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SEO Basics for Small Business Owners Maximize the marketing potential of your website

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In today’s high-tech world, having a website is a necessity for any business—big or small—and building service contracting is no different. Outside of providing the relevant contact information for your business, a website’s primary value is as a marketing vehicle. Given this, it’s vital that you’re able to get as many people as possible to view— and engage with—your site.

That said, not all websites are created equal, and one of the main ways to enhance both the usability and the overall popularity (ranking) of a website is through Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. SEO refers to the ways in which you tailor your website to make it rank higher on the search-result pages of search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Obviously, websites at the top of these pages will get more traffic than ones that are found further toward the bottom, so the goal of SEO is to get your website to be as close to the top of the results page as possible. But this isn’t about getting to the top of the results when you type the name of your company into a search engine— unless there is another company out there with the same name as yours, that’s almost guaranteed.

Instead, SEO is aimed at the results that come when a person randomly searches for a company that offers the type services you provide. For example, good SEO will ensure that when someone searches for, say “janitorial services in Las Vegas” that your company will appear near the top of the search results. SEO experts suggest that your site should appear on the first page of search results, if not in the top five.

Getting increased traffic to your website through SEO offers your company increased exposure, publicity, and revenue at a far less expensive rate than most other marketing channels. If you have a relatively small business and can’t afford a lot of traditional marketing, SEO can help level the playing field by providing an inexpensive alternative. There are many SEO firms out there that provide SEO services for a fee, and depending on the size and scope of your business, it may be beneficial to hire one. However, armed with a bit of basic SEO knowledge, business owners can make a big difference on their own simply by implementing a few fundamental strategies.

Know your ranking

To figure out how your website currently ranks and use this to establish the progress of your SEO efforts, download the Google Toolbar to view the PageRank display. Google’s PageRank tool ranks websites from 0 to 10, and a ranking of at least 5 will equate to your site being listed on the first page of search results. You can also get a more detailed analysis of page rankings by subscribing to paid services such as Alexa.

Improve your site’s usability

One factor in your website’s ranking is its ease of use. If users come to your site, but leave after only a short time (known as bouncing), your rankings will suffer. You want your site to be easy to navigate, so users can quickly find exactly what they’re looking for. Make navigating your site simple and intuitive. To do this, group your content into relevant categories, and make the categories easy to understand and follow. A good rule of thumb is that users should be able to locate what they’re looking for within three clicks or less. Ensure that any broken links or missing pages are fixed and your site loads quickly. Finally, your site should contain lots of internal links (links from one page to another), so that users will have multiple entry points for each of the pages. A good way to do this, is to provide links to pages with similar or related content at the bottom of each page, and if possible, within the main text.

Make your URLs search-engine friendly

A URL is just another name for the web address that appears in a search engine’s address bar. For example, the URL for the homepage of a cleaning company might be www.acmejanitorial.com. The URL will change for every different page listed on your website, and to improve your ranking you want to make each page’s URL search-engine friendly by having the URL made up of easy-to-understand keywords, as opposed to an unreadable mishmash of numbers and punctuation. For instance, the URL “www.acmejanitorial.com/services/carpet-cleaning” is a lot easier to understand than “www.acmejanitorial.com/1675/ t401.” If the website hosting service you use doesn’t automatically populate the URL with keywords, simply change the URL settings so that it does. IMPORTANT: If you change already existing URLs on your site, this can mess up internal and external links that point to these pages, so if you are optimizing an old site, it’s best to leave those URLs alone and focus only on new ones.

Choose and optimize your keywords

One of the ways search-engine algorithms rank your site’s relevance is through the keywords users enter into a search query. For example, if lots of users are looking for “office cleaning services,” and you don’t have those keywords listed on your site, the search engines will not deem your site very relevant and rank you lower. So keyword optimization is about figuring out the keywords people are using most often to find the type of services you offer and then incorporating those keywords into your content. Keyword optimization involves multiple steps, and the most important ones include:

• Keyword Research: The first thing you’ll want to do is find out the specific keywords that are used most often to find businesses offering your services. Experts recommend using Google’s free Keyword Planner tool, and by typing in your home page URL, the program will provide you with the keywords it deems most relevant for your site. You should try to make your keywords as specific as possible to help distinguish you from competitors. For example, you’re likely to get more traffic if you use “janitorial services for offices in Brooklyn” than if you used “janitorial services New York.”

