If you’re not in the industry,  search engine optimisation can be a bit of a minefield.

So many people all tell you different things,  but they generally have one thing in common, they all want to make money out of you.

You are probably already bombarded with phone calls from Companies promising to get you on page one of the search engines. In truth, they possibly can, but it will cost. And if the cost outweighs the business it generates then you have not really achieved anything. It is also important that you are at the top of the right page – it’s all very well pushing visitors to your site, but if they are the wrong visitors , you won’t make any new sales.

SEO “experts” are a bit like economists. If you speak to three of them, you will get at least four different opinions.  And like economists, the only certainty is that none of them are 100% correct.

The web moves so quickly these days that you have to adapt constantly.

For most SME’s, paying to get a good google ranking can be prohibitively expensive.  But there are a number of things that you can do which will help you generate a good google ranking –at a fraction of the price.

Domain Name

If you are just starting out – try to get a Domain name that is as relevant as possible to your business / service offering. For example,   genuinebusinessopportunity.co.uk and painteranddecoratorleeds.co.uk both make it pretty clear what they are about before you even look at the content of the site.

If you can match your business name to that domain – BarbecuesRUs for example – then even better.

If the domain name matches a typical search request you have made a significant first step.

Content

You really need to “own” your content.

Even if you have had someone else write it for you – you need to know what’s in there and that it matches your business.

Each page on your site must have a Title, Description and Keywords. They need to be logical, be repeated in the page content and match the service / product that you are trying to sell.

Some people believe that as the internet has moved on keywords play a much less important part these days and this is probably true. However there is certainly no downside to using them, and using them wisely.

Site Updates

If at all possible, the site must be designed so that you can make simple updates to the text yourself.

There are two reasons for this:

a. If you have to pay the designer to update the site it is going to cost you between £20 and £50 a time for even the smallest change.
b. SEO is a continual process. You will want to change and tweak your wording on a regular basis.

Traffic

Without traffic – the best website in the world will achieve nothing.

Thankfully there is a lot that you can do, for free, to help out.

Place adverts on widely used sites, and include a back link to your site. If you pick the right sites to advertise on this can be worth its weight in gold.

There are a number of fabulous blog and article sites now. Use them.

Build relationships with others who have a similar target market to you, but a different product or service.

Get your message out there and ALWAYS include a back link to your site.

Building an organic growth plan is not particularly difficult; it takes a lot of time and a bit of effort and discipline. but it is free, or at worst very inexpensive,  and it is very, very effective.

Even if you do choose to pay someone else to do this for you – it is significantly cheaper than paying for ad space and it will be much more permanent.

The Site

Once you get people to your site –you need them to stay there. Traffic will only benefit you if they buy.

Make sure that your site is clear, clean, and uncluttered. Too many images will put people off. Make sure that the text is concise and user friendly. Sell the benefits of your product / service. Most importantly – make sure that you have very clear calls to action in all the right places.  Without clear calls to action a site is almost worthless.

Be Clear on your Objective

If you are prepared to pay, it is not too difficult to get onto page one of the major search engines.

But that should not be your sole goal.

I have worked with companies who were spending in excess of £700 per month just to be on the first page.

Being there did not generate any business for them. And I mean it did not generate ANY business for them.  Three months down the line they have found themselves over £2000 out of pocket – with no new clients.  This is not the fault of the search engines, but the result of poorly designed and poorly targeted campaigns.

You are in business to make a profit. To do that you need to generate sales.

So if you are going to chase rankings, you want to be well ranked for keywords that are not just relevant to your business – but are likely to be the words that potential clients / customers will use to find you. And believe it or not – the two can be poles apart.

So you have to think about what words your customers would use to search for you.

Then you need to consider how many hits these words get. If they get hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of hits – chances are all the big corporate names are using them already.

If they are – then it’s going to be hard to take them on with your advertising budget.

Conversely, if you get relatively few hits for those words you need to be clear why that is.

Does it mean fewer people use those keywords or phrases?

That probably means that there is no point optimising for those keywords.

Unless your product or service is wholly unique, you need to find the middle ground.

Be Realistic

You need to be realistic.

Unless you have the same marketing budget as HMV you are probably not going to be able to outrank them on the search engines.

However by using a variety of the different techniques we have looked at, you do not only improve your ranking naturally – you create a spider web of “adverts” across the web – which will generate increased interest and increased sales.

It can take time and effort to generate a good web presence on a budget, but it can be done, and the results can be much more effective than throwing your entire advertising budget on a one month advertising campaign.

Carol Burns is a business consultant and founder of evolve small business consulting. She also works as an advisor for a number of small business start up organisations. After a career in the corporate sector she now focuses on working with small and medium sized businesses providing access to knowledge and services without the normal consulting costs.

www.evolvesmallbusinessconsulting.com