SEO Crash Course

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In business, location is everything — and that includes where you are on the Internet. The way people find that online location is through search engines. So, while a pure brick-and-mortar consideration of location involves being on a good street with a highly visible sign, the online version means ranking high when someone does a search to buy what your "store" sells. Search-engine optimization, the art of improving your search rank, isn’t hard, but it’s something a lot of small businesses don’t pay attention to — either because they’re too busy, or because it sounds both technical and scary. Amit Bakshi, who oversees oDesk’s SEO efforts, puts together a very basic primer:

SEO in a nutshell
All search engines, like Google, Yahoo and Bing, want their users to find the quality websites they are looking for. You need to make a top-notch website, in a way that both human customers and search-engine "spider-bots" can identify. These programs crawl the Web to find sites, and send back information that allows the search engineers to rank the sites through complex algorithms. So SEO is the process of establishing your site as attractive and relevant to these Web crawlers. There are three main steps or considerations: Clean up your site design, create quality content and reach out with links.

Step 1: Designed to Succeed
Your website needs to be both easy to find and easy to read. To make it easy to find, consider what your customers would search for. "The first step is to figure out which keywords you’re likely to be discovered with," Bakshi says. "The basic terms should be pretty obvious, but later you can augment that with a bit of keyword research."

If you’re a florist in Boston, the searches you want to top are variations of flower delivery in Boston. Start with the page title, that field in the code that tells search engines what the page is called. “Bob’s Blooms” won’t tell Google anything. "Boston Flower Delivery — Bob’s Blooms," or "Bob’s Blooms — Boston Florist," will be more relevant to someone trying to get a fistful of peonies to Beacon Hill. Working with your web designer and/or webmaster, make sure your site is easy for search engines — and humans — to navigate, and make sure the key terms appear prominently.

Step 2: Quality
Wins Google and its competitors spend millions of dollars on search algorithms that have just one purpose: to present the highest-quality websites to users anytime they search for something. An important aspect of rising to the top of a search is to actually be a quality website. Smart, well-written content on the topics close to your heart (and bottom line) will improve your rankings, and it’s an ongoing effort. You or a qualified marketing writer should routinely expand your site with good content on relevant subjects, such as how to preserve fresh-cut flowers in a hot Boston summer, which flowers are the best deals in Boston, season by season, or a feature on arrangements you’ve done to suit various Boston wedding venues.

Step 3: Get Out There
What search engines value most is a site that real humans value, and that appreciation is measured by inbound links. When other sites start pointing to your site, you look more authoritative and rank higher in search engines. As a Boston florist, you’d would probably want to trade links with local wedding planners and party stores, and might comment on forums and blogs about the community or industry, with a link back to your site. There’s considerable etiquette involved in link exchange (check out the resources below), but the basics are: relevance, politeness and quality comments. You can take the time to do this yourself, or delegate it to your linkbuilder.

Don’t be intimidated by SEO. There’s a lot of information online, and the basics are pretty easy to pick up. After all, knowing who your customers are and how to create an appealing storefront were part of your original business plan, right? SEO shouldn’t take over your life, but I do keep a basic SEO strategy in place.