SEO Essentials For The Proactive Small Business Owner
Take the Scary, Eek And Ouch Out of It
This is real. We avoid or procrastinate certain things because on the face of it, they’re scary. And yet, if we take a look at our fears, we might find they are caused by some unknown; something we either don’t understand or are encountering for the first time. If we can just get familiar with the unfamiliar, grab a hold of some traction, grasp some basic concepts, we often end up discovering something we will grow to have an affection for, enjoy and surprise, surprise, even have fun with. Like SEO.
That’s how it was for me when I was apprehensively learning the basics of SEO back in the early days of our business. But after awhile, it began to have a kind of knitting feel to it and I liked that. Methodical. It was one stitch at a time and eventually I could watch it weave into a kind of story of the website I was working with.
The essence of each site became further revealed through the process of on-site optimization and that helped to initiate a sort of chain reaction of intent and purpose. What I didn’t realize at the time, thinking like that, was that I was establishing the fundamentals in my mind about how I would need to regard SEO in the future. Telling stories, weaving together parts and creating something consistently true. That is SEO.
Today, Search Engine Optimization is different than it used to be. It’s both easier and harder. Easier due to Content Management Systems and Semantic Search affording non-experts a chance to get hands-on experience and do a lot for themselves and harder because we have a lot to do.
SEO (verb) is an extremely far-reaching and deep-science-artful process. That means your website developer or SEO (noun = specialist) still has the moderate to heavy lifting job because that lifting requires an analytical, technical mind, extensive education, skills and time that many of us do not possess. But happily, these days, you don’t need those particularly tech-suited brains for all of it. You can ensure that huge chunks and arguably the most important foundational chunks of your SEO efforts are healthy. You can become proactive SEO practitioners for your own website/blog without a lot of training. Hallelujah!
My aim is to quiet some of your fear and give you the courage, permission to act on your own behalf and some direction on how to get started.
Here’s The Beautiful Truth
The new SEO is holistic. That’s why so much of it can be firmly placed in your hands. When it comes to optimizing for search engines, online marketing and showing up in the SERPS what you can implement for yourself is the backbone of your marketing.
In today’s world of search, here’s what counts:
- WHO YOU ARE: your identity
- YOUR INTENT AND PURPOSE: what you’re about; your mission, goals, passion
- WHAT YOU DO: your expertise
- YOUR AUTHENTICITY: the uniquely genuine expression of you
- TRANSPARENCY: for building trust and reputation
- YOUR CONTRIBUTION: the effort you make = value
- YOUR EXCELLENT PRODUCT OR SERVICE: more value
ALL of that
(the woven story)
AND the way you communicate it. Consistently.
(weaving it into the wider-web)
THIS is what matters most
All of this and that
Begin at the beginning. Invest energy and put attention to self-inquiry (individual or business). One of the beauties of the Semantic Web and the changes in search is that it frees you to use what you’ll discover and what you’ll learn from exploring what really excites you about your business; your passion, what you’re up to, who you are. And then, you’ll decide how you’ll communicate that.
Three Main Areas To Weave Your Story…
Caveat: These areas are vast lands unto themselves. This is but a small taste of each.
1. Content Development And Content Marketing
With Holistic SEO we must all become writers and/or content producers. And we must also become publishers- because our web property (website and our blog) is the publisher for the content we (and our guest bloggers) author.
Your content will be the means by which you build relationships with your audience and customer base. Your content is the core; it is both the base tool and the main ingredient of all your marketing. The vehicle for communicating everything you are and have to offer. It’s called Content Marketing.
Deliver the value you promise, produce productively, effectively and work at being consistent but keep in mind that the rule is always quality over mindless, vapid quantity. Make a commitment to create quality content because quality is the requisite for standing out, being recognized as having value and being recognized by Google.
You can define “quality” by asking yourself if your content provides value, is helpful, educational or offers solutions to your readers and if it is worthy of them sharing it. You’re working towards earning the trust of your readers, illustrating your expertise and eventually, perhaps, earning a position of authority in your field.
If you’ve laid the groundwork for your website, this is your blog we’re really talking about now because that’s where you can build a continually growing archive of written material, adding topics and categories at will without mucking up the navigation of your website and basic content there. This is crucial because your website architecture and navigation need to be absolutely clear and well-organized. This is for the search engines and your users.
The trick to getting started is to give yourself the right to make mistakes, to play, to experiment and explore possibilities. Don’t let fear paralyze you. Rather, take risks and always rely on “being authentic” in whatever you create.
“How can I create quality content? – …ultimately the only thing that really matters is how useful the content you create is to the audience it reaches. That also becomes the litmus test of success for your business. So really, the answer here is that quality content is created the moment you translate the passion you feel for your business and your desire to be the best into content that simply resonates with your audience, helps them achieve something with it, in their lives and addresses their questions and needs.” David Amerland
2. Social Media and Social Integration
Ah. Here we are at the place that so many of you love to hate because of the energy and time it takes. Yet your engagement on Social Media is an undeniably critical piece to the SEO puzzle. It serves as the entry point to getting to know your audience, customers, what they need and how you can serve them better and let them get to know you. It is how you will generate traffic, authority and trust for your website/blog and create the flow of your content from Home base to the rest of the web.
