If you’re a small business owner or a department marketing director, you may have heard the term “Search Engine Optimization” or “SEO” used in business circles as a way of generating attention or leads for your company.

Search Engine Optimization is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of organic results returned by a search engine. When most people search online and see a list pop up, they gravitate toward the first few search results. When your customers search for your product or service, you want to be one of those first few results.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the process of ranking high is a manipulation of a lot of data in regards to your site to change the natural or organic results. Search engines like Google are constantly changing how they rank different factors for websites and pages to determine how key phrases and results are relevant to one another.

Why? Because they want the search results to be organic so that marketers and business owners aren’t able to impact them too heavily. Sure, they openly provide tips to ensure your site can be found but they really don’t want this organic side of their results to be a place of promotion. Paid ads and PPC are the model by which search engines survive.

Some tactics–known as “Black Hat SEO”–are seen by the search engines as “cheating the system” by doing something inorganic. If someone promises you a quick fix, they are likely selling you something that is too good to be true. You can usually tell the difference between effective tactics that rely on content or organic sharing of information and Black Hat tactics because Black Hat tactics will greatly improve rankings in a short amount of time through fast, easy tricks. Unfortunately for the companies that use these strategies, the search engines always catch up and adjust their algorithms, so these tricks fail to maintain good rankings long-term and can even cause rankings to nosedive overnight.

Before you launch into an SEO strategy of any kind- through a vendor or through your own activities- there are a few things questions you should know the answer to.

Which Search Engines Matter?
Google – 71% of people still use Google as their primary search engine in the United States. Bing has the second highest market share, likely because Windows machines come with Windows browsers and Windows browsers come with Bing set as the homepage. Some people retain Bing as their homepage.

If you are selling internationally, you may run into a different search dynamic in some countries. In China, the leading search engine is called Baidu. In Russia, it is called Yandex. In South Korea, it is called Naver. In Japan Google is the champion, but Yahoo Japan has almost one third of all search results for a strong second place. Nevertheless, Google is still the global champion for search results.

2) What types of sites does Google rank well?
Google owns YouTube, which is growing in favor due to the volume of data the engine offers from more than one billion users. You can often see YouTube videos listed at the top of the page in search results. Fun fact: YouTube is technically the world’s second largest search engine owned by the world’s largest search engine.

After videos, website & pages dedicated to the topic being searched for will show up in order. There are a variety of factors that play into the page search results, but the main considerations can be broken into whether the page is up to date, relevant to the keywords being searched, and authoritative in the eyes of the internet because of the author, source, or connection to other domains.

Social media results can also rank very high and contribute to the overall search performance of your online properties. Twitter still shows iup high in search results. I personally believe this will start to fade as more and more videos are uploaded properly to YouTube but currently it’s a great way to grab the attention of the search engines. If you aren’t a Twitter person there are tons of apps that will allow you to post to your preferred social platform and simply copy that post to twitter. Facebook, as the dominant social network, and Pinterest, with its huge number of pictures, both also rank well. LinkedIn is effective if your personal brand is how you compete. The results you get on LinkedIn as a company can vary greatly.

3) What can you do to improve your rankings?
Understand what search engines like google are looking for. For a high-level do-it-yourself strategy just remember the 3 C’s: Content, Connections, Conversation.

Content– Make sure that you are consistently writing something new. Make your content strong so others will want to link to it. Mix and match evergreen content with newsier information. Make it organic and human. If you take a great picture at a company event and you don’t mind your face showing up in search results, post it on your blog. Write strong articles, make good videos, record podcasts, make infographics, and take pictures. Give people something useful.

Connections – Link out to other sites and reach out directly to people to see if they are willing to link to you. This shows people that you are a person who cites where things come from and provides extra assistance to those looking for more information on something they found on your site. Link between your own pages when relevant.

Conversation – Build out social media and other social components of your business. Pursue PR opportunities such as speaking engagements, charity drives, or other events. Network with others. Talk to prospects, clients, and partners on a regular basis.

We are now in an environment where businesses can have discussions with the public at large. There’s a great big conversation going on out there. Get in on it!

SEO Disclaimer
SEO should be considered a long play investment. You won’t be on top of the search results overnight. The work you put into your site could take months to start having an impact depending on how how much of other people’s data is already on the web. Youv could easily hire a company and they will handle all the technical coding and unraveling of the search engine algorithms. What you have just read is just the tip of the iceberg. These are simple things you can do yourself to help make your brand more authoritative in search results and the eyes of people doing the searching.

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