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The Essentials of SEO for Small Business

04/21/2015 06:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

This article is the second in a series of five posts on the basics of online marketing for small business. The series is designed to inform and empower small businesses about their online marketing options and give them the confidence to explore the potential growth opportunities that are available through online marketing.

This week we will focus on SEO or search engine optimization, which can often be a misunderstood topic for small business owners. With 93 percent of online experiences beginning with a search engine, it is vital for small business owners to understand the fundamentals of SEO and how it can increase traffic to your website.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving the ranking of your website in the organic search engine results.

Getting placed in a high position in the rankings for particular search terms mainly depends on having quality website content that is relevant to the search query. It also depends on how that content is organised and presented, both on the page and within your website's overall structure.

Other factors also affect how well a page might rank, particularly the quality and quantity of 'back-links' - links from other websites that are directed to yours. Back-links serve as signals to Google and the other search engines, letting them know that a particular website has 'voted' for yours. Generally speaking, the more back-links your website receives and the more influential a website the 'vote' has come from, the more that Google and the search engines will take notice and push your website higher in the organic search results.

Why you should do SEO

Consumers use search engines to navigate for products and services they are seeking. Like PPC (pay per click) advertising, SEO will help your website to appear on these search results, allowing potential customers to find your business. Furthermore, if you already have a PPC account up and running or are planning to get started with PPC in the future, research shows that having your website appear in both the paid (PPC) and organic (SEO) listings has a beneficial effect that is greater than the sum of each combined. This can be explained by the increased respect and authority given to your brand by searchers because your brand is more dominant in the search results.

What to Expect

SEO can be a process of building your websites credibility and relevance over time. The results are not often immediate, thus SEO is seen as a long-term marketing strategy. Whilst results may not be visible for 6-12 months, SEO is still a highly valuable channel to focus on because once you do achieve the results it can be a very cost effective and sustainable source of traffic to your website.

Bonus Tip

SEO professionals can tend to promise a lot. Being on page one of the search results for a single search term doesn't really mean anything. It depends on what the key word is, how many people are searching for it and if you're the first or the fifth result. However, being on the first page is vital as 75 percent of people won't venture onto the second page of results. Not only is being on the first page important, but being at the top of the page is critical, because 60 percent of all clicks go to the top three results. And what is even more important is ranking well for search terms that have a lot of traffic and are of good commercial intent - this means that people searching with that key word or phrase are actually looking to purchase the products or services you offer.

SEO is vital for attracting traffic and qualified customers to your website. You need to ensure your business is being found for all the right reasons. While an effective SEO strategy can be tricky to get started, once you are established the initial investment will prove rewarding in the long term.

Online marketing is now an extremely important part of any website. So much so we have ranked it number ten in our article, "The 11 Essentials of a Successful Web Design".