A Small Business Guide to Getting Found on the Web
What is Web Visibility?
In the broadest sense it can mean anything that results in awareness of you and/or your business online and offline. In a stricter sense it can mean anything that results in the growing and nurturing of your online audience.
So where does SEO (Search Engine Optimization) fit into this? Rand Fishkin has a saying I love… “..anything that results in signals for search engines is in the SEO bucket…”. I think this is the most succinct and comprehensive definition I have heard of SEO.
You can see the relationship between Web Visibility and SEO. They are married at the hip.
For micro/small businesses, thinking in terms of visibility instead of search engine rankings integrates more cleanly into what small businesses do naturally, with the added bonus of helping various aspects of your SEO at the same time.
The purpose of this A-Z guide, then, is to provide an overall understanding of what it means for small businesses today to get found on the web. The big picture, yes, but also some of the important details to support it, along with quotes from thought leaders, experts, and respected contributors.
I chose to use the alphabet for this because it…
- keeps ideas organized
- makes it a little easier to remember
- is highly scannable
and makes it just a little bit more fun!
My first A-Z guide was for Semantic Search, which you may want to take a look at, because one influences the other. If you think of semantic search and web visibility as a Venn diagram, you will see quite a bit of overlap because semantic search has had a huge impact on SEO and web visibility.
I have kept the number of entries for any one letter to no more than 4 (with the exception of A).
So let’s begin!
A is for…
Alligator. As in, See ya later, Alligator! No, the alligator and zebra in the graphic aren’t just for looks! Say good-bye to black hat SEO techniques and tricks and hello to an integration of optimal online behavior that focuses on value for the end user. If they’re happy, Google is too.
Authenticity. People want to know the person(s) behind a business. Think of yourself as the (online) neighborhood storekeeper who people come to because you’re honest, fair, friendly, and helpful. People have to get to know you before you develop a trusted reputation. It takes time and effort.
Authority. Google is looking for people, and the websites behind them, to show that they are a trusted authority in their field. It is vital to build authority and trust to show up well in Google’s search rankings. The very best part is that people trust people, so besides helping Google find you, you also build a trusted audience that will become your evangelists.
Audience. Find YOUR audience (as opposed to AN audience) with whom you’ve built up trust and who is genuinely interested in what you have to say. This is a VITAL first step that many small businesses skip
“…understand what makes you you. Then, your tribe will consistently look to elevate you to be your best.” ~ Stephan Hovnanian
Analytics. Often times the only way to take it to the next level is to understand where you have been and where you stand right now. Also if something goes wrong later, you will have the data to get out of that hole. Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics are a great start, but don’t limit yourself there.
“Think about what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. What will success look like and how will you measure it?…We spend time tracking hits, when we should be tracking engagement.” ~ Ammon Johns
B is for…
Building. Building relationships, building your audience, building authority, building trust, building your reputation. Notice that I use ‘building’ in the present tense, as it is an on-going, constant process.
Caveat: We’re not talking “build it and they will come” here. That is a proven non-starter.
Blog. Your blog can be the entrée to your website, and is probably the most linkable part of your site. It helps establish you as an authority and increases website traffic.
“Blogging is the key way to introduce yourself as a knowledgeable, reliable resource who can solve people’s big problems – the sort of problems they turn to the great Google oracle to solve late at night.” ~ Marisa Goudy
C is for…
Creating Comprehensive Content Consistently. Content is still king, but only if it is top-notch and semantically dense (i.e.,not a lot of fluff). It must go deep enough to answer real questions people have.
“Content creation is the point where Google’s need for data and your business’s need to be found on the Web suddenly come together.
The success of your business’s online visibility hinges on the quality of its content marketing. The greater the overlap between what you have to say and what your target audience is most interested in, the more successful you will be in generating the kind of online buzz and engagement that produces a presence across many of the search verticals.” ~ David Amerland
D is for…
Discoverable. Make sure you have done everything possible to make your content discoverable by searchers. This includes being active on social media, using keywords in a natural manner, using attention-getting images and headlines, making sure there are no on-site issues… More on this as you cruise through the alphabet.
E is for…
Engagement. Creating engagement is critical. This includes social media, obviously, but also through any means possible, both online and off. Remember: Person to Person is the foundation to visibility. No one will connect with you if you are hiding in a closet.
