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Search Engine Guide : Small Business Search Marketing
Search engine marketing news and information you can use to grow your business.

Search Engine Guide
  • The 6 Ways Small Businesses Can Stay Competitive in SEO

    by Jayson DeMers

    Search engine optimization (SEO) is more popular than ever as a marketing strategy these days, and one of the biggest reasons for its mass appeal is its scale and sheer potential. There are billions of searches per day, performed by people all over the world, so optimizing your site to rank higher for these searches has practically unlimited potential. But can small businesses hope to capitalize on this potential when there are so many big businesses competing with them?

    Popularity and Time

    There are two problems with this "infinite potential" model. First, SEO has become incredibly popular--most businesses now have an online presence, and the vast majority of them are actively competing for more visibility online. Second, SEO has been around since the dawn of the Internet, and major corporations who have been pouring millions of dollars into their online strategies are pretty much untouchable in terms of rankings.

    These two issues make it seem practically impossible to many small business owners--with limited resources and little existing domain authority--to break onto the scene. But it is possible for small and local businesses to gain an edge with these six strategies:

    1. Zero in on a specific niche.

    Your first job is to cut down the competition. Not all search terms get the same amount of search volume, and not all terms carry the same amount of competition. If you're worried about squaring off against major national competitors, refine your target market to a more specific niche. This will cut down the amount of competition you face, and increase your relevance for that specific niche--you'll be working with lower search volume, but you'll rank faster and become more relevant for your audience. For example, you could focus on one specific demographic, or target a specific point in the buying cycle.

    2. Target overlooked long-tail keywords.

    There are two main "types" of keywords, with a bit of gray area in between. "Head" keywords are short, like "bike tire," and feature high volume and high competition. "Long-tail" keywords are long, often using conversational sentence structures like "how do I change a flat bike tire," and feature lower search volume but correspondingly lower competition. You can rank for these search terms easily because of how specific they are. Refine your keyword targeting strategy to focus on more long-tail keyword terms.

    3. Prioritize local optimization.

    Local search results rely on a different algorithm than Google's national search framework. You may notice when you perform a local search that the top three relevant brands for your search appear in a box (with links to a website, directions, and a prompt to call on mobile devices) above typical organic search results. It's possible to optimize your site to appear for these local searches; not only will you get a "free pass" by getting featured above the typical national search results, but you'll face far less competition in the process. As an added bonus, you'll get more locally relevant traffic for your site.

    4. Use the power of personal brands.

    Personal brands have a number of advantages over corporate brands. They're instantly more trustworthy, they have a higher likelihood of being featured in offsite publishers, and if used independently from your local business, they'll provide an additional potential route of traffic and visibility for your corporate brand. Start developing your key leadership and personnel through content and social media, and tie those personal brands back to your core corporate brand.

    5. Work with local publishers.

    Major corporations will have more power and resources to force an increase in their content's visibility (through things like paid advertising), but as a small business owner, you'll have more relevance in local publications, like local newspapers, blogs, and forums. Work with those publishers to build more of a reputation for yourself, and get involved in more local projects and volunteer opportunities to help your community impact grow. The more connected you are, the more potential search visibility you're going to receive.

    6. Build up a reputation with reviews and social media.

    A big part of local SEO depends on the quality and quantity of the reviews you receive, but you can also generate independent buzz by cultivating more reviews (especially on offsite directories and social media). Work with your existing clients and regular customers to start developing better reviews and more visibility for your business. In turn, you'll get more visibility and more peripheral traffic (bypassing and complementing the organic search route), but you'll also get more inbound links and more "real estate" throughout the web, which can increase your overall organic search visibility.

    The truth is, small businesses can be just as competitive as big businesses when it comes to SEO. They aren't able to reach the same number of people, but they can receive huge increases in visibility, reputation, traffic, and eventually sales.

    Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a small enterprise means avoiding competing in areas where you're outclassed, and instead focusing on where you can make the biggest impact.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • Five Essential Qualities to Look for in an SEO Agency

    by Jayson DeMers

    It's almost impossible to run an SEO campaign by yourself - at least if you want to grow beyond the initial setup phase. However, at the same time, you may be reluctant to hire an SEO agency. After all, you know that there are a number of agencies that do shoddy work, putting you at higher risk for manual or algorithmic penalties.

    Furthermore, many agencies are prohibitively expensive. But if you know what to look for, you can find an agency that's affordable, reliable, and capable of giving you an incredible return on your investment.

    Why an SEO Agency?

