SEO success on a shoestring budget

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Patrick Gavin is co-founder of search engine optimization company DIYSEO ( Hands On: Search recently asked Gavin about SEO best practices when keeping costs low is important.

HOS: What barriers to search engine success do smaller businesses have to cope with?

Gavin: First, it's to realize that, while search engine advertising is popular both for its accountability and ability to generate impressive returns on investment, when it comes to organic search results small businesses typically have been less successful in making it work for them compared with larger businesses and well-known brands.

Part of the reason is that, until recently, SEO solutions have been available only to businesses willing to invest in SEO consultants or enterprise software, and many small businesses simply cannot justify the expense. But by following a few essential steps, small businesses can make a significant impact on their websites' SEO performance.

HOS: Where do you begin?

Gavin: Start by defining keyword targets, by focusing on key products, services or areas of expertise, and considering how target customers or readers might think or talk about them. By brainstorming a few terms and reviewing the competition, marketers then can work on narrowing the list to those keywords with the best chance of converting searchers into customers.

Marketers can do this by starting with one primary keyword and adding three or four secondary keywords, which would include synonyms and related terms, as well as local terms if applicable. For example, an attorney may identify “bankruptcy law” as a primary keyword, then add “bankruptcy attorney” as a related term and “Chicago bankruptcy attorney” to attract local visitors to the website.

HOS: How about website content?

Gavin: Once keywords have been selected and agreed upon, marketers should concentrate on optimizing their on-site content for these keywords to improve their position on the search engine results page for relevant searches. Primary and secondary keywords should be featured prominently in the title tag of the home page and also should be mentioned in the home page content.

HOS: Do you have tips about inbound links?

Gavin: Small business marketers should work on link-building, an essential SEO element that establishes a site's credibility with the engines and helps to earn higher-quality scores, page rankings and visibility for the site.

One rule of thumb when building links is to aim only for links from trusted sources, since inbound links from sites with poor quality scores can actually hurt a website's SEO performance. Small businesses can pay for listings in high-quality directories, but they can supplement that with free opportunities by (for example) requesting links from vendors and partners they already work with.

HOS: It appears that the role of social media in search and local search is undergoing a lot of change. How should this be incorporated into a small business' SEO strategy?

Gavin: Along with appropriate content and inbound links in place, social media and local search results can help small businesses take advantage of additional opportunities to appear on the search engine results pages. In addition to appearing in search queries for their domains, businesses now also can show up for their LinkedIn page, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Small businesses that have a local focus have additional opportunities to get more search-engine real estate via Google Maps and other mapping services. Local listing directories can dramatically increase a business' presence for important search terms.

HOS: How about measurement and adjustments?

Gavin: Once marketers have these SEO building blocks in place, they should continuously review their performance and adjust their strategy accordingly to actively improve their site and maintain an edge over the competition. It is extremely important to monitor the performance of any SEO campaign to truly understand the return on investment and adjust strategies accordingly.

By making use of more cost-effective solutions, small businesses can experience the benefits of SEO without exhausting their limited resources.

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