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What you Should know about SEO as a Small business Owner

SEO is not mystical and it is not hard! Small business owners often get calls regarding their websites or google my business pages. Even small web design companies get these calls, and I occasionally play along just to see what my clients are faced with. If you are unfamiliar with how websites and search engines operate you can be mislead to believe that their interactions are complex and magic. Over the past few weeks, I have had more than one client ask me if I know about SEO. The undertone in their voice makes me realize they believe search engine optimization to be a very complex operation. One person went on to tell me that they have had offers to fix their SEO, but it would cost them thousands of dollars. The kicker is that the person is good at doing their own web design, and if they had been guided to the right information early on, their site would already be ranking well.

The SEO SCAM

Well, here is my thousand dollar blog post. If someone calls a small business and offers to fix their site for thousands of dollars it is probably a scam. That isn’t to say that there is no problem with their site. They may have been targeted for a reason. The tactic of mystifying people who do not know better is shady at best.

The Reality of SEO

There is no golden secret to SEO. Search engine optimization is a boring set of rules that search engine engineers keep on changing, and they do not tell anyone what is in the secret sauce. They provide nebulous information regarding what they look for in the latest update. SEO “specialists” really just look at your site as a consumer of your good or service and try to figure out what your clients are going to search for.  They change the wording of your site, and follow the set of guidelines below which is time consuming but not magic.

How do you make your website rank well?

If you want your website to rank well, the short answer… use wordpress plugins that harass you to do things right. Luckily, for my clients and anyone who uses WordPress there are some really good plugins that make the somewhat complex task of SEO nearly foolproof. Yoast SEO is what I usually use, but there are several others that are nearly as good, and I have used those in the past.

What does it mean if someone says they are going to fix your SEO?

It means they are going to follow the set of guidelines below and try to browse your site as a consumer.  They will reword the information on your site like someone would search for it.

Technical boring stuff about SEO guidelines to make your site rank well

  • Type word for word what people are searching for and use proper heading tags… and syntax will go a long way.
    • The wording needs to be as natural as possible.
    • The content on the page needs to match. (300ish words is the current grail number)
  • Important information needs to be in the text
  • Give people something to read that actually helps them or solves their problem.
    • Sell a service or product? Write a blog post on how to use it or some other detail and then link to it in your post. (oh wait… See what I did there)
    • Write about things that people are searching for.  If search engines see traffic going to your site they for one topic it can help build authority for other topics.
  • Build a site that isn’t broken. Try to eliminate all errors on a page before google crawls it. (*I’m guilty of screwing this up from time to time.)
  • Make sure your site looks good and works well on a phone.
  • Try to get back links from good sources.
    • Can you get in the paper?
      • Fundraiser
      • Talks
      • Donations
      • Help the right people
  • Get people to talk about you on social media. Save & Exit
  • Get your site in Google’s analytic system.
  • Get your site in Google’s Webmaster tools system and check it periodically for errors.
    • Getting tracking codes on your pages helps google figure out what people are looking at.
  • If you are a small business make sure there is cohesion in your public listings.
  • Try to make sure your site loads fast (Keep files sizes down).
  • Use SSL (newish for 2015/16)
  • Test Test Test – This is a separate post I have yet to complete…
    • Search for “Heading Tag analyzer” in google. Eliminate garbage words in your heading cloud
    • Use other tools like pingdoms speed tester and PageSpeed Insights from google.
    • Use more in depth analyzers like nibbler to see if it picks up on any problems you have overlooked.

How to Make a website rank poorly?

  • Build a website that is a mess.
  • Do not use any heading tags at all… even better! Don’t even bold important items.
  • Use heading tags to change text size. (Hibu cough*)
  • Build a new site that is not phone friendly.
  • Use Poorly constructed tables to display important information. (Search engines can have trouble with tables).
  • Use the latest and greatest loophole to make it on the front page of google.
    • Search engines are exploitable. There are ways to get on the front page of google if you are crafty. The problem… people that code the search engines are smart and they often role out patches that will hammer a site that used a loophole to get to the top.
  • Load your site with useless words and other content.
  • Never ever update your front page or any other page.
  • Toss in a 60MB video file that has to load as a background.

SEO Experts in North Dakota and Minnesota

This advice really goes for any area, but always be careful of anyone who is selling themselves as a SEO expert.   They do exist, but I have looked at a lot of web sites built by other web designers and there are very few true experts when it comes to SEO. Often the sites/people that claim to be experts are employing tricks that operate in a gray area. Google may decide to penalize those “Experts” in the future. Anyone can do search engine optimization, but most of the time if you want to rank for a search term you need to build authority over time. You need to have good content about a certain topic that google has never found anywhere else. You will not get much street credit with the search engines if you copy and paste everything on your site.  If you want to rank well, do your best to follow the guidelines outlined above. If you are thinking about hiring a SEO expert please ask them some pointed questions about what it is they plan to change.   In many cases with old sites, they will simply be updating all of your information the follow the guidelines, but at that point you might be better off moving your site to a new system and updating the information as you move it.  Anything built before 2014 could likely use a major rework as that was sort of the tipping point for mobile users.

Thank you for reading my ramble. Hopefully it will help someone save some money.