Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO), sounds pretty complicated but to make it simple, it comes down to how easy you are to find on a search engine such as Google (the biggie) or Bing.
And let’s face it, this is how the majority of people find what they are looking for. In the old days (yes my days), we would rely on the Yellow Pages when searching for information, but now we turn to the Internet and especially Google to answer our questions.
So if you want potential customers to find your business online then you need to have a basic understanding of SEO and just how important it is for your business.
With so many consumers now searching for products on the internet, it’s important for businesses to have an online presence. But having a web site is not enough which is where SEO (and SEM, more on this later), both play a vital role to get your name out there to prospective members and clients when they are looking for you.
What exactly is SEO?
So let’s dig deeper as to what SEO actually does. SEO aims to boost your web site’s exposure on the Internet by influencing search engines like Google and Bing so they can find your web site and rank it high in their results pages.
SEO is called “organic” search because appearing naturally on a results page is free (that’s the great thing about SEO). However, the main challenge for your business is what you can do to get it higher in the search engine rankings (that’s the tough part).
Typically when you do a search on Google, you only look at the first page of search results. So if you are appearing on the second, fifth, seventh or tenth page, people may not even see you.
So the more refined and sophisticated your SEO strategy, the better your web site’s ranking is, the more traffic you’re likely to get to your site, which means potentially more sales for your business.
What is the difference between SEO and SEM?
Now I just want to take this moment to explain the difference between SEO and SEM (or Search Engine Marketing). SEM is essentially advertising your web site on search engines like Google and Bing. SEM delivers traffic to your website by buying ads on search engines. SEM plays an important role in attracting customers to your site and, when done well, it can put your details right where customers are actively looking for what you offer.
When people search the internet they type specific phrases into a search engine – like “Personal Trainer in Newtown” or “Gyms in Parramatta”. These phrases are known as keywords and are at the heart of search engine marketing.
Search engines like Google match up the keywords someone is searching for with the keywords a web site uses, as well as those used in search ads.
Put simply, a campaign involves bidding on keywords and phrases. These bids are referred to as your ‘maximum cost- per-click’ and are the most you’re willing to pay for someone to click on your ad.
Search engines consider a number of factors to determine who wins the auction. These include your bid, the quality of your web site and how useful the information might be for a potential user.
How does SEO work?
SEM is relatively easier to manage as you control the strategies and budget but SEO is a different beast so let’s break it down.
Search engines have to list hundreds of millions of web pages that are constantly being created, changed or deleted without warning.
It may sound like something from a scary movie but Internet programs called “crawlers” search the web to collect data and then report this back to the search engine’s list or what is also known as an index.
That index is what the search engine refers to when choosing which sites to display after a user searches for a certain word or phrase.
Naturally, search engines are keen to find web pages that best fit a searcher’s needs. That’s the business they’re in and they want to provide a valuable service.
Now the search engines use complex formulas known as algorithms to bring up the most relevant results, all within a fraction of a second and these algorithms are a safely guarded secret.
So how can you improve your SEO ranking?
There are some things you can do to help boost your website ranking:
Keywords are the terms people enter to perform a search. They are also the main marker of relevance for search engines.
Much of the work performed around SEO and SEM is about making sure the keywords likely to be used by people hunting for your services appear in the right places on your web site.
Here’s an example. Many banks will advertise for ‘mortgages’ but most consumers are searching for ‘home loans’. It’s important to make sure you think like your customers and use the right keywords.
‘Keyword density’ is how many times a certain word or phrase is found on your web site. There are certain places where it’s more important to include your keywords – the URL, the title tag, links, headings and throughout your page content. Web sites are read from top to bottom so words found closer to the top result in more favourable rankings.
Another good way of increasing your popularity in the eyes of a search engine is to have plenty of links from other sites onto your site.
Search engines see these links as marks of approval or votes from other people. They assume if lots of other sites are linking to you, it’s probably because your site has interesting or valuable content. You can ask other sites to link to you, or use anchor text, which is when you hyperlink a word or phrase within text to another site or to information within your own.
Making sure your content is of high quality is another way to make your web site more easily found by search engines. High quality original content is always valued by customers therefore this will help you get closer to the top.
