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April 22, 2013

Understanding the Search Engine Optimization Game

If you are part of the online world, you would have heard a lot of talk about Google’s algorithm changes called Penguin and Panda and, as a result, may have made changes to your website or those of your clients.  However, if you are a small business owner, such as a carpet cleaner, hairdresser or plumber and search engine optimizsation is not something you think about an awful lot, all this talk probably means diddly squat (not a technical term).

To put it in plain terms, when it comes to Google, Panda and Penguin are not cute animals you find at the zoo, rather they were names given to major updates to how Google prioritized pages when someone does a search.

As the Internet changes and evolves, Google and other search engines update their algorithms (the way they rank search results) to help searchers find websites that provide a greater user experience.

In Google’s official blog, it says their goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible.

Matt Cutts, Google’s head of its Webspam team said: “we try to reward great websites which have a lot of useful and original content and our aim is to reflect what goes on in the real world.  However, we can only know and judge by what is happening in the online world. You may have a fantastic business that has been established for many years and great reputation, but unless you reflect that in your website, search engines can’t rank you above everybody else.”

Small business owners are often intimidated by large businesses because they believe they can’t compete in search engines when they don’t have large budgets to employ the best SEO experts.  While that may be true sometimes, it is not always the case.  Large businesses often have a lot of red tape to get through and are not as dynamic to respond to new trends, so small businesses often have the advantage of being able to move fast and try out new marketing techniques.

Before you create a website or make changes to an existing one, you may find the following video How Search Works helpful.

One of the common misconceptions is that including one key element on your website will make a huge impact on the ranking of your website.  As a result, many businesses buy lots of domain names, thinking that simply having a domain name with the selected keywords will guarantee them top positions.  Others repeat their keywords in their website’s copy over and over and over again, believing the more they repeat a particular word or phrase, the higher they will rank.  This is simply not true.

When deciding which pages to display for a particular search term, Google asks more than 200 questions of each page before delivering the results.

Questions such as: Do the words appear in the title, website address, headings, copy of the website, image alt tags?  Does the page include similar keywords related to the topic? Are other relevant websites linking to the site? Is the website quality or spammy? What Page Rank does the website have? and many more.

The exact algorithm is not known by anyone outside the Google team, however, Cutts has produced a number of great simple-to-understand videos, in which he answers questions about what Google looks for.  You can find them on YouTube under ‘GoogleWebmasterHelp.’

If you are a small business owner, here are the basic principles of search engine optimization.

1. Provide quality and original content on your website.  Do not copy from others in the industry. Write your own information.

2. Include keywords or key phrases in each page’s title, headings, copy, meta description as well as in alt tags of your images.

3. If possible include the keywords within the domain name or at least in the name of the page. For example, name your page like this: instead of

4. Do not create your complete website with flash, becauss Google can’t easily index it.

5. Make sure you have easy to follow navigation.

6.  Ensure your website looks good on mobile devices.

7. Update your website regularly with fresh information.

8. Get as many links as possible from relevant websites back to yours.  For example, if you are a marriage celebrant, getting links from other wedding suppliers is ideal, but getting a link from a plumber would not be relevant.

9. If you are a local business, add your website to Google Places.

10. Add credibility to your website by signing up for Google Authorship.

11.  Get involved in social media, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.  Google now watches how much people interact with you on social networks.

If you are a small business owner, do not be intimidated by search engines.  Talk to your website designer, who would be able to implement all the key elements into your website.

Ivana Katz makes it easy for you to get your business on the Internet. If you’re looking for a professional and affordable website designer, visit and download a free website plan or connect with Ivana on Facebook.