This article was originally published in the October 2012 issue of Landscape Management magazine.
SEO seems like such a dirty word, yet it has this tantalizing, almost magical, aura about it. Search engine optimization does not require a degree in Rocket Science. It requires a basic understanding of how search engines work and a healthy dose of common sense.
As you’ll see as you read on, search engine optimization is not easy, especially for local small businesses. Ongoing effort is required to rank consistently in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
There is no one-time fix. Sure, your website needs to be designed up front with SEO in mind, but you also have to create meaningful content on a regular basis as well as participate in social media.
The search engines like Google and Bing reward web pages with the right combination of ranking factors, or “signals.” SEO is about ensuring the content on your website generates the right type of signals. We’re going to cover the most important signals, both on-page and off-page, that impact how your local small business website ranks.
How To Do SEO On-Page
As you can probably guess, “on-page” refers to how you optimize the pages on your website to rank higher in the SERPs. There are three primary on-page ranking factors, or signals: Your website content, the site’s HTML and the architecture of your site.
Each page on your website has an opportunity to rank in the SERPs for specific keyword phrases. This is why creating content on a regular basis, typically by blogging, is so critical to ranking high and frequently in the SERPs.
The search engines love fresh content. A local small business who updates their website with original content on a regular basis is considered more relevant and credible.
While search engines love fresh, original content, they also look for signals such as quality of content and relevancy of content. This means creating well-written content of substantial quality that is relevant and timely to website visitors.
Using common keyword phrases that people are actually searching for online is also a strong signal to the search engines. According to the 2011 edition of the Search Engine Ranking Factors Report, keyword usage contributes to 26 percent of a rankings impact. Clearly, if your local small business is not using keywords properly on your website you are going to fall short in the rankings
The meta descriptions, title tags and keywords on your website need to accurately represent what your website and local small business is all about. Again, this is all about showing the search engines that you are credible and that you know what you’re doing. Your site's meta data needs to be relevant and support each specific page on your site.
You have to make it easy for search engines to crawl your site and index all of your pages.
Your site’s navigation plays a key role here. Make sure your navigation is consistent from page to page and that your web pages are organized in a logical way.
Speed, as in page load time, is also a strong signal to search engines. The faster your website loads the better. If you have a lot of images on your site these could be inadvertently slowing down your load times.
How To Do SEO Off-Page
Off-page ranking signals may be more important than the on-page ranking factors. And what happens off-site is much more difficult for you to control. This is where reputation and trust come into play. This is why inbound links and social media is so critical in determining how your website’s pages rank.
Inbound links to your website impact search rankings more than any other factor--42 percent of impact according to the 2011 edition of the Search Engine Ranking Factors Report.
According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound Marketing Report, companies who blog regularly have 97% more inbound links than companies that do not blog. The data clearly illustrates the importance of content and how important it is in attracting valuable inbound links.
Bottom line: If your local small business is not creating original content on a regular basis then no one is linking to your website.
When it comes to inbound links, the total number of links is not the only factor. The quality of the inbound links are an even stronger signal to the search engines. You need inbound links from relevant, credible, highly authoritative sites if you want to rank high in the SERPs.
Currently, social media contributes to seven percent of the rankings impact according to the 2011 edition of the Search Engine Ranking Factors Report. The impact of social signals on the SERPs is only going to increase in the coming months and years.
It’s all about reputation and relevance. Are people talking about your local small business online? Are they sharing your content? Are they interacting with your content by “liking” it, retweeting, or giving it a +1 on Google+?
These are all strong social signals that point to how relevant your green industry business is online. If you are nowhere to be found and no one is talking about you, the search engines see your local small business as less relevant and less reputable.
There are a couple of factors at play as it relates to trust: History and authority.
Websites that have a long history are seen as more trustworthy to the search engines. It’s similar to how your customers may view your business: Experience can be a strong signal of trust and authority.
Search engines also consider how long your domain name is registered for. Always maintain your domain’s expiration date a minimum of two years into the future.
Also, do the links you’re sharing on your website make you a trusted authority? If you’re linking to irrelevant websites from your site this can be a strong signal to the search engines that tarnishes your authority and ultimately damages your rankings.
How your green industry website appears in the rankings is somewhat determined by the individual conducting the actual search. If the individual is in your local community they are more likely to find your local small business.
Again, social signals are starting to play a role in this as well which personalizes the search experience even more based on your social graph. Google and Bing both have introduced these social signals into search within the past year.
The SEO world and the search engines have evolved considerably over the past 10 years--most dramatically over the past three years with social media signals now playing a key factor in how websites rank.The search engines will continue to get better and better at serving up relevant results for users. It’s up to you to take the proper steps so your local small business remains relevant in the eyes of the search engines.
image source: kmtcommunications.com