The 5 Essentials for Improving Your Website’s SEO

Before you shell out the cash to hire an expert, try these quick (and free!) fixes for your website's SEO.
Business Writers
April 25, 2012

If a quick Google search of your business’s name isn’t yielding much of anything about your company, you’ve got some catching up to do on your search engine optimization, or SEO.

Adding search-friendly elements and keywords to your site can improve your company website’s rankings in sites like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing - and be a huge asset to your online marketing strategy, not to mention your business and profits.

Try these quick, free tactics to improve your website's SEO, before you shell out cash to bring in an expert.

Find your business’ common search terms

The most basic, yet crucial step is to familiarize yourself with the search terms your customers are commonly using to find your business and other businesses in your industry.

Danny Dover, author of the bestseller SEO Secrets, recommends first going straight to the source—your customers. Listen to the kinds of things they’re asking for or ask what they’re searching for to get an idea of the terms you should include.

Furthermore, Google AdWords offers a few tools that can be a useful starting point for brainstorming terms to optimize a site, such as its Keyword Finder, which allows users to find the most searched keywords by industry.

Put those terms to good use

What search engines see on a website and what humans see are more often than not two very different things–especially if a website is designed poorly and without search in mind.

Try checking your website through a search engine’s lens by loading your URL into a tool like SEO-browser.com or the W3C Markup Validation Service, which can give you some hints as to where you might be going wrong

One of the most common places businesses fail to put keywords that could improve their rankings is in their webpage’s title, which appears at the top of the web browser. Search engines use titles to categorize your website, so it's important to have a descriptive one that people would search for, not just your company's name.

“If the Acme Corporation sells blue widgets, they should use the title tag “Blue Widgets” or “Blue Widgets - Acme Corporation” instead of just “Acme Corporation,” says SEO consultant Ross Malaga.

It’s important to be concise however, because search engines will only display up to 70 characters in their results. Anything over that maximum will be cut off with ellipses.

Improving your homepage tag won’t be enough, Malaga says. Make sure each page of your website has its own unique tag, which can only help improve your website’s ranking. The same goes for the URLs for your pages, which can be changed to include more SEO-friendly terms. But be mindful of length here too—users want to get an idea of what’s on the page fast and don’t want to copy and paste long links.

Claim your Google listing

“What most business owners don't know is that they can claim their Google Places listing and edit it,” Malaga says. “By doing that they improve their businesses' chances of appearing on the first page of Google for relevant searches.

If your business is focused on a particular local customer base, this can be a very easy way to improve your rankings and exposure. When a user searches for a general business in a particular city, such as “pizza” or “doctor,” Google will list the top seven places on its first page. Unless the listing is claimed by the business, the information given comes from public business databases.

But, if you claim your business’ listing, you control the information that appears—likely improving your rank in the search results. Add important information, photos and contact information for the best results.

Keep your content fresh

To stay relevant and keep up to date, you must constantly add new content and generate new links, says small business SEO consultant Michael Munter.

“Every time you add fresh, unique content to your site, you give new ways of being found in search results,” he says. “Write compelling content that is useful to your target audience. Use pictures, video and headers to make your content enjoyable and easy to follow.”

An easy and effective way to do this is by keeping a company blog. Post as often as possible, and at least once a week, Malaga says. Most blogging software lets you schedule posts in advance, so even if you can't write every day, you can create some short posts ahead of time that will post without you having to think about it.

According to Munter, interlinking your pages and posts is also a great way to keep readers engaged and build traffic. Try linking to a specific product page mentioned in a blog post, or to past posts that readers might also find relevant.

Hire a professional

While there are quick fixes for your website's SEO that will show some improvements, sometimes you need to leave it to an expert—especially if your website is not designed well. In that case, slight changes will make little difference.

The range in prices for consultants and experts can vary from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands. Munter says business owners should communicate with whomever they hire, and ask questions to try to learn from them for the future.

“Make sure they give you a good idea of what they are going to do to rank your site,” he says. “There are many different ways of approaching SEO and a wide range of prices, so just know what you are getting and decide if it's right for you.”

Many companies that advertise SEO services do not provide these directly; rather, they outsource work abroad at a lower cost and the quality of the work suffers, says Ryan Kent, the director of Vitopian SEO. Another common mistake to look out for is hiring a web developer who doesn't have SEO expertise. Make sure you know who is performing your SEO, what their level of experience is and how they’re changing things.

Though the goal—whether you decide to conquer SEO yourself or hire an expert—is to appear high in search results, it doesn’t mean you should build your website for search engines, Dover says. Avoid computer-generated links and other content that generally includes several iterations of the same words and phrases, and most importantly, keep your customers in mind.

SEO will only continue to gain importance, especially for small businesses, so the time is now to improve your site.

“SEO is very much like the wild, wild West,” Munter says. “What worked yesterday does not work today, and what is working now might not work tomorrow. Google is constantly changing their algorithm, so your best bet is to just dig in and start trying different things.”

Photo credit: Google