What are the SEO basics that the Small Business Owners and Managers should keep in mind?
Our Friday Q&A post will discuss several issues that Jennifer Martin, a San Francisco Business Coach at Zest Business Consulting, was so kind to draw our attention to. Jennifer helps worldwide business managers and leaders build a thriving business and she has a pretty clear idea of the common difficulties they go through. Today we will try to shed some light over those grey areas in online marketing that most business owners struggle with.
If you wish to take part in our Friday Q&A session, just send us your question. If it is really intriguing, we may consider featuring it and answer it in details for all our readers to learn from – just like we did with Jennifer’s questions. Here are the topics she was particularly interested in:
Q: I’ve heard that Google is now penalizing websites with lower rankings if they have established backlinks with non-reputable websites. How can I find out if some of my backlinks are hurting me instead of helping me?
A: Indeed Google will penalize a website for maintaining a bad inbound link profile, particularly if there is a clear tendency of bad/low quality/websites linking to the given website in an unnatural (for example unrelated external links in the footer) way or with over-optimized (keyword stuffed) anchor text.
A webmaster must be careful for two kinds of penalties – manual (which involves a Google employee that personally examines the websites and concludes that it uses spammy techniques that violate the guidelines) and algorithmic (this penalty is purely automatic and is not associated with the human factor).
Usually the message you receive after a manual penalty has been employed on your website quotes “unnatural in/outbound links” as a reason for the sanction. The algorithmic penalty that is associated with low quality backlinks is mostly due to the Penguin updates (the Penguin update monitors unnatural inbound links, high number of site-wide inbound links, links from low quality sites, etc.)
In order to verify whether a website is suffering from a certain penalty you can check the following things:
- Check your Webmaster Tools account for any messages from Google.
- Check your website traffic for sudden drops – you can verify that by checking your ranking for your specific keywords or by going to your Google Analytics and checking if there are any traffic drops in the historical index (even if those might be due to various reasons – you still need to check that one too).
If you are certain that your website is having a penalty (due to your inbound links) you should download the information about your inbound links – use various sources – do not stick to one only. You can use Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs, MajesticSEO, MOZ’s Opensite Explorer, etc. Then you should start examining your inbound links practically one by one.
What kind of inbound links will definitely hurt your website:
- Paid links.
- Links from low quality websites (such websites could very well be suffering from a manual penalty themselves). When saying low quality, do not immediately conclude low PR (Page Rank). There are websites that are relatively new and thus the reason why they are not ranking high on the given metric. Furthermore PR is not a metric that will give you a clear picture of a website, you should rather watch for other indicators. The most common characteristics of a low quality website are – the website is created solely for link building purposes, the website does not offer quality content, the website does not have fresh content, the website has more ads than content, the website is associated with similar low quality sites, etc.
- Links from websites that are part of link wheels (interlinking blogs of a single owner created with the sole purpose of passing link value from one to another)and link schemes (links intended to manipulate PageRank in any way).
What kind of inbound links you should avoid having to your website:
- Links from article directories.
- Links from low quality web directories.
- Links from websites that are not relevant to your niche, area or from articles/content that is not related to your niche or area of practice.
- Be careful with guest posting – avoid guest posting on websites where the in-house content is a much smaller part as compared to the guest posts by fellow bloggers.
What kind of links won’t help your rankings:
- Links from blog comments.
- Links from forum profile pages.
- Nofollowed links.
Q: I’ve heard mixed reviews on this subject – Is it better for my SEO rankings to add my blog to my website or maintain a 2nd site for my blog that hyperlinks to my primary site?
A: That is a really interesting question. Actually I should start by saying that one of the most important motivators for a search engine to crawl your site is to constantly feed your site with fresh content. This might be a difficult endeavor for not all businesses have new products added to their product list in a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
So what you should do, how you should make your website interesting enough and fresh enough as to be visited often both by the search engines and by your current and potential customers – set some space on your website where you could regularly add new content. This would be the actual function of the blog or the news section. Having a blog is essential to maintain an open relationship with your clients/readers/subscribers and to prove to the search engines that your website is worthy of been indexed and ranked high because it is constantly bringing value and useful information to the community.
So keep your blog on your official website. Having a second page to maintain and optimize is also quite painstaking and useless. If you are to create inbound links to your website thanks to an external blog – well, that is an old strategy and it is a light version of the old link schemes that were quickly penalized and wiped out from the search engines’ indexes.
Q: How much will my use of Google Places, Google Maps, Google Plus weigh into my organic SEO? What will happen when I open a 2nd location? Will the results be diluted or enhanced?
A: Having a local listing when handling a local business is essential. The good thing about optimizing your local listing is that you could enjoy high ranking in the local pack results (on the first page in the search engine results). If your business is doing really well, both your listing and you website can rank at leading positions (your listing in the local pack and your website in the organic results). (See pic.1)
Simply put: creating Google Places listing will present you with an additional opportunity to be listed on the first page in the search results. Creating a Google+ listing will not boost your organic rankings, but it could complement your local online presence in the searches. (Did you notice that on the picture above the that both the local listing and the official website of actioncoach.com are listed on the first page in the search results – this is a great example of what I am trying to explain.)
Having a second location listing is another must if you have an office (physical address and phone) in another area. This will again boost your local listing rankings and it won’t affect negatively your organic rankings – better yet by creating a second location page on your website you’ll make your website more relevant to the second location residents/businesses that will look for a local expert in your field.
Q: What are 3 things that a small business owner on a budget can do themselves to increase SEO? I’m looking for the 2nd tier options, not the obvious ones like using keywords, naming pages and images, etc.
A: A business owner should never ignore the basic (as you’ve mentioned – the 1st tier options). The most essential things to keep in mind (without getting too much into the technical stuff) are:
- Regularly provide your website with fresh content that is relevant to your field of expertise and/or area of operation – inevitably you will mention the keywords that your business should be associated with and you will be able to rank for the desired keywords. Pages without content are rarely useful to the readers, thus the search engines often omit them in the search results. This is applicable to websites (with thin content) as well.
- Do not try to trick the system – do not indulge in shady techniques. If you are offered great immediate results practically for free, the chances are that your website will be hurt. Buying 50 .edu links or 100 Facebook likes for $5 is not a service that you want to invest in. Be careful with the low hanging fruit.
- If you are a local business ensure the NAP (name, address, phone) consistency of the online mentions of your business. NAP inconsistency may cost you your local listing traffic and thus your website and product popularity, and eventually your clients.
Hopefully you have found this Friday Q&A session useful and you have read interesting ideas that would help your business thrive. Let us wrap it up with a quote from the marketing guru Seth Godin: