What is SEO and How Can It Help My Company?
As a business owner, you need to at least be aware of how SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can affect your business’ success online.
SEO is an industry to itself, as it involves all of the ways a brand can naturally (organically) gain visibility online without running paid advertising.
The goal of SEO is to get your business ranking at the top of page 1 of Google so your customers (audience) can easily find you.
For those people looking for your service, the fact that your website is ranked at the top alongside your competitors, tells them straight away that Google has determined that your site is an authority and can be trusted. In many ways this can go much further than buying ads.
From an even wider perspective, SEO is part of UEO (User Experience Optimization), which again focuses on providing the best online experience for your customers, an experience that should naturally reflect your company’s high level of service and goal of customer satisfaction.
To simplify the focus of SEO, it can be divided into a strategic combination of On-Page and Off-Page SEO techniques to help your business get higher visibility in Google and other search engines. This article outlines the top 10 areas that are needed to not only make your website stand out on top but provide a professional, effective and consistent web presence.
1. Tell Your Brand’s Story, Make the Customer the Hero
Forget about SEO for a minute and focus on some core questions about your business:
What is the essence of your unique business? Think about your visual identity, character, culture, mission and vision, successes (and failures), and which values you uphold – basically who is your company, what is your expertise and what can you offer new and existing customers?
What is your niche?
Who is your target audience?
What are their challenges?
How can you help them solve these challenges?
Once you have a better understanding of your company and your customer, you can start to build a compelling brand story for your target audience (customers, suppliers, team members) to engage with, make them the hero in this story, help them to their success.
Marketing in the social media influenced world is more about story telling these days than selling. While advertising still plays a role in this picture, it is perhaps driven by deeper values than before. People don’t want to be sold to, they want to connect, be heard and guided to the best solution to their problem.
Google and other search engines are focusing more and more on ranking those sites more highly that deliver a superior user experience. If you have a value-based website that delivers great content, has great reviews and a strong social media following, you will naturally rank well.
2. Build a Content Strategy
Your content strategy is again to focus on creating targeted, relevant and useful information for your audience. This applies to your written content, videos, pod casts and PDF downloads. When using photos, use professional custom photography if possible, as that is unique to your brand, or at least, use a higher quality stock photo that has a more natural look that engages your audience. Make sure all of your content creation supports and deepens your Brand story.
Here is one specific strategy for ranking in Google, that you can start applying today:
It is now best to optimize keywords for a page’s topic, not just its target phrase. To do this, use LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) Keywords. These are natural alternative search phrases of your target keyword.
Google is focusing more on semantic search to provide a more natural and accurate search results for its users. This means less focus on keyword density and more focus on producing natural, accurate and context-based content. By doing so, you are actually reaching more users outside of your keyword targeting range because LSI focuses on the topic of the page’s content rather than the keywords themselves. This is not to say keywords are thrown out the proverbial window, rather they become the topic, rather than the focus.
An easy way to determine some popularly searched LSI keywords is to search for your main topic in Google and analyze the “Searches related to” suggestions that Google offers. This is a great way to get ideas for writing relevant content and reach your target audience who are looking for those answers. A similar technique is by typing your target keyword into the search bar and review the autofill suggestions it provides.
Once you have your list of LSI keywords, you can focus your content generation around these refined searches and blend them into your Brand’s storyline.
3. Get a Handle on Social Media
Social media is constantly changing. It is hard for business owners and marketers to keep up. Social media channels are always improving and changing their platforms, updating algorithms and increasing the pressure to promote content and ads. Brands and businesses have to keep up with these changes, or be lost in the crowd. In addition, a brand must continually be working to build an audience of fans and followers, finding relevant content around trending topics and hashtags to be seen as an authority and influence in their niche.
Some authorities say that social media has become the “great equalizer” for marketers because your can build a great brand simply by being creative and knowing your audience. However, I would argue that being “creative and knowing your audience” is essentially what marketing is, so larger companies who have time and resources to be creative by hiring brand managers, marketers and designers and “know their audience” through hiring a professional team of SEO experts who have the time and know how to mine through competitor analysis and historical search data, will generally come out on top.
So, I see this as one of the biggest challenges that small businesses are having online today. These challenges are from both an SEO and business management point of view. Since Google and other search engines use social signals as part of determining a brand’s influence and authority in their search results, all businesses should at least have a social media presence established to allow for this factor.
This presence is the extension of the Brand and its story. Social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest have billions of combined users, many of them on some or all of these top channels. So, your brand and its story need to be professional, consistent, engaging and useful to your audience. Your Social Media audience is interactive, opinionated and reactionary, so you need to be ready to respond quickly and politely when they reach out.
