Getting found on the Web: Tips from an SEO Expert

SEO is a hot topic for any business, whether local or global.  But I find SEO “tips” to be buried in slick-talking promises by SEO sales people, or confusing jargon from tech blogs.  So I decided to reach out to a trusted source.

Nicole Foley is one of the founding partners of Blue Tree Digital, a digital marketing agency that provides SEO services, but also serves as an outsourced marketing department for businesses that need to increase brand recognition and leads. I have found Nicole to be refreshingly honest, realistic and practical. She gets SEO as one piece in an overall online approach.

There have been so many changes by Google over the past year with their search engine algorithms. What are the major shifts in your opinion?

Starting in 2011, Google began releasing algorithms to “fix” its search rankings. One of the series of releases, called Panda (after Navneet Panda, the Google developer), aims to push sites that are more likeable to the top of the rankings. Google first employed human beings to sit and rank sites on whether or not they 1) liked the content, 2) trusted the site, and 3) would share the page. Google then transferred that process to machines. The result is that Google now cares and will penalize sites that:

  • Have too many ads in ratio to content
  • Have pages that appear to have duplicated or similar content
  • Force the user to click too often
  • Have “thin”, or mediocre, content
  • Have high bounce rates
  • Have metatags that don’t match content (which makes it confusing for searchers)
  • Have lots of pages that are obviously there for SEO purposes

There is also a series of algorithms called Penguin. Penguin targets the black-hat SEO practices that many shady SEO companies use to dramatically increase the number of links to a client. Link buying and link exchange are frowned upon. Blog comment spam is targeted. And, these sites are being heavily penalized.

I’m seen companies disappear from rankings overnight when using these bad SEO practices. It pays to be diligent and honest in SEO.

What are the most important things small businesses can do to boost their web search rankings?

The most important piece of SEO is the on-site set-up, and that begins with the selection of the right keywords. A website should be optimized with keywords that a potential client would use to find the business… Not the keywords that the owner thinks are cool, not the words that the legal team permits. These should be words that the target customer will type into a Google search box.

Once keywords are selected, it is crucial to write appropriate metatags for each page. Duplicate title and description tags will harm a website. Invest in getting this set up properly and ranking will increase.

Then, make sure there is great content, consistent traffic to the site, with links back to the site from important resources. SEO is must be continually optimized to be continually effective.

What about for local businesses?

Local businesses are lucky! They get to take advantage of lots of services that allow them to naturally boost their rankings. A few tips:

  • Make sure a physical address is on the website.
  • Set up a Google Places account.
  • Use Google+ and get as many reviews as possible
  • Use rich snippet code to optimize the address on the website.

How long before a company can see an impact on their search ranking? What measurement tools or metrics do you recommend in order to gauge progress?

Results can be noticed in as few as two days. But, most new businesses see the full results of their efforts in about three months.

The easiest measurement is search engine ranking. I also take into account the quality and quantity of referring websites, and how many non-branded keywords are bringing traffic into the site. The goal should be to improve those numbers.

There are many “shady” SEO firms out there. How should a small business select a digital marketing partner for SEO work?

Our philosophy is that SEO should be done by humans, not just machines. We are often called in to fix SEO that was done cheaply by a company that simply uploaded data to a program to spit out keywords and tags. SEO requires a human eye to analyze data, creatively integrate keywords, expertly draft metatags that are meaningful to search spiders and people, and be sure not to create bad links. Whatever SEO firm is hired should be able to point to their expert on staff who is analyzing the data, not just whatever software they use.

I would also steer clear of any firm that promises to get a company linked from hundreds of local sites overnight. Ask questions: What sites or directories are you using to link my site? (The answer should be that they research the appropriate, industry-specific sites.) Have they ever had any clients dropped from Google’s ranking because of their practices?

If all else fails, ask for long-term references.

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