Given the current state of the economy, the days of being able to afford professional, full-scale Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are little more than a distant memory. As your website traffic struggles with the economic downturn, small companies like yours need the services of market-leading firms like Bruce Clay, SEO Inc. and HighRankings.com now more than ever. Unfortunately, you have no hope of affording their five-figure start up fees, much less the $4,000 per month it costs to actually get these overpriced (and often arrogant) firms to do something productive.
Note: Regarding the ‘arrogant’ comment . . . it is not uncommon for leading SEO firms to riddle their websites with statements like “Do not contact us unless you are ready to spend at least $25,000″ and “We only respond to SERIOUS inquiries from LARGE companies.” I don’t think use of the word ‘arrogant’ is unfair in these cases. For a great list of ways to recognize a bad SEO firm, check out Eric Enge’s blog posting “11 Ways to Recognize a Bad SEO Firm.”
But the good news is, there are plenty of things small companies can do to make a positive impact on both search engine rankings and organic search engine traffic. And the best part of all is, most of these things are both easy to accomplish and absolutely free.
This posting is Part II in what will be a multi-part series (I’m estimating 4 parts total) on Inexpensive SEO Strategies for Small Company Websites. In each of these postings I will cover 3 to 4 SEO tips—let’s call them ’secrets’—that small companies can implement on their own and with very few resources. Inexpensive SEO Strategies for Small Company Websites: Part I covered the concepts of Using Keyword Themes to Create Web Content, Utilizing Text-Based Navigation Elements, and Maximizing Your Title Tags. Part II will cover three more areas: 1) Minimizing the Use of Flash and Graphics, 2) Using Meta Description Tags, and 3) Submitting a Search Engine Sitemap.
SEO Tip #4: Minimize the Use of Flash and Graphics
One of my favorite one-hit wonder marketing campaigns of all-time is Amp Energy Drink’s “Walk of Shame” commercial, which I first caught on SpikeTV in early 2008. After seeing what turned out to be the one and only commercial in the series, I jumped on my computer and tried to learn more. But no matter what search engine I used or what keywords I entered, I was not successful in finding Amp’s official website for the campaign until I caught the commercial a second time and wrote down the URL. And today, almost one year later, it is still nearly impossible to find a combination of search terms that will make this site come up on the first page of results. Why? Because none of the words on Amp’s website for this campaign can actually be indexed by a search engine. Every word on this site is either part of a graphical image, or trapped inside a Flash Video file.
So, is the lesson here that the person who designed this site lost his or her job? Possibly. But the takeaway for you as a small company owner or manager is this: avoid the temptation to ‘hide’ searchable keywords and phrases within graphic images and super-slick flash applications. Instead, use text elements (HTML) wherever possible, and do your best to accomplish the desired effects with intelligent font and color choices. And if you’re planning on outsourcing your website design, lean toward working with an online marketing firm instead of a graphic design house. A marketing firm will (hopefully) understand the search engine-related implications of over-designing your website.
SEO Tip #5: Use the Meta Description Tags
Here’s a question for you: after performing a search on Google or MSN and receiving a page of results, what is the main thing that would cause you to NOT click on a listing? Believe it or not, it probably isn’t the title—it’s the description. Or in Website Designer terms, the Meta Description. The Meta Description is an invisible tag ‘behind’ each of your website pages that determines how a search engine will describe your site to a searcher. If you go to Google right now and type “Home Depot website” into the search field, the description of Home Depot’s listing within the general search results (not the paid results) is “World’s largest home improvement retailer, operating more than 1500 stores across North America.” Did this simply show up by accident? Of course not. Someone in the Marketing Department at The Home Depot entered the description into an invisible Meta Description tag.
SEO Tip #6: Submit a Search Engine Sitemap
Instead of letting Google and MSN try to crawl your site on their own, wouldn’t it be great if you could tell their indexing robots where to look AND what to look at? The good news is, you CAN do this—by submitting a Sitemap. A Sitemap is essentially a map in XML format that is uploaded to your site’s root directory, and tells indexing robots a) which pages to look at when they visit, b) how often these pages change, and c) what the relative priority is for each page on your website. There are dozens of websites that will help you create this sitemap for free, but my personal favorite for beginners is XML-Sitemaps.com. As long as your website is under 500 pages, this site will create your sitemap free of charge, and there is no limit to how many times you can use it. For those of you using WordPress as both a blog and a main website, there are also a number of free sitemap plug ins you can download from The WordPress Plugin Directory.
And just so you know, there are a few caveats to submitting a sitemap. Most experts agree that sitemaps should be submitted no more than one time per month, and only if your site has actually changed (new pages, additional blog postings, URL name changes, etc.). Also, file transfer access to your web site’s root directory is required. If you need additional help or instruction on gaining access to your website’s root directory, feel free to reply to this post.
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