• Homepage: Even though many homepages don’t contain a lot of text, be sure to at least include a short text description of your company and its services somewhere on the homepage, and include your top three keywords in this text. This description doesn’t have to be lengthy and can simply be the first one or two sentences from your “About Us” section.

• On-page keyword placement: Once you determine the most relevant keywords, you’ll need to place them throughout your site: in page titles, URLs, the text content, and in the image titles. The two most important places to use keywords are in the title tag and page description (H1 tag) for each page. When making title tags, try to keep the top keywords as close to the beginning of the title as possible, and if you use your site’s name in the title tag, place that at the end. You also need to add these keywords to the text content on the page. Try to use the keyword phrase at least once in the first paragraph, and then about two or three times in the rest of the text on the page. IMPORTANT: Make sure that when you add keywords to the text that the words and phrases sound natural in the text and not forced just to get the keyword in there. Also, don’t try to stuff the text with tons of keywords, as both of these practices will make your site appear “spammy” and lower your ranking.

• Image titles: In addition to the text on the page, you’ll also want to add keywords to the images on your site within the image’s ALT tag. So if you have an image showing someone polishing a tile floor, include an ALT tag that says something like “cleaning tile floors.” You need to do this because the search engine robots can only search text, not images, when ranking your site.

Create great content

In the old days, you could achieve a high ranking just by loading up your website with lots of keywords (known as keyword stuffing), even if these keywords didn’t make any sense to the rest of the text. However, doing this today will not only fail to get you a high ranking, it will also get you penalized as a spammer. Today’s search engines now place the highest importance on sites with original, regularly updated, high-quality content. Given this, for SEO purposes, the best thing you can do to your site is to add regularly updated content that users will find useful, relevant, and engaging. So whenever possible, add content that educates your readers about your services and include the highest-scoring keywords related to that topic in the appropriate locations as outlined above. For example, you could create a category on your site called “Articles” and then fill that category with several short articles on topics relevant to your business. These articles can be as simple as describing the best ways to clean an office restroom or how to choose a green cleaning company. To further promote this content, link back to these articles in press releases or enewsletters. Another easy way to integrate regularly updated content to your site is to start a blog, where the company’s owner or another executive writes about the latest industry topics and trends. Both articles and blogs are not only a great way to improve your site’s ranking, but they are also great for making you look like an expert in your field, which will both impress potential customers and help generate external links back to your site (described more below).

Cultivate external links

To score the highest search-engine ranking, your website will not only have to be relevant to specific keywords, but more importantly, it will also have to be deemed the most valuable and respected site covering those topics. Since the quality of a site is largely subjective and difficult to quantify, especially for a computer algorithm, search engines measure this aspect through the number and quality of other websites that link back to yours. These are known as external links (or backlinks), with the idea being that a site that is frequently linked to by other respected websites has a higher value than those that aren’t.

But it’s not just about the number of external links your site attracts, it’s also about the quality of those sites that are linking back to you. To improve your ranking, you should try to get as many well-respected industry sites to link back to your site as possible. Of course, if you have a lot of great content (a.k.a. link bait) on your site, people will naturally want to link to you. However, you can also cultivate external links by contacting the webmaster of other sites and offer to link to their site in exchange for linking to yours. Try to build relationships with and get links from the most popular bloggers and other experts in your industry, so users who follow those sites will be introduced to yours. Social media is also a great place to cultivate links. By developing an online presence using sites like Facebook and Twitter, you can not only provide external links back to your site, but you will encourage your followers to link to your content in their own social media pages.


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