What do you think of when you hear the term SEO?
Do your palms get sweaty? Do you immediately feel overwhelmed? Do you experience the intense desire to run away?
If so, you’re not alone. There’s this perception that ‘real’ SEO is best left to the highly trained, and that mere business owners aren’t qualified to approach this task on their own. Well I’m here to tell you that you ARE capable of doing your own SEO, and that it’s not as hard as you think.
SEO Guide for Business Owners
By following the 5 basic principles laid out in this brief SEO guide, you have a good shot at getting targeted, relevant visitors to your website in no time at all.
Don’t stress about doing it wrong, or about getting it done quickly. Take your time, and implement these strategies as you have time. SEO isn’t about a quick solution, but about a long-term investment in your website.
Build an SEO-Friendly Website
I realize that you most likely already have a website, so this might not be an option for you. However you’ll also be able to incorporate these elements into your current site to some extent, with a little bit of elbow grease.
There are certain structural elements that can greatly increase your chances of SEO success. Having this structure in place will mean not only a better chance of higher search engine rankings, but an overall better user experience.
Your site should load quickly.
Using a tool like Google PageSpeed, you can see how your site compares with other other sites in terms of speed. The great thing about this tool is that it also gives you very specific recommendations to increase the speed of your site.
Increasing your speed may be as simple as leveraging browser caching, optimizing your images, or minimizing redirects (which you likely didn’t even know existed!). Other recommendations may be more involved and may not even be possible with your current site structure.
Your site should have a clear navigational structure.
Make sure it’s clear to your site visitors and to the search engines how to navigate around your site. There are a few ways to make sure this is the case:
- Make sure your navigational links are text-based, not image based.
- Each page on your site should be linked to from another page on your site.
- Having a sitemap is a great way to help visitors and search engines navigate easily through your content. If you’re using WordPress, I recommend the Kwayy HTML Sitemap plugin to build an HTML sitemap for your visitors, and the Google XML Sitemap plugin to create a sitemap specifically for the search engines.
Your site should be accessible to the search engines.
You can build the most beautiful, user-friendly website, regularly add new, exciting content, and have built a strong following using social media, but if you’re not allowing the search engines access to your site, they’ll never send you traffic.
To ensure that the search engines have access to every page on your site, be sure to check your robots.txt file to ensure you’re not unintentionally restricting access. If you see Disallow: / anywhere in your robots.txt file, and you’re unsure if it should be there, run – don’t walk – to your nearest techy friend or webmaster.
Also be aware that the search engines can’t access password-protected content like private forums, or any areas of your site that require users to submit a form. They also won’t crawl links in flash or java, so if possible include all links in simple HTML format.
Research and Use Keywords
I know you might be thinking, ‘Isn’t it enough that I make the time to sit down and write a blog post at all? Why do I have to go to all the extra work with this keyword stuff?‘.
It’s true that keywords shouldn’t dictate what you write. It’s also true that many (many!) websites tailor their content to the search engines, so much so that their articles are stuffed with keywords, and can come across as spammy.
The truth is though, that incorporating keywords into your copy doesn’t have to be spammy, and isn’t nearly as time-consuming as you might think.
Think of using keywords as the best way to ensure that people who want to read what you’re writing find your content.
How to Research Keywords
One of the simplest ways to get a general idea of which keywords to use is by using the free Google Keyword tool*. This tool will help you figure out which keywords are actually being searched for, and how much competition there is for that word or phrase.
For instance, let’s say you have an accounting firm and want to write a blog post about home office tax deductions.
Start by brainstorming possible phrases you could target: home office deductions, home office tax deductions, home office tax benefits, home office taxes.
Plug these phrases into the ‘Word or phrase’ box.
After clicking ‘Search’, you’ll be able to see approximately how many monthly searches each of your keywords or terms receives, and how tough the competition is for each. You’ll also be able to see a Google-generated list of other related keywords you may want to target.
To find the best keyword phrase, I want to look at the number of global monthly searches (higher is obviously better), coupled with a low level of competition. I also want to be sure I can easily incorporate the keyphrase into my copy.
If I’m building a page that I’m going throw a ton of resources and effort into, and that I want to be an authoritative resource in my field, I may choose a key phrase that has a medium or even high level of competition. But for a typical blog post, I’m going to want to stick to a low level of competition.
