Bruce Clay on How Small Business Can Benefit from an Online Presence

bruce clay-seoBruce Clay is widely regarded as a pioneer and elder statesman in the global Internet marketing industry. Bruce founded search engine optimization firm Bruce Clay, Inc in 1996, which consults to international companies, and is the author of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Reference for Dummies. In this interview, excerpted from the Get Slightly Famous Podcast Series, Bruce shares tips on how businesses benefit from a practical, no-hype approach to online marketing.

Bruce founded Bruce Clay, Inc. in 1996, a search engine marketing firm. He also consults to international companies about online marketing strategies.In this post, Bruce shares tips on how small businesses can benefit from online marketing.

Can you tell us what an effective web presence is and what it means for local businesses?

Location is spelled G-O-O-G-L-E on the Internet. You have to be found online. When people type keywords associated with your company or product, your site should be one of the first things they see.

There are a lot of ways for your company to have an online presence, including advertising in Google’s pay per click program and using the local search maps.

When anyone in your area searches for keywords related to your product, your site will show up there. You can also use search engine optimization (SEO), which is the organic or natural search engine result when people look for your products and services using search engines like Google or Bing.

How does an effective web presence help someone who is not familiar with your business evaluate your products or services?

When someone goes online to find out more about you, they’ll look at several factors in assessing you. One is through the testimonial of authorities in the field. If the Chamber of Commerce, for example, linked to you or said something about you or your product, you will naturally appear more trustworthy in the eyes of that person.

A lot of people now look for negative comments as well. If some of your clients were not happy with your services and published their criticisms on the Internet, it will be found by people looking for information about you or your company.

In short, web presence not only means that you should be findable through organic results, keywords and Google advertisements; it also means that you should anticipate what people will find about you when they do a search. Remember that you can have an online reputation even without your participation.
 
What are the common mistakes and fixes on small business sites?

 

I tend to see that business sites have errors at multiple levels. For example, I often see sites that have not been designed to support search engines. Also sites designed in Flash may look state-of-the-art, but they’re invisible to search engines because search engines cannot read the words on Flash websites. Thus, the content will not be indexed.

Second, the site may not have enough content. What Google considers sufficient is around forty pages of content, with each page containing 400 to 600 words. This will tell the search engines that you know enough about the topic or brand to be considered an expert, an authority.

For sites with just a few pages, Google will not consider it an expert at all. There’s not enough content to give that impression. It’s just a site where people go to for contact information, not for answers. It’s almost like a Yellow Pages ad.

Another mistake is not using keywords correctly. Your main keywords—the search terms people will use when looking for your product—should be mentioned prominently in the first page of your site. If a visitor lands on your site and does not see the keyword, he’ll probably hit the back button fast.

What’s the role of keywords in building a web presence, and what should small businesses do to maximize it?

Keywords are vital for searching. When search engines index your site, it tries to figure out what you are talking about. That’s why when it comes to keywords, you have to be targeted and deliberate. Don’t bury your keywords at the bottom of the page. Put it on top so you can help search engines understand what you’re talking about.

When people land on your site, they have a mission: find an answer to their question. They usually just scan the text, and if they can’t find the keywords they are looking for, they will immediately leave your site.

Keywords also help search engines rank your site as an authority. The higher up you are in the search results, the more likely that your site will be seen by people who are looking in your particular niche.

In a nutshell, understand the keywords that are relevant to your business, organize your site well enough with contents separated by theme and by sections and put enough useful content for the search engines to find.

How should business owners evaluate a qualified web designer?

There are a lot of things, but one of the basic questions to ask is how they’ll approach your website project. You need an architect to build your site, someone who will ask what you’re putting on the site, what kind of visitors you want to attract, and how you can operate on an ongoing basis and be profitable. If they merely ask for your logo and color preferences, they may not be able to help you with SEO. That’s the question a builder will ask, not an architect.

Ask any potential web developer what he’d do to optimize your site. If he only says he’ll fill in the metatags, or submit your site to search engines, then that person is not an expert at SEO. Sure, all those are part of it, but there’s more to SEO than that. You ultimately want a person who’ll tell you that they have fine-tuned sites for clients, and after two weeks, the clients’ sites are at the top of the search results for generic words. That person understands how to do SEO.

What is linking? Why is it important? What should businesses do to cultivate those?

Linking is basically a voting system. Everybody who links to your site is, in effect, giving your site a testimonial. They’re saying to their visitors, and to search engines, that they trust your website enough to refer you to the world.

When Google sees a website with a lot of high quality, relevant inbound links, it concludes that you must be great because a lot of people think you are great. The search engines will classify you as an expert on that particular topic, and whenever somebody enters your keywords, your site will naturally appear at the top of the search results.

Link building strategies depend on whether a business is national or regional. If you have a local business, you’ll want links within your geographic zone. It could be the Chamber of Commerce, a local university, a local non-profit organization, or local businesses. Links from these sites establish your presence in that community, and tells the search engines that you know the region well.

People link because they see you as an expert, as someone whose knowledge they or their clients can use. This means you need good content on your site. Quality content attracts links because it answers questions. It offers material no one else is sharing. If you have a compelling content, newspapers may even begin to link to or interview you, which can lead to bigger exposure.

A link from authority websites in your industry is very important. It means that they—as experts—also see you as an expert in your field. They are, in essence, giving you their vote of confidence that you know what you are talking about, that you are giving value through your content.

The world of SEO changes rapidly. Do you have any closing advice about keeping current with all these changes?

The most important thing is to evolve. Keep up with the changing trends in online marketing. Social media, for example, is important, but it requires high maintenance. It’s SEO which can establish you as an expert.

Google is continuously revising and updating its algorithm. This means that if you had a site which was designed, even optimized, two years ago, it certainly has to be updated now because there’s a lot of new stuff out there. The size of the web has changed.

SEO is not a static thing. You need to keep abreast of the changes. If your site has been optimized last year, it needs to be redesigned now to take the changes in consideration. You don’t just build a website and let it just sit there and expect it to perform well. I guess the bottom line is that in online marketing, you have to use and embrace the current technologies. Otherwise, your competition will eat you up.