    First, let's take a look at your options. You can't do this alone, so your two main options (other than an agency) are to hire someone full-time or leverage independent contractors to handle the bulk of your work. While each of these options has merits, full-time workers tend to be more expensive than contracting with an agency, though you do get more control over how they spend their time. Quality contractors are hard to find and hard to manage, but are typically the least expensive option.

    Essential Qualities

    If you're looking for an SEO agency that can give you the best results and the easiest working experience, these qualities are absolute musts:

    1. Knowledge of the latest trends and updates.

    SEO is a field that changes constantly, so you need an SEO agency that's able to keep up with the latest trends. If you're still using tactics that were only effective 10 years ago, you aren't going to see much in the way of results, and you might even set yourself back by incurring a penalty. Pay attention to how up-to-date your chosen agency's strategies are, and don't be afraid to ask some critical questions about their procedures and tactics.

    2. Experience in multiple areas.

    Most SEO agencies are generalists, able to offer you services in multiple categories, such as on-site content writing, on-site optimization, and link building. However, there are also specialists, such as specialized link builders or on-site optimizers. These aren't necessarily bad; however, SEO is a complex and multifaceted strategy. If your agency only has experience in one area, they may have a hard time connecting that area to all of the other significant SEO realms. If you need a niche specialist, a contractor may be a better option.

    3. Transparency.

    When it comes to building trust with an agency, transparency is the most important quality to look for. Pay attention to how revealing your chosen agency is with basic information. Are they open about how they do their work? Are they honest about any risks or setbacks that might be involved? Are they focused on making steady progress toward conservative, long-term gains rather than trying to sell you on a package as fast as possible?

    4. Communicativeness.

    SEO requires a significant amount of back and forth communication, so look for an agency with which you're able to communicate smoothly. You need to be able to call them up to talk when you have a question or discover a problem, and they need to listen to you carefully if they're going to produce content and to optimize your site in a way that accurately characterizes (and benefits) your brand. If you can, speak with the account manager with whom you'll be working directly, and see how well they communicate with you.

    5. Verifiable history.

    It's also a good idea to look at an SEO agency's past clients and references. A credible history is solid proof that your agency is one worth doing business with.
    Red Flags

    There are also some major red flags to watch out for, so if you notice any of these qualities, you may want to keep looking:

    • Promises and guarantees. Nothing in SEO can be guaranteed. It takes research, effort, timing, and a bit of luck to see early results - and even then, further refinement and tweaking are necessary to keep that momentum going. Any promise of specific growth is probably a lie.
    • Difficulty making a connection. If you have problems getting in touch with the agency - if it takes a long time to respond to your emails, or if there's no phone number to call - walk away. You need open communication to have an effective campaign.
    • Suspicious pricing. Suspicious pricing can go either way. Too cheap, and the work is likely do more harm than good, putting you in a worse position than when you started. Too expensive, and you'll have a hard time seeing a positive return on investment.
    • Lack of references. If an agency refuses to provide references or can't name any clients, it's a red flag. See if you can find any reviews of the agency online.

    Choosing an SEO agency isn't easy because there are so many options, but there are a handful of reliable, respectable options out there. If you look long enough and keep these traits in mind, you'll find a partner within your budget who can get you the results that you need. Don't think of your agency search as a product purchase; instead, think of it as seeking a relationship. You'll be with this agency for a while (presumably months or even years), so your priorities need to lie in how you'll work together.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • How do you test your website's names?

    by Mike Moran

    A little while back I was riding the Washington Metro when I noticed something new. The station name read "NoMa-Gallaudet." I'd never heard of "NoMa", but all it took was a quick googling to learn it's short for "North of Massachusetts Ave." At first I was a little confused why a Metro map would be changed just because a new neighborhood was making an effort to try and look hip. But the article went on to explain that they are trying to provide each Metro station with its own short name (between 13 and 19 characters, depending on the importance of the station) that is easy to scan when hurrying passengers are racing to their destination. That makes sense to me, and it reminded me of how important the same principle is for website information architecture.

    Too often I see the top nav of a site use words that just don't make any sense to me as a visitor. Half the technology sites I go to list Products, Solutions, etc., and God bless me if I can figure out what the technology does. These words are short and scannable, but not very informative. This was actually the controversial part of the Metro's decision to use the name "NoMa" because area residents (let alone tourists) don't recognize that name as readily as the old "New York Ave." But they at least had tested the word with riders and they made the decision with their eyes open, rather than just changing the name just because they wanted the new cool name.