Given the results above, I’d probably go with the phrase, ‘home office deductions’. It gets a decent amount of searches each month, has a low level of competition, and I can easily incorporate it into my article.
*This is a very basic tool for keyword research. It’s great as a jumping off point, to give you a general idea of the popularity of a given keyword, and to generate new keyword ideas. It isn’t without limitations however. For more accurate keyword analysis, I recommend Market Samurai or the pro tools at SEOMoz (not affiliate links).
How to Use Keywords in Your Content
More isn’t necessarily better in this case. Using your key phrases strategically is a better bet. Here’s a quick checklist you can use to make sure you’re incorporating your key phrases in such a way that both your readers and the search engines will know what your article is about:
- In the url of your page (www.abcaccounting.com/home-office-deductions)
- In the title tag
- In the title of your article (“A Guide to Home Office Deductions”)
- At least 3-5 times in the copy of your article
- In at least one heading
- In the alt image tag of at least one of your images
- In the caption of at least one of your images
- In the meta description
- At least once in bold, if possible.
If your key phrase is closely matched with the content you’re writing, you shouldn’t have any problem incorporating your keywords into your copy. If you’re having significant trouble including your chosen phrases, you may want to rethink whether there’s a more suitable key phrase you could be using.
Link to Your Own Content
Internal linking is one of the best ways to increase your search engine rankings, and the best part is that you’re in total control of what you link to and the anchor text you use.
Linking to your own content signals to the search engines that that content is important, and the anchor text you use signals what your content is about.
So for instance, let’s go back to our example above of a blog post about home office deductions. Let’s say that in your post, you reference small business accounting software, and that in the past you wrote a blog post about that exact topic. Linking to that previous blog post with the anchor text ‘small business accounting software’ will increase your chances of that post ranking for that phrase. It also allows your site visitors to easily find useful, relevant content that they may otherwise have missed.
Although internal linking can be a great way to increase your rankings and navigation, be aware that over-optimizing your internal links can result in penalties. When in doubt, change up the anchor text you use, and focus on using your internal links to help your visitors discover new, relevant content.
Share Your Content Via Social Media
Of course sharing your content via social media is a good idea, and generates referral traffic all on it’s own. But did you know that articles that are liked, shared and tweeted are more likely to rank highly in the search engines?
Although it’s still unclear the exact impact these ‘social signals’ have on search engine rankings, Google has confirmed that they are indeed included in their algorithms.
There are a number of factors that are likely included as factors in search engine rankings:
- Number of fans who like your Facebook page
- Number of Facebook shares
- Number of Facebook comments
- Number of Twitter followers
- Tweets linking to your website or referencing your brand
- Number of Google+ circles you’re in
Be sure to promote your new content regularly via all your social media channels. You can also leverage older content by promoting it every few months to increase the number of likes, tweets, and interaction, and by extension potentially increasing your search engine rankings.
Do Some Basic Link Building
I’m not talking about old-school link directories, link swapping, or under-the-table link schemes. There are several ways you can elicit high-quality, reputable links to your site, and doing so will undoubtedly have a great impact on your search rankings.
Guest Posting: Writing guest posts is probably the best way to get high-quality links back to your site. Find sites in your niche that are looking for guest posters, or simply email site owners and ask if they’re open to guest posting. Include a link back to your site in the bio that gets included with your article. Some site owners will even allow you to include a link or two within the content or your article (score!).
Commenting on Blogs or Forums: The value of these links are negligible, however the sheer number of links back to your site may have an impact on your search rankings. When commenting on blogs or forums, be sure to offer helpful, well thought out information, and you gain not only a link to your site, but the respect of the site owner. This can be a great way to develop a long term, mutually beneficial relationship with others in your niche.
Manual Request for Links: Again, I’m not talking about sending out thousands of automatically-generated link requests. I’m talking about researching sites in your niche that you think would value the content you’re offering, and ask them to link to your site. This works even better if you’ve already developed relationships with business owners in your niche.
Implementing the tips laid out in this brief SEO guide should give you a good start at increasing your search engine rankings, as well as improving your site visitors’ experience. Incorporating these steps into your day-to-day routine can take a little getting used to, but I guarantee that your efforts will pay off in the long run.
What SEO tips do you have for other business owners? Any strategies we should add to this SEO guide? What strategies have worked well for you? Leave a comment below!