Lean back, close your eyes and let’s take a magical metaphorical journey. Imagine we walk out the front door of your integration business. There, in front of us, is a huge eight-lane superhighway with heavy traffic flying by at 70 miles per hour in both directions. There are several exits from this highway, including one that comes right to your parking lot–and standing in the median of the highway is a traffic cop who is constantly pointing at different cars and indicating which exit is the right one for them. We stand and watch the cop work, in wonder at the hundreds of thousands of cars flying by, but he never seems to indicate our exit. Finally, yes! He sends a car down our exit. The vehicle, which seems randomly selected, pulls into our lot, sits there for a few minutes, then backs out and drives away without ever exiting his vehicle.
We watch this process continue for what seems like hours, but are frustrated to see that only one or two other cars are sent our way. And of those, only one had an owner who actually got out of his vehicle and went into our building to talk to a salesperson.
Then it hits you: if you could just find a way to have the cop better know your business so that he would direct more cars your way, you would have so many more opportunities to sell your products and services.
That highway is the internet, the cop is Google’s search engine, and the cars are people who were directed to your website from the results page of a search they conducted looking for something that your company sells. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is how you help that cop realize your company is the right exit down which to send more...many more...cars.
You don’t have to hire an expensive search engine optimization (SEO) expert to make a meaningful improvement in the ranking of your company’s website on search engine results pages. With the help of industry SEO experts and SEO-savvy integrators, we’ll give you some pragmatic, usable tips for steps you can take today.
Let’s start by breaking down some of the key terms you need to know:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is the process by which you take certain steps to optimize your website and its content, such that when major search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and others index it (crawl your content) you can achieve a higher ranking on their search results page. And their results page, referred to as SERP (search engine results page), is based on searches conducted by real people on search terms (or keywords) meaningful for your business. SEO is typically referred to as “organic” or unpaid results– as opposed to the results from paid advertising.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Although similar to, and easily confused with SEO, search engine marketing is a form of digital advertising that drives traffic to your website through paid links. Google AdWords is one of the most popular SEM programs. This is also sometimes referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. There is some crossover between the concepts, as efforts made to optimize your website for search engines can be beneficial for both organic and paid results. In both cases, keywords are involved, but in SEM you bid on keywords and pay when people click on your link in the paid advertising section of the SERP (normally at the top of the page).
Keywords: Words or terms–or phrases–that represent products or services within which your company participates are known in search engine parlance as “keywords.” Keywords can be singular terms such as “soundbar,” or it can be multiple words, such as “home automation in Indianapolis.” Keywords for organic optimization can often be different than keywords for a specific SEM advertising campaign.
Inbound and outbound links: OK, you most likely know what a link is, but bear with us because you may not appreciate the distinction between these two concepts. Link, which is short for hyperlink, is a highlighted word or set of words that you click on to take you to another internet address in your website or on the internet. You can add links to your content, for example to direct folks browsing your website to another website, such as one for a manufacturer’s brand you sell. This is known as an outbound link. But if one or more of the brands you sell has a dealer locator on their website that lists your company with a link to your website, this is an inbound link. And inbound links are special, because search engines like Google interpret a site with a lot of inbound links as a high-quality domain. But those links must be from authoritative and relevant domains.
Perhaps you are constantly bombarded with unsolicited approaches from companies presenting themselves as SEO experts who want to help you rank higher on Google. While SEO is truly a specialty and, depending on the size of your company, it may make sense to hire an expert–it is not absolutely necessary.
Your goal is to make sure that when someone uses a major search engine to search for your business specifically, or for the products or services you offer generally–they actually find your business. And the key to making this happen is that when Google returns its SERP for that search, your business must be at or near the top of the organic results.
Step #1: When Devices Seek, Your Website Needs to Respond–Differently
“The first priority is your website,” said Leon SooHoo, founder of Sacramento, CA-based Paradyme Sound and Vision. “It needs to tell your story–who you are, what you are–before you do any SEO.”
