Some SEO Basics for 2011

What factors rank a website in the Google search results? How does a small business compete with large businesses in Google search results? These are common questions a lot of people are out there trying to tackle. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach to every business website, which is why a customized SEO strategy from a consultant is becoming more valuable to serious online businesses.

What factors rank a website in Google search results?

  • Link building. Most experts still say that one of the greatest advantages websites often have in SEO is that they have a lot of external links from other sites. It’s important those links don’t just come from anywhere, though. I guess a good rule of thumb is where it would make sense that your linked to on that site to a user. That will be a good clue that it’s relevant and probably an established source (not a “link farm” or a place where everyone pays to get listed for no real good reason). Diversity and quality of those links is way more important than quantity. So if you spend all of your time for a month trying to convince a strong popular partner site to link to you, and a month to add your link to 10 tiny unknown sites, focus on that strong partner first.
  • Domain authority is important. How many years have you registered your domain? How many years have you had it? It’s a good practice to register it for as many years as you can afford (which isn’t a lot of money these days).
  • Alt text on your images. Maybe you didn’t design your site, and you have no idea what this means. This is behind the scenes, in the code. People see an image, but Google just sees a filename which often doesn’t describe what the image is very well. You or your web designer can add some text to the code associated with that image describing what it says using the keywords you are targeting in search.
  • 301 redirects. Make sure http://yourwebsite.com/ redirects to http://www.yourwebsite.com/ – This is something that needs to be done on the server or with htaccess and is a really quick fix.
  • Fresh content. These days, the Google algorithms add a lot more weight to fresher content from blogs or social sharing. Write a blog, and don’t write that blog like you’d write a press release. Write it like a fun, conversational, more personal tone and keep those blog posts short and frequent. Any business can blog, I’m sure you have something to say about your business.
  • SEO friendly URLs are also great to have. Search engines will be able to gather more keyword relevance from a page like http://www.yourwebsite.com/product-name-here than http://www.yourwebsite.com/page1.
  • Good page titles. Make sure the name of each page seen in the browser window’s title bar isn’t the same across the website, and that each title describes each page with important, relevant keywords. Not only does this add more keywords to your site, it is the title of listings people see in Google search results. So it’s clearly a critical to make sure you have the right keywords in place here. But it’s also important to make sure you don’t abuse it. I’ll be honest, I was working on a site and got a little carried away with the keywords in page titles. They weren’t irrelevant, there were just too many, and Google obviously didn’t like that.
  • Internal linking. Make sure your important keywords link to other parts of your site. If you’re talking about the WidgetBurner2000 product on a few pages on your site, make sure whenever you say WidgetBurner2000 it is a hyperlink to the page that is exclusively about WidgetBurner2000. This helps Google understand that WidgetBurner2000 is an important keyword on your site, and it will make your site more relevant on that word when searching for it in Google.
  • Pay Per Click campaigns don’t really do much for your organic ranking, but it’s still a good thing to do if there’s a lot of PPC competition on keywords you target. I’d advise everyone not to spend the money advertising on your company name – unless for some reason you aren’t already ranking #1 on it. With that said, if you already have top 5 rank on keywords in organic search, you probably don’t need to invest a lot in them for PPC, spend the money on the keywords you aren’t seen for.

These are just a few of the many things a website needs to do. There’s a lot of other stuff to focus on from meta tags to how your site was built (text better than flash/images/etc). Again, every site is unique and will need a different approach. It will have strengths and weaknesses and there are always a few areas that needs to be the primary focus. It’s important to know that discovering, strategizing and implementing SEO for a website is time consuming, needs a little trial and error testing, and there needs to be a good awareness of what competitors are doing. So you need someone in your corner doing the detail work for you. Sure, this is something you can work on over time, but wouldn’t you rather be out there innovating instead of trying to get off the ground on what you already have? Just get the SEO over with, and focus on the other things that really matter.

How does a small business compete with larger businesses in Google search results?

This is a great question. I’ve had a lot of experience with large business websites, and smaller websites have some very specific advantages in SEO.

Larger websites have a lot of great opportunities to build links with other high page ranking partner websites. They also give a lot of great opportunities for internal linking because there is so much diverse content to work with and it often links together well. Content is big and these sites have a lot of it, tackling it all can be daunting at first because there is so much, but with the beauty of today’s CMS technology with integrated SEO extensions and modules, a good system can be put in place that makes things easier to manage for everyone.

Smaller websites have the advantage of being so unique geographically and in their products/services. Geographic keywords are huge, because people will definitely be searching for specific things within specific proximities. Small businesses generally generate more of a loyal following, because people love to follow independent businesses. I find that small sites succeed well with social sharing, and blogs on these sites generally generate a lot of interest. It’s easier to tackle the technical SEO issues on these sites because there is less to work with, but it’s so easy to get set up to generate a lot of fresh unique content full of good keywords.

These differences between big and small are also specifically how the two businesses can compete with each other by tackling the specific advantages each has. Wal-Mart may have a leg up on size, content, and page rank, but the small business will find advantages over them on geography, specific niche keywords, and the uniqueness and frequency of fresh content.

Dustin Marson photoDustin Marson is a freelance multimedia designer located in Minnesota. Dustin has been a professional working designer for over 15 years. He works on a wide variety of graphic design, web design, photography, video, and motion graphics projects. He also works with clients and marketing teams on the latest SEO and Adwords strategy.

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