How can a small business begin in SEO?

confused about SEOIf you have a business or are just setting up your own business  then the key concern that you probably have is finding customers, and then when you find your potential customers then how do you interest them in your business?

The options for marketing a business are currently exploding so it can be quite an intimidating task, even for professionals to determine what exactly is the best course of action for marketing your business.

However, by taking things step by step and logically looking at your own strengths you will be able to pull through the confusion to determine the best course of action for your business. Additionally, SEO has evolved a lot in the past few years and has now become a much more level playing field; no longer is there a reliance on technical website coding skills (although they can still be helpful).

What is SEO?

Firstly, let’s remember what SEO is all about. SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation”, Wikipedia define it as:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.

So how do search engines work and what is their goal?

All search engines have the same goal – to deliver the most relevant results to each users search. They aim to review all of the content on the net and store it in a massive database that categorises and ranks each web page’s relevance for various different search terms and then when a user carries out a search the results that have been (broadly) predetermined are shown.

The search engines ultimate goal is to think like a human, both an individual human and an aggregate of all human beings; similar to the democratic system. They want to be able to fully comprehend every web page on the internet and to also understand exactly the intent of the user when they search for something in their search engine so that they can bring them the best and most relevant content possible; if they can do this then they will then have very happy customers.

This is a very crude explanation as it does not account for personalised search which means that every user will see slightly different results based on their previous browsing history, however it is fit for the purpose of a simple explanation.

To get a good placement in the search engines you really need 2 things:

1) Lots of highly relevant and good quality content around your theme.

2) Lots of links into your website from respected and authoritative websites that are similarly themed to yours.

How can I help my business to rank higher in the search engines in order to get new customers?

Firstly, you should carry out some research into exactly who your customers are (or who they are going to be) and to then find out what search terms they are using to find businesses and products such as yours.

To find out who your customers are going to be then it may be a good idea to attend a few industry trade shows and speak to as many buyers and traders as you possibly can. Seek to understand what it is that they are looking for. What are the problems that both buyers and sellers are facing and how do you think that these can be solved. You may well have already determined this in your business plan. This same research can be done online in relevant industry forums and social networking groups.

You can then do a lot of research into keywords using the Google keyword tool; this is a tool where if you enter a keyword that you think relates closely to your business then it will return you a long list of related keywords as well as the number of times that each keyword has been used last month both locally and globally. There are 2 settings that you need to watch out for:

1) Ensure that you set the “match types” tick box to exact on the left hand side of the tool. The default is broad match which widely over estimates the search volumes as it picks up anything that is even slightly related to what you put into the tool.

2) Tick the “only show items closely related to my search terms” tick box. This is to be found just under the box where you type in your target keyword.

It is worth typing in more than one keyword into the tool (on it’s own separate line) so that you have a theme, the tool will then better understand your aims and will return more relevant results. Play about with it and see the differences for different terms that you enter. Then when you have a list that you feel fits your products well there is an option to download the results into a CSV file. This is a clearer way to see the data and it also gives you an exact percentage figure for the level of competition for each keyword. Competition is determined by the number of websites that have a level of relevance for that search term.

google keyword tool settings

Once you have the data in excel you should then take a few of the search terms that are in the list and enter them into Google (or Bing if you like). See which websites are ranking in the top 3 positions in the natural listings (not the sponsored links) for these keywords and click into them and go and have a look at what they are doing so well. Read the text on the page; do you notice the search term that you entered into the search engine? How is it being used in the text on the page? how is the page relevant for that search term? What good content do they have on their site that is useful for their users? how are they persuading people to do business with them on the page?

This experience should give you a good understanding of the competitive field that you are in as well as a very basic understanding of what kind of experience your website should be providing in order for it to rank well in the search engines. Create a long list of all of the ideas that you saw on the competitors websites and rank them in terms of how much you liked them and also the feasibility of you replicating in your own way or doing better. You should also hopefully have spawned some ideas of web content that you could provide to your potential customers that your competitors haven’t thought of.

Content Creation for SEO

The content that you have on your website is your statement to the world on why you have a unique and special offering within your industry.

This is where things start to become fun. You started your business for a good reason, chances are that you had an idea or a variation of an idea that you saw somewhere else and decided that it was so good that you could build a business around it.

This is the core of your business and is what you need to leverage for SEO. This will be your main appeal to your customers. Always focus on this, but diversify it and change it to meet the changing needs of your customers.

The first thing that you should do in deciding what content to create is to look at the needs of your customers and how they are currently being fulfilled by your competitors.

For example, if you are a bike shop then the needs and interests of your customers may be:

  • buying a new bike
  • bike maintenance
  • buying new parts for a bike
  • bike repairs
  • bike technology
  • bike fashions and trends

Therefore you could fulfill these needs by supplying content such as:

  • Bike buyers guides based on different types of bike (racer, mountain bike, tourer, city bike), different types of usage (country bike rides, commuting, adventure etc), different price ranges, different spec levels.
  • Guides to bike maintenance – check out Sheldon Browns site. Unfortunately he doesn’t make the most of it with the website design and structure but it is an amazing resource nonetheless and this is fulfilling the needs of many cyclists.
  • Detailed product descriptions with user reviews integrated into the product pages.
  • Details of all new bike releases in the form of reviews and press releases.

