If you own a small business, you know how important it is to have an online presence; especially on Google, which boasts 80% of all search engine traffic in the United States. Whether you are a planning to build a DIY website or hire a professional web developer there are some Google SEO essentials that you need to know. The best time to consider using Google SEO marketing for your website is before it’s even built, although most SEO firms can also work with existing sites. Creating a website that is optimized for Google from the ground up can save you a lot of time and money so you have more time to spend running your business. Before you start building your website, however, there are two types of research you need to conduct: keyword research for your business’ website and thorough investigative research for SEO marketing companies you are considering to optimize your site.
Researching SEO Marketing Companies
I cannot overemphasize the importance of conducting thorough research about an SEOcompany before you hire one. I have seen the damage that deceptive and unethical SEO companies can cause not only to a business’ website, but to their company as a whole.
While there are laws in place to protect business owners in general from fraudulent companies, laws governing the Internet and search engine world are currently in their infancy. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.ftc.gov to read up on scam alerts or file a claim. Most “black hat” SEO companies that engage in practices that are a clear violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines do not advertise or disclose their sinister behavior, so ask a lot of questions and follow your instincts. Here are a few questions you should ask potential SEO companies.
Questions to Ask SEO Companies Before you Hire
- Does your company follow Google’s best practice guidelines for webmasters?
- If they say yes, ask “can you guarantee your adherence to Google’s webmaster guidelines in writing?
- How long have you been in business as an SEO agency?
- Does your company have any other affiliate websites or alternate business names?
- Can I see examples of your clients’ sites along with the keywords you are helping them rank for?
- What specific experience do you have in my industry?
- How often will your company communicate with me?
- What type of reporting do you use and how often?
- Can you provide me with detailed documentation of every change you make to my website?
- What type of SEO strategies does your company use and value most?
- Have any of your clients’ websites ever been penalized, or de-indexed from Google’s search results?
Keyword Research for Your Business
Keyword research is essential before you begin building or optimizing your website. While some keyword terms for your business may be obvious, you need to conduct research to see which terms are used most often in your particular market area. There are a few essential tools you will need to conduct research for your business. The best free tools come from SEOMoz, which is the best and most respected SEO organization not only in the United States, but across the globe. Go to www.seomoz.org and register for a free account. Then you can take advantage of many of the free tools they have available. Their keyword analysis and SEO toolbar are absolute essentials for keyword research, tracking, and link building.
The first thing you should consider is what your goals are for the business and its website. If you are a merchant, you should ask yourself which products are most profitable, and which would you like to promote most? Attorneys should consider what type of cases they prefer taking, and more importantly which ones bring in the most money. Then you can begin conducting research for keywords that represent this valuable service and product areas.
Competitive Keyword Research
You see your competitors’ website ranking for the keywords that you also want to rank for. How do you figure out which keywords they are targeting? Look at their websites to see which keywords they are in their page’s description, URL, and titles. If their home page is ranking for valuable keywords, see exactly what those keywords are. You should also see which keywords they are targeting for their internal pages and what categories they have broken these pages into.
First, do a Google search for obvious keywords. If you are a local business, include location keywords in your search like “Dallas Criminal Defense Attorneys”. Notice that the home page description of the pages on the right that have top rankings for these keywords have included them in their website’s description. The local listings that appear after organic results also have these terms either in the site’s title or in the listing’s meta description or categories on their local listing.
Now it’s time to start researching the anchor text (or clickable text) links that your competitors’ sites are using. The keywords that they are using anchor text links for are a good indicator of what keywords they are targeting. Using www.opensiteexplorer.org , type in your competitors’ website address and see which anchor text links they are using and how often.
Once you have a list of your top competitors’ keywords, you can start building your own list integrating some of the keywords they are using and also some new ones that they are not targeting. It’s a good idea to use a mixture of both highly competitive keywords and less competitive keywords that will not be difficult to rank for. The keyword phrase we used above (Dallas criminal defense attorneys) is a highly competitive search term in almost any area.
To target less competitive keywords that are easier to rank for, think of specific types of cases or products that you would like to rank for with adjectives attached to them. For instance, one type of case that criminal defense attorneys defend clients in are felony charges. You could target phrases like “Dallas Felony Charge Lawyer” or “Felony Defense attorneys in Dallas”. These longer search phrases (or long tail keywords as we like to call them) have less competition, but often have a much higher conversion rate.
Don’t forget to perform Google searches. As a small business owner without all of the fancy reporting and analytics reports, you need to try and work with free or low cost tools whenever possible. Take full advantage of all that Google has to offer by signing up for webmaster tools and setting up Google Analytics for your website. You can also set up alerts from Google and get an email when your company or brand name is mentioned. Go to www.google.com/alerts to set up these alerts for your company name, and web address.
Google+ Local and Google+ Business Pages
Google+ Local pages are designed to help users find local businesses in their area when they perform a search. If you have a local business such as a retail store, restaurant, or hair salon then you definitely want to take advantage of a free Google local listing. You DO NOT need a website to have a local Google+ listing. Even if your website is not up yet, you should make your local listing immediately and then you can add your website’s address later. To create a local Google+ listing for your business go to http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness/ and create a page for your business. If you need help you can visit Google’s help page for creating a local listing or use our use our Google Plus and Local guide for small businesses.
If you are not a local business, but serve clients nationally or globally, you can still create a Google brand or company page here. Google+ Business pages have many social features that can help you engage and communicate with your customers. If you have a local business then you can create both. After creating a Google+ local page and a Google plus brand page, local businesses can verify and combine their pages to make one page that serves both as a local listing page and also as a brand page with social sharing and engagement features. Google has announced that it will streamline these pages in the future but for now, you have to create both pages and then combine them to get one page with all of these features.
Once you have created your Google listing, I would highly recommend integrating your business’other social listings with your Google+ page. You can add custom links from your business’ Google+ profile page to your company’s other profiles like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and YouTube. Then you can link from your other social sites back to your business or brand’s Google+ profile. Here’s a helpful link for adding a Google+ tab to your Facebook page.
Hopefully, you should have enough information now to get started on building your site or hiring a company to help you build and optimize it for Google. Again, make sure you conduct thorough research about SEO companies you’re considering hiring. And whether you’re building and optimizing your own website or hiring a third party to do it, make sure you read and stay current with Google’s best practices guidelines for webmasters and keep this quick Google SEO starter guide handy for referencing. Let me know if you have any questions or if I missed something you think is important about SEO for Google. Good luck business owners!