    But most websites have bigger issues. Some of them have long names in the top nav, such as the site that had a choice of "Why [Really Long Product Name]" which not only isn't scannable, but I suspect is answering a question that most visitors aren't asking. I saw another site that liked to mix up short names with long names: Products, Why Company Name, Blog, Get a Demo-it really doesn't work. One word navigation names work best if you can make that happen, because the spaces between the words act as the spaces between the choices. If have to have multiple words, you need plenty of space in between the choices so that the eye can distinguish the breaks between them. But when you use too many multi-word choices, you have to make the font even smaller to provide the required spacing, which defeats the ability to scan all by itself.

    So, when designing your site's information architecture, don't settle for the words that insiders think are the ones that best describe their choices. Try to choose uniform-length, short names that you have tested for recognition. You don't even need any exciting technologies here. Old-fashioned cart sort tests will do. Just put different ideas of the right names on cards and show them to people who represent your audience. Ask them-what kind of information would you expect to see after you clicked this name? See if they know.

    The names for the areas on your website are among the most scanned and most clicked words on your entire site, so take the extra time to check how well they are working. Your visitors will be glad you did.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • 7 Types of Blog Posts That Earn The Most Inbound Links

    by Jayson DeMers

    If you want to be successful in SEO, climbing the ranks of search engines and earning more visibility and traffic for your brand, then you need more inbound links from high-authority sources. Yes, it's more complicated than that, but on a basic level, getting more links for your site is the only way to build domain authority. But how can you do this while evading the harsh evaluations of the Penguin algorithm and maximizing the potential of your brand?

    Link Building vs. Link Attraction

    The first key is to note the significant difference between link building and link earning. The former focuses on establishing single instances of links on external sources, such as through guest posts, while the latter focuses on creating compelling content that people naturally want to link to on its own merit. Of the two, link earning is a somewhat safer strategy (while link building is a bit more stable, scalable, and controllable). But at the same time, link earning is also unpredictable--how can you make sure that your content's going to earn the links you need?

    The Best Blog Posts for the Job

    To get you started, there are a handful of types of blog posts that naturally earn more links and attention than others. Here are seven of the most popular articles and posts that people link to:

    1. Infographics.

    Infographics have long been heralded as an exceptional form of content, and for good reason. They naturally contain easily-understandable and valuable information, making them appealing from a logical and practical perspective (if you choose the right topics). They're visually accessible, which makes them easy to digest and share, increasing overall visibility. Plus, you have the freedom and flexibility to get as creative as you want in the design, showing off what makes your brand unique. As a perfect example, Podio's Daily Routines of Famous Creative People went viral last year, earning thousands of links for the brand.

    2. Videographics.

    Videographics are so much like infographics that they almost don't warrant a separate entry on this list. However, the tremendous rise in video popularity, along with new consumer-centric features like auto-playing videos in Facebook news feeds, makes it important to distinguish this type of content. Essentially infographics in motion, videographics have all the advantages of infographics with an even more modern spin.

    3. Interviews.

    Interviews are a fantastic mutual opportunity to earn links, whether you're the interviewer or the interviewee. You can produce interviews in multiple ways (such as video, audio, or written transcript), and both you and the other party (interviewer/interviewee) will have an incentive to share the finished product. This will double your audience instantly--maybe even multiplying it further, depending on the other party's level of influence. Plus, interviews make for highly sharable, linkable assets in general.

    4. List posts.

    List posts, like habits that will make you rich or top superhero movies, tend to attract tons of links simply because they're easy to digest. People rarely have time to wade through thousands of words of content, but they can blaze through a list post quickly, often just skimming the subheaders to see if there's any new or particularly interesting information. This makes list posts fast-paced, sharable, and most importantly, appealing to almost any online audience. They're natural link magnets.

    5. Strong opinion posts.

    Opinion posts can be really good or really bad--and if they're really good, they'll have the power to earn you tons of links. The power of a good opinion post is presenting ideas that nobody's heard alongside compelling information that reinforces your position. Accordingly, your piece needs to be extremely well-researched, well-argued, and focused on a point. Your post also needs to be debatable, to attract more discussion and attention when you start syndicating your piece.

    6. In-depth reviews.

    Take the Verge's thousands-of-words, video-embedded review of Oculus Rift as an example. People love to gather and share information when they're trying to make a purchasing decision, or when something new enters the market. Your brand may not always be well-poised to take advantage of this, but whenever you have the opportunity to post an in-depth review of a product, service, or even a piece of news (like new technology that's shaping your industry), do so.

