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How to "do SEO" for your small business #1: The basics

Patrick Nelson
SEO the basics

If you're a small business owner and you get anywhere near the internet, the phrase “SEO” has likely jumped out at you. Or been thrown at you, depending on what you read.

What is SEO, and how do you do it?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It's simply the practice of designing your website in such a way as to get as many visitors as possible from search engines like Google and Bing without spending money on advertising in those search engines.

To understand SEO, you need to have a basic grasp of the terminology:

SERPs: Short for “Search Engine Results Pages”. These are the pages that appear after you've typed in a search phrase on one of the major search engines. Usually they show 10 results a page.

SEM: Search Engine Marketing. The process of promoting your own website by making the site more visible in search engine results. This is done by using optimization techniques.

Keyword phrase: Refers to the search terms that people enter when searching. For instance, if you searched for "beekeeping outfit" in Google then a site that has been optimized specifically for that phrase would appear higher in the results than a site that was optimized only for “beekeeping.” Depending on what your website is for, you'll want to optimize for keywords that match what your business does. If your keywords are too general, then you won't get very good results. However, if you are a seamstress in Athens, Georgia, for instance, optimizing for “seamstress Athens” would give you much better results.

Meta tags: Meta tags are small snippets of code hidden within your website. While visitors do not actually see these tags, the tags tell search engines and browsers what your pages contain. Some meta tags are no longer useful because they've been abused by people trying to cheat the search engines. However, the title metatag is vital to the success of your website. When working with SEO, make sure you know which tags are important and which ones aren't.

Links: If you're on the internet, you know what a link is. However, a link holds special value for search engine optimization. Links (sometimes called backlinks) alert search engines that your website receives traffic and is worth indexing. This gives value and legitimacy to your site. The more backlinks you have, the better, especially if the links come from another website that is relevant (deals with the same subject as yours) and is considered to be authoritative.

So, how do you do SEO?

Each of your web pages should be centred around a specific keyword. This means your content should relate to that keyword.

Organic traffic is what your website receives when people click through to your site when it shows up in the main search results. This is different from paid traffic (also called Pay-Per-Click or PPC) which comes from the sidebar advertisements often seen on Google. Although PPC can be very useful, the costs of using it quickly add up which is why learning how to SEO and gaining organic traffic is preferred.

To get your web pages to rank well in Google (or any of the other search engines), most website owners use a combination of on page optimization techniques, backlinks and social media marketing. A more powerful method may be by creating and publishing quality content. If the content you produce is well written, useful and receives a large number of visits, Google sees this as an indication that your site has value. 

While they may seem complicated, the basics of search engine optimization can be mastered by anyone. Most standard web design agencies do not know how to optimize websites, or they don't offer the service competently; while they can build websites that look good, they don't pull in visitors, don't appear in the search engines and don't produce any worthwhile or interesting content. Particularly for small businesses, knowing how to optimize a website is very important.

In our next article in this series, we'll look at SEO and your web designer.