SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is on the minds of a lot of small business owners these days. You know you should be doing something about it, but you’re unsure where to start, and there’s lots of people claiming to be able to help you, as long as you fork over a lot of dough.
To understand what you can do yourself and what you might want to have someone help you with, let’s talk about a Search Engine Result Page (SERP). When we talk about what whether some Web site ranks 1st in Google for the term “flowers”, we typically mean that if you search for the term “flowers” using the Google search engine, that Web site appears as the first result in the organic search results on that SERP. Each SERP is a mixture of organic (unpaid) and paid search results, as shown in this diagram of a Google SERP:
In the Google SERP, there are several areas that include ads people have bought for the keyword “flowers”. This means that if someone searches Google using the keyword “flowers”, they may see an ad crop up above the unpaid organic search results (in the main text column on the left of the page) or in the scan column (at the far right of the page). Also, the local search results show above the organic results – the local results are any hits for relevant businesses/organizations within a certain radius of the geographic location of the search user (determined by geo-locating the IP address used for the search).
The ads that are displayed are bought from Google using the Google Adwords service. These can be a very effective way to show up in search results, but they’re not free – they typically cost a few cents to a few dollars per click, depending on the search volume of the targeted keyword. They’ll get you users clicking on your ads (and thus through to your Web site), but they’ll cost you money.
Organic search results are typically what we’re talking about when we talk about Search Engine Optimization. These take time to get right, but they’re free, and they’re more lasting than buying ads. There are many factors involved in how a page of content on your Web site ranks for certain keywords in Google’s search engine, but many of the factors you can affect yourself are the on-page factors, things like:
- HTML Headings – whether you’re using the keyword phrase you want to target in H1 and H2 headings on your Web page
- Bolded/Italicized Text – is your targeted phrase in italicized or bolded text on the page?
- Keyword Density – what is the keyword density of the page copy, how many times does the phrase appear?
- Page Title – Does your page title (in the HTML title tag) use your keyword phrase?
- Meta Description – is the keyword phrase in your page’s meta description
This last element, the description, is especially important, because it’s like your Web page’s free ad on the Web. The meta description provides the text that Google shows for a given search result, like so:
Now do you see why it’s so important?
Lastly, let’s mention the most common incorrect SEO assumption I see with many clients – years ago, the meta keywords tag was used to list the keyword phrases on the page. Because so many people used to stuff this keywords tag with any and every keyword under the sun, Google stopped noticing the contents of this tag. Google and the other search engines no longer do anything with this tag – I like to use it as a note about which keyword phrases are targeted on a particular Web page, but those keywords have to be in the page copy, and you have to synchronize your use of the targeted keyword phrase(s) throughout all the page elements.