When we recently polled private schools asking them what questions they had about search engine optimization, one of the most popular responses/questions we got was “How do I get the most bang for my buck?” I would be willing to bet that this is the most popular question for any small business. Most small businesses are busy doing what they do, and the sometimes-messy world of SEO and Internet marketing probably comes across as a big blooming, buzzing confusion.
Businesses may look into purchasing search engine optimization services but typical costs might simply seem impractical or too much of a gamble, especially considering that there are many questionably credible SEO operators out there. So the question would remain for most businesses, “Where do I start?”
The advice we put together for private schools applies to many other small businesses, from print shops to auto mechanics to electricians to just about anyone with a business and a website… and no understanding of why they do not get much in the way of search engine traffic.
With that in mind, we put together a list in order of quickest bang for your buck. In addition to having high return on investment (ROI), everything on our list was in fact free or came with a built-in manageable budget.
Here goes, four maximum-bang-for-your-buck tips for small business SEO. As well, I share some interesting insights into average website owners we learned along the way:
1) Get Listed in Google Places
“Google Places” (formerly called Google Local Business Center) was developed specifically for local businesses. It’s free. When we presented this to schools, we had people ask us several times, “So there’s no cost?” In some cases, they said, “Are you sure?!”
It’s probably safe to suspect that many small businesses also assume that this is some form of pay per click advertising (Why does Google advertise this service?) so they never look twice at Google Places.
Tip: when you fill in information in Google Places, consider what people might be looking for (SEO 101, here, I know, but most businesses do not get this). In the case of private schools, we found examples of schools appealing to the best and brightest students. Look it up in Google’s keyword tool: people are most likely refer to “gifted kids.” This is what the people in your market call themselves; just go with it.
To elaborate on that….
2) Market to your audience with the keywords they’re using
Google’s keyword tool is a free tool that helps you investigate what people are typing into search engines. Keyword tools like Google’s have been around for a long time and they are better all the time. Google’s tool, for example, allows you to separate out country searches. For example, for Canadian audiences go to Advanced Options and select Canada. There are more options if you are trying to reach a specific audience by language or keyword or platform.
You can drill down into keywords to find longer phrases that you might be able to rank for. Google’s tool is actually targeted at Adwords users and it shows market competition for keywords; what applies to Adwords is probably very much true for organic search.
We still see so many small business websites and private schools that title every page of their site the same or insist on marketing themselves in terms that are not used by searchers. For example, many schools insist on calling themselves “independent schools” when this phrase means much less to parents than the much more popular phrase “private schools.”
If you build your site using the words people are looking for … they will come.
3) Download the Google SEO Starter Guide
Once again, it’s free. And it tells you what Google wishes every webmaster knew. The Starter Guide explains the importance of title tags, good url structure, site navigation, internal linking and a bunch of other things that – if applied – will improve the search engine visibility of about 90% of the small business websites I’ve ever seen. And yes, people, it’s free.
4) Install Google Analytics
Also free. And everyone should take advantage. (By the way, if you’re keeping track, this has all cost you exactly ZERO DOLLARS, so far).
Google Analytics is absurdly easy to use and easy to install. You create an account and drop the code into the footer of every page of your site and start measuring traffic. You’ll find out what keywords people are using to come to your site and you can see – for example – that if you increase your ranking (using info in the Starter Guide, along with adding some keyword-targeted content) for some important keywords, you could reach a much broader audience.
All of this is advice that most SEOs will consider very basic. Or they may be angry because I’m giving away so many sources of information that they are reselling for typically high fees.
Because many businesses are frustrated by their lack of visibility in search engines, they build a mistrust of Google. This mistrust is misplaced; Google gives all this stuff away for free for good reason.
Google’s “prime directive” is to index information… not to make people pay to get indexed, not to make it hard for your website to get found, not to make it necessary to hire an SEO expert, not to… not anything else. They want you to get found for keywords you ought to be found for.
Take advantage of these free and easy to use products and I guarantee that you will see your web traffic improve.
Jim Huinink, the Private School Marketing Guy here, is Director of Web Strategy for Our Kids Media, a Mississauga, Ontario company specializing in marketing private schools and summer camps as well as retirement homes marketing, through print publications, consumer expos and the websites ourkids.net, camps.ca and comfortlife.ca.
Image Credit:Denver Web Design