“The key with all of these is engagement. If more people are interacting with your material, then more people will see your material.” ~ Thomas E. Hanna
Expertise. This is part of Google’s Rater’s Guide: E.A.T. (Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness). You have to demonstrate that you know your stuff.
Easy. There is no “Easy Button.” Be glad. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
F is for…
First. There is not a true “first page” of Google anymore, since search is becoming personalized.
Future Proof. There are short cut techniques that may get you short-term results, but Google will catch you some day. Keep it clean, follow the rules and your future will be safe. Don’t do anything you may regret later.
“Never make the mistake of thinking you have your finger completely on the pulse of SEO. It’s always growing and evolving towards a future of complete disclosure… Be mindful of your actual web-presence far more than your perceived rank value. ~ Mike Alton
G is for…
Google+. If you want to be in the game, it’s a good idea to play in Google’s backyard. Google reads the signals coming from Google+ with less ambiguity than anyplace else. Google is actively working at getting better at understanding signals from other social networks, also. There is no evidence that social signals are being used in search, because it is no easy task for search engines. The key for now is E.A.T. – Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness, and Google+ is a great place to demonstrate that.
“Using Google+ you can build a following of relevant engagers who will amplify your message into Google Search. Whether it is personalized results, or global, this is SERIOUSLY powerful for both content and product pages… Social and Search are now working hand-in-hand.” ~ Martin Shervington
Guarantees. There are none. If that seems an unsettling prospect, remember that there never should have been any in the first place.
H is for…
Holistic. Always keep in mind the big picture. All the parts are woven together: useful and helpful content, relationships that amplify your content, website user experience, your business identity and values. All of these work together and affect web visibility.
Hangouts On Air. This video broadcasting tool is becoming increasingly important for web visibility. Nothing beats person to person. Nothing builds relationships and audiences faster than person to person. And as a bonus…
1) It’s a Google property 2) The videos created in HOAs (Hangouts On Air) are automatically posted to YouTube, another Google property and the second largest search engine world wide 3) Google is getting better at understanding the content in videos, which, if semantically rich, can potentially increase your authority 4) social sharing can positively affect your trustworthiness.
“The Hangout on Air tool we all have is a wonderful way to communicate your message! For years small and medium sized businesses have wondered how to get their message out there without breaking the bank.Now we have a way… Google & Hangouts on Air provide the answer.” ~ Ronnie Bincer
Helpful. The more content you produce that people find helpful and therefore share with others, the more questions you are able to answer for people – be that through posts, comments, videos, hangouts, slideshares, podcasts… the more authority and trust you build, and the better for your visibility, and eventually your website’s visibility.
Hub. Your website is the hub for your business. Everything you do needs to point back to it.
I is for…
Identity. Google+ is an identity engine. Who are you and what are you and your business all about? What else can you do to project your identity on the web? Is it clear what your values are?
Indirect. Indirect benefits. Your content creation and social media activities have a powerful, but often, indirect, effect. Think about your audience and what they need. The benefits will ripple out from there.
J is for…
Just. Just be a person.
People relate to people, people trust people. Don’t lose sight of that fact. (see E is for Engagement.)
K is for…
Keywords. Keyword research is important for finding the topics and long tail phrases that people are actually searching for. Keywords in title tags and headers are essential. But once you’ve taken care of that, just write as if you were talking to someone face to face. Those keywords will naturally surface without being overdone. Google is getting better at understanding the variants so don’t over think it.
L is for…
Links. But it’s all about attracting and encouraging quality links, not building them. You’re looking for relevant, natural, organic links from trusted sources. Even though acquiring links is an important goal, you can’t go after them directly. They are a by-product, derived from producing valuable, shareable content and the audience that connects with that content.
Local. Google is weighting localized search more, which can be a big visibility boost for small businesses. If you have a physical address where you do business or use a service area, then be sure to claim your Google My Business listing.
Caveat: Be sure all your contact info is consistent everywhere it’s found on the web, as this can affect your ranking.
Learning. Opportunities to become more visible are evolving so keep learning what works and what doesn’t, and keep abreast of best practices. The only constant is change.
M is for…
Mileage. As they say, Your Mileage May Vary. Just how much benefit or return you get depends on a lot of different factors. Foremost among them is how much time you’re able/willing to put in and how enthusiastic you are about implementing the practices outlined here.
Mobile. Google is placing more and more emphasis on everything mobile. So ignore it at your peril. Think “Mobile First” , with your website and with your audience, and you’ll be ahead of the game.
