What is search engine optimization and why is SEO important?
You’ve heard the term SEO for years. But if you’re like many small businesses, you’ve decided to set it aside because it sounds too high tech, too complicated and too expensive.
Stop right there.
SEO simply means making your website more friendly for both end users and search engine crawlers.
This non-technical SEO for beginners blog is a must-read if you’ve been ignoring search engine optimization. Many tweaks are simple to do. Plus, there are lots of free tools and guides available.
The benefit of SEO is two-fold.
- Search engines will list (or rank) your website higher up in its search results so people can find you more easily
- SEO means the website is easier for prospects and customers to use, too.
Wait, are websites even necessary?
Yes. 87% of shoppers begin product searches online. The good news is that ecommerce sales are only 10.2% of total retail sales. Please note that the data shown in this link updates every month, so the % of ecommerce to retail sales will change, with ecommerce trending upward. This means that nearly 90% of sales are still done in brick and mortar stores!
Even though a shopper’s research definitely starts on the web, stats show that 36% of small businesses still don’t have a website. So, based on consumer search behavior, if you don’t have a website, you’re invisible to potential shoppers. It’s important to note, a Facebook page doesn’t have the search clout of a website.
Can you afford NOT to be found on the web?
Being listed in Google Maps is a must!
Depending on the type of web inquiry, searches can pull up area maps. Included is key information about your store such as location, phone number and hours of operation. At the very least, you NEED to be listed in Google Maps.
The good news is there’s a FREE tool to help with that. It’s called Google My Business.
Any business with a physical storefront needs to use it ASAP.
If you’re already on Google Maps, great! But is the listed information correct? Over time, many locations end up with incorrect information that’s migrated in from a variety of sources. Use Google My Business to fix that bad info.
Can’t I just buy web ads rather than deal with SEO?
Sure. But paid ads cost money. And what you are paying for is a click, not an actual sale of a product. You may get lots of clicks and spend lots of money but still have very few sales to show for it.
What you want is called free organic search. That happens when someone does a web search and clicks on a link that’s naturally generated from your website.
So which kind drives more traffic to a website—paid or organic? According to ecommercefuel.com, organic searches are the number one source of traffic to websites.
Notice that while paid traffic makes up 31.5%, free organic search provides 48.2%.
Also, if a paid click goes to a non-SEO-friendly website, odds are customers won’t stick around to try to find what they want, wasting those precious ad dollars. That’s because the site has not been optimized for the way customers think. Remember, SEO-friendly sites retain viewers longer and generate more sales because the website has been optimized to appeal to both people and web crawlers.
So, investing in paid traffic only makes sense if your site is also search-engine optimized and the competition is too stiff to rank your website within the first page or two of web searches.
The big, non-techie SEO for beginners fixes that anyone can do
The algorithms behind web search engines are scary smart. They track how people ask questions, anticipate those questions and then reward websites that answer those very questions. So, choosing the right words and phrases to describe your company and the products you sell is more important than ever.
You do this by using keywords and key phrases.
Keywords are one or two words. Key phrases, also known as long-tail keywords, are three or more words. They can even be questions! Long tails aren’t typed as often, but when they are, they indicate someone is closer to making a purchasing decision.
Put yourself in the mind of a potential customer. Think of the words or phrases that he or she would type into a search engine to find you or each specific product or service you offer. The more specific the term, the better the bread crumb trail to your site.
Keywords and key phrases should be used for each product and page of your website. Since each page of a website has a Page Title, Meta Description (that’s the little description that shows up on a search page), Headers, Subheads and general copy, that’s a lot of places where keywords can be used. If your wordsmiths have direct access to those elements, they can be updated without involving your web guru.
But don’t stuff your copy with so many keywords that it’s awkward to read. Those smart web crawlers will know what you’re up to, penalize you and drop you further back in the search results!
How do I research to find out keywords and key phrases are best?
There are lots of free tools you can use even though some may have monthly limits or require registration. Just type in a word or subject and watch the suggestions pop up! Choose those without a lot of competition but still have enough people searching for them to be worthwhile.
There are quite a few sites out there, ideal for SEO for beginners, but here are eight to get you started.
- Google Trends not only gives some additional related topics and queries, you can see if there is seasonality associated with the search and which areas of the country are more likely to search for that term.
- Google AdWords is a great resource, even if you choose not to do Pay-Per-Click ads. Simply register! A tool subset within lets you research keywords.
- Moz has a free Keyword Explorer tool. It suggests keywords as well as long-tail variants. It has a limit of 10 queries a month, so choose wisely.
- Answer the Public visualizes in a circular cloud the questions people ask when searching Google and Bing. Questions relating to a big topic are grouped by categories such as what, where and why. This will help you know what questions your audience needs answers to.
- Ubersuggest is a great free keyword tool from marketing guru and SEO/web influencer Neil Patel.
- WordStream online advertising company has their Free Keyword Tool. Give it a try!
- Backlinko rounds up 25 different free tools in one article. Some of these tools add website analysis and other more techie stuff that’s critical to a more complete search engine optimization.
- The Google search engine itself. Just type in words into the Google search bar and then look at the bottom of the page to view Searches related to…
One more SEO for beginners fix that doesn’t have to involve techie stuff…
You see them all the time—those dreaded 404 errors where a link you’ve been following hits a dead end. Well, websites are penalized for those broken links. 404s can result from URLs with a typo, but more commonly, a product has been removed or moved to another page.
So, look over your materials—especially blogs and press releases. Either update the links or remove them. Banish those 404s from your website. This is an easy SEO for beginners fix. Your prospective customers will thank you as will the web crawlers.
The trickier stuff
SEO is a dance between words, structure, internal and external factors. Here’s a great graph from Search Engine Land that’s laid out like the Periodic Table. It’s an excellent overview of what makes for a successful search-engine-optimized website.
Dealing with the trickier stuff is outside of the scope of this SEO for beginners blog. So here are three additional places with free information that can help you understand the full scope of SEO and the steps you need to take to buff your website into tip-top shape.SearchEngineLand.com has a great SEO for beginners section. The above chart came from it.
Moz, the software service company specializing in inbound marketing and marketing analytics software subscriptions, also has an excellent beginners’ guide.
Trust Google to put in its two cents with its own SEO starter guide!
Don’t expect miracles overnight
Search engine optimization takes time. Just plug away as you can. Should you decide to hire an outside firm to help, make sure it’s a company with an excellent reputation. Many people claim to be SEO experts, but the proof lies with happy customers and improved search engine results.
At the very least, get started with your business profile with Google My Business. Then update your internal content as you can. Tackle the other SEO for beginners suggestions when you have the time. Any improvement is better than none!
As a disclaimer, Petra is a subscriber to Moz. Although Moz provides tools and points the way, our employees must do the legwork!