Did you scramble to get your website up? Perhaps hurriedly throwing some content together, listing the products and services you offer...but not much more? It’s time to take a second look at your website, which in today’s world is the single most important marketing representation of your business.
First, make sure you’re using what’s known as a responsive website design. What this means is that your website changes the way it renders depending on the screen size of the device viewing its contents. If someone is searching for your business on their smartphone, when they land on your homepage, they will see a page that is optimized for the smaller-sized screen. Conversely, someone on a tablet or laptop (or for that matter, a desktop) will see different versions based on the specific size of their device’s display.
This is really important, as Google now penalizes websites that are not mobile-friendly. So improve the ranking of your website by avoiding this penalty through the use of a responsive website design. If your website is not responsive, we recommend you find a new template that is clearly marked as a responsive design and change your website now.
And if you are looking for a new website, consider switching to one based on WordPress, one of the most popular website platforms on the internet. WordPress itself includes many SEO-friendly attributes. But, you can also obtain “plug-ins” that can turbocharge the optimization of your website for SEO. One famous plugin for WordPress that SooHoo and many others recommend is called Yoast SEO.
Look at the content on your website from your customer’s perspective. Focus on a clean, logical layout and be sure that navigation is clearly delineated and intuitive. Make sure that all content is written plainly and clearly...and that it follows normal web text entry protocols.
Most text entry systems follow a standard text tagging system with tags such as < H1 >, < H2 >, < H3 >, where “H1” indicates headline formatting, “H2” indicating the next level subhead, etc. Search engine spiders indexing your site expect this structure and it will enhance your ranking if you carefully follow this convention.
Finally, be sure to tag all of your photos with a title tag and “alt” tag using the appropriate keywords you’ve selected. This helps Google understand your content and improve your results.
Step #2: Local, Local, Local
“Local, local, local,” exclaimed Bill Hettinger, vice president of marketing for HiDEF Lifestyles in Harrisburg, PA, when asked what tips he has. “You want to be attracting leads from your local market.”
Unless you sell products over the internet, which is unlikely, then you want to focus on drawing leads from your local trading area. A simple step that many businesses miss is to register their companies with each of the major search engines’ local listings.
Google, for example, offers “Google My Business” (www.google.com/mybusiness) where you register your business and specify clearly your trade area information. Microsoft Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines offer the same capability.
IMPORTANT: List your business with all the major search engines and be sure to use a consistent NAP (name, address, phone) listing. Ensuring NAP consistency is very important for SEO. For example, if you use “Street” in one listing and “St.” in another, it may confuse the search engine spider and work against you. So make sure wherever your address is listed on the internet, you use the same identical listing.
Step #3: Add a Blog
“I think the singular most powerful thing any small business owner can do today is blog,” said Ron Callis, Jr. of One Firefly, an integratorcentric marketing company. “There’s nothing more powerful online to affect SEO than a well-architected and well-crafted blog.”
Websites that offer freshly updated, logically organized content are rewarded with higher rankings by search engine algorithms. There are a lot of static or dead websites on the internet– Google prioritizes active websites with regularly updated content. And one of the great rarities in life is that blogging is both easy to do and effective at dramatically improving your search engine rank.
Realize that freshly updated content that is relevant and high quality goes a long way toward increasing your authority and trust with readers– and with search engine bots, as well. It is a way to speak directly to your leads and prospects, demonstrating your expertise.
One survey we saw showed that companies with well-run blogs generate 97 percent more leads than those companies without a blog. Wouldn’t you like 97 percent more leads than your less SEO-savvy competitors?
Step #4: Key in on the Key Keywords
“For example, I was researching the keyword ‘soundbar,’” SooHoo said. “I discovered that the two-word keyword phrase ‘sound bar’ had a much higher value [in terms of search results] than the single word ‘soundbar.’ So don’t necessarily use industry jargon; think like a customer.”
