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Living with Google: a new guide to SEO

When it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO), it's not surprising that many businesses are confused by the almost constant changes to Google's algorithms, writes Jasper Martens, head of marketing and communications at Simply Business.

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It is also likely that a lot of business are still clinging to practices that might have worked a few years ago, but which are now ineffective, or even damaging their websites’ rankings in search results.

Any business looking to improve its SEO must do two things: first, admit that Google will always be smarter than them; and secondly, try to work with Google’s algorithms rather than against them. This article highlights the key changes to Google’s search algorithms in recent times, and will show how any business, no matter how technically proficient, can succeed by following four key principles for their online presence.

Be sociable

It’s all too easy to think of SEO as some kind of high-tech game of cat and mouse, played out on Google between your business and your competitors, to see who can get the most links back to their site. That’s the wrong approach. Focusing on links alone is to lose sight of the point of SEO, which is to get your business or website mentioned in the right context, which will in turn drive traffic to the site.

Rather than focus exclusively on getting large numbers of indiscriminate links, work to develop your offline relationships in the online space. If you are providing services for other businesses, encourage them to link back to you. Relationships with customers are vital too, especially as Google’s next update will give much more weighting to online reviews. If you make it easy for customers to leave a review, and if you actively solicit them to do so, it will make a massive difference.

Businesses will also be missing a trick if they are not including Google+ in their social marketing mix. Google+ is much more than a social platform: the search giant is using Google+ to determine which links are the most trustworthy. Linking your website with your Google+ profile will ensure that Google knows you are a reputable site, and will treat it accordingly in the rankings. If you update your profile regularly – at least two or three times a week – you’ll have the added benefit of appearing in the Google+ box that now comes up in some web searches, giving you even more visibility.

Be beautiful

Any investment in making your site look good will be money well spent. We’ve all seen small business websites that look dated, and we know that people don’t tend to trust – or buy from – unattractive websites. People tend to make an instant judgment within the first three seconds of visiting a site, so businesses need to treat their website like their shop windows and ensure they are appealing for visitors.

Being beautiful is about more than just looks, though. Google also takes into account speed and usability, and is starting to rank pages according to whether they are mobile-friendly. There are tools that businesses can use to see how their websites are performing, including webpagetest.org which will show the specific elements that are slowing a page down, such as video or poorly-optimised JavaScript.

When a website drops in the Google rankings, it’s often more difficult to figure out the problem than it is to fix it. A very useful tool here is Panguin, which charts your Google analytics data alongside major algorithm updates. If a drop in rankings coincides with an algorithm update, it enables website owners to pinpoint the issue.

Be local

Google has begun appending a location based on your IP address, so searches for restaurants or hairdressers for example, will automatically deliver local results. Similarly, mobile devices increasingly make use of location-based services, so if your business operates in a particular area you need to have strong local data on your website.

It’s important to remember that your business does not necessarily need to compete with every other similar business in the country. Instead of trying to be the first page on every search for plumbers, do what you can to make sure that you’re leading in your local area first. Check out the competition and see how much effort you’ll need to put in.

Be patient

Be wary of purported SEO experts. Many of the tactics on offer – such as link building, directory submission and article marketing – are now considered manipulative by Google, and are punished accordingly. These tactics can be more than a waste of money: Google takes such a dim view of them that they are likely to penalise you, to the extent that they may actually de-list your brand or company name.

The only sure way to SEO success is to be patient: put in the hours on social media, engage with all your offline contacts, invest in improving the look and feel of your site, and make sure you’re relevant to the locality you serve. That’s what Google likes; and if you do all this, they’ll like you too.

If you’re interested in finding out more about SEO for small businesses, watch the video of our recent SEO Google+ Hangout.

This article was first published on The Wall Blog

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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