What can you do to make sure your business pops up in a Google, Bing or Yahoo search? While improving your search rankings (aka SEO, or “search engine optimization”) may seem like a daunting task, knowing the essentials goes a long way toward making your website a magnet for potential clients. We asked former Amazon SEO strategist Marc Baumann to share a few tips.
What’s the number one thing you should do to help your business show up in search?
Create and optimize your website with the audience you want to reach in mind, not the search engines. Offering a great experience for the people who visit your site will help your organic search rankings (meaning search results outside of paid advertising) tremendously. Having a content-rich site with a blog is probably the most impactful technique. You’ll want to post fresh, engaging content regularly.
What type of content should you post?
Figure out what the most relevant topics are for your present and prospective customers. Talk to people in your store and observe what those on social media are saying about your industry. Then let that guide your blogging and content strategy. It’s helpful to group your content into certain themes. Choose three or four topics and write about them consistently.
Also, think of the questions people are typing into search engines. What type of searches would you want your business to pop up under? For example, if you’re a local flower shop, you might want to show up when someone searches for “What are the best flower shops for Mother’s Day?” Try to write posts that answer that question and others like it.
How do search engines actually determine your ranking?
In the 20 or so years of organic search, ranking factors have changed a lot. In the beginning, your website’s general popularity was all that mattered. Nowadays, search rank depends on a variety of factors. This includes relevant, high-quality content; user behavior signals (like the amount of time people spend viewing that content); and links back to your content from topically related websites or social media. But these ranking factors, much like the SEO industry itself, change constantly. For example, Google has been known to make close to a thousand changes to its search algorithm in a single year. Staying up to date with SEO trends is crucial to knowing which strategies will have the most impact.
How often should you post content?
Often. I’d recommend 400-to-500-word blog posts three to five times a week. If you don’t have time to do that, start with something less intensive — a quick video of your store or an update about what’s going on at your business. It’s all about providing fresh and engaging content that’s interesting and helpful to your target audience.
What lowers your ranking?
If you never update your website’s content, you’ll lower your ranking, since search engines reward sites with fresh content. Also, if people just read the first line or two of a post and quickly leave (what’s called a “bounce rate”), search engines notice. So create content that holds people’s attention. Steer clear of practices that violate the search engines’ rules, like “keyword stuffing” and participating in “link farms.” Your site will get pushed down in search — or even banned — if Google or Bing detects those things.
Again, it all goes back to your content-building efforts. Blog posts and your website content need to be engaging — something people will want to share on Facebook and Twitter (which means you should add social sharing buttons to your site). And with your own social media efforts, make sure your updates consistently link back to your content. Your website should be the hub of all your online activities.
Should you hire an SEO expert?
SEO is something every business owner can learn. That said, since you’ll get the best results through a long-term strategy and constant site updates, I recommend hiring a search marketing professional who you can work with over time. Always get references and case studies before hiring someone, as there are a fair number of phonies out there. If you decide to do it yourself, take a local class or workshop, and check out some online resources. Software company Moz.com has a very helpful SEO guide for beginners, as does Google. And take a look at SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization), one of the industry’s most respected resources on the topic.
In summary: To boost your search rankings, regularly update your site with shareable, engaging content that’s relevant to the audience you’d like to reach.