Web SEO Primer for Small Businesses:

This is a simple web search engine optimization primer. It might shed some light on the mysterious task we call SEO.

Search Engine Optimization refers to the task of making web content more accessible to the search engine. It is then up to the search engine to evaluate and grade that content’s quality.

SEO has evolved since its inception, which started a few years after Google began to dominate the web. The first “Florida” update marked the time when SEO really started to take off as the whole quality issue became more and more of a mystery.

Today we separate SEO into two classes, white hat and black hat. White hat involves practicing those techniques outlined in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Black hat involves any method that unfairly attempts to overtake or crowd out sites within the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) in any given vertical.

Some examples of black hat might include loading a page with unnecessary keywords (keyword loading) or buying back links (this includes buying social links). Google wants to see “natural” traffic, not manipulated traffic.

White hat methods include creating interesting, compelling content. It also includes fully completing image alt tags, anchor text links all with the goal organizing content and creating a better user experience.

SEO is very complex and requires almost daily study of the ongoing trends and algorithmic updates.  It’s a science that is best left to the professionals as any DIY attempts at SEO can land penalties that can cost months of recovery.

Organic Listings:

While it may sound like a type of gardening, organic listings refer to the “natural” acquisition of SERP placement.  To obtain organic listings you should have unique content. For example, if you are selling peanut butter, you’ll be fighting all the established brands if you sell plain and chunky. However, if you are selling “cherry flavored peanut butter” you chances of natural listings on page one greatly increases, although that does not sound very appetizing. You get the idea.

Organic listings are natural, the next option is paid advertising.

Paid Advertising:

If you can’t manage to get organic listings or if you are in a particularly competitive market, you can use Pay Per Click (PPC)  advertising. Google offers Adwords and Bing / Yahoo have their own PPC program. You can advertise with Google, but with clicks going for up to $5.00 each, you need a LOT of money to compete.

Monetizing your Website:

If your site gets a lot of traffic, you can actually get paid to allow Google or Bing to place sponsored ads on you site. You only make a few cents and only when the ads on your site are clicked by visitors. Some sites with thousands of pages actaully make a living off of ads on their sites.

Google for example has their Adsense program for “publishers” who want ads to appear on their site.
Adwords is the Google program that allows you to create PPC ads and advertise on other people’s sites as described above in “Paid Advertising”.

Improving your website performance:

Before I outline steps for improvement, one thing to keep in mind is that there are NO quick fixes for traffic problems. Search engines respond slowly, on purpose. They tend to keep webmasters in the dark. Used to be we could rely on periodic reports from Matt Cutts, Google’s PR guy, but he’s no longer in that role. You may be tempted by solicitations by some anonymous SEO firm claiming they can guarantee page one placement for a single keyword for only $1,500, don’t buy it. Nobody can make promises.

Steps to improve:

1. Know thy marketplace: You must know every one of your online and offline competitors – Sun Tsu Art of War Style. Visit their websites, find where they are getting traffic (we have ways to do that).

2. Identify all related keywords and their values: This is where your traffic will come from. If you’re not listed for important keywords, don’t expect any business. We have a way to do this keyword research; however it can be time consuming and require some heavy creative thought and brain storming sessions.

3. Target pages: Once you know your market and your targeted keywords, go after them. This is a “baby step” process. Start with one page / article that targets the key phrase, but presented in a natural, related method that fits your business. The CMS (Content Management System) must also contain the detailed title, description and snippet. This might sounds simple, but it can easily derail your website SEO efforts.

4. Monitor: Of course none of this is going to happen overnight. Use whatever method you prefer: Google Analytics, PIWIK or AWSTATS will help. Proper monitoring means for ALL search engines. Don’t forget to have your Google AND Bing webmaster tools accounts setup. This allows you to submit your sitemaps and monitor crawl rates and progress.

5. Diligence: As quickly as good results flow in, bad results can follow. The search engine world is constantly in flux, changing every day. It’s become highly competitive and cut throat. Big brands typically rule. Big wallets rule too. Most companies you’ll find on page one these days are well funded big brands. It was bound to happen eventually. The trick is to be diligent: investigate, create and monitor. Wash, Rinse & Repeat. That’s all you can do.

The bottom line is that SEO is a science. It’s also a very rapidly changing science that requires constant research to stay current. As a former systems engineer in the process control industry, I find the entire topic rather fascinating and the numbers involved are mind numbing. If you’d rather not start at the beginning or work from pure guesswork, contact Microlinx Tech LLC and we’ll quote your SEO needs. There are many third party tools available to help monitor and improve traffic. Be aware that they will involve a minimum of $100/ month and in some cases over $1000 / month.