N is for…
No. No more gaming the system. No easy wins. No shortcuts. No tricks. No magic formulas. No guarantees… And No stopping.
Nurture. It’s not enough to build relationships and an audience. You have to nurture them, too. You do this by caring about people, helping them, and looking for ways to elevate them. The karmic wheel will turn…
O is for…
On-going. Web visibility is not something you can say you’ve ‘done’. Or as Rand Fishkin, says, “Fire and forget”. You can’t use the past tense. It takes time to develop, but if you stop doing all the good things that made you discoverable, you will fade back into cyber-oblivion again.
On-site or on-page technical SEO. Table stakes.
OPA. Other People’s Audiences – Coined by Eric Enge. Building an audience, one or two people at a time, is a slow process that will exhaust and discourage even the most enthusiastic entrepreneur. Getting your content in front of Other People’s Audiences will help speed up this process. Find existing audiences that are relevant to your business. Start engaging with them, sharing their content, participating in communities, and showing your expertise by being helpful. This draws attention to you.
“Get in front of OPA, and then publish fantastic content so you can earn that audience’s respect and trust.”~ Eric Enge
P is for…
People. Create your content for people, not search engines. Which is what Google’s been saying all along. (see letter J)
Persistence and Perseverance. You need boatloads of both. It is often said that all of this is a marathon and not a sprint. Absolute truth. A good dose of Passion and Patience helps, too.
Promote. You can create the most amazing, valuable content imaginable, but if nobody knows about it, neither will Google. But the real magic is when you also promote others. It’s not all about you, but about helping your audience. Promoting others will naturally lead them to want to promote you, too.
Personalized Search. This one’s a biggie. With personalized search, you have a much greater likelihood of showing up on someone’s first page of Google. For those logged into their Google accounts, the default setting in Google search is personalized to reflect the people who have circled you on Google+, as well as their extended circles. It may not be a huge audience, but it is a much more targeted one. In addition, author authority still seems to be active for personalized searches. Another good reason to be active and build relationships on Google+.
“… the most effective search strategy isn’t always just showing up for as many searchers as possible. It can be vastly more important to show up for targeted searchers; that is, for searchers who are more likely to want to see your content. Those who have at one time or another added you to a Google circle or to their Gmail contacts are certainly more likely to be in that group.
When those people are doing searches relevant to what your brand is about, wouldn’t you want to be pushed up in their results for free?” ~ Mark Traphagen
Q is for…
Quality. Quality content on your website, blog articles, videos… wherever you are interacting with others.
Questions you need to ask yourself. Questions about your identity, your values, your message, your mission. Is what I’m doing the best that I can do? The best that I can be?
R is for…
Ranking factors. Ranking factors are incredibly complex. There are over 500 of them, and no one knows exactly what they are. However, in general, ranking factors are becoming less quantitatively back-link centric and becoming more content-relevant centric.
Relationships. Relationships are the prime movers of web visibility. Without relationships, you have no audience for your content. Without an audience for your content, no social signals will be created and no links to your site will be attracted.
“Build strong relationships and people will support you on the web (and in real life). Stay true to who you are… Let your (or your clients’) content reflect values and personality. Always take the high road”. ~ Mary Stovall
Reciprocity. Being reciprocal has a significant role in building relationships. Why would anyone be interested in what you have to say, if you’re not also interested in their content as well? But it can’t be a purely quid pro quo arrangement. You have to genuinely believe in the quality of the person and their content that you’re supporting.
“…make your audience members feel special, foremost by recognizing them for their loyalty and support. The people who have devoted a few moments of their time to you, certainly deserve some of your time in return. It is important to support the people who support you.” ~ Kristoffer Howes
Referrers. You are looking to build an audience of people who may or may not be your customers and possibly may never have occasion to become one. But… they may very well refer others to your products and services when the need arises.
S is for…
SEO – Search Engine Optimization is still very important. Not as a gaming tool but as an optimization and analytic framework. (Go figure, optimization is part of it’s name). Remember: Table stakes – you first want to play at the table.
Semantic Search changed the entire nature of search and web visibility along with it. (Yes Panda and Penguin had a hand in there, too.) David Amerland, in his book, Google Semantic Search, lays it all out beautifully. Two words. Read. It.
“Success in search really depends on having your content in front of what is increasingly a totally customized first page of Google. The only certain way of doing that is to create fantastic content that is widely talked about, linked to, and reshared across social networks. The only way to consistently do that is to mine your passion and transfer it into the digital image you create, on the Web. ~ David Amerland
Simple (but not easy). The principles and strategies for web visibility are pretty simple to understand. That ISN’T saying it’s easy to do or accomplish, but it IS saying that if you are determined and willing to put in the time, you will see results…. eventually. It’s not an overnight process. It is impossible to predict just how long before you see ROE – Return On Engagement. But really, it’s your best option for long-term, sustainable success.
Social Media. Social media (see also G is for Google+) is critical for promoting your content and helping others promote theirs. It provides a place where you can find and connect with your audience. Only if your content is commented on, shared, and linked to, will it send any social signals to Google.
“Without Social Media you very well may never show up in Google, Bing or Yahoo… other than the quality content they can see on your site, the most powerful votes that prove your validity and usefulness comes from activities outside your own web property (your website/blog); the links, shares and citations pointing back to your site and who is creating them.” ~ Gina Fiedel
T is for…
T is always about Trust.
Trusted Authority. The Google gold standard and what we are all striving to become. When Google perceives you as one, it will improve your ranking and visibility. One last thing… You have to keep earning your stripes, even if you think you’ve “arrived”.
“Building trust, being responsible for what comes across your stream and in your articles, creating friendships that solidify your place on social…that’s the thoughts that you need to start cultivating.” ~ Wade Harman
Transparency. No hidden agendas, please! Be up front about your motives, your procedures, and your objectives. Customers not only appreciate transparency, they will be very vocal in their displeasure if you deceive them.
U is for…
User experience. (Part of SEO). This closes the loop. You have been found, but if your website doesn’t offer a good experience, it will all be for nothing. How is the content on your site organized? How easy is it for people to find what they’re looking for? How easily and quickly can people navigate through your site? How are people interacting with the content?
V is for…
Visibility. (Just checking to see if you’re still with me.)
Value and Values. Providing value and staying true to yours. One of those foundational premises that you don’t want to forget.
Video. Video is the hot new trend for content creators. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Heck, you can even get started creating a video with your smart phone, though at some point production values will matter.
“Video content creates a connection in a way no other medium can. It reveals your personality and helps create a deeper social connection for your brand”. ~ Mark Timberlake
“You don’t have to hire someone else to do quality productions. Learning video post-production (editing) is one of those 21st century skills that a person would be very wise to learn.” ~ Scott Scowcroft
W is for…
Webmaster Tools. Table stakes.
Work. (see S is for Simple)
X is for…
eXciting! Does all this sound like a ton of work? Well, before you throw in the towel, consider this. The only thing required of you is the sweat of your brow and the smarts in your brain, and you now have ways and means at your disposal to be competitive that doesn’t require a dime. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point.)
Social media is FREE. Many of the tools to help you create, analyze your efforts, connect with others are either free or have a free version. Personalized search allows you to get in front of a targeted audience. This is the best news small business has had in years!
Y is for…
Yesterday. Yesterday is gone. Time to move forward.
Yes. Say yes to relationships, content creation, attracting links, passion for what you do!
Z is for…
Zebra. Nothing is black and white. Many lines are being blurred. There are many different interactions and influences, many of which are indirect. There is no one “thing” that will be decisive in your ranking and general web visibility.
As you can see, there is much you, the small business person, can personally do to get found on the web. I close with these words from Stephen Hovnanian
“— as you put yourself out there online, new faces will discover you every day. Some through recommendations of people they trust. Some through search. Some through other people’s audiences. Some through other algorithms. In each case, they are going to get an impression of who you are by the way you handle and present yourself.” ~ Stephan Hovnanian
David Amerland, Google Semantic Search, Google+ Hangouts for Business
Eric Enge, “The Smart Way to Use Other People’s Audiences to Build Your Own”, “Your First 9 SEO Tasks“, “Duane Forrester’s 5 Keys to Improving Search Rankings“
Rand Fishkin, “Does SEO Boil Down to Site Crawlability and Quality Content?”
Cyrus Shepherd, “Breaking the SEO Rules”
Mark Traphagen, “Google Plus Search Power: Personalized Punch for Your Target Market”
Eric Enge, Mark Traphagen, David Amerland, The Digital Marketing Answers Show, “The End of the [First] Authorship Era”
Introduction credit: John Moore
Image credit: Melanie Moore Bermudez