Online success doesn’t happen by magic, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.
The best websites have some common elements that have been proven to increase traffic (and sales): they use search engines to their advantage by crafting site content to conform to search engine optimization (SEO) rules, they use targeted search and email marketing to find customers, and they continue to attract customers with strong, interesting content.
Each of these alone can positively impact your business, but combined, they form a powerhouse that can fuel success for most any small business.
1. Make Sure Search Engines Can Find and Crawl Your Website
Search engines crawl the Internet to find Web content and return it to update their massive databases. Savvy online marketers can craft their website content by tracking the most popular Internet search terms related to your business (with tools such as Google or Bing webmaster tools or Google Analytics), and ensuring their website contains those terms. Remember, it takes a few months for SEO to start kicking in, so the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see results.
The first step is to make sure your website is welcoming search engines and guiding them deeper into your site. To do this effectively:
- Avoid technologies that are not search-friendly, such as Flash, infinite scroll or content embedded within images
- Include a site map to show the search engines all the content you have, and keep your site map updated.
- Create links within the content of your site that lead to other relevant pages.
2. Use Keywords to Optimize for Search
Before you start to write content, do some research and plan it around effective and relevant keywords. Keywords are the terms Internet users enter into a search engine. Search engines look for the best match to what the searcher is looking for, so make sure your content contains the relevant keywords people are using. A few general rules:
- Stay away from jargon and acronyms.
- Use different variations of the same keyword, including varying verb tenses and plurals as search engines consider these completely unconnected words (e.g., “pet sitting,” “pet sitter,” “pet sitters,” etc.).
- Use keyword research tools to see how frequently keywords are searched (the more the better) and get ideas for keywords you hadn’t considered. There are plenty of free third-party tools online such as Google AdWords or WordTracker.
- Sprinkle keywords throughout the content in a way that is natural to the reader, and not forced.
Many small businesses rely on search engines to bring local customers in the door. Once you have optimized your website for search, you can increase traffic further by making sure your site is optimized for local search. Easy ways to do that include:
- Identify your local search keywords: Local search keywords are typically your brand name or product/services you sell combined with your street, neighborhood, city, region or state.
- List your local address on your website: Search engines are smart enough to match your street address to a keyword search containing bits of your address, especially if they are using Google Maps to search.
3. Use Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Email Marketing to Drive Visitors to Your Site
Search Engine Marketing or SEM, is a way of gaining traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. Like SEO above, it relies on keywords that put your ads into the paid advertising section of the search results page.
Many small businesses credit SEM for attracting new customers. Depending on the competition in your business, relying on unpaid, organic Web traffic via SEO may leave your business far back in the rankings. By paying for SEM, you have more control over the specific keywords that will promote you, as well as where you will appear on the search results page.
The largest search engines, Google, Bing and Yahoo, each have fairly simple programs to get started. You determine the key words or search phrase as well as the amount you are willing to spend (per click and/or per day). Most of them offer simple programs that require you to fill out a form and put a certain amount of money down as credit; you can also use a credit card to pay as you go. Like anything new, start small with paid SEM and add complexity (and budget) as you learn more and see results over time.
Email marketing is one of the most effective ways for a small business to reach out to customers. Get started on your email marketing program by setting goals that support your overall marketing and business goals. Collect customer names and email addresses to build your business’s email list; you can do this by collecting them in-store or on your website.
Once you have your list, choose an email marketing service provider that can provide design templates, send the emails for you and help you comply with CAN-SPAM and privacy regulations. Track the results of your email campaigns using analytics tools from your email marketing service provider, and update your email database regularly to ensure the addresses are still current.
4. Content Marketing: Quality AND Quantity
Once you’ve identified your target search terms, you’ll want to sprinkle them throughout as much high-quality, rich educational content as possible on your site.
Gone are the days when a product page or blog post or two could serve as your sole lead-generation assets for the month. Nowadays, with more and more content on more and more websites, the bar has been raised for both the quality of your content, and the frequency with which you update your site’s content. Quantity applies to generally keeping the interest of your readers, but more importantly, it keeps the search engines fed and happy, and keeps your business coming up in search results.
5. Be Social With Your Content
Businesses of all sizes have in common the need to spread their messages and content via social media that reaches their audiences. Today, your business’s social networks can be critical in increasing and advertising the content on your site. Social (and real-life) networks are prime opportunities for content delivery, too. Just imagine what a trend-setting guest blogger or subject-matter expert interview could do for your company’s visibility and credibility!
Verisign and SCORE support the success of small businesses by providing business mentorship through free webinars and tools.