Search Engine Optimization.  It can be the life line of any small business.  Everybody wants it but few are willing to put in the time, money and effort that it takes to make it really work.  It’s a long term investment that pays off but takes time before you start seeing real results.

SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that it will rank well in search results for keywords that people enter into Google that are specific to your business industry.

For example, if you run an engine repair shop, you ideally want to show up in search results when someone types in keywords like car mechanic, brake repair, engine repair, etc.

When you do a search in Google, there are 2 different types of search results that appear:

  1. Sponsored Listings: These are sponsored (paid) search results that appear at the top, side, and bottom of the listings, and
  2. Organic Listings: These are the free search results that appear in the main body listings area.

Search Engine Optimization focuses on optimizing your site for the free listings area of search engine results.

Getting to page one of Google search results is not a quick & easy task unless you want to pay a little more and engage in a Search Engine Marketing campaign.  Google uses a variety of factors when determining what sites are ranked and in what order – a few of which include how relevant your site’s content is to the keywords typed in, how many external links and references there are on the internet that point back to your site, how long your site has been established, and how well it has been optimized from a programming structural level.

So how do I get there?

You have 2 options: You can either hire a search engine professional to develop & manage a SEO campaign tailored specifically for your business or you can try doing it on your own – the latter of which I would not recommend unless you are willing to put in countless hours of research, work, and trials to make it successful.

But if you just don’t have the budget to hire a professional, there are a number of things you can do for free to help increase your site’s visibility:

  1. Register and verify your business with major search engines like Google My business, or Bing Places for Business.  This is one of the most important free things you can do to help get your business found on major search engines like Google & Bing.
  2. Optimize your website’s content to ensure it’s not only an effective sales tool but that it also contains keywords that search engines will pick up to help make your site relevant in search results – but don’t overdo it as this could end up having the opposite effect.
  3. Setup social media accounts for your business like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google+, and LinkedIn and start posting small articles and content that is interesting and important to your customers – keep it active.  Make sure these posts link back to your site.
  4. Find blog sites that are directly related to your industry and offer to write guest articles for a link back to your website.  Google loves backlinks to your site, especially from blogs or websites that are reputable and popular.
  5. Register your business with popular online business directories and make sure your information is consistent and up-to-date.

I recommend to try the above steps first to see if this helps get your business found anywhere close to page one on Google. If not, you may be in a competitive industry and will likely require a more aggressive ongoing SEO campaign to get better results.

There are many aspects to SEO that get quite a bit more technical, but are probably best left for someone who has the experience and knowledge in knowing how to do it and do it effectively.

What does it cost?

SEO doesn’t work with a cookie cutter budget plan.  Each business is different and SEO should be specifically tailored to your business depending on how competitive your industry is and what your goals and expectations are.  Often, there is a one-time initial optimization fee, and then an ongoing monthly fee.  You can expect to pay around $500 per month and up depending on your industry and what keywords you want to rank.

What to Avoid?

Buyer beware!  There are numerous SEO agencies or freelancers that are advertising cheap and quick SEO services and results.  Many of these are using what is called “Black Hat” SEO methods that are frowned upon by Google.  And although they may get you quick results for relatively cheap money, your business will eventually pay by getting penalized and ultimately banned from Google altogether for using these unscrupulous techniques that Google does not tolerate, and will cost you and your business not only its reputation, but lost sales leads from search engine traffic.

An ethical SEO campaign will take time (usually months) before you start seeing any results, but can be worth it in the long term as it is the more cost-effective approach as opposed to using Search Engine Marketing with pay-per-click ads.  It comes down to whether you have the patience to wait or if you want results right away.

The Best of both Worlds 

A balanced approach, if your budget allows, is to have both SEO and SEM campaigns running simultaneously.  SEM will give you the sales leads you need now, so that eventually your SEO can take over in the long term when you finally reach page one results.

This is PART TWO in a 5-part series on Online Marketing. Click below to skip to the next section:

  1. The Important of Online Marketing for Small Business
  2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The Slow & Steady Approach
  3. Search Engine Marketing (SEM): The Quick & Easy Approach
  4. Social Media Marketing (SMM): Creating a Buzz with your Clients
  5. What Do I Do Next?