One of the most powerful tools known to businesses today is the use of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Understanding what it is and knowing how to harness its huge potential, is crucial in order to survive in today’s competitive marketplaces.
We are living in an era where just about all the information we need is right at our fingertips.
If anyone has any sort of question about any topic under (or above) the sun, all they need to do is pull out their smart device, hop onto a search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo and type in their question.
Then, almost miraculously, a list of tens, hundreds, if not thousands of answers and results appear within a split second.
More often than not, the questions that people type into their search engines relate to a commodity of some sort.
For instance, if someone is looking for an affordable bookkeeper, a deal for their next holiday or a qualified and reliable electrician, common practice is to merely plug keywords like ‘local bookkeeping’, ‘best electricians in my area’, or ‘cheapest holiday packages’ into the search bar, and let the engine do its thing.
The reality is that consumers are likely to click on (one of) the first (few) results that appear and go with one of those service providers.
The question is though, who determines which service provider appears at the top of any given search engine list?
That’s where Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, comes into the equation.
Before delving into what SEO is and a few tips and hacks for SMEs on how to maximise its use, it’s important to understand how search engines actually work.
While these engines might seem quite miraculous, sadly enough, search engines aren’t powered by pixie dust and magic charms.
To put it simply, the search engine provider processes the key words that the searcher used and sends software bots to find all the relevant web pages and present them instantaneously on the results page.
These bots (which are often referred to as ‘Web Crawlers’ or ‘Spiders’) are infused with ranking algorithms, which consider a variety of factors and rank the results based on those considerations.
Given that such a large amount of people uses search engines as a primary business directory, the higher and more often your offering appears at the top of that list, the more business you are likely to generate.
SEO essentially helps your web-content achieve exactly that.
Good SEO processes pre-emptively anticipate the variation of words that a potential customer might plug into their search engine, make the content easily traceable for web crawlers and factor in the engine’s ranking algorithms.
Ultimately, these tools cause the content to appear towards the top of the search engine results list in as many instances as possible.
There are many businesses who have made it their full-time focus to offer SEO support for businesses and specialise in maximising SEO opportunities with a budget of any size.
DataSauce is an example of such a company, and when I reached out to their Head of Digital, Tzvi Balbin, he managed to break the process of harnessing the power of SEO down into five systematic and useful steps:
Good SEO use starts with creating high quality content, and according to Balbin, small business owners who are looking to break into competitive markets should be get started on their content creation “as soon as possible”.
“Consumers are glued to their devices so knowing where to reach them is the easy part,” Balbin told The Pulse.
“The cheapest (and often most time intensive) way to start is with social media; post attention grabbing, high quality and polarising content.
“Ask yourself would you watch/read this content? If you wouldn’t, don’t post it. Your brand will be worse off publishing boring, low quality content that no one watches/reads.”
Now that you’re in the zone and ready to create high quality content, Balbin’s next step was to conduct thorough research in order to determine which “topics” and “related keywords” should feature in your content.
“If you’re looking for free keyword insights, ‘Google Keyword Planner’ is a great place to start,” said Balbin.
“This tool helps with gathering information regarding search volume, competitiveness and suggests similar keywords based on your initial keyword entries that are relevant to your industry.”
Balbin also suggested that if a small business owner is working with some sort of budget for SEO, they should explore some of the “paid tools” (like Ahrefs, SemRush and Keyword Keg) as they “provide a much larger keyword database” than what can be found through Google’s tools.
The more research you put into keywords, the better you can tailor your content and the more times you’ll appear in searches.
So, you’ve got your list of topics and related keywords – what’s next?
Well, based on Balbin’s experience, the next step is to create a research-based content calendar.
“After completing your research, you’ll have a list of keywords and topics which can be prioritised and turned into a content calendar.”
According to Balbin, the three metrics that prioritising content should be based on are intent, competition and search volume.
“For example, keywords with high competition and very low search volume would have lower priority in a content calendar. Conversely, those keywords with high intent high search volume and low competition should be used first and more often.”
Given that cash is almost always scarce amongst early stage businesses, it goes without saying that being cautious about where those precious funds are being allocated is a non-negotiable. When it came to spending money on SEO, Balbin believed it all comes down to the “nature of the business” and the “return on investment” (ROI).
“All digital marketing activities can be tied to some form of trackable ROI, and your efforts should largely be about turning your investment back into cash to re-invest into your business.
“As a general rule of thumb, many of the paid tools are useful, but if you find yourself only using from time to time, they might not be worth the investment.
“There are many free tools on the market that will allow you to run successful SEO campaigns without breaking the bank.”
While using an agency to look after your SEO can be a really handy way to maximise its benefits without investing too much time in the nitty gritty, Balbin encouraged SME owners to stay on top of their providers and be weary of generic and rigid solutions.
“A lot of agencies who support SME’s often tend to lock clients into ‘keyword packages’. These packages are a way for an agency to control scope, which is important, but forces the client into a rigid service.
“Digital marketing, SEO and search patterns are fast moving, fluid and ever changing. Being locked down without room to strategically shift focus can sometimes bring poor outcomes for businesses.
“For those who don’t know all that much about it, SEO can feel like a ‘black box’ and services provided by SEO experts and agencies are often not clearly defined. Keep your provider accountable by understanding how many hours are being allocated to your website and exactly what will be provided and why.”
In summary, getting on the content bandwagon as soon as possible, researching and prioritising content and turning it into an insights-based calendar, all while cautiously watching your budget and keeping an eye on your provider creates a sure-fire process in maximising the power of SEO.