It’s not easy being a small business owner. You’re in a position that requires you to make about two million decisions every day (we’re ballparking here), as well as be responsible for sifting through the roughly ten million investment opportunities thrown at you from marketing firms, accountant agencies, and the like.
You’ve most likely heard the strange acronym “SEO” used at one point, and you’ve probably been told it’s one of the most important things you can invest in for your business website. You may know it stands for “search engine optimization,” but have yet to understand what that really means.
Rest assured, it’s not just you. That’s because the definition of “good SEO” is forever changing, shifting dramatically each month as Google adjusts its “algorithm” (the mathematical formula that dictates how the search engine prioritizes its results). Even the experts have a hard time keeping up with all the changes.
At the end of 2013, Google made several major changes that rocked every marketing firm’s world and caused a total upheaval in the way we saw SEO. The rest of 2014 was spent by most businesses picking up the pieces and grappling with previous misconceptions about “links” and “keyword-rich content.” Which, in the end, was for the better; old SEO tactics ended up littering the web with a bunch of really crappy websites (pardon our French).
But Google didn’t stop there. Several updates that occurred during 2014 have left us with yet another revolution in SEO here in the new year. Today, in 2015, SEO has a completely different definition than ever before.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your business site up to date.
1. SEO Means “Quality Content”
One of Google’s primary goals has been to reward websites that provide genuine value to users, and penalize websites that don’t. Too many sites have relied on cheap SEO tactics in the past such as fitting keywords into sentences that don’t make sense, repeating phrases over and over again, and inserting random links that are obviously spammy and not helpful to the reader. Google has rendered these tactics useless in defense of better content.
Good SEO today not only means creating great content, but also consistently creating great content. Even social media sites like Facebook reward consistent sharing of original content with better post outreach. The search engine also looks at the word count of your articles; a post with at least 1,000 words that obviously goes into more depth is going to help you rank better than a post with only 500 words. In the end, shooting for genuine, useful, interesting, and intriguing content is a nearly fool-proof SEO tactic.
2. SEO Means “Honest Keywords”
In the past, choosing a competitive “keyword” (a word you’d like to rank high for on Google search) was easy, considering all you had to do was make sure that keyword showed up as often as possible on your web page. The content didn’t even necessarily need to make sense. This is what hurt the most when Google unleashed its “Panda” update in 2013, and it required site owners to take a more honest look at what keywords they were trying to utilize.
Today, trying to rank for the word “natural makeup” is extremely difficult, and no amount of keyword density will help you (if anything, it will hurt you when Google decides to penalize you). Instead, good SEO means narrowing down your scope and choosing “long-tail keywords” that will appeal to a more specific audience and still manage to rank, like “what are the benefits of natural makeup in the summer?” Take a look at your product, and consider what people are actually looking for. This will help you choose the most effective keywords for your site.
3. SEO Means “Locally Relevant”
One of the most recent changes to Google’s algorithm came with their “Pigeon” update, and it’s put quite a spin on the way small businesses must accommodate the search engine. It now heavily considers each user’s location when searching, allowing search results to be narrowed down and directed towards products and services offered on the local level. This means a simple search for “dentist” won’t return the website of the most popular (or SEO-savvy) dentist in the world, but instead the most relevant dentist in your local area.
As a site owner, this gives you more of a challenge in choosing the correct keywords. If you’re trying to appeal to a local level, it may be just fine to depend on broader keywords like “dentist.” But if you’re hoping to sell dentures on a more global level, you’ll need to do your keyword research and appeal to the questions out there that are being asked by those in need of dentures.
4. SEO Means “Mobile Friendly”
Mobile usability has proved to become more and more important as Google has evolved over the years. Mobile web users have grown more prominent each year; they are so numerous that Google will now penalize you if you don’t have a mobile version of your site.
In 2015, especially, it will be even more important not only that you simply have a mobile presence, but also that you make sure that presence is a good one. Poorly developed mobile sites will cause Google to “flag” you and decrease your ranking. This will always be in favor of a competitor’s site that is prettier to look at, easier to use, and more in tune to their mobile users’ needs. Make sure you invest time, energy, and money if needed into your mobile site this year– you won’t regret it.
5. SEO Means “User Experience”
More than ever before, “good SEO” means making sure your user will have the best experience possible when on your site. This extends far beyond making sure that they can understand the content on your home page. User experience has to do with how much time the visitor has to spend finding what they’re looking for on your site, and is directly related to how quickly they give up and leave your site to go look elsewhere. It also has to do with how much time they have to spend scrolling their mouse, which is why Google rewards sites with their most valuable content placed “above the fold” (or at the top of the page, whatever is visible before the visitor has to start scrolling down).
Make sure both your mobile and desktop sites are easy to navigate through, and that all your web pages are easy to find. It’s one thing for Google to reward you for your efforts, but your consumers will also reward you by actually buying your product or service!
While getting into the technical aspects of SEO can give you a headache, it’s important to understand the very basics to help you keep your site relevant and searchable. Understanding these basic principles will make all the difference in your marketing efforts this year.
If you’re ever in doubt, you can always contact me directly for more tips on how to improve your site, content, design, and other areas. When you find yourself overwhelmed by all the decisions you have to make in a given day, just remember: stay true to yourself, trust your instincts, and never get in the habit of shortchanging your audience of what they need or want. Because, today, “good SEO” means doing all you can to make your own audience’s life easier. And they will thank you for that.
Adam White is the founder of Website Rocket, an online software service that helps small businesses do their own social media and SEO promotion. He has worked in the internet marketing world since 2000 and in his spare time wrote and directed a feature film. He lives in Arizona with his wife and 6 children.