So yes, it is possible for a small Brand to build up a massive following and become an influencer. However, for a small business, it is yet another thing to have to worry about building up and maintaining.
Social media, like all online experiences is about relationship. Yes, that is a broad term, but that broadness reflects the massive potential of the online world.
Every business should at least:
- Make sure you have these key social channels set up, branded and optimized properly.
- Then make sure they are connected to and from your website. Marketing studies, such as this one on Social Sprout, have shown that a customer is more likely to choose a company that has a responsive social presence over one that does not.
- Be realistic and focus on two factors, this is the quickest way to get going on Social Media: consider which platform you are familiar with and use most often. Then determine if that same platform is where your customers are. If you use Facebook and are a B2C, then yes, it is very likely that you can successfully reach your customers through Facebook, as you can target your local audience and demographic. If you have a LinkedIn profile and deliver B2B services, then it makes sense to focus there.
By focusing on one social media channel, you can build up confidence and audience. However, I would still recommend getting all other key social channels set up properly. Once you have gotten comfortable with that one channel, you can then easily start to share the same content (with minor revisions) to all of your channels.
4. The Many Benefits of Press Releases
While the traditional newspaper industry is overshadowed by online news publications, the equally traditional press release continues to be a great marketing and PR tool for all sizes of business. Specifically, a well-crafted press release will give your website a nice boost in rankings!
Keep your marketing strategy research and brand story in mind when you approach an effective press release for your business.
The fastest and easiest way is to hire an expert to write and distribute your press release using a paid release distribution service. This ensures that your release will get picked up quickly by authority news sites across North America.
From an SEO point of view, you have to be careful with SEO keywords in a press release, keep wording objective, natural and focused on a news worthy item. If you are a local business then working in an event that is happening in your area will help you naturally reference that keyword. Using an appropriate topic is essential to keep it objective and timely.
If you are stuck for where to start, a company like BlindDrop can help you determine your topic, write the release and distribute it. Such press release topics include the announcement of a:
- New Article
- Case Study
- New Album
- Charitable Donation
- New Product
- Reputation Management
- Free Webinar (Pre-recorded)
- Book Launch
- New Service
- Company Wins Award
- Free Report
- Upcoming Webinar
The press release can also be sent directly to local papers; however, they will require more lead time (3 to 6 weeks) than doing an online distribution (3 days to a week).
Even as a local business, using a country-wide online distributor can still help boost visibility with local rankings, if you write and optimize the press release correctly for SEO.
When done properly, a press release can help your business to:
- Gain more targeted traffic to make more sales.
- Gain more credibility online to increase traffic.
- Increase your authority with Google and customers by outranking your competitors (or at least appearing side by side with them in search results).
As you can see, a press release offers often overlooked benefit, however when done correctly, they will help you:
- Gain new backlinks
- Build instant authority through association with well known news websites
- Create buzz around your business.
On top of the benefit of a short turnaround in gaining exposure on dozens of news websites, your press release will often stay live and ranked well for months at a time. So, there is a long-term benefit to a press release aimed at a short-term topic.
If you don’t have a product-based announcement, you can focus instead on doing a value-based announcement. For example, a survey or report-based release that provides valuable information to your customers or suppliers will increase the perceived value and authority of your company. Look back to your Brand Story’s values that you have already determined to ensure that every press release you create embodies those same values.
5. Yes, You Still Need Backlinks
Getting backlinks to your business website is still part of the bread and butter of SEO. Aim to build links naturally across a wide range of domains in a natural way.
The types of backlinks you can get will vary in impact on your SEO, the higher authority sites that are more popular, higher domain link authority and trust will be worth more than a multitude of lower valued links. From my experience, having an SEO team to help with this one factor is worth the investment. Link building can be a challenging task, so hiring an expert can be the best answer to the conundrum of trading your own time for the dollars spent on hiring someone else.
A good starting point for building backlinks to your site can include (but is not limited to):
- Review sites
- Social Media profiles
- Social bookmarking sites
- Guest blogging on other’s blogs
- Other 3rd party sites who have complementary services or products
- Forums related to your services
- File sharing sites
- Search Engine submissions
- Video channels and sites
- Infographics as link bait
Getting a diverse source of links is critical – so getting lots of links from lots of different referring domains is best.
Link building is a complex subject far beyond the scope of this article, but this list is a good place to start exploring the best options.
6. How to Manage Online Reviews
Customer reviews and ratings are an important part of how people (and therefore Search Engines) view your brand. And those 5-star ratings can definitely affect your bottom line. Reviews are a key asset when it comes to your reputation. So, it may seem like common sense that business owners should be up to speed on this topic, but many still aren’t. Some businesses understand and take this responsibility seriously enough that they have integrated this part of their customer service into their daily online activities.
