SEO Basics: An onsite and offsite guide for your service business

Search Engine Optimisation (commonly known as SEO) is essentially the strategy and tactics associated with ensuring that your business can be found online organically. This means the results that appear on search engine sites (such as Google, Bing and Yahoo), as opposed to paid advertisements on the web.

Unfortunately for many small and mid-sized business owners, SEO can be a somewhat daunting undertaking. There’s never ending “advice” out there discussing the detail and “best practice” of SEO and it can seem impossible to even know where to begin – and that’s before we even get to the people who charge the earth on a promise to get your business to “the top of Google”! However, in this increasingly digital age where the web has fully established its place as the go-to resource for people looking for information and recommendations, SEO for your business cannot be ignored. But should you start? Here’s a round-up of some useful pointers, and a collection of resources that might be valuable as you embark on your SEO journey:

If your business has a website, search engines can be a major source of new customers, so optimising your online presence to help those customers find you is absolutely key. There are two distinct elements of SEO; although connected, each of these should be approached slightly differently. These are Onsite SEO and Offsite SEO.

Onsite SEO

Onsite SEO means optimising your website and its content to align with the kinds of potential keywords, phrases and terms that people will be searching for online to find the services they are looking for. By the nature of it being on your site, you have greater control and this is, therefore the more obvious and easier place to begin with improving your search engine rankings. Firstly, start by paying attention to your site’s page titles, tags, metadata and site structure. This is something you or you web developer can do fairly  simply.

Next, (it might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many businesses fall down here) make sure your site contains all the relevant information and descriptions about your business: your business type, location, services, special offers, contact details, availability, booking information and anything else that customers might need to know. These are all factors that let search engines know what your site (and your business) is about, so that when the relevant terms are entered by users, they get to the right sites.

As well as all of the basic information about your business and services, content is king;  juicy, keyword-rich content that is updated regularly is very important in SEO. Think about web pages on your site, and even a blog, that contain information, advice, hints or tips about your area of speciality that will be genuinely useful to your clients and potential customers, as well as being great fodder for Google and other search engines.

Offsite SEO

As necessary as onsite SEO is, it is insufficient on its own as a sustainable solution to improving your search engine rankings. Offsite SEO (sometimes also know as inbound SEO, content marketing, SEM or search engine marketing) is the process of encouraging valuable links from reputable third-party websites back to your site as a source of information related to relevant search terms and the content the links point to/from.

Offsite SEO is what other sites think of your site, which is one-way search engines establish your site’s usefulness as a resource of reliable information. This can be comparatively more challenging than onsite optimisation, and will take the time to develop and maintain. The investment will, however, be worth it. The key here is that not only do you have to try and build backlinks to your site, but the focus must absolutely be on building quality links, from reputable sites that are actually relevant to your website and your business.

So what are the best ways to build solid inbound links and improve your offsite SEO? Essentially, it all comes down to good content! Having quality content makes generating quality backlinks more likely, and this can be achieved in a number of ways: useful information, humour, news, politics, technology, and industry-specific angles – just to mention a few. Another way to generate good natural backlinks is to take advantage of your customer base and your network. If you can build a community around your business, you can get them sharing your content and your site for you. Think about generating some local PR for your business. Combine these with the use of tools like of social media, your search engine position will likely see a significant improvement as your online community and reputation grows. And don’t write off Google+! As a Google-owned social network, it is generally accepted that having an active presence on G+ is a big thumbs-up for brands when it comes to their organic search rankings.

And a word of caution: be wary of people offering services to get you “to the top of Google” for a price. Whilst there are many great digital marketing professionals out there, there are also those that will use underhand SEO tactics that are frowned upon by Google. Overdoing keyword phrases or bulk purchasing “backlinks” could be very detrimental if search engines consider your site as spam as a result, and actually could create the exact opposite of the desired SEO effect.

So that’s our two-minute overview of SEO for your business! This is just a brief toe-dip into some of the basic concepts; but don’t forget, unfortunately there are no quick fixes here. Ensuring your business can be found online takes time and effort. Essentially, the job of good SEO is never done. You need to build up a site reputation and develop and maintain its niche on the internet. However, when you start seeing improvements in your SEO, more people will discover your site. And the more people that do, the more potential customers you have stepping through your digital shop door.

Looking for more reading to help you jump start your SEO? Here’s a round-up of some useful sites, blogs and resources that have lots of handy tips and guidelines: