Simplifying SEO for Small Business: 9 Questions with an SEO Expert

IMG_2708
Peter Hughes, Senior Manager of Search Marketing for Constant Contact

If you’re like most small business owners, figuring out how to make search engine optimization (SEO) work for your business can seem like a daunting task.

Just the term “search engine optimization” can be enough to make your head spin.

But what if SEO didn’t have to be so complicated? What if there was a way to simplify SEO and still have the same opportunities to attract new customers?

That’s the challenge I presented to Peter Hughes, senior manager of search marketing for Constant Contact, when we sat down to discuss SEO.

He didn’t disappoint.

From debunking common SEO myths to outlining the essential best practices for getting started, Peter offered a number of valuable insights that you can use to tackle SEO for your small business.

Here are my 9 questions with SEO expert, Peter Hughes:

1. What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the name for the process of tweaking or optimizing your website and its content in an effort to positively affect the visibility of your site in the organic (non-paid) search listings and improve your ranking for searches.

2. Why does SEO matter for small business?

Done well, it can represent an ongoing and at-times abundant source of free traffic to your website. Unlike Paid Search (otherwise known as PPC), clicks to your site from the organic or natural listings incur no cost per click.

3. What are some of the key factors that impact a business’s SEO?

The need to produce fresh, relevant content that aligns with what your audience is searching for.

Consider a blog as being a principal source of delivering fresh content to answer the questions that your customers are asking. Don’t get hung up on the specific keywords – write naturally, even conversationally. Search engines have moved beyond just matching a keyword from the search.

Of course, if you know that customers routinely ask a specific question, don’t be afraid to use those keywords, but don’t write the content around the keyword.

4. Are there any misconceptions about SEO that you think business owners should be aware of?

Yes, that it’s simply too complicated. It doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be. Too often, business owners fear it, deeming that the “science of SEO” is too much of a full-time job in and of itself. Sure, a part of ongoing SEO is about the code of your website to ensure that it’s easily indexed by search engines, and therefore either requires knowledge of code, which is less likely, or requires some assistance. But at its core, good SEO consists more functionally of delivering relevant and meaningful content to an audience that is searching for a product or a service that you deliver.

5. Are there any common SEO mistakes businesses should be aware of?

Yes. Getting hung up on writing content that includes specific keywords with the express purpose of “ranking for that keyword”. It’s not a system that you can game as easily as just stuffing your website or blog post full of your target keywords.

Also, another mistake or perhaps missed opportunity is not sticking to a calendar of content; ranking for search terms can only happen with a consistent effort to update your blog with continued meaningful content. Don’t write a post and then go back a year later to write another one. Develop a content calendar and stick to it as much as possible.

I’ve also seen newcomers to SEO often get a little too fixated on trying to rank for what are called head terms. These terms, often single keywords, are extremely broad, too broad for most businesses and therefore don’t have the direct business value. If you own an Italian restaurant, for example, trying to rank for the head term “restaurant” and optimizing your site around that would be next to impossible and arguably bring in traffic that isn’t even close to qualified. I call these the Wikipedia terms, as typically these head terms are more likely to be entries on Wikipedia than they are a truly relevant keyword to your business.

Focus a little more on the long-tail or niche keywords that are more directly relevant to your business, such as “Italian Restaurant in Waltham, MA”. After all, that’s what people who are looking for Italian restaurants in Waltham would be searching. Seems simpler when you look at it like that, right?

6. For a business that’s just starting to think about SEO, do you have any first steps that you think a business owner should take?

Start your blog today or, if you already have one, develop a robust calendar of content to stick to over the course of the next few months. Aim to post once a week with content that you know your customers are interested in. Solicit the opinions of your customers to form the backbone of the calendar.

7. What would you say to a business owner who feels that SEO is too complicated for them to worry about it?

Firstly, I get it. It does appear overly complicated with implications about coding, title tags, headers etc. Granted, that part of “technical SEO” is important and something to revisit but not as important as the content you create.

With your blog, your “SEO strategy” is an extension of your domain expertise, as you have the chance to produce and write content that impacts your customers. Once you get in the groove, learn about “technical SEO” in bite-sized chunks using some of the resources across the web including Search Engine Land and Moz to name a couple.

8. Are there any SEO best practices you would recommend to a business owner who’s launching or redesigning their website?

Make sure your blog is hosted on your domain (i.e. that it is blog.yoursite.com rather than yourblog.wordpress.com for example). This is crucial to ensuring that you get the full SEO value.

In addition, make sure your website isn’t simply a set of images. Images can’t be indexed in quite the way text is by search engines, so if you just include images on your site, you’ll have a harder time ranking. Images are a really good accompaniment on your site but make sure that you use text to fully explain your product offerings, too.

If you offer local services, don’t be afraid to optimize your site around those local keywords (for example, “Waltham, MA Plumber”). There’s likely to be less competition on those keywords, thereby making it perhaps easier to rank for keywords that are directly relevant to your business. Think of SEO as trying to answer the question your customers or prospective customers are asking.

9. Has SEO changed at all in recent years? If so, what are these changes and how do they impact small businesses?

Absolutely. As search engine algorithms have evolved with our searches, SEO has become far less about keywords and backlinks and far more about matching searches to content that is meaningful. In fact, over-optimization is generally considered a mark against your site now. Equally, try to encourage sharing of your content in social media channels – the validation from this acts as an increasing signal to search engines that your content is relevant and authoritative.

Ready to get started?