For those that are not yet convinced, here are some things to remember when it comes to online reviews and how they can affect your online business:
- Why customers buy – studies have shown that nearly all (93%) of customers buying online are influenced by online reviews. Even if they are only scanning review scores and number of reviews, that can be enough. Of course, many will go deeper and read the reviews before making their decision.
- Determining search results – Reviews help to determine which search results are visible and therefore get clicks and traffic through them.
- Your website rankings in local search engines – Google takes third party reviews and reviews on its own platforms (Google My Business and Google Maps) into consideration when compiling its Local pack of listings and featured snippets. From an SEO point of view, this is an area that your SEO expert can make a difference by optimizing and properly coding the site for Open Graph and other meta data that can help Search Engines further define a website and its rankings.
- Reputation management – If you haven’t taken control of managing your reviews, now is the time. Whether you have reviews or not, if you have not connected with these review sites to manage them, then you need to be proactive. One negative review can go a long way to harm your business, especially if you do not respond to it quickly enough to minimize the damage the review will cause. Since review sites (including Google) want to provide an unbiased review process, they will not usually remove negative reviews unless they breach their terms of service. Customer reviews are a double-edged sword for business owners, especially those who are in niches where customers take their services to heart. Great reviews can put them on top, while negative reviews can cause a lot of stress and be disheartening to a business owner who really is trying their best to make their business work and give the highest level of customer service.
Here are some easy steps to managing your online reviews:
- Determine where your company has reviews – this will take some digging through Google and other search engines if you are doing this manually. But look for review sites in your niche (primarily your location and service) and then see if you have a pre-existing listing and if your competitors are listed. If your competitors are listed there, then get a listing. If they don’t have a listing there, and it makes sense to you to get one, then be the first to get one! If you can find a review site in the top ten search results for your keyword, that is a higher priority listing to get. A review site on the first page of Google gives you the chance to be one click away from first page traffic.
- Sign up for Google My Business and claim your listing – This is another area often missed by new and established businesses. These listings are important for all businesses who want to increase visibility in Google’s search and improve communication with Google’s services. These listings are particularly important to local brick and mortar businesses as Google provides input of business description, physical address, website, hours of operation and of course review management. Once you have access to your reviews you will be able to respond to any existing reviews (it is good to reply to both positive and negative reviews) and monitor any new reviews.
- Once you have your key review site listings claimed and optimized, make it part of your daily or weekly tasks to manage any new reviews that come in. If you don’t have any reviews then guess what your task is? Simple, you need to evaluate your sales cycle and look for opportunities to request reviews from your customers (without offering them incentive). Also, add a page to your website that offers your customers links to your claimed listings. This way you have better control and influence in the natural building of reviews. Google also prefers to see reviews being added in a consistent manner, so keep that in mind too.
If this feels like a daunting task, or if you would prefer to have a professional help, I would highly recommend you do so, at least to do the proper research of the best review sites to align with for your niche. A professional service will also get them properly branded and optimized for you and offer a training session on managing the account once complete.
7. The Importance of Citations & NAP
Citations are basically another term for directory listings. And many directory listings now have a “leave a review” feature. So, now you can see the strong connection between a Review site and a Citation. For example, Yellow Pages, Yelp, Urban Spoon, Cylex, TrustedPros, HomeStars, etc. allow you to create or claim listings. However, in some cases, your company’s info may have already been scrapped and an automatic listing may have been created on your behalf. In this case, it should just be a matter of claiming the listing and fleshing it out from there.
Directory listings that do not have review functions are still worthy of consideration since they list your NAP. NAP stands for Name Address Phone and is the bread and butter of your business information that is scraped and shared across the public domain. Services like WhiteSpark are a great way to find these citations and those of your competitors, so you can locate and create listings to surpass them.
8. Blog Posting Methods for Your Business
Your blog section of your website is your active hub. It is the easiest and most efficient way to publish new content and share it to your audience. Blogging is a massive industry, however for most companies it remains an untapped opportunity. There is definitely merit to just having a blog set up on your website. Search Engines like to see that a blog is part of the website’s features, which is another reason why WordPress is a great option on which to build your company Website.
Having a blog opens the door to many specific methods of traffic generation and SEO benefits. These include, but are not limited to:
- Service Highlights
- Product Showcases
- Case Studies
- Company News
- Guest Blogger Posts
- Curated Blog Posts
- Information & Tips
- Local & Niche related Events
- Sales & Promotions
All of these opportunities should be explored from the perspective of your Brand’s story, culture and niche. This not only helps to gain the best search rankings and targeted traffic, but also eases overwhelm of entering into this daunting process. By reviewing your own day to day business processes, insights, products, customer service, events, sales and promotions, you can more easily build a realistic and successful strategy.
