Search engine optimization (SEO) is fast becoming a must-have body of knowledge for business owners. Nearly 91 percent of all Internet users resort to a search engine to find information, according to a recent survey by the non-profit Pew Internet and American Life Project. The question is: how easily can they find your business?
You already could be making costly mistakes, such as a home page that is almost all images and little text, causing your site to have unnecessarily low rankings and little traffic. Or worse, you could be using hidden text and winding up with an every more onerous problem because some search engines ban sites that use tricks to improve rankings.
Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or you use an outside SEO firm, the more you know the more effective and successful your business can be online. I’ve assembled the five best categories of resources for business owners to learn about SEO and search marketing. To help with this article, I interviewed Jennifer Laycock, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Guide, a website designed specifically for business owners and entrepreneurs.
Conferences and seminars
Attending search engine conferences is the fastest way to learn because it immerses you in the subject. When you are starting out, choose events designed to give well-rounded instruction in basic principles, such as Jill Whalen's High Rankings seminars.
Don't go to advanced events intended for industry experts until you first learn the basics -- trust me, you will just feel frustrated. However, there is one good reason for a newbie to attend events targeting industry professionals, such as Search Engine Strategies conferences. That’s to find and interview SEO vendors. At no other venue will you find so many search professionals in one place at one time.
There are a few excellent eBooks -- downloadable PDF documents -- suitable for beginners. The best eBooks typically come with a package of extras, such as lifetime updates, private forums, sometimes even money-back guarantees.
Aaron Wall’s SEO Book is widely acknowledged as one of the best.
Laycock’s own Small Business Guide to Search Engine Marketing is another I would recommend, because it focuses on SEO from the perspective of a business owner who is not a search expert.
Printed books, another possibility, are less expensive ($15 -$30 for printed books versus $75 - $100 for eBooks). The disadvantage is that printed books can get out of date quickly because search constantly changes. Tactics accepted several years ago, such as doorway pages, today may get your site dropped by search engines. If you opt for a printed book, make sure it is reasonably recent.
Newsletters and blogs
One of the great things about the Web today is that we are lucky to have so many excellent free newsletters and blogs on search. Among newsletters, Jill Whalen's High Rankings is notable, because she answers real-life questions from readers.
Search Engine Land featuring search guru Danny Sullivan, is a good one to add to your reading list later on as your knowledge builds. It is industry focused, but has the advantage of experts who write on specific topics such as link-building and contextual advertising -- not to mention its excellent blogroll of search sites to explore.
As you begin to learn some of the basics of SEO, you will have questions. Head to discussion forums to get answers. Discussion forums are excellent sounding boards to bounce ideas off of others. Try Webmaster World and Digital Point Forums.
When you first approach a new discussion forum, read and observe for a while before jumping in to participate. Every forum has a “personality” all its own -- make sure you feel comfortable. Observing also helps you learn which participants’ advice to trust. Some participants are more knowledgeable than others.
No article on search for newbies would be complete without mentioning some of the excellent free or low-cost tools available. I have learned a great deal simply through using tools such as:
- WordTracker keyword tool -- Using relevant keywords in your site content and when purchasing search ads can make all the difference in attracting visitors who actually buy. You may already know the obvious keywords, but WordTracker helps you broaden your choices to identify non-obvious terms. A free trial or a single day’s subscription costs around $8.
- Analytics programs -- These help you understand which parts of your site visitors use most, such as which navigation links they click on most. Armed with that knowledge, you can make changes to your site to emphasize the most important elements to increase sales and newsletter signups. Google Analytics is a robust free analytics tool. For those who run Google AdWords campaigns and do not like the idea of giving sensitive site data to the same company you purchase ads from, ClickTracks is an alternative. ClickTracks offers a free version called ClickTracks Appetizer.
- SEO Moz page strength tool -- This interactive tool gives you a quick snapshot of some of the factors search engines consider when determining site rankings. Don’t take it as the complete word on ranking factors, but do have fun with it.
Anita Campbell is a writer, speaker and radio talk show host who closely follows trends in the small business market at her site, Small Business Trends.