Without Social Media you very well may never show up in Google, Bing or Yahoo. In their regard, other than the quality content they can see on your site, the most powerful votes that prove your validity and usefulness comes from activities outside your own web property (your website/blog); the links, shares and citations pointing back to your site and who is creating them.
This Is Your Chance To Tap Into Your Generosity And Interest In Others
You will need to look at this completely differently than mere opportunistic promotion in order to succeed. This is not advertising. Don’t throw your links up, walk away and hope to gain anything. Your engagement in Social Media is all about the relationships you establish with your audience, piers and customers and yes, influencers too. Before anyone will be interested in what you have to offer, they will need to get to know and trust you.
Interaction, not just posts, Likes, +1’s, Tweets, Pins, Shares, Comments etc. are what count. Spend some time every day on the platform of your choice (hopefully, more than one) developing relationships by liking, +1’ing, tweeting, pinning, sharing and commenting on other people’s work. My platform of choice, Home Social Base is Google’s social layer, Google Plus, because I find it to be the most stimulating, rewarding and exciting platform. But you can also find me on Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Eric Enge on Social Signals: “… building your reputation across many platforms and getting lots of different types of social proof signals is the heart of online marketing these days.”
3. Rudimentary On-Site Optimization
Google has always been pretty smart and is getting smarter as I type and you read, but all the search engines still need some help from us. This is where on-site optimization comes in. A website needs to be search engine friendly.
Here are some bottom line basics – things you can do in relation all the new the content you’ll be producing.
Strong, smart, visually attractive website design that works on an emotional level is a huge part of the equation. But underneath and supporting that look and feel there needs to be a clearly defined, solid architecture of navigation and functionality. Your Site Map should be developed with care. A positive user experience is paramount for effective SEO. Make it easy for a visitor to find what they’re looking for. The experience they have will likely not be linear. So make sure that the navigation is clear from any entry point.
Good visual design and structure not only increases the usability and good organization of any website but it can draw curiosity and interest, and hold that interest because it continues to give the visitor that positive experience thus increasing how long they remains on your site. And It contributes to building trust.
Bounce rates (how quickly someone arrives and then leaves your site without visiting other pages) can count against you in search. However, and this is a strong caveat- looking at bounce rates can be completely misleading. They have no meaning or could even be the opposite of what you think and you won’t know the difference unless you examine the kind of page they are occurring on. It’s entirely possible that a bounce implies a visitor transition from visitor to conversion. In other words, the bounce might be exactly what you hoped for in that instance.
Make Your Site A Content Management System and Utilize An SEO Plugin
Most Content Management Systems are built to be search engine friendly, so you’ve got that advantage right from the start if your site is a CMS. If it isn’t, make the changeover. Our CMS of choice is WordPress. It comes with a built in blog housed under the same URL – a critical feature.
Most CMS’s are set up to work with plugins that you can easily download and install on your site. It’s best to use caution on the number of plugins you use but it is important to use a plugin for SEO. The two most popular SEO plugins are WordPress SEO by Yoast and All in One SEO Pack. I recommend Yoast because it has a higher rating and may be more feature-rich for the beginner including guidance for writing content that incorporates SEO and focuses on your keyword usage within your content.
We have an extraordinary opportunity with Google Authorship. If you haven’t implemented it, you must, right away. This is how you’ll have a chance to get what’s called a Rich Snippet in search engine results: your photo next to the link to your article. The evidence is that more people click-through to an article with a real face attached to it.
If you are creating content to build your brand, prove your expertise and be known for the authority you are, it stands to reason that you would want to take every opportunity available to ensure your content is marketed and labeled clearly as belonging to you – across the web.
Hot off the video presses addition: You won’t want to miss this segment of the new video series from Stone Temple Consulting with renowned Authorship expert, Mark Traphagen and Eric Enge. “Here’s Why Your Brand Should Use Authorship”
(see more about these folks in the Resources section, below)
UPDATE: August 28, 2014
Google’s John Mueller announced today that Google Authorship has been discontinued. We saw a decrease of rich snippet author photos in search back in December 2013 and by June they were removed. There is speculation by some that it may come back in a new form sometime in the future. So don’t remove it.
I’m going to suggest an approach that veers off the beaten track a bit but will be less overwhelming for you until you get more comfortable in the space. You can go deep into the science of keyword research later. Or not.
If you have one main concept, theme or topic for each page on your site or post in your blog, which is what I recommend, it will naturally surface groups of key words. It’s best to think in topics, concepts and themes to get the widest set of potential listings in the SERPS.
If you want to start with some keywords in mind, you can test them by using them in searches you conduct yourself. The results will give you an idea of what sites (and articles) are ranking for that keyword. You’ll see how competitive it is by the numbers of results and you may choose to make some adjustments. It’s best to do this both as a Personalized search and in Incognito Mode if you use the Google Chrome browser.
