Last week a colleague of mine proposed, only half jokingly, that we offer to help small businesses recover from the effects of the latest Google changes by removing all the bad links pointing back to their websites. He was talking about “Penguin,” a recent upgrade to the all-powerful Google search engine algorithm. In a nutshell, Penguin knocked down the rankings of sites that had spammy link profiles — that is, Google penalized websites that, among other things, tried to “game the system.” One of the biggest factors contributing to your website’s ranking are the number of “backlinks” or “incoming links” — links that points back to a page on your site from somebody else’s site. Search engines assume that the more links that point to your website, the more useful your website must be. Makes sense, right? But in the race to secure those precious top rankings, many folks tried to beg, borrow or pay for as many links as possible, regardless of where they came from. Unfortunately, a lot of SEOs used these same tactics on behalf of their clients, and now find that all those worthless links need to be removed. What a mess! Remember: Google has to ensure that the results returned by a search are going to be relevant and credible, so they are constantly seeking ways to reduce the “web spam.” It’s not that Google wants to ban SEO — only lousy SEO. Here’s what Matt Cutts of Google had to say about it late last year:
Three times in the last two months I’ve taken on small business clients who find themselves in an identical situations: they’ve spent good money for a high-design website, have generally been delighted with the results (ooh, ah — pretty!) and are perplexed when, a couple of months after launch, they see very low visitor traffic, or poor showings in search results, or both. Even the least internet savvy business owners know that they need to show up in search results — and most have an intuitive understanding that the Top 10 sites returned in a Google search get the lion’s share of the visitors.
So why does it happen?
Because web designers are not search marketers, and very few of them are familiar with sound SEO practices.
In two of the three cases I mention here, the designers chose WordPress as their platform. When we were conducting our preliminary research and competitive analysis for these clients, we saw their WordPress-based websites and thought, “Yippie — onsite optimization will be a snap!”
WordPress is great for SEO out of the box; using one of the popular SEO plugins, like Yoast’s WordPress SEO, makes it even easier and more robust. The plugin provides guidance for optimizing meta tags and on-page content, has options for applying basic indexation rules, generates and maintains Google XML sitemaps for you — all the behind the scenes stuff the designer doesn’t know or care anything about. (Why should she? She’s a designer!)
If you are a small business owner or are trying to build your brand or professional reputation via the web, chances are you are already blogging. Hopefully you’re using your blog to share your expertise, offer advice and industry insights – offering your readers something of value and not just self-promoting. Your blog can open up tremendous opportunities for you. Readers may have questions about your products or make inquiries about guest posting on your blog. Press and media contacts often look to bloggers to provide “expert” quotes, opinion or commentary for articles they’re writing, or may even ask you to contribute an article for their site, allowing you to expose your brand to new audiences.
Most of the small business owners I meet with are aware of the importance of showing up in Google search results, and many use popular Google products like Gmail and Docs. Some of them have even been venturing into the world of Google Plus, creating business pages on the new social platform to promote their products and services. But even my savviest clients often overlook the free tools that Google provides that can help them improve their websites to better promote their companies: Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
The set-up and configuration of these tools may be a bit more than the typical business owner can deal with themselves, but it’s very easy and your webmaster (or whoever designed your website) should be able to help. Once installed, they can both provide a wealth of information about activity on your site.
It’s the most fundamental marketing piece for any business, and yet many small business owners still don’t really know what to put on their website! Some get bogged down thinking about design – colors, fancy Flash elements – and forget all about the main purpose of the site. Think about it: why are people visiting in the first place? Because they want to know what your business has to offer them and how your products or services are superior to those of your competitors.
Remember: content is king. Always has been, always will be. Engaging a professional copywriter is best – hire someone who understands web marketing and SEO best practices. The content of your site needs to be engaging and informative for your potential customers, but it also needs to be search engine-friendly. What’s the point of having a website if nobody can find it?
As a small or medium sized business owner, you’ve probably been hearing about Internet or Online Marketing. But what does it mean for you and your business? What are all the options and where do you begin? To kick off our new blog, we’ll be introducing our readers to online marketing with a series of posts on the topic, starting with the very basics. I guess the first and most basic question to address is, “why should I bother with online marketing?”