Search Engine Optimization – What is it and why is it so important for Small Businesses?

SEO Search Engine Optimization for Small BusinessesThe internet has been around for a while now, and so has Google… Yet, most small businesses have no idea how the internet or Google work, leading to one of the major reasons for business failure in today’s market.

There is no escaping the fact that almost all sales (business and consumer) start with an online search, and this isn’t new. About ten years ago, we used to share a stat that around 50% of sales start with an online search—and this was ten years ago. Since then, that percentage has grown exponentially to 87%, quickly making online search one of the top facilitators for how buyers find and conduct research around items they are looking to purchase. This quite simply means, regardless of your business type, size, or industry, if you do not have a proper online presence or have a key understanding of how online search platforms such as Google work, you are losing business (not a little amount of business, but a lot). There are plenty of businesses that have embraced the internet and online search full-heartedly, making it a core part of their business functionality. As a result, they close a significant amount of business and are thriving where others are failing! Some have even created models where their entire online presence is geared around a touchless sale, allowing customers to find, research, and place orders for their products and services 100% online without ever having to interact with a representative. However, there are still 36% of small businesses that still do not even have a website. And the number of businesses that just have improperly formatted websites or a complete lack of understanding of how Google works, is quite staggering. Why is this the case? Well, it’s a reoccurring theme that comes up in most of our writings but comes down to the lack of understanding of how the internet really works, or just a general resistance to change. In this article, we’ll cover some of the basics of developing an online search presence.

As a starting point, we need to drive home the point that almost all business and consumer purchases start with an online search. Furthermore, when online search is solely used to start the process, there has been a transition to continue to use online search throughout the entire lifecycle of the buying process. Essentially, what this means is once a buyer has locked in on a prospective company, they will continue to conduct research on that company, industry, competition, along with the various product and solutions offerings. Again, this all boils down to the fact that if your business is not focused on online search, you are setting yourself up for failure. The starting point for all these searches and research efforts is Google! Google currently directs 92.81% of all online search traffic, making Google one of the most single important strategies businesses should be focused on from a marketing perspective. The strategy in relationship to Google, is what is commonly referred to as Search Engine Optimization or SEO. Search Engine Optimization is quite honestly a very simple strategy for optimizing your website and online presences to be properly found (or indexed) by Google and showcased in their search results. Although fairly simple in its nature, even bigger Fortune 500 companies do not know how to properly deploy SEO strategies and often get it wrong (Toys R Us pays $5.1 million for Toys.com domain name, forgets to set up 301 redirects).

With all of that said, let’s focus on the basics of Search Engine Optimization:

The very first item to understand is that there are two types of SEO: Paid and Organic… This leads to the biggest myth/issue when it comes to SEO strategy, as many believe the only way to properly rank in Google, is to pay Google. This is not entirely true as Google showcases results that are both paid and organic… Paid results are indicated as “Ads” and typically live in the first few results of a Google search, but then just below are the organic results. Let us break out the difference a bit:

Paid Search: Google Paid Search, has been Google’s bread and butter for revenue generation since the beginning. Essentially, Google allows individuals to bid on very specific keywords, so that their business will be ranked in Google searches. As an example, pull up Google and search “Search Engine Optimization.” The first three or four results in that search with the little “ad” box next to them are all paid results. Each business in this section has paid Google for their ranking… How it works: each keyword essentially has a value associated to it and Google will assess its value on how popular a keyword might be. Keywords that are more popular cost more money… But it doesn’t stop there; Google has created a bidding process around each of these keywords. Meaning, for example, if you wanted to outrank a competitor within Google’s paid search results, all you need to do is outbid them. Then, as people see your results and click on your links, you pay Google… Here is the catch: the minute you stop paying Google, you are completely dropped from their paid placement. The easiest way to think of this concept is renting a billboard on a super busy highway getting your business a lot of attention until your ad is removed… This also has the tendency to get expensive real quick, and remember, you are only renting this space.

Organic Search: Organic Search is the other way Google profiles businesses in their search results. Again, pull up Google and search “Search Engine Optimization.” The results that show up just below those paid ads were 100% free… That’s right, the companies that rank for that term did not pay Google a dime for that placement. What is even better, is unlike paid search where you are dropped the minute you stop paying Google, they maintain those rankings as long as they maintain a higher authority ranking in the eyes of Google… In the simplest of terms: where Paid search is like renting for that placement billboard, Organic search is like owning the placement… But like anything, there is a catch. Organic rankings take effort to properly rank within Google, and in some cases, organically ranking for super popular keywords such as “Search Engine Optimization” are almost impossible for newcomers. Ranking in Google organically doesn’t happen overnight—it takes time and effort combined with the knowledge of how SEO works to build up what Google referrers to as Authority. How Organic Search works is instead of paying Google for placement, Google looks at a series of characteristics of your online presences, and more importantly your website, and compares it to competing websites to determine which keywords you should rank for and where. In this article we will not cover the specifics of how that works, as there are plenty of articles online that cover the specifics of SEO in great detail.

Again, understanding how Google search works is quite honestly one of the most misunderstood aspects of online marketing for any business… If Google is so simple, why is it so misunderstood? Again, it comes down to a lack of understanding of how the internet works and just a general resistance to change, especially in small businesses. However, there is another aspect that comes into place as well: the website development community. When you look at small businesses, they typically have zero knowledge regarding how to develop a website, so they look to website developers to create a site for them with the thinking they know best. Unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth as most designers are taught how to develop a site for looks and functionality, but not for Google. It’s not their fault as colleges and other website design courses are historically slow to adapt to change. This results in website design courses that are built around how to develop a website for looks and functionality, not Google Search… Sure, slowly but surely, more colleges are adding Google SEO to the curriculum, but it is too late for a decent amount of the website development population as they are already out in the field building websites… All of this is a long-winded way of saying that most developers (not all), when building out a website for small businesses, build websites for looks and functionality and not Google. What this all boils down to is that the minute most websites publish, they are already at a disadvantage.

All is not lost… Unless you have a Flash-enabled site (Google does not like Flash sites), most existing websites can be modified with little effort to be optimized for Google. And then from there, it just takes time an effort to build up the proper elements that Google looks for to properly rank a website… Again, it just takes time and education to develop a proper SEO strategy. Spend some time searching Google around Search Engine Optimization Strategy or look at our recommendations: https://blog.hubspot.com/, https://moz.com/, and https://searchengineland.com/. This is also something 3SixtySMB can help with… Regardless of how you develop a strategy, it is important to get started sooner and not later! Your business’s future depends on it…

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