As a busy small business owner, it can be tough to stay on top of the ever changing landscape of search engine optimization (aka SEO). From algorithm changes to new trends, our email inbox and social media feeds are flowing with SEO-related information each and every day.

Small business owner looking at whiteboard

While this can be overwhelming  (yes, even for marketing professionals!), it is crucial for small business owners to understand the basics of SEO; it’s a key component to your company’s success. Prospective customers are using the Internet to make a purchase decision more than ever.

With that in mind, we put together this article to provide an overview of SEO essentials, myths, and recommendations for small business owners. Hopefully you’ll increase your knowledge and be able to make better marketing-related decisions for your company in the future.

What is SEO? How does it affect my business?

People use search engines (usually Google or Bing here in the United States) to find specific information. To find what they’re looking for, they enter keywords or a phrase which are then queried against the search engine’s database to provide relevant search results (such as web pages, images, and local business listings).

Higher ranking results are more likely to be clicked as they’re more relevant to a user’s search phrase. This means that, when done correctly, SEO can help increase your company’s visibility to prospective customers through higher search engine rankings.

Organic, Local, and Paid Listings

There are a few different types of results that a search engine provides: organic, local, and paid listings. Here’s a breakdown of each:

Image showing SEO results

Organic Search Listings

The majority of information provided by a search engine is through “organic results.”

Organic search results are typically the most relevant to a person’s search phrase. Higher rankings (such as the first few listings) are considered (according to the search engine) to be the best matched results for what information a person is searching for… which is why they are ranked on page #1 instead of page #10,231.

Organic search results are not paid for which means your company’s organic search rankings cannot be guaranteed (it’s impossible… if someone say’s otherwise, they’re wrong!).

The best way your business can improve organic search rankings is to regularly provide quality content on your website.

Local Search Listings

For the most part, local search results are shown when someone includes a geographic keyword in their search phrase (such as Marketing Services in Virginia Beach, VA).

Local listings are usually displayed towards the top of the results page so they can, in essence, provide your company with a potentially higher ranking. Local results include your phone number and address so people (especially those on the go) can locate your business. On Google, local search listings also include applicable Google+ Pages and customer reviews/ratings.

If your business operates locally and serves customers in a specific geographic area, local SEO is a worthwhile focus.

Paid Search Listings

A more accurate term for paid SEO is search engine marketing or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Paid search listings are, well, paid for and therefore displayed prominently within search results. If your company utilizes this strategy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that your seemingly “high” rankings will diminish once you stop paying for your advertising campaigns if you haven’t also focused on your organic and/or local search listings.

Paid search listings can be a great marketing route, however. Popular search engine marketing platforms like Google AdWords and Bing Ads provide cost-effective, targeted advertising campaigns that can feature dynamic text, various extensions (display ads by language, location, etc.), among other features. The best part? Your business only pays for results either per click (PPC) or per action (CPA).

Common SEO Myths Debunked

Recently, while browsing Search Engine Land, I came across a video titled “What are some myths about SEO?” posted on YouTube by Matt Cutts, Head of Search Spam at Google.

Matt discussed (and discredited) some common SEO myths including these:

  • Buying ads (paid SEO) helps/hurts your search rankings
  • Content directories, guest blogging, link wheels, etc. is the best way to rank number one
  • Automated software used for SEO

Towards the end of Matt’s video, a simple suggestion was provided for SEO:

If you keep the mental model of, what is Google trying to do – we’re trying to return great search results for users – then that helps you figure out how to align yourself with those goals, because if you’re aligned with those goals, then we’re going to want to return the high-quality pages that you’re making.

Matt further went on to say:

If you’re not aligned with those goals – if you’re trying to do fly by night, churn and burn, black hat, spam, stuff that only lasts for a couple of weeks before we catch it – you’re always going to be working in opposition to the algorithms, and you’re always going to be working in opposition to regular users and what they want to see.

Knowledge is Power and Content is King

Hopefully, now that you understand the basics of search engine optimization, the differences between organic, local, & paid SEO, and some of the common SEO myths, you’re able to make better decisions in regards to your small business marketing efforts.

SEO is important and it’s even more important to do it correctly. Refrain from “too good to be true” trends & software and focus on sharing your knowledge by providing quality content instead.

If your company is considering on outsourcing SEO efforts (read “Do you need an SEO?” via Google Webmaster if you are!), make sure the agency or individual has a true understanding of SEO and industry best practices. Otherwise, you are putting your company’s website and online reputation at risk.

Let us know what you think about the article and if it was helpful to you! Visit us at visualoak.com and let us build an SEO-ready website for you. SEO and other features are included in your Visual Oak website.