Practices of Top SEO Companies for Small Businesses

Practices of Top SEO Companies for Small BusinessesLisa Barone recently wrote about what small businesses could do to increase sales. Network Solutions CEO Roy Dunbar was joined by several people to offer suggestions. One of the key points coming from the group is that “SEO and search is one of the most powerful things a small business can invest in.”

Many small business owners are missing out on the potential traffic and sales they could get if their web sites were optimized for search engines. Location is everything — even online. An SEO company helps your web site rise to the top of search engines when someone types in words relating to your business.

In my last post I went over SEO practices that your SEO company should not use. Now I’ll talk about the opposite – what a good SEO company should do.

A good SEO company should do the following things:

  • Analyze your web site. The basis of SEO starts with your web site. Like a doctor who should ask questions and do some tests before making a diagnosis, your SEO company should start by examining your web site.They should look at factors such as: the URL structure, your title and Meta tags, page content, and how you link pages of your site to each other. The more complex your web site, the more thorough the analysis should be. This is where advanced SEO knowledge is crucial. Minor changes can have a big impact.
  • Identify keywords. Keywords are words that people type into search engines to find web pages. For most, they already rank well for the name of their business. To attract new business, they also need to rank well for other terms. Where your web page shows up in the list is your ranking – and getting on the first page can mean a lot more business than being lower on the list.Keywords and content are the foundation of a well-optimized web site. Your SEO company should see where you currently rank for relevant keywords. They should give the approximate demand and competition for various words (usually phrases) that are important to your business.If your business is a local business, your SEO company should focus on local terms by adding state or city names to keyword phrases you’re targeting. They should be sure that you’re listed correctly on search engine maps like Google Maps because map results show up above the rest of the results.

Once you determine these words, they will form the basis of your SEO efforts. When you target a particular phrase you usually get residual ranking benefits. In other words you can rank well for similar phrases.

  • Build Links. Links are a form of currency online. A link to your site is like a vote for it. The more important the site the more valuable a link from them will be.The key is to build or attract links from other sites that are well established or credible, to a particular related page on your web site. One way to build links is to get stories written about you online. If you are lucky to get a story written about your business with a key phrase linked back to your web site, it can be more powerful than paying for an ad. Not only do you get the trust and endorsement from the mention, you’ll get search engine rankings for that phrase.

Aaron Wall of SEOBook.com said, “When people link at you in editorial channels, they not only link, but in many cases leave behind an endorsement. Assuming they are writing to a relevant targeted audience then you just gained a bunch of social proof of value and reached a wider audience in a means that is much cheaper and more effective than traditional advertising.”

Also look for credentials from the industry. I know of more of these from the paid search side rather than for SEO companies. One example is a Certified Google AdWords Reseller. This shows that they are interested in keeping community standards. Remember that reputable companies don’t try to hide from the Search Engines. They seek relationships with them. They want to ensure they work with them in the most transparent way possible.

My favorite SEO tactic? Blogging. Set up correctly (applying the same principles I outlined above), a company or even personal blog can be a great tool for SEO. If creating your own blog isn’t a good fit, participating on other people’s blog by leaving comments or writing a guest post using keywords is also effective.

SEO is a form of marketing. There are many approaches to getting links. The best approach for your business depends on many factors. However there are fundamentals that don’t change which every small business should be aware of –especially in this economy.

* * * * *

Janet Meiners thaelerAbout the Author: Janet Meiners Thaeler is an Evangelist for OrangeSoda Inc. and the principal blogger for their corporate blog and Twitter account. She regularly advises clients on blogging and social media strategies. Her own blog is Newspapergrl.com (and Twitter account @newspapergrl). She is passionate about online marketing and is always looking for new insights, resources and trends to help her clients.

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Janet Meiners Thaeler


Janet Meiners Thaeler Janet Meiners Thaeler is an Evangelist for OrangeSoda Inc. and the principal blogger for their corporate blog and Twitter account. She regularly advises clients on blogging and social media strategies. Her own blog is Newspapergrl.com (and Twitter account @newspapergrl). She is passionate about online marketing and is always looking for new insights, resources and trends to help her clients.

