Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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The Best Marketing Platform for (Very) Small Businesses

If you could pick only one  —

If you could pick only one type of marketing to spend time and money on, what would it be?

search engine optimization In a survey of small businesses last November by MerchantCircle, the 2,555 respondents overwhelmingly chose search engine marketing as the one channel they would use if they were to put all of their marketing dollars in to one basket. Organic search engine optimization (SEO) was selected by 32.9% of the small business owners. Other choices were traditional (19.7%), social media (16%), paid search (9.8%), mobile (3.7%) and none of these (17.9%).

80% of the respondents were very small businesses with fewer than 5 employees.

How about you? What would you choose, and why? Tell us in a comment below.

Pick the Best Domain Name

We’ve written about our own 5 rules for picking a domain name in the past. The Search Engine Institute has come out with its own list of rules for choosing a domain name for your website. They overlap ours quite a bit, but also include some rules designed to help with your SEO.

  1. Make it easy to remember – that’s our #1 rule, too.
  2. Make it a .com domain. That’s our third rule, but for different reasons. We emphasize .com because most people will assume your domain is a .com and will type that into the address bar of their browser. The Search Engine Institute says .com names actually get better placement in the search engines. If the .com name you want isn’t available, the next best choice for SEO is .org, and then .net.
  3. Make it a keyword-rich domain name. Having your most important keyword in the domain gives you a boost in search engine rankings. (Google is working on minimizing that effect, though.)
  4. Make it easily understood. You want someone to be able to tell what you’re about just by seeing your domain name.
  5. Avoid Hyphens. First, people get confused about whether to use a hyphen or not, or where to place it. Second, the Search Engine Institute claims hyphenated domains don’t do as well in search engine rankings as domains without them.
  6. Avoid a .info domain. They have a reputation for being, on average, spammy websites.

Here’s more on the Search Engine Institute’s rationale for these rules.

10 Ways to Over-Optimize Your Website

Penguin against over-optimization

The recent Penguin update to the Google ranking algorithm has lots of website owners, webmasters and SEOs concerned about”over-optimization”. Some forms of overly aggressive optimization have worked in the past to gain rankings that are undeserved. That’s one of the main things the Penguin algorithm was designed to correct, and I’d be surprised if Yahoo and Bing weren’t paying attention to over-optimization as well.

What is over-optimization?

But just what constitutes over-optimization? How do you know if you’ve over-optimizedyour site? Hannah Howard has outlined 10 ways you may have done that in a post at LonghornLeads.com.  She goes into more detail than I will here, because I doubt if I can write it up any better than she has, but here’s the list:

  1. Keyword stuffing  — “If you’re looking for red widgets, you’ve come to the right red widget place because we’re the red widget experts. When it comes to red widgets …” You get the idea. Don’t do it.
  2. Hidden text  — This is an old technique I’m surprised to see some people still try to get away with: white text on a white background that’s just repeated keywords. It becomes visible only if you sweep your mouse over it. This will hurt you.
  3. Over-use of backlinks  — too many low value or worthless backlinks can hurt you. (Yes, you can have too many links, if they’re crappy links.) Your important link popularity is based on the number and quality of your backlinks.
  4. Weak links  — Too many reciprocal links above the fold on your content pages to help rankings of a partner or another website of yours is another red flag for the Penguin.
  5. Forcing what should come naturally  — The practice of creating many mini-sites to feed links to your main site or creating large blog networks to drive links is one that’s become too obvious to do any good and Google will catch you.
  6. Content that’s too keyword-driven  — Content should be keyword driven to a point; you need to be aware of what keywords your visitors will be searching for. But focusing too much on that brings you close to keyword stuffing. If your text reads awkwardly because of your attempt to incorporate keywords, you’re over-optimizing.
  7. Too much keyword-rich anchor text on inbound links  — This is a relatively new one. Most people link to websites unthinkingly by making the anchor text (the clickable text in the link) simply be the name of the company or even the URL. For SEO, we hope to get keyword-rich links. But if too many of your inbound links have keywords in them, it doesn’t look natural, and is a symptom of link over-optimization. Many of those people are linking to you, not spontaneously because you have great content they want to share, but because you or someone on your behalf has asked them to. Google may de-value those links.
  8. Doorway pages  — This got some BMW and Ricoh sites completely banned from Google for more than six months a few years ago. People still try this technique, and Penguin will get them.
  9. Paid ads: too many or too prominent  — Yes, it’s legitimate for some kinds of websites to have some ads that generate revenue, but if you overdo it, or if the ads are irrelevant to what you’re discussing on a given page, that may earn you a Penguin slap-down.
  10. Duplicate content  — I see this too often  —  a company that does, say housecleaning, creates a page for every town in their coverage area. And the content on all those pages is bound to be awfully similar. In some cases the content is identical except for the town name. Penguin will jump on that with both feet. Don’t do it.

Have you done any of these things? Most of us have, more or less, at one time or another. Take a good, honest look at your site with these transgressions in mind and fix any you may have inadvertently committed.

Want an unbiased look at your website? Rank Magic can help.

Why Optimizing Your Website Is of Value to a Small Business Owner

SEO… SEM… Search Queries… Organic Results… PPC…

Is it more than just alphabet soup?

Once upon a time there was an easy way (or so a small business owner might have thought) to get customers and increase business. ’Yellow pages’ Yellow Books’, ‘Little Yellow Books’ and the like were full of advertisements in varying sizes and prospective advertisers were bombarded with offers to be #1.

Competition was fierce to be in the first page position and/or on the right side of the page. Business owners couldn’t get enough of it, and every month, year after year, that’s where the majority of advertising money went. At least for our company.

Then came the web

Over a number of years, websites became increasingly popular, and the good news was, you didn’t have to be a Fortune 500 company or a country-wide chain to have a website. You no longer needed to “let your fingers do the walking” in order to find what you were looking for  — your friend the computer was your guide to the internet

Time passed and more and more people throughout the world began searching on Google and other lesser patronized search engines for items they might want to buy, services they needed, and a source for information. There were, however, nay-sayers and dis-believers. But, we weren’t about to join that parade.

And so, ‘back in the day’ we had a website designed for our company.  It was 1999 and we were pioneers in our industry, particularly in our local service area  — one of the very first to venture onto “the web”. The mere thought was mesmerizing! It was exciting, and it was, at least in our mind, THE place to be. And of course, many thought it silly. Who was going to look for our business on the internet? Everyone, that’s who!

And so begins the Odyssey

As with anything new, there’s a learning curve and being a savvy small business owner, I decided to start doing some legwork and educating myself in the ways of the new marketing trend. And so, after years of a somewhat stagnant website, it was clear that the time had come for a complete overhaul. The year was 2007.  After creating a new website design I decided to dip my toe in the big pool of Search Engine Marketing.  Webinars, seminars, books (by the dozen) and a foray into this new form of advertising and marketing led me to want to learn more.

And… why not? After all, our business success could largely depend on it. And so it became my focus. Not being found in a search query would then become the apparent bane of my existence.  But, how does one accomplish this. Start reading online and you’ll find, as of the date of this blog post, 1,630,000,000 responses, and that’s on Google alone. Daunting isn’t it?

As luck would have it, I met Bill Treloar (more on Bill later) who was nice enough to invite me to write this blog post.  After spending a few hours with Bill I decided to engage his services. Bill was a fountain of information, filling in the gaps of knowledge for me. Bill helped our company with the optimization of a half dozen pages on our website, which had recently undergone another revision in early 2011. Steadily we began seeing increased organic results. Coupled with my aggressive Pay-Per-Click marketing campaign, which, in my humble opinion goes hand-in-hand with other efforts, the pace began to build.  Slow and steady wins the race, as the cliché goes. All along, I continued (and do so today) to read, search, learn and persevere in my mission to be at the ‘top of the page’, at the’ front of the line’, the’ head of the class’.  And it works.

But… as with anything good…there’s an expiration date.  And so, my suggestion is to stay vigilant. Don’t let your expiration date come when you reach a time that you think you’ve done enough. It’s never enough.  Be your own best advocate, and continue the efforts laid out in the foundation that is created. Algorithms change, competition increases, and eventually you’ll be ready to unleash the expert you hired. Once that happens, hire yourself and stay the course. You’ll be glad you did!

See you online!
Bonnie Bornstein Fertel
Bornstein Sons, Inc.

About our guest blogger

Bonnie Bornstein FertelBonnie Bornstein Fertel along with her husband Richard Fertel are owners of Bornstein Sons, Inc. a 3rd generation family owned and operated contracting company providing Air Conditioning, Heating, Plumbing, Solar and Electrical services for homes and businesses in northern and north central New Jersey.  Bonnie’s recently launched  new business, Bonnie B, LLC concentrates on web content, blogging, social media and Google AdWords Account Management.  Bonnie manages Google Ad Words accounts for small business owners and writes content.

Thanks to Bill Treloar and Rank Magic for getting us off on the right foot! Bill’s expertise in optimizing for search has proved to be quite an asset and I would highly recommend him to get your website off to a running start as well as ongoing monitoring. You do, however, have to keep your end of the bargain though! And, that’s the voice of experience talking!

19 Factors Influencing Local Search Rankings

For businesses with a local focus, rankings in Local Search are critical.

These are the listings that show up in Google, Yahoo and Bing with an icon relating to a location on an accompanying map. Search engines have been showing local search results higher and higher on their results pages and it’s not unusual for a well-optimized site to appear twice on the first page of results: once in the organic results and once in the local results. And if you show up twice in the results, it more than doubles the likelihood of a customer clicking on your listing.

Localo search listingSo how do you show up in the local results?

In our blog category for local search we have lots of information about how to find, claim and optimize your local listings in Google Places, Bing Local and Yahoo Local. But which optimization factors are moist important? Here’s our list of what we believe to be the most important of them all. You don’t have to hit every single one of them, and some may even be inappropriate for you. But if you pay attention to this list and address as many as you can, your chances of showing up high in the local results will improve. The list is not in any particular order, but the ones we think you should focus on the most are in bold. (By the way, when I mention the “Local Page” I’m referring to your business listings in Google Places, Bing Local and Yahoo Local.)

  • Physical address in the city of search
  • Proper business categories chosen in Local Page
  • Domain Authority
  • City and State in the page title of your home page
  • Local area code on Local Page
  • Owner-Verified (claimed) Local Page
  • Quality of inbound links to your website
  • Number of inbound links to your website
  • Diversity of inbound links to your website
  • Number of reviews at places like Yelp, CitySearch, and InsiderPages
  • Product or Service keywords in anchor text of inbound links to your website
  • Location keywords in anchor text of inbound links to your website
  • Photos and/or logos on your Local Page
  • Age of your Local Page
  • Percent of the information on your Local Page that’s completed
  • Number of +1s on your website (affects only Google)
  • Number of followers of your Google+ page (affects only Google)
  • Number of likes on Facebook
  • Number of followers on Twitter