A Digital Marketing Crash Course on SEO for SMBs

This article “SMB digital marketing crash course: SEO” originally appeared on Microsoft’s SMB Blog.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a digital strategy that uses onsite and offsite marketing techniques to increase a website’s organic search rankings for relevant queries and terms. In other words, SEO helps improve your website’s visibility for keywords in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!.

SEO may seem complex, but the reality is much less overwhelming. Yes, there are many intricacies and technical aspects of SEO, but understanding the basics of this marketing discipline can help you avoid common mistakes and set the groundwork for a properly optimized site, regardless of your budget or experience.

SEO is not just a critical part of digital marketing for enterprise brands; it’s also important for small and medium-sized businesses. Here is a crash course to help your SMB get started with SEO.

Why Should SMBs Care About SEO?

Simply put, small and medium-sized businesses should care about SEO because it directly correlates to web traffic and ultimately, sales.

The value of SEO explains why brands like Home Depot, Macy’s, and Best Buy spend millions of dollars every year on it. Increased sales are not the only reason to optimize your site for search; you should also invest in SEO because:

  • It is usually more cost effective than other digital strategies: Unlike pay-per-click (PPC), social media marketing, and other digital initiatives which provide short-term successes, SEO offers long-term value and residual traffic.
  • Improves your branding, user experience, and marketing communications: The peripheral benefits of SEO extend well beyond search traffic. The techniques that improve your search visibility also improve your brand image, customer relationships, and quality of your website.

How Does SEO Work?

To grasp how SEO works, you must first understand how search engines operate. The top search engines all have similar processes for collecting, storing, and distributing websites in their respective search results. Each search engine uses technology to crawl (scan) the more than 130 trillion web pages on the internet. These bots must be able to find your website, easily scan the information, and comprehend the content.

Once your website has been crawled, each individual page is stored in a data center or caching repository for easy access. Proprietary algorithms are then used to rank each individual page accordingly for each specific term or query. The value of search engines is their ability to provide the highest-quality results. Thus, the search algorithms are constantly updated to improve the relevancy of their search results.

You can improve your site’s rankings by focusing on the variables that carry the heaviest weight in search algorithms and constantly improving the technical areas of your website, making it easier for crawlers to scan and understand your site’s content. With more than 40 million searches every second, it’s important to do everything in your control to make your web pages as search friendly and valuable as possible.

How Do You Improve SEO?

There are hundreds of onsite and offsite factors that influence where your business ranks for a search term. Following the tips below will help you improve SEO.

Pick a smart domain

Before 2012, a keyword rich domain name would severely impact your search rankings. However, updated algorithms and more intuitive technology have minimized the value of exact match domains.

Now, you should try and pick a domain name that is:

  • Easy to understand: Don’t use weird spellings, hyphens, or numbers if you can avoid it.
  • Branded: You want to rank for your brand name, picking a branded domain will help you accomplish that.
  • A .com: There are many creative extensions available, but a “.com” is still the most popular.

Make your site easy to crawl

Search engines scan web pages to understand and rank the content. You can make it easier for crawlers to find and comprehend your web pages.

  • Avoid accidental “noindex” tags: You can use a “noindex” meta tag on a page to tell search engines not to scan that content. This tag should only be used when you intentionally want to hide content from search results.
  • Use keywords in your title, content, and URL: You should know the main keyword for which you want a page to rank. This keyword should be found in the page title, URL, and throughout the content (especially in the introduction).
  • Use simple and strategic URLs: Make sure to use a simple URL structure with relevant keywords (i.e. “website.com/keyword-title-of-page”); and avoid multiple URLs pointing to the same webpage, as that could confuse search engines.
  • Submit a sitemap and new pages to search engines: A sitemap is a guide that tells search engines the structure of your website. Not only can you submit sitemaps to search engines, but you can also submit each new page to be crawled. After you publish a new page, you can send the URL to Bing via the Webmaster Tools to be crawled and indexed more quickly (You can only submit 10 URLs a day and 50 URLS per month).

Focus on creating inbound links

Internal links are one of the most powerful signals in search engines’ algorithms. You can increase inbound links by:

  • Creating high-quality content on your website: The more resources you create on your website, the more links you are likely to earn. Make sure your content is relevant to your industry, unique, and worth linking back to. Focusing on high-quality, onsite content is a powerful step in the right direction to improving your search rankings.
  • Guest blogging on other relevant websites/blogs: Try to find publications in your industry that will let you contribute content. The more sites you write for, the more brand mentions and inbound links you can create for your company.
  • Promote your content: Share your internal resources on social channels, email lists, and conduct PR outreach to relevant publishers that might want to share or link back to your content.

SEO is a powerful tool that should be a part of every SMBs’ digital marketing strategy. The crash course above gives a good overview, but those interested in learning more about search engine optimization can find additional resources below.

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