SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is a very crucial part of any digital presence and a smart business will make sure their website is optimised as best as possible. It can also be a powerful and cost effective marketing weapon for SMEs. With South Africans starting to show more trust in going online for services such as shopping, booking and banking, you can’t just rely on word of mouth and walk-ins to secure new business and leads any more.
Helping Google find you
As the name suggests, SEO is what allows search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing to ‘find’ or ‘index’ your website properly in their database. This in turn allows consumers to discover your website by entering keywords that are related to your business.
SEO is often seen as something like black magic, it’s all too much to try and understand and business owners find it easier to just let it slide. Surely if my website is live and up on the web, Google will find it? No it won’t.
I once had a client who had his website up and running for over a year and was concerned that he was getting no hits on it. I took a look at the site and could immediately see that his website had very little chance of ever being near Google’s first page of results for his particular industry. He was in a very competitive industry which also didn’t help.
His site was full of Flash animation and navigation (Flash does not get indexed by search engines as it shows up as a movie file and not text). His blog, which to his credit and pity he updated regularly, was held within a frame inside another page.
So there was no direct link to the blog, no information on it and nothing for search engines to find or index. It was completely hidden. There were no titles to any of his pages or images. The site was existing happily in a black hole, it was there, but very hard to find!
Extravagant claims can make SEO sound like the fast route to business success, wealth, lasting fame and that all important No.1 Google ranking. It’s not. Effective SEO takes time to implement and show results.
It can take significant investment. Do not believe that fast-talking-ipad-holding SEO salesman who promises you results in under a week. Unless you are the only plumber in the country with a website, it’s going to take some time to move up the search rankings.
So how long will it take to see some results? And the answer is: it depends (perhaps the worst answer I know). It will depend on the industry you operate in. If you are in the travel business, then you will to wait longer to see results than someone in the second hand antique clock business. Finding keywords to rank for in the travel industry is a lot more difficult and competitive.
It will depend on how long you have been online. If your competitors have the historical advantage of being online for longer than you, then it’s going to be harder to rank above them as search engines already trust them. You will need to work that bit harder.
It will depend on how much work and new content needs to be created and generated to be submitted to the search engines. Lastly it will also depend on those all important search engine algorithms. The search engines are constantly updating and tweaking the strategies needed to rank well in their databases. Something that worked well last year might not work well this year.
So what are the basics to start with? Well SEO can be divided into two basic areas. ‘On-site’ SEO which refers to anything you can do on your own website to improve its ranking. Examples are your website content that use keywords and image titles relevant to your business.
‘Off-site’ SEO relates to anything that is not part of your website, but which can contribute to your search engine ranking. Examples include other sites linking to your website which search engines see as a vote of trust.
Real, effective SEO
What can you do immediately then? You can look at your on-site SEO straight away. Is your content regularly updated (search engines go gaga over fresh regular content). Does that content contain keywords relevant to your business? If you’re in the washing machine business and you’re writing about cars, then you’re going to attract the wrong type of customer (unless you design washing machines that look like cars).
Do all of your images have titles and description tags so that a search engine when finding that image can immediately categorise and index it? Is your website user friendly in its layout and navigation? Just like your consumers need to find their information quickly and easily, so do the search engines and if they can’t, it can count against you.
Perhaps the biggest aspect to SEO is patience. Real, effective SEO takes time and an ongoing effort to be successful and yield lasting results. It can sound overwhelming. It can sound complicated. But with just some small tweaks and adjustments to your digital strategy, a few kind words from your chosen SEO partner and you can make some big differences in improving your site’s visibility and attracting correctly targeted customers. SEO is not just for big businesses, it’s crucial for anyone who has a digital presence. Now, about that Ferrari shaped washing machine I ordered…