48 Reactions

  1. Great tips. As someone with limited SEO knowledge, I’ve considered hiring someone for SEO purposes but had no idea where to begin. With your advice in this article and in the previous one, you’ve given me enough knowledge to feel comfortable in making a choice. Thank you!

  2. Good article but hasn’t the subject of ‘Content, Keywords and Links’ been discussed to death already? Although this is a well written blog, and you mention ‘blogs’ as part of a strategy – there are far too many absolutely useless blogs around.

  3. Really good tips, Janet. I wish I had learned this stuff earlier!

  4. Sound advice and in the right order. Start with your own website/content and then once you have taken care of all the on-page factors (title tags, meta tags, headlines, content, etc.) you can start looking for ways to increase the number of links you have.

    (Self-promotional plug for http://www.LotusJump.com which is designed to help even beginners obtain relevant links to their website)

    I really like your suggestion to find guest posting opportunities. This puts you in front of a whole new audience as well as building a quality link to your website.

  5. Very well written article, I don’t doubt the importance of SEO, however the cost of running a successful campaign for a small business is astronomical…many companies that offer SEO services charge an arm and a leg, usually monthly (anywhere from $300-$1000/monthly)…and many don’t provide any kind of guarantee on results.

    The key for any small business that’s trying to get noticed on the web is getting quality back-links and providing either a quality product/service or content – if your services are valuable to your users, word about your site will spread rather quickly and will often times result in a significant increase in sales/conversions by word-of-mouth referrals (the best, and most effective kind of referral).

  6. Hi Janet,
    I am so glad you did a posting on the true benefits of SEO for small businesses. Everything in marketing today seems to begin and end with Google and may be Bing a little bit now :) . I want you and your readers to also note that Network Solutions hosts a series of SEO webinars at all major locations in the U.S. and a listing of upcoming events is available at http://marketing.networksolutions.com/seminars/. Our goal is to help more and more small businesses effectively market themselves with good SEO strategies.

    Thanks,

    Shashi

  7. I’ll say that for me building links is the biggest challenge. It’s not enough to do it once a year and hope ‘it sticks’ – this is an ongoing link building practice that you have to engage in. I’m working on it! Thanks.

  8. Very true whn she say
    “Links are a form of currency online. A link to your site is like a vote for it. The more important the site the more valuable a link from them will be”

  9. Janet I agree. SEO is one of the very important activities that businesses should consider too. Good list of tips.

  10. In short, Every SEO Company should be strongly encompassed on consultation, keyword research, copywriting, website redevelopment, creating incoming links, submitting to search engines and finally reporting on optimization results.

  11. Janet,

    I curios if you could say something about your title, Evangelist? I am right now listening to a “A Brand You World” personal branding podcast with Guy Kawasaki, John Jantsch and others, and they are discussing the topic on business evangelism and how to spread the good word.

    I have been blogging since 2002, so I must say that I think you are giving a good advice on starting a blog! :) Building a free and voluntarily exchange of link building takes time. I have 191 incoming links to my blog. As a comparison, Orange Soda has 214, Newspapergrl 143 and smallbiztrends.com 1181. Stats according to Alexa.com.

  12. @Jeff, good SEO does not cost an arm and a leg, it is well worth a couple arms and legs, or more. Most competent SEO’s that cater to small businesses value their time at $100 to $300 per hour. A monthly campaign at only $300 per month simply cannot accomplish much if it means only 1 to 3 hours per month committed to that client.

    BTW, The big boys, that won’t even touch small businesses, charge in the neighborhood of $500 to $1000 an hour. And for the types of clients they service, they are well worth that and more.

    Instead of focusing on the cost you need to focus on the value it brings. This varies from city to city and the type of business involved (related to current competition online and value of the products or services being sold by the small business) but it can often mean returns in the 5x, 10x, 20x range. So for many businesses it is well worth every penny.

    As for offering guarantees, any SEO that offers guarantees on rankings is either fooling you or themselves. Google could change up it’s algorithm tomorrow, it often makes significant changes every once in a while leaving SEO’s scrambling to figure out what changed and how to adjust. Or, your immediate competitors may suddenly start spending heavily on SEO and bump your rankings down. Or your poorly designed website might actually scare customers away, the best rankings in the world won’t let you make sales (though some SEO’s are all around internet marketers and can help with design, user friendliness, and conversion optimization). Offering guarantees in that kind of environment is a flat out lie. All an SEO can really guarantee is that they will apply the full depth of their expertise.

