As a small business owner you’ve probably got at least a little understanding about what SEO is and what you need to do in order to get better rankings in the search engines for your website. However, for whatever reason, people like to make SEO sound more difficult than it is. The web is awash with articles like “Keyword Density – what’s the ideal ratio” or “100 Essential SEO Steps” which either sound really boring or really hard work.
The reality is that there are a few SEO fundamentals that you can easily learn and implement which will:
(a)generate improvements in the number and quality of visitors to your website and
(b)give you a solid SEO foundation to build upon
I’m going to cover 7 SEO essentials that you should consider applying to your own website to improve rankings. I could go on for pages and pages about each of these, but since we’re all busy then I won’t – if anything isn’t clear then a quick Google search or a quick email to me will clear things up.
I’ll assume that you at least know what HTML is, or have access to someone that can do it for you!
1.HTML title tags
Search engines place a lot of importance on the words that you put into the HTML title tags. For that reason they should accurately reflect the topic and content of the page and also contain the key terms that you’d like to appear in the search results for.
For your home page, the title tags should reflect your overall business and the lower pages should reflect the specific service covered on that page.
Let’s assume that you’re a building firm based in Berkshire, your home page title could be:
“Builders in Berkshire | ABC Home Improvements”.
By doing this the website owner is aiming to appear in the searches “Berkshire Builders”, “Builders in Berkshire” and variations of those terms.
A rule of thumb is to keep it under 70 characters in length and don’t cram it full of search terms. For example, this would be a no-no:
“Builders, Berkshire, Plasterers, Plumbers, Painters, Demolition, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Reading, Bracknell”.
Not only does it look awful in the search results but it’s a signal to the search engines that you’re trying to rank for every term under the sun and you’ll likely be penalised for it.
For the inner pages, you can be more specific. So instead of having plastering on the homepage, you could have a specific page on plastering and have the title tag:
“Plastering and Skimming services in Berkshire”.
The search engines will always try to serve up the most relevant page, so for the search “Plasterers in Berkshire” then it’ll be more likely to return the plastering page than the home page.
The title tag will generally appear in the search results so make it readable and appealing to the audience. For that reason, we’ve included the company name to make it more personal.
2.Meta description tag
Similar to the title tags, the meta description tag is barely visible to the user on the website, but it’s often used in the description in the search results. Therefore it’s a great way to make your business stand out from the others in the results. Rather than saying
“This page contains information on our building services”
you can say
“ABC Home Improvements is a professional, family run firm with over 25 years of experience. Take a look at our outstanding work.”
You should write a compelling meta description for every page of your website – and don’t write it with the aim of getting better rankings from the search engines; write it with the aim of getting people on the search engines to click on your link rather than your competitors.
If you don’t have a meta description then the search engines will just take a random bit of text from your website that it thinks is relevant. It’s better for you to provide the text to the search engine to display rather than leaving it up to them.
3.Clear navigation and sitemaps
Search engines can only bring your pages back in the results if it knows what pages are on your website. Therefore you need to make sure that it’s easy for them to find every page on the site.
You should ensure that your website has text links to all of the pages on the website – any pages that aren’t linked from elsewhere in the website won’t be found by the search engine. The menu should link to the main pages and then those pages should have clear links to all of the subpages within that section.
You can create a sitemap and upload it to Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools.
This does 2 things:
- Creating the sitemap enables you to see how easy your website is to crawl – if you find pages are missing from the sitemap then you know that the search engines will have problems crawling it and you can resolve these issues
- If you upload a complete sitemap, then it clearly tells the search engines where all of the pages are on your site, thus ensuring that it will find every page. This ensures that every page will be put into their database (“cached”)
As search engines place importance on the title tags (which are fairly hidden from the user), they also place importance on the headers in the HTML as well. It therefore makes sense to have your keywords appearing in the header tags as well as the title tags. In general, the H1 tag is the most important, but the lower tags have their place too.
So for example, our H1 tag on the homepage may be
“Welcome to ABC Home Improvements – Builders operating throughout Berkshire”.
This includes the 2 main keywords (Builders and Berkshire).
Similarly, on our plastering page, the H1 tag may read
“Our Plastering and Skimming Services”
It’s important to abide by the rule that there should only be one H1 tag per page. If you have 5 or 6 then it’s confusing for the search engines to understand what the key terms are and you won’t be ranked as highly as you could be.
5.Keywords on the page
In terms of the content of the page, it’s also important to have those keywords appearing throughout the text. This should be fairly easy to do without having to think about it. If you’re writing about Plastering then the words Plaster, plastering, skimming etc are going to appear in the text naturally.
Don’t force it, but be aware that for you to rank in the search engines for your chosen terms, then those chosen terms have to appear within the text as well, not just in the title and the headers.
Whatever you do, don’t have the keywords appearing hundreds of times in an attempt to get higher rankings – just be natural. Play it cool!
If your website is really slow then the search engines won’t rank you as highly. This hasn’t always been the case but they have started focusing on site speed to improve the user experience. It makes sense – if you search for a site and then click on a link but have to wait ages for the website to load then it’s a waste of time. The search engines want you to find the information you’re looking for so they’ll send you to the best resource available.
If you think your website is quite slow then speak to your hosting company and see what can be done about upgrading it. If they can’t help then move elsewhere!
Finally, you can make the site as pretty and optimised as you want but if nobody links to your site from their website then the search engines will think you’re unimportant and won’t rank you highly.
Getting links (link building) is one of the great difficulties of SEO. It’s time consuming to do yourself and expensive to get others to do well (although you can get it done really badly quite cheaply!)
However, there are a few easy links you can get. As a starter, register with a few local web directories. If you have some useful news that you think is of interest to others then write a press release and distribute it on a reputable press release site. A few links are better than none and it gives you a starting point to build on.
Don’t reply to those emails offering you 1000 links for £50. They’ll ensure that you’ll never rank because they’ll be spammy links from dubious websites and it’ll be a giant flag to the search engines that you’ve tried to buy cheap links for better rankings. You’ll struggle to get a decent ranking after that because those stinky links will forever be associated with you!
It’s much better to consider writing a guest blog for an established website that covers your sector. As a professional small business owner, you have unique expertise that you can share with others. Writing about it not only gets you a link to your website, but much more importantly, positions you as an expert in the eyes of an established blog’s readership.
Guest blogging is an interesting way to get links but in fact you should think of it as a way to get yourself in front of potential clients. If you think like that then the blog you write will be of high value and not just some think you’ve thrown together to get a link to your website.
If your small business just happens to be in competition with massive companies then I’m afraid you’re going to struggle to rank above them. SEO is like many things unfortunately: the bigger the budget the more successful you’ll be. But for most small businesses operating locally, these 7 steps will give you a really solid foundation to build upon.
Gregor Spowart is a Director of Mass Media Design, a full service digital agency based in Reading, Berkshire. Get monthly website marketing tips from MMD here.