We’ve compiled some of our top SEO-related assets to help get the ball rolling:

Have additional questions for Peter? Post them in the comments below.

Comments:

Leave a comment »
  1. I think its important to mention for small businesses to do a bit of research before starting any form of content. It’s surprising how many will just go straight for the head terms without thinking of the competitiveness of keywords. Definitely do some research on the topics that your target market is looking for – that’s how I see it anyway!

    Reply
  2. […] is no exception as I read a blog on Simplifying SEO for Small Businesses featuring insights from Peter Hughes, Constant Contact Sr. Manager of Search […]

    Reply
  3. Thank you, Peter, this post was extremely helpful. I kept stopping reading to go to Google to search terms and see if my business came up :-). I am not clear on how tagging on blogs works into SEO. I thought the tags were there to show the search engines what content is meaningful in the post. Also WordPress hosts my blog, but I pay for my own domain name. When I look at the URL for my blog/website it says carolynsshadegardens.com. Am I ok with that configuration re what you said about hosting on a business’s own domain?

    Reply
  4. […] Simplifying SEO for Small Business: 9 Questions with an SEO Expert, blogs.constantcontact.com […]

    Reply
  5. Thanks for commenting, Carolyn, I’m glad you found it helpful! Re: blog tags, they do have some intrinsic SEO value but think of them as having even greater benefit for your readers as they can easily and quickly find all topics on your blog related to “topic x, y or z”. I tend to think of tags as a filing cabinet of sorts.

    As for your domain, it looks good! Your site/blog is hosted on your domain rather than on the WordPress domain so your correctly adjusted the settings to garner maximum SEO value from your posts!

    Thanks,
    Peter

    Reply
  6. Great questions, Ryan. Great answers, Peter.

    There are a couple points in this that I really enjoyed reading:

    1. In point #3, where Peter says, “…answer the questions that your customers are asking. Don’t get hung up on the specific keywords – write naturally, even conversationally. Search engines have moved beyond just matching a keyword from the search.”

    That’s so true and I advise my customers to do the same. If there’s too much focus on the keywords then the content becomes monotonous, not engaging/compelling.

    2. In point #5, the discussion of “head terms” or “Wikipedia terms”. I too see so many small business owners concerned with ranking for them.

    When they find out they need to rank for relevant, long-tail keywords, it’s funny seeing the look of enlightenment on their faces. They’ve just realized that there’s a carved out section of the search results that their target market hangs out, and they can easily rank there.

    Kudos guys! Keep up the great work.

    Reply
  7. Technically, the example given in #8 isn’t truly optimized for search. You want your blog on your main/root domain (i.e. domain.com/blog) rather than on a subdomain (blog.domain.com).

    Quoting from Moz, “Since search engines keep different metrics for domains than they do subdomains, it is recommended that webmasters place link-worthy content like blogs in subfolders rather than subdomains. (i.e. http://www.example.com/blog/ rather than blog.example.com.” (Source article here: http://moz.com/learn/seo/domain)

    I realize this post is targeted towards SEO newcomers but I thought I should point that out.

    Reply
    • Dan,

      Thanks for replying! This has been a long-debated question. From my standpoint, I’ve yet to see anything definitive from major search engines to suggest that they treat sudbomains and subdirectories differently from an indexing perspective so as to warrant porting over an existing blog to a subdirectory or to generate a blog on a CMS that might allow for a subdirectory but is perhaps less than user-friendly. Matt Cutts has made reference to there being little difference in treatment of these two domain types: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MswMYk05tk#t=31

      For me, given that Cutts says they are treated roughly equally, it’s more a question of ease of use/usability truthfully; using WordPress or Tumblr, as Cutts says, may be the choice of many, in which case it tends to be easier to configure for a subdomain rather than a subdirectory or folder.

      Peter

      Reply
  8. Regarding hosting your blog on your website, you specified blog.yoursite.com. Is this better, worse or the same than having yoursite.com/blog?

    Reply
    • Hi Carole,

      As Dan mentions above, there are different schools of thought on this. From my perspective, whether hosted on a subdomain (as in your first example) or a subdirectory (your second example), the crucial thing we should remember is that content will win out – as long as it’s hosted on your domain, then I would content that any SEO value eked out of the domain vs directory is negligible at best. To some extent, “to subdomain or subdirectory” becomes more of a preference in my eyes than a specific part of the SEO strategy.

      Peter

      Reply
  9. […] Simplifying SEO for Small Business: 9 Questions with an SEO Expert – Constant Contact A great primer on what is SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for people who have heard the term, but aren’t sure what it’s really about. It’s also a good refresher for those of use who are familiar with SEO, but don’t think about it all the time. SEO for church websites is important. It’s about helping Google and other search engins determine that your church website is interesting and active and therefore worth putting high on the list when people search for certain terms like “YourTown Church”. […]

    Reply
  10. […] Simplifying SEO for Small Business: 9 Questions with an SEO Expert […]

    Reply
  11. This was an excellent article on SEO. It was understandable for the uninitiated. It even makes me motivated to actually try it on my website I’ve revamping next month. I will also use what I’ve learned to help my clients!

    Reply
  12. SEO is so necessary these days to get any attention in the digital space. If you’re not first page the likelihood of high conversion rates decreases significantly.
    SeoMoz is a very good resource for those wanting to learn more about SEO – http://www.moz.com
    Unision – http://www.unision.us/blog

    Great post for beginners by the way!

    Reply

Tell us your thoughts