Online directory listings
An online directory listing is another way to ensure potential customers can find your business easily. Yellow Pages’ extensive online network can boost your business online by making sure it can be found however your customers are searching.
One of Google’s recent updates has also focused on online directories so businesses listed in reputable directories will be ranked higher in search listings. So as well as Yellow Pages, make sure you are listed on other directories such as Yelp, True Local, Hotfrog, Womo, AussieWeb, Start Local and Street Directory.
Did you know Google takes into account the speed at which your mobile web pages load when it calculates your page ranking?
Research has shown that any delay longer than a second will cause the user to interrupt their flow of thought, creating a poor experience.
Recently search engines have been taking a site’s speed into account for rankings, especially on smartphones, as nowadays most browsing is done on handheld devices.
Search engines try to keep the user engaged with the page and deliver the optimal experience, regardless of device or type of network.
So the faster your mobile site loads, the better off you’re going to be in relation to rankings. But you should never strip away valuable features just to get a faster load time. Always balance usability with speed.
A simple URL
A great web site address or URL is clear, consise, meaningful and friendly. If a URL is complicated, long and full of digits, symbols and underscores, not only will your customers not remember it, but search engines may have problems deciphering what your keywords are.
Use hyphens instead of underscores in URL names because search engines treat these phrases as one single word if they are connected with underscores. Taking these steps will position your web site higher up in the search results.
Mobile Web sites are so important
There’s no denying the power of mobile. The mobile phone market is near saturation point, with more mobiles in Australia than people. But only 43% of small businesses have a web site that works well on mobiles.
Regardless of how important mobile sites are, they are often an afterthought for small businesses putting together a web site. With 66% of Australian mobile users researching products on their phone, it’s essential your web site displays perfectly in the mobile environment.
This has become even more important because Google has recently introduced a change that will reduce a web site’s traffic or mobile ranking if it doesn’t work well on mobile or tablet screens.
To see if your website is compatible and easily used with smart devices, test it with this free mobile-friendly testing tool.
Some other tips
- Ensure your website loads fast by avoiding over-sized images and by hosting it on a fast web server. There are a number of free web sites which can test this for you.
- Create fresh, relevant content so search engines don’t consider your website stale. One of the best ways to do this is with a company blog (read my blog on why you should be blogging).
- Engage in relevant online communities like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, forums and other blogs. By engaging in these communities and helping to educate people about your industry, you can gain additional exposure and links back to their web site. This helps both traffic and search engine rankings.
- Keep your design simple. Make sure that what you’re selling is crystal clear to any visitor. Don’t let the design be too distracting.
- Help your web site build trust. Speak clearly and in an engaging way that’s true to your brand.
- Be multi-device friendly. Your site should work well on all screens including laptops, tablets and mobiles.
Now let me clarify a few common questions I am often asked:
Can SEO companies guarantee results for SEO?
No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on a search engine for SEO (though SEM is a different story). So beware of SEO companies that claim to guarantee rankings or allege a “special relationship” with a search engine.
My website ranks high on Bing, but not as high on Google. Why?
Each search engine uses a different algorithm; therefore, each one ranks a site differently. Any optimisation you do affects all search engines. When you’re considering how to optimise your site, it’s worth remembering that Google has the largest market share of all search engines.
How long will it take for a site to rank?
There is no way to accurately predict how long it will take a site to rank. A safe timeline is 6-12 months to rank on a local search term, depending on the amount of competition. Search engines may not even recognise changes to a site or links to a site for a couple of months.
It’s common to see no movement in rank for the first two or three months. And the more competitive a keyword is, the longer it will take to rank. This is why SEO is a long-term strategy.
There’s no guaranteed placement for SEO. Why shouldn’t I just do SEM?
It’s true that pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can provide great results quickly with a healthy ROI. However, SEO (organic listings) are more trusted by users and receive more clicks. So even though it takes time to rank, the ROI and long term value of SEO is higher than SEM.
So as you can see, SEO is a complicated business – I have just scratched the surface here and hopefully provided you with some details to understand the basics and to show you that it must play an important role in your marketing strategies.
Michelle will be appearing at FILEX – the Fitness Industry Convention at the International Convention Centre Sydney on the 28th of April at 3:15 pm presenting the session “Let’s get your social media in better shape.”