for from SEO.
Most internet users will see ten search results on each page of search results from Google. (It’s possible to increase this at the visitor end. If you are a logged-in Google Gmail user you can select 25, 50 or 100 search results per page, but most people don’t bother to do this.)
Google places a high priority on returning the very best-fitting search results in those 10 slots.
In our restaurant example search: Italian fast food near me
This means that your restaurant website only has 10 slots in which it can appear, right at the first page of search results – or else someone driving through probably won’t see your listing and therefore know that you exist.
A very few search users statistically speaking even bother to look at the second page of 11th through 20th search results. Beyond that, the decline in visitor viewing is precipitous.
The quality of your SEO determines if you “place” in that first page of search results.
And you can’t ask for that placement directly. You (or your website designer) has to do the work to make it happen.
Good SEO Results Start with Good Internal SEO Techniques
It’s conceivable that you could literally ignore the entire issue of SEO and you could wind up with a web site that is easily found by your best potential customers.
But it’s pretty unlikely. There are simply too many other businesses out there doing something so close to what you provide, that do use basic SEO techniques, that web searchers will never, ever see a search engine hit from your site. Unless you do the work.
The typical business website that has no intentional SEO in place almost always can only be found by knowing the name of that business, and often the physical location (town or zip code) of the business.
The start of being found by your customers online is the specific techniques that you put into your website’s content. This is internal SEO.
You control your website’s internal SEO. You can’t blame competition, bad karma, or uncooperative authority site owners for failure to do the work.
How does your website “signal” helpful SEO information to Google? Several different types of website content – plain old writing or text – need to be present in specific ways.
- Your website content – headlines, body copy, and any links – that appear on your own website.
- Meta Tags – internal descriptions (in the HTML code of your website) that declare to search engines the subject matter of each of your web site pages. These meta tags include titles, descriptions, and keywords.
The Deal with Keywords
Keywords are simply the individual words or very short phrases that describe your business, product or service, which you believe that your customers are most likely to use to try to find a business like yours.
Keywords have a lot of importance to your success in internet search. But most website clients wrongly assume that keywords only mean repetitive words stuffed unnaturally into the website’s copy. This keyword stuffing may have worked to increase a website’s ranking for those keywords a decade ago. Today, search engines use much more sophisticated analysis techniques than counting keywords.
Keywords are part of the “hints” that a website supplies to the search engine to indicate that the website is meant for certain audiences. Keywords also provide search influence when they are used consistently in several places and contexts in every web page:
- Page title and Page slug: The title of your page, which is the phrase that appears in the very very top caption area of your browser window, should contain the most important keywords for that page. The title of this page is “The Basics of Getting Seen On the Internet: SEO”. The page slug is the name of that page that appears in the URL. Here’s an example: the page slug for this page is “seo-basics-how-your-site-gets-seen”.
- Headings: These are indicated on a web page with a particular tag called “H2” or “H1”. The heading of this section is “What about Keywords?”
- Keyword frequency: while keyword stuffing is mostly ineffective today, your page’s keywords should appear in the first 100 words of the page’s text.
- This partial list is only scratching the surface of on-site SEO.
Why Inbound Links from Authority Sites are Very Helpful for You
Now we’re getting into external SEO – the search engine optimization that comes from outside your website. In short, when someone else’s website links to one of your pages, you have an inbound link. And the more highly that Google regards that website that links to you, the better for your SEO.
A very valuable type of inbound link comes from an authority website. Well financed websites with thousands of visitors and users are called authority websites.
Google usually assumes that highly trafficked websites generally have high authority for their keywords, area of interest, or subject matter. (Conversely a site that has almost no traffic has low authority. And that’s where all websites start out.)
A “small” website with relatively low traffic that is linked into by an authority website will usually be found more easily (closer to the start of the Google search results) for search terms that are shared by the authority site and the small website.
Example: How an Authority Website Could “Make” You
Example: suppose your website sells football fan memorabilia. And the National Football League (NFL) website publishes a page on their site that mentions your site in a blog or a news story.
Here’s what happens next in Google-land:
- Google spiders or crawls the NFL site.
- Google sees the new article, and tears it apart word by word and analyzes it.
- Google sees your website link in that article, surrounded by verbiage about the great novelty jerseys and other paraphernalia that your store sells.
- Google associates those words about your products with your website to a higher than normal degree. Why? Because thousands of readers visit that blog every month and Google therefore gives the NFL site high authority for “sports products”.
- Finally, Google boosts your site’s standing in search for that kind of product … because the NFL site “knows football fans”. If you were #17 before on the second page of search results, perhaps you get boosted to #5 for searches related to football fan related products.
You can then expect that besides the initial flood of traffic from the NFL site, you’ll see a long-lasting earlier placement in search results for football fan items.
The NFL site “anointed” your site SEO wise (so to speak) by mentioning your site.
So in a way, an authority website shares a small portion of its authority with each website it links to.
If we use our earlier example of finding restaurants, the usual authority websites for restaurants are review sites. Examples of authority sites for restaurants would be Zomato.com (the former UrbanSpoon.com), Yelp.com and TripAdvisor.com.
In other industries, there may be similar review websites that point to businesses, but there may also be articles, news and commentary on authority websites.
Inbound Links that You Create or Influence
Inbound links from authority websites are a very powerful SEO tool. They are signals to Google that someone besides you considers your site worth seeing.
Encouraging authority websites to link to you overlaps public relations. You don’t have direct control over most inbound links. And it’s often something that you must ask for. Or you must be newsworthy somehow in order to gain these inbound links from high profile websites.
Guest blogging – where you contribute an article to a highly ranked website, in exchange for a link to your site or a landing page there – is an extremely popular and effective way to elevate your SEO. You receive help in exchange for helping another site owner.
Finally, you can create some types of inbound links to your website yourself. You can register with various online directory sites that contain links to certain niches of websites and then you can request that your website be included. You do this by submitting a link to each directory site.
Google Business Pages: A powerful and often overlooked inbound link to your website that you can create right now is a Google Business Page – just visit https://www.google.com/business/.
What About Video, and Social Media?
This will be a topic for a later blog post.
One emerging and powerful SEO tool to be aware of is YouTube videos. There’s some internet gossip around in 2016 indicating that search placement tends to be be boosted immediately after uploading and publishing a related video to YouTube, that has a link to a particular site. (YouTube is a property of Google, which explains much of this cozy relationship.) This is said to only be true of YouTube, and not competing video services such as Vimeo.
Social media communities can drive SEO and inbound traffic to websites. For example, a successful Facebook group can direct its members to an “off-Facebook” community website or product website.
Summary (for Now)
You can ignore the entire issue of search engine optimization (SEO). As a result you will see almost no online visitors of your site who don’t already know about you.
You can invest the work and the time in internal SEO in order to cause Google to display your site in relevant search results.
You can form alliances, friendships and partnerships with authority websites – and even write articles for them – and request inbound links to your site – in order to dramatically increase your website’s SEO footprint.