Select keywords or keyword phrases that represent important products or services that you offer. You use these keywords in your URL, headline, and throughout your content to help your ranking in the SERP for queries on those keywords.
Don’t forget to use geographic keywords. For example, you might select “home automation” as your keyword as it may be clearly relevant to your business. But consumers typically will search for “home automation in Springfield,” as they are usually looking for a local outlet. So improve your odds of ranking at the top of the SERP by including your market as part of your keyword phrase.
One warning: be sure to avoid writing your content such that it is overly populated with keywords.
“I think a challenge is to write the copy so that it reads well and flows well while integrating keywords,” said Brian Perrault, vice president and general manager of Barretts Technology Solutions in Naperville, IL. “Add modifiers to help draw the right type of lead–instead of just ‘home theater,’ use ‘dedicated home theater.’ The home theater client I’m interested in is not the one searching for a ‘home theater in a box’ or a soundbar–it’s the one looking to potentially do a dedicated home theater or media room.”
How do you find the right keywords? SooHoo pointed out that there are some good tools available to help you select the most effective keywords. One he recommended is Keyword Planner, a tool you get access to as part of a Google AdWords account, which you can sign up for at no charge from Google.
Keep in mind that keywords are rarely static. Much like our industry changes, technology changes, services change... and so will your desired keywords. So it pays big dividends to continue to test and research keywords from time to time.
“I looked up the performance of the keyword phrase ‘home automation’ and compared it with ‘smart home,’” SooHoo said. “To my surprise, ‘home automation’ was flat, but ‘smart home’ was trending up substantially. Later, I happened to notice that Control4 was using ‘Smart Home’ as a primary keyword on their website.”
Step #5: Hit the Links
You may have heard that links are important, and that you need as many as possible. But the theory on links has changed. Google is constantly trying to better serve up search results that are more relevant, authoritative, and high quality. For some time, simply the number of links flowing back to a website was a key variable in your ultimate ranking.
But then companies who try to “game” Google’s algorithms began creating link farms, or special websites where, for a fee or an exchange, you could have a text placed that links back to your website. The abuse got so obvious that Google changed its algorithm. Now, the quality of the link and the authority of the referrer are much more important.
Do not buy or swap links with these types of link farm operations or you risk the wrath of Google. Instead, use one or more of the many legitimate alternatives.
“Consider listing with online business directories such as Merchant Circle, Manta, YP, Yelp, and others,” said Sean Busha of Relidy Marketing. “Having your contact info and backlink from these high-ranking websites will help expand your exposure on the web, telling Google you’re that much more established.”
Other methods to generate quality back-links are placing press releases on a release distribution site, writing a guest post on a high-ranking blog, linking with any of your social media sites, and getting those manufacturers you support to link back to your website (perhaps as part of their dealer locator).
“Get your quality link-backs,” said One Firefly’s Callis. “Go to your manufacturers and get your manufacturers to link to your website. That’ll be beneficial to your domain authority.”
HiDEF Lifestyles’ Hettinger added, “I like social media. It’s great to get your name out there. It’s also great for branding. It’s another place you can put content and pictures and images.”
Your Own SEO Expert
“There are certain rules and principles that go into using SEO and if you follow those principles, they tend to work,” said Paradyme’s SooHoo.
Follow these simple steps from our panel of integrators and SEO experts and you can become your company’s own SEO expert. While there can be quite a bit of effort involved in taking these steps, they are not hard to do and a little sweat-equity will go a long way toward appreciably increasing your leads and prospects.
These steps to improving your SEO performance do not need to be applied en masse–you can start by picking one suggestion and it alone will improve your results. However, the more of these suggestions you apply, the bigger the impact.
“If you do those things correctly, it’s magical,” One Firefly’s Callis said. “You sprinkle pixie dust on your website and you shoot to the top of search. We call it ‘owning your presence online.’”
A regular RS contributor, Ted Green publishes a widely read weekly CE business blog at Stata-gee. com, the online home of The Stratecon Group, his marketing and strategy agency for the tech industry.