You then need to determine the easiest, most interesting and helpful way to deliver this content to your site visitors.

If you are doing a series of articles on bike maintenance then why not create videos showing the exact process that you have to go through to remove, replace or fix something; these can supplement written pieces on your site as well as being standalone resources on Youtube and other video sharing websites.

A blog is almost becoming a must for all businesses who are serious about SEO and is one of the easiest ways for a small business to gain traction in their industry. It is not so important for a big well known brand that already has good brand awareness.

If you are producing content on pro cycling then you could record podcast interviews with professional cyclists on their preferred bikes, bike parts, their training schedules etc etc.

You could rework the product descriptions that are given to you from the manufacturer (which will be duplicated across every retailer that sells the same product) so that they are unique to you and contain your target keywords and are written in the tone of voice of your company. You could also have videos of the parts being used in bike racing.

OK, I have suddenly become aware that I am going into one a bit on this whole bike theme and it will be completely irrelevant to 99.9% of businesses but I hope that I have helped to get the idea across to you that you just need to think creatively about what your customers need and how you can deliver it to them.

Put a structured and achievable plan for content creation in place that does not impact your day to day business too much. Perhaps an article a week, an interview per week and a podcast per week. Just plan this out based on the time that you and your team have and the skill set that you have. The content needs to be of a high quality so do not just give it to the intern that knows very little about your business. You need someone knowledgeable and passionate creating the content; this may be you or it may be other employees. If you do not have the resource yourselves then you could always outsource to an SEO Consultant 🙂

Sharing your website content for SEO success

I am now going to assume that you have your content production in hand and are now keen to use it to get new visitors and customers to your website.

1) Ensure that you have social sharing buttons such as the Facebook Like button, Facebook share button, Google +1 button, Linkedin share button (if you are B2B) and the Twitter share button so that users can share your content with their social networks. You should see these buttons at the top of this post.

2) You should also add social bookmarking sharing buttons from sites such as Digg, Reddit and Delicious that allow users to bookmark your content in their personal social bookmarking accounts.

3) You should open social networking accounts within Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin (if you are B2B), MySpace (if you are B2C) and any other social networking sites where your customers are active. You can find this out through going to social network sites and running keyword searches (from your original Google keyword research) and see what conversions pop up; how recent and frequent are they? how many people are participating? how relevant are they to your business? is there purchase intent in the conversations?

4) Once you know where your customers are congregating and discussing the topics that relate closely to your business you need to become a part of those conversations and over time become known and respected as an authority in the field. This takes time and patience but it is fun. The main thing here is to just keep giving. Never stop to think that you have given more to a group of social networkers than you have taken from them and become less helpful. Your generosity and contribution will be noticed and will benefit you for the long term.

5) Once you are active in the group you will find out what the concerns and needs of the group are in more depth and can tailor your content production accordingly so that it is always relevant and topical. You should then start sharing your content with your social followers and contacts. Share your own content but also share others that you think is worthy. Make sure that anything that you share is of a very high quality as you will be judged upon your likes and interests as well as your judgement of others.

6) Add your content to social bookmarking sites; this can be done automatically using services such as pingfm to automatically distribute a link to all of your social networks and social bookmarking accounts in one go.

7) Get to know the bloggers who are prolific and respected in your area, share ideas and content with them. If they respect you for creating great content then they will link to you which will help your search engine rankings. Sometimes it may be appropriate to give them freebies in return for writing a review of your business, even better as an unexpected thank you for doing this without you asking.

8) Add all of your video content to Youtube and other video sites. In the same way that you can distribute links to multiple sites you can also submit video to multiple sites through services such as Tubemogul.

9) Create and submit press releases through recognised PR wires. PR Fire offer a free press release distribution service.

There are lots and lots more ways to distribute your content but it really involves around finding people who are interested in whatever content it is you are producing and leveraging their interest in order to help you get your content distributed.

Use the knowledge and skills that you have within your business

There is always expert knowledge and skills as well as other assets within a business that you can leverage for SEO:

1) Your customer database: these are people who have previously shopped with you and therefore must like you or at least must like what you had to offer at the time of them purchasing. Offer them a discount off their next order if they follow you on twitter and then re-tweet a link that you give them. Ask them to like you on Facebook and enter them into a competition for doing so. Once you have a good following in the social networks then you will become more and more visible and your following will continue to grow and grow.

2) Use the experts you have in your business for content production; for example; assuming that you are a B2B business, maybe you have an excellent accountant or Finance Director who could write an excellent piece on how to save time doing your annual return. Maybe your Product Manager could write a new guide each week for a category of product that you sell or could drive interest in yet to be released products; they will be easier to get good rankings for pre-release so if you get the ranking before release then it will be easier to maintain post release when everyone else is trying to get in on the action; there is value in being the first past the post in SEO.

3) Your products; showcase them in the best way possible, use the technology that is available on the net to present them in as clear a way as possible. Look at how ASOS do catwalk videos for most of their new lines as part of the product description.

Again there is more to be done here too but my aim is to just get you thinking; you will be the best person to notice your assets and how to use them.

If you have any questions then please let me know in the comments below, and if you are another online marketer then please feel free to add ideas as there is surely many things that I have not thought of.

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