Remember to develop blog categories and sub categories and research and include relevant tags.
Longer blog posts of quality content will gain better rankings than shorter ones and include mixed media too, including videos.
Include a mix of external links to other related websites and also internal links to other pages and posts on your own site. Do this all with moderation and purpose in providing the best information to your reader.
Once you have any blog post published, make sure to share the content out through your social media channels and also make sure that the content itself is shareable, so those people who find your blog post useful can easily share it to their own channels.
9. Create the Best Website Experience You Can
When you consider that your website is often the first impression of your brand, you enter the world of UEO (User Engagement Optimization) also known as User Experience Optimization. This includes SEO, so ranking highly so your website is found easily – think of having your brick and mortar business located on a bustling high street full of customers (i.e. page 1 of Google), versus being hidden away on a desolate backstreet where no one even knows you exist (i.e. pages 3 or deeper on Google).
Being found easily is part of the best positive customer experience. You need to be accessible in search, social and in popular directories.
But once they have found your listing and clicked on your link to visit your website, what will they find? What they should find is a website that:
- Is properly branded – this includes adherence to visual branding guidelines and engaging content (text, image, video) that relate to your brand story
- Has easy to use navigation on all pages – this includes properly developed main navigation that is ideally universal (access to all pages of the site) and supporting navigation in the content area and footer to make for an easier and more relevant journey through your site.
- Has a home page that highlights important areas of the site, including products, services, specials, recent blog posts, etc.
- Is relevant to the listing that they had clicked on – there is nothing like a mis-represented page to increase its bounce rate.
- Is mobile friendly – having a responsive website design is essential these days as more and more of your audience embraces mobile technology.
- Builds trust by using such features as a secure connection (https://) using a valid SSL certificate and any industry or association seals that instantly show credibility.
- And is focused on fulfilling their needs, including what problems your brand solves for them. This is a shift from the more traditional focus of telling customers how great and different your services and products are. Products and services solve problems, so what are the problems your customers face and how can you help them get there?
To sum up, your website visitor’s experience is about sharing and engaging on a value level rather than an information level. In this way, your company can more quickly connect with your customers needs, build trust and authority and reflect the level of customer service you deliver in other business channels.
10. Why Managed Hosting is Worth Every Penny
Last, but definitely not least, on the list is web hosting. A good host is critical to your site’s uptime and it is also an important factor in your search engine rankings and trust scores. From a performance side, Google looks at page speed as a ranking factor, as a page that loads quickly provides a better user experience. Page speed is ultimately a combination of server side, website software and content optimization factors. However, as your hosting environment is the very foundation on which your web presence rests, it is a critical component to your site’s success and is worth the investment.
If you are running a WordPress website, I highly recommend using a Managed WordPress Hosting solution. A premier managed host for the WordPress platform will deliver exceptional service and support in these areas:
- The server will be specifically optimized for WordPress
- Ensure automatic updates of WordPress core software
- Have bullet proof, real-time Security to block hackers
- Deliver fast server speed for quick page loading
- Daily automatic backups, plus an option to do manual backups and have restore points to return your website to an earlier version
- 24/7 support including live chat, phone and support ticket options
- Flexible & scalable platforms
- Multiple datacenters, preferably in Canada if you are a Canadian-based business
- Free SSL Integration
- CDN (Content Delivery Network) control and integration
- Staging sites for web development
- Advanced server-side caching
- Server-based content performance tracking – so you can review and improve your site performance via WordPress-focused analytics
- A unique user-friendly control panel to manage your server settings
If you are looking for the best WordPress hosting, I can personally recommend WP Engine for all of the above. They have been our Web hosting partner for 6 years and the service and support has been excellent. We have never had a site hacked or had any downtime. WP Engine guarantees that it won’t happen, if it does, they will fix it for free – a promise I did not find on any other competitors. They are always forward thinking and have expanded all areas of their hosting environment and support, yet have kept the user interface easy to use. You can read more about managed WordPress hosting or sign up for your own account on WP Engine here.
In the end, doesn’t it make sense to choose a managed hosting service for your WordPress website that the experts use themselves?
These top 10 SEO strategies are key to your company’s success online. Each strategy has an entry point and some top-level actions that every business can and should make if they want to succeed online. My company has been helping businesses since 2001 and we can help you with any of these strategies, from online marketing strategies, to branding solutions, WordPress hosting and custom development including E-commerce solutions and all off-page SEO and social media tasks to improve your visibility and activity online.