  13. Link building in itself deserves at least a whole year’s worth of blog posts because it’s such a complicated topic

    However, considering that this post is written for someone who maybe has heard of SEO but still hasn’t wrapped their brain around it, this is good read.

    The most important thing to remember about SEO is that people aren’t looking for your business, they’re looking for an answer to their problem. Find the keywords that relate to the problem and then try to get a high rank so that you’re the first thing people see when they have that problem.

    The technical stuff can all be taught but SEO will be useless to you if you don’t understand that this is the way it works.

  14. @Effective Internet Marketing – thanks for your comment.

    You wrote:

    “Although this is a well written blog, and you mention ‘blogs’ as part of a strategy – there are far too many absolutely useless blogs around.”

    You can use tools like http://www.alltop.com and http://www.technorati.com to find blogs that are relevant and that rank well. You can ask if you can submit a guest post. This can get a quality backlink – especially if they’ll use one of your keywords in the title or as a link to your site.

    Or, you can send a sample of your product and ask them for a post with their feedback.

    Just remember to give useful information and write to the audience. Avoid making it sound like an advertisement.

    Thanks
    Janet

  15. Shashi
    Thanks for referring us to Network Solution’s SEO webinars. For businesses who want a DIY option you can spend the time to learn SEO from trusted sources.

    It all comes down to ROI on your time and money. Every business is in a different place. If you can’t afford quality SEO perhaps you can learn enough to get started.

    There was a great follow-up to this post that everyone should read about cost:

    http://bit.ly/SmallBusinessSEO

    This is a good primer on getting started with the basics:
    http://bit.ly/hoXhq

    Janet

  16. Jeff Machado

    This is great advice!

    “The most important thing to remember about SEO is that people aren’t looking for your business, they’re looking for an answer to their problem. Find the keywords that relate to the problem and then try to get a high rank so that you’re the first thing people see when they have that problem.”

    With all good marketing the focus is on how you can give value to your audience. Not what’s in it for you.

    I agree, there’s a lot more to the subject of links. I noticed that SEO wasn’t covered very much so I started with the basic concepts. I’m not so much teaching people how to do SEO but what to look for and what matters. Your comment is very helpful for both.

    Thanks
    Janet

  17. @Martin Lindeskog

    “I curios if you could say something about your title, Evangelist?”

    I don’t just do SEO or online PR – I’m convinced of its effectiveness for most businesses. I love what I do so I take it to the level of evangelist.

    Even before I worked for OrangeSoda I couldn’t help but talk about these topics with any small business owner I met. Not because I had something to sell them (at that point I didn’t) but because I wanted them to succeed. I love local businesses and most of my career I’ve worked for one.

    Link to the podcast you referred to?

    You wrote:
    “I have 191 incoming links to my blog. As a comparison, Orange Soda has 214, Newspapergrl 143 and smallbiztrends.com 1181. Stats according to Alexa.com.”

    It’s tough to believe I don’t have more links to my blog. My original blog was hosted by WordPress (before I knew that was a bad idea). I lost a lot of links when it got deleted because of one spam link (that’s according to my friend who works for the company that makes WP).

    Thanks for your insights…and what do you think about being an evangelist?

    Thanks
    Janet

  18. Too true. The comments about 300-1K per month being too costly do not equate. Companies who truly know what they’re doing will be worth far more that. The points you mention are right on target. Content, links, and then maintain are the only things that will work consistently over time.

  19. Janet,

    I will look up the link and send it to you by email. (If I write it in the post, it could be stuck in the moderation filter.) Interesting to hear about your description of a business evangelist. I am interesting in the meaning of words and how you create a meaningful concept. As a freethinker, I first reacted to the religious connotation, but then I looked further and found out its original Greek roots and their you have a more secular explanation. You “come with good news” or “spread the good word”. (From Answers: “originally meant a reward for good news given to the messenger.”)

    “I’m convinced of its effectiveness for most businesses. I love what I do so I take it to the level of evangelist.”

    I think you could label me a social media evangelist with focus on finding your true natural voice for your own electronic journal / web log, i.e. blogging activities, so you could engage in a two-way communication as a trader in matter and spirit. I am interested in working as an evangelist when I find the right matching company, association, organization, etc. in America. I am interested in your tips and suggestions in this matter.

