Traditional marketing tools have evolved. Small business owners now have a huge number of choices when it comes to raising their firm’s profile, from local adverts, flyers and brochures, to online searches, reviews sites and social media. Sham Hussein, Marketing Executive for Yell in the UK, explains how SMEs can maximise their opportunities online.

Traditional marketing tools have evolved. Small business owners now have a huge number of choices when it comes to raising their firm’s profile, from local adverts, flyers and brochures, to online searches, reviews sites and social media. Sham Hussein, Marketing Executive for Yell in the UK, explains how SMEs can maximise their opportunities online.

Every minute of every day, 694,445 search queries are made on Google (Gizmodo, 2012) – and popular sites like Bing and Yahoo attract thousands of searches too. UK users have embraced search as a speedy and efficient way to look for information and find businesses, products and services online.

It’s little wonder then that small, local businesses are keen to rank highly and maximise their visibility in online searches, using search engine optimisation (SEO). For small businesses, search is a key tool in the digital arsenal and we have some tips and tricks to help SME owners get started.
 

How does search work?

Search engines use algorithms (or formulas) to decide which sites offer the highest quality results. These algorithms are impartial, as they measure a website’s relevance and content, not the company’s marketing budget – opening the door to all businesses, regardless of their size.

There are a number of ways to boost your business’ search ranking, including content, inbound links and keywords.
 

The keywords

When you first think about optimising your business’ website, consider it from a consumer perspective – why do people visit the site, what are they trying to find and what terms are they using to search for it?

By getting inside the minds of your customers you will begin to discover the keywords that generate search traffic to your website. The most effective search terms are those that are relevant to your business and the most underused by your peers and competitors.

Use the keywords that you have identified in URLs, page title tags and text to improve visibility. This will help to bump your website up the search engine rankings, but be careful to ensure the content remains useful to visitors, readable and relevant. Inserting keywords unnaturally or repetitively could potentially hurt your rankings.

Another way to utilise keywords is to inform ‘paid for’ results that appear in the prime positions of a search – usually along the top and sides of the results page. Rather than paying a flat fee, the advertiser is charged every time a user clicks the sponsored link (often referred to as PPC or ‘pay per click’).

To set up paid search terms, go to Google Adwords, Microsoft Adcentre or try a trusted pay per click reseller.
 

Content is king

To click with customers, the content of your website should be carefully considered, appealing and informative. However, great content is not only essential to attracting consumers, but also enhancing SEO.

Including a video or two on your site is a great way to professionalise your web content and bring your business to life – and is a big tick in the box for search rankings too. Use it to introduce yourself personally to your customers, give a tour of your premises, or perhaps even demonstrate a service you offer.

Time is of the essence for small businesses, with experts predicting that, by as early as the end of the year, the major search engines may not even list a site if it doesn’t include video (Spotreels.com, 2010). But it is much easier than you would think to add video to your website. There are a number of cost effective digital service providers that can help and you can also link to your video on YouTube or Flickr.
 

Popularity pays

Links to your site from other websites also help to increase your rankings, demonstrating to search engines that your content is popular.

The more quality sites that mention – and link back – to your page, the better. Getting listed on local and online directories such as Yell, Qype, Scoot and Thomson Local and adding your company to Google Places are two free ways to boost your visibility online. Do be wary of so called ‘link building’ quick fixes, however, as search engines penalise sites that use these tactics.

By ensuring that your site is full of interesting content and sharing it on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, peers, customers – and even the media – are likely to pick it up and link through.
 

Help is at hand

Getting to grips with search engine optimisation will have a tangible effect on web visibility, as well as introducing your business to a wider market and attracting new customers. And, while it may seem daunting at first, help is at hand for small businesses.

From e-books and webinars, to magazines and local events, there are numerous free and low cost resources available for SMEs looking to make the best of digital.

The web is big business for SMEs but it doesn’t have to cost you the earth, and by developing a cohesive search strategy – utilising keywords, multimedia content and inbound links – you can put your business in a prime position.

For more marketing advice take a look at the rest of our marketing tips and case studies