You’ll use the keywords/search term phrases in your content but please, write naturally for humans not search engines. Use keywords with restraint so you are not over-using or “Stuffing”. With voice search, the Hummingbird algorithm release and the transition into the Semantic Web this will become more and more prevalent as an approach.
I love how Cyrus Shepard of Moz.com explains a smart approach to keywords by pointing out five most common mistakes:
- Choosing keywords that are too broad
- Keywords with too much competition
- Keywords without enough traffic
- Keywords that don’t convert
- Trying to rank for one keyword at a time
Page Titles, Descriptions and URLs
After the content on a page, the page title is the second most important factor. Titling is an artful craft. Name your pages carefully, thoughtfully. Titles are worth spending a lot of time on. They need to be fewer than 70 characters and should contain a primary keyword plus your brand name. Your CMS and WordPress Plugin will have a specific field built in for this. It will also automatically create an SEO friendly URL for your page.
Your page description will not be a factor in your Google rankings but it’s part of the recipe because this will be what’s seen in your listing and what will encourage or discourage a potential visitor to click through to your site. Make it enticing and magnetic.
Images On Your Site
Google recognizes images and does index them so give them a hand in understanding what yours are. When you upload photos to your site, create a title, alt tag and even caption where appropriate.
Optimizing your photos for search starts when you create the file name. Make sure to use a descriptive title and a keyword. Search engines will recognize keywords in your image file names. It’s fine to leave the image number if it helps you to identify it later, but add these other elements before it in the title. Use language naturally. I won’t go into page load time here, but suffice to say that keeping your photo file sizes down is important. Your CMS will take care of that in most instances, but if you are using Photoshop, make sure to optimize your images for web.
Create a natural language description that is applied when an element cannot be visually rendered or for “screen reader” software for instance for sight-impaired visitors description. You’ve probably noticed the text that shows when you hover your mouse over an image. An alt tag will assist the Search Engines in associating keywords with your image. Do not overuse keywords in your alt tags, however.
Create meaningful cross-post/cross-page links within your website and blog as you may have noticed I’ve done in this article. This is a powerful element of on-site optimization.
Ta Da! The End
So. I know this was a lengthy read and if you’ve made it to the end, thank you for sticking with it. It’s huge topic and even still, I am only skimming the surface here. It’s important to me that you walk away with some practical tools to empower yourself. I’d love to know if it’s been helpful and where your stumbling blocks are.
For additional information and SEO thinking, here is an updated companion piece: “Practical SEO Basics for Small Business Owners”.
If you’re hungry for more, here are some good resources:
~ Check out other articles here on the Fat Eyes Blog
~ Some that relate directly to this article:
Humanity In Social Media – Finding Your Identity
Locate Authenticity At The Intersection: Social Media & Life
How Our Social Media Relationships Begin: Identity & Trust
The Beginners Guide To SEO
~ David Amerland (world authority in Semantic Search)
Google Semantic Search this book will pull it all together for you (on sale at Amazon)
SEO Help – 20 Semantic Search Steps That Will Help Your Business Grow (on sale at Amazon)
~ Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting (Digital Marketing authority)
Content Optimization for Search Engines
~ Mark Traphagen, Director of Online Marketing at Stone Temple Consulting (Google Authorship expert)
ABC’s of Google Authorship (video)
~ Craig Fifield (Longtime SEO, Social Media and Usability expert) NOTE: Google Authorship is no longer in place, but building your authority as an author is still relevant
Understanding Google Authorship, Authority, & Author Rank
~ Demian Farnworth (Content Marketing Expert and one of the world’s coolest writers)
The CopyBot (for web writing advice and inspiration) Demian is also the lead writer for www.copyblogger.com/
~ Cyrus Shepard (Senior Content Producer Astronaut for Moz, SEO authority)
How To Rank: 25 Step SEO Master Blueprint
~ Stephan Hovnanian Pinterest Pro Tip Pins
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Pre-remix photo: iStockPhoto.com
This is great Gina! Thanks so much for sharing. I love your writing style, and of course this is the exact approach to SEO and Content Marketing that I promote and use, so i couldn’t agree more.
And thanks for the mention!
Yo Gina thanx for a very neat article that puts SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) in the spotlight.
A very nice article with simple terminology for the average reader to be able to come to grips with many of the technical issues involved in SEO.
Just to add to your short section on images, your readers do need to be made aware of the fact that the embedded meta data in images such as image title, image description, image key words, image GEO data and many others are an essential part of Google’s image analytic procedures. Most SEO practitioners forget about these image embedded meta data titbits because they are hidden, just as meta data within the section of a web page is hidden from most people so the embedded meta data within images, which image developers use during their work are hidden from users prying eyes.
Things like image publisher and image designer as well as descriptive elements need to be adjusted from an image designers perspective to an SEO perspective before publishing to your blog or web site. This is very effective especially if you use pinterest, Instagram or other image dependent social media strategies.
once again thanx for a great article that uses a #FUFISM based marketing strategy.