  20. You could listen to “Evangelizing Evangelists to Build a Business and Build Your Brand” by Guy Kawasaki with Krishna De, Tim DeMello, John Jantsch and Andy Sernovitz.

    http://www.PersonalBrandingSummit.com

  21. Great tips on SEO Janet. Small businesses sometimes get caught in the wash of larger businesses so thanks for sharing this information.

  22. Another good article Janet, I’d be curious to see you extend this one a bit though and go beyond discussing blogging into viral media and podcasts and the usefulness/effectiveness of these powerful tactics. While either is definitely not right for every type of business and should be carefully considered, these are also marketing methods making a huge impact on the web today. Also, do you do a podcast and what are your thoughts on them? I personally (as a marketing student) enjoy one called Marketing Over Coffee, I know there are more great ones out there though. Can’t wait to read more of your articles.

  23. Great post…..Janet
    even after reading so much about SEO articles on the net, your reading still had so much to absorb from. It is more like a cross checking list, I just made it a bookmark for my future referencing or cross checking for SEO.

    looking for more from you.

    Sonal
    USourceIT: Riskfree IT outsourcing/ sourcing partner for small and medium businesses

  24. Great article. I often find that my small business clients are hesitant to get involved with a blog or social media thinking that it takes up a lot of time that they don’t have. I find that for SEO purposes it’s sometimes easier to tell them to write 12 articles upfront and we schedule them to be posted at a later date – they are much more receptive to this.

  25. For a search engine to recognize the value and relevance of a page, it must receive help from the creator of that page. Properly optimizing your pages to make them “search engine friendly” can greatly increase your search engine rankings, traffic levels, and potential earnings from your website.

  26. Great post Janet.

    This is a simple, straight-to-the-point understanding of SEO. Sometimes we can get so lost in the details and forget the basics, but you certainty have not.

    Thank you again!

  27. One cost effective channel (esp for small companies) to increase sales is through web comments (social media marketing). For eg. companies can use tools like “commentino” to promote their business/products via web comments in relevant forums. Commentino writers post comments in right forums keeping forum discussion in coherant. This also gives forum participants more choices on products/business. Companies pay only for those comments that meets their requirements. Companies can measure ROI with real-time analytics provided. For commentino detials follow link
    http://snipr.com/n74gs

  28. Cool, thanks for sharing these tips. I think, however, that SEO is no longer as cost effective as other measures, such as pursuing viral marketing with online video on sites like YouTube, DailyMotion, AdWido, and so on.

  29. Good Advice. One mistake often made is to go for the big, high profile main phrases. Its much easier, and more profitable, AND quicker to go for the long tail of keywords your competitors can’t be bothered to go for.

  30. One of the tricks to SEO is to try to make your site as simple as you can. Make use of white spaces on your site so that it visually also pleases visitors. Use appropriate font color with contrasting backgrounds. Less is more. It will help to make important elements more eye catching. A good look is not so important, it is the content , meta tags and the keywords that matter. As they say, Content Is King.

  31. Good summary of basic SEO strategies and I agree with some other posters that you put them in the right order. All the links in the world won’t bear fruit if the content is no good!

  32. I have always been of the opinion that less is more. If I come across a site that is solid text, it puts me off reading it – even if it’s a subject that I’m interested in. However, if it is broken up with good headings and images I will take the information in.

  33. My husband has an electrical business and for a while we were doing all our seo in house but we still weren’t ranking well. After doing some research reading blogs, getting testimonials, we hired an seo firm and are very pleased with the results. We just needed a professional to handle it all for us.

  34. SEO is a double-edged sword. Yes it has the ability to steer searches towards your web site or business. However, unless you were the first ones on this bandwagon, your search words and parameters have already been ‘taken’. So these SEO companies get creative and start bundling words together to form phrases of up to 4 words long in combinations that WILL put you page one (Google, Yahoo etc). The problem is the word combinations are ridiculous and meaningless – no one on the planet searches using those concocted combinations. Meanwhile you’re paying $$$$ for this service with no guarantee of any sort. Go ask your SEO outfit what word combos/phrases they are using to put you on page 1.

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