    7. Stories.

    Don't underestimate the power a simple story can have, especially if it has an emotional root. People fundamentally love stories, whether they're case studies, metaphorical illustrations, or just simple anecdotes. Frame your story correctly, make it meaningful, and people will share your material all over the web, earning you tons of links in the process.

    Final Caveats

    These types of content all carry some natural potential, making them inherently better than some of their counterparts for attracting inbound links. However, that doesn't mean you can scrap them together or rest on your laurels! You still have to pay close attention to best practices for a successful content strategy in general:

    • Unique ideas only.
    • Write for your audience.
    • Pay attention to the details.
    • Stick to your niche (and stay consistent with your brand).
    • Share, syndicate, and publicize your material.
    If you can accomplish these simplified best practices with the types of content we listed above, you'll have a top-notch link earning strategy that can greatly increase your domain authority, traffic, rankings, and visibility in no time.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

  • How to Use SEO When You Need to Hire Someone Now

    by Jayson DeMers

    When most people think about online marketing, they think about the straightforward side--the one that makes them money directly. They think about earning more traffic from their target demographics, and earning more conversions from the pool of that traffic. This leads to more sales (or leads), which then translates to bottom-line dollars for the company.
    But there's another way that online marketing can help your organization--by promoting an open position and attracting more qualified candidates to apply.

    SEO for Human Resources

    SEO (search engine optimization) is a marketing strategy, plain and simple. By leveraging it, you'll get more visibility for the pages that matter most on your site. The delusion that most optimizers have fallen into, however, is that the pages you promote should be directly tied to your bottom line. It's equally possible (and sometimes better) to promote pages that have a chance of benefiting your brand instead, such as human resources pages or individual open positions.

    Strategies for Success

    Knowing that, you'll need a handful of specific strategies if you want to use SEO effectively for your hiring campaign:

    1. Include a general human resources page.

    This should be a main navigation "housing" for your subsequent open position pages. Here, you'll detail your company's human resources department, optimizing for keywords related to your business as a place to work rather than a place to do business with. For example, a SaaS company may use a phrase like "a leader in software engineering," as opposed to a phrase like "a leader in task management software" to cater to software developers over paying subscribers.

    2. Create a dedicated page for each position.

    Creating a dedicated page for each open position you have provides the opportunity to optimize a page for each of those keyword phrases. Title the page with the job title near the front, and include at least one or two synonyms for that job title in the description. In the body content, describe job responsibilities in detail, and be sure to include at least a handful of instances of the job title.

    3. Target individual locations.

    Even if your company is a national level organization, and even if you're hiring multiple people at multiple locations, it's a good idea to segment your open positions by location. This will allow you to optimize for geographic keywords in your titles, descriptions, and of course, your body content.

    4. Use referral links to drive more traffic.

    The more links you have pointing to your individual position pages, the stronger those page authorities will be (and the more likely you'll be to rank for keyword terms relating to that position). Build links on as many different sources as you can, and don't forget the power that referral traffic can lend to your site. Choose content and publishers that have the highest likelihood of passing qualified candidates your way.  For example, you may want to produce content or make your position available for outside content detailing open positions for job hunters. This is especially effective when localized to one area, such as open jobs in New York City.

    Key Challenges

    Despite the advantages that SEO for an open position can offer, there are some key challenges you'll need to bear in mind:

    • Competition from job boards.

    There are tons of online job boards, and they pretty much have a lockdown on general searches like "jobs in Chicago." If you want a chance at ranking for any search queries, you're going to have to find a niche. That means seeking highly specific candidates, or using specific variants of job searches as your target.

    • Split resources.

    As you optimize for a human resources campaign, you'll probably be splitting your SEO resources between that and your marketing campaign. For most organizations, this is only a temporary investment (until the position is filled), but if you're planning on running this as a long-term campaign, you'll need to carefully strategize so you don't end up neglecting either side of your campaign.

    • Keyword targeting

    Obviously, you'll need to target keywords for your open positions, but finding the right keywords is tougher than you might think. There are dozens of synonyms for your job title, and the job title you give may carry different connotations than you intend. At the same time, there are only so many "alternative" job titles you can include in your body content. The best approach here is to pick a direction and stick with it as best you can; if you try to optimize for too many different keywords, you'll end up splitting your efforts and ranking for none of them.

    If you can incorporate these strategies and overcome these challenges, you'll be able to attract far more traffic to your open positions, and wind up with far more qualified candidates to choose from when you're ready to follow through with hiring. That means your organization will run smoother, and you'll become more profitable.

    Be sure and visit our small business news site.

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