Search engine optimization (SEO) has been a buzz-phrase in digital marketing for years, and for good reason: Done well, it can accelerate the growth of a startup, and is also a type of digital marketing that’s affordable for smaller enterprises, leveling the playing field between them and larger competitors. The great challenge, however, is its fluidity… including ever-changing algorithms, so even those who believe they have a grasp of its essentials need to be reminded of SEO’s evolving power and purpose, and how it is poised to change even further.
What it can do for a business
SEO is an umbrella acronym for a range of practices and processes that help a company’s website rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) of the likes of Google or Bing. The higher a business ranks, the more people are likely to find it and consider buying its products and services. Higher rankings are achieved by optimizing a site in a way that convinces engines that its content is relevant and valuable. Among small businesses particularly, especially those relying on ecommerce sales, successful SEO is a priority. For startups vying for the attention of new investors, potential employees and customers, it can make the difference between accelerated growth or not leaving the starting blocks.
How it works
First and foremost, be mindful that SEO is a long-term strategy; even if your organization is dedicating considerable time and effort to the process, results will not happen overnight. But before even looking at how a company can optimize a website, it’s worth examining search engine results pages first. By optimizing for search engines, your business is aiming to increase its standing within organic search results. Take a look at any Google results page: at the top are listings marked “Ad”. Those are paid-for listings that are the result of search engine marketing (SEM) rather than SEO. Below these paid-for listings are organic listings. These are the ones influenced by the techniques associated with SEO. To index your site, Google’s robots “crawl” your content and assess it.
And SEO is also anything but static. Just a few years ago, repeating a phrase over and over that you wanted your website to rank for would have propelled your listing to the top. Today, search engines use more intelligent algorithms to assess quality, and the most important characteristic for a successful ranking is offering a great user experience.
Top SEO practices for small businesses and startups
Successful websites excel in three key areas:
- Technology. When it comes to assessing from the perspective of technology, search engines consider a range of factors. As robots crawl your site, they assess how easy it is to use and understand. A well-thought-out structure helps, and high-quality code can also increase ranking. More recently, site speed has become a deciding factor. A page that loads slowly frustrates potential visitors, and they may leave before even looking at its products. If a website relies on images, it’s important to consider site speed and avoid creating pages that are heavy and load slowly.
- Content. Search engines like Google will rank your content highly if they believe that your website matches a user’s search query closely. So, before you start writing, think about what potential customers might be searching for — the results of that research will become keywords you are trying to be ranked for. Content also needs to be original and well written, of course, but also customized. As of this year, more than 55% of total web traffic happens on mobile phones, and small screens make it harder to read long-winded sentences and large paragraphs. Websites that present content in a way that displays badly on tablets and phones are simply losing out. Unique content is just as important, however. When you are determining keywords for which you would like to be ranked, ensure that you are not duplicating content across pages, which confuses search engines.
- Authority. An aspect of quality content, demonstrating authority is pivotal in SEO strategy. One way of achieving it is by creating and publishing ample original content on your chosen subject (beware of duplicates, though). Making clear any formal qualifications will also help engines and readers recognize you as a knowledgeable source of information. Having external websites link to you is another great authority-generating technique — just ensure that external links lead to high-quality websites.
SEO challenges and solutions
Managing search engine optimization efforts is a true challenge; as engines change their priorities and their algorithms, businesses are ever forced to adapt. And for startups with a brand-new website, becoming listed can feel like a huge hurdle. Without sufficient history, creating a digital footprint can take time, and small businesses with an established website often find that they lack the time and resources to keep up with changing algorithms and requirements. Overcoming those challenges starts with a solid SEO strategy, but be assured that — if you set realistic goals and choose tactics that are time- and cost-effective — your company can see results within a relatively short stretch of time. SEO may not deliver miracles overnight, but in my experience, it can support sustained business growth, and will continue to do so.