Search Engine Optimization is an essential tool for businesses

Search engines and the web were the great levelers for small businesses when the Internet was new and novel. A small firm could look and act like a larger, more established firm — and easily develop an eye-catching website. Initially, search engines treated both kinds of firms the same, making it easier to appear at or near the top of the all-important first page. Oh, how things have changed.

Today, success with search engines requires a more sophisticated search engine optimization, or SEO, plan. The reason is simple. Large corporations spend millions to ensure an online search puts them at or near the top, whether through an organic search or as a paid ad. Complex metrics determine who’s on page one, with the results determined by such factors as the frequency of website updates, visibility on social media sites, and most especially HTML coding.

Marisa Peacock

Marisa Peacock

SEO success usually requires more time and expertise than small business owners have, or can acquire. So, they are turning to SEO experts, such as those who planned and were featured at a recent event hosted by the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC).

As Marisa Peacock, social media strategist and owner of The Strategic Peacock, explained, SEO matters because “people are curious. They need your expertise but don’t always know where to find it. Your online presence is only as good as the information it provides, and if your business can’t be found, it might as well not exist.” So, step one, she suggests, is learning how to optimize a website so that the owner’s voice, personality, and expertise can be amplified.

Fellow presenter Alexis Grant, Innovator-in-Chief of Socialexis, a content marketing firm that helps small businesses with blogging and social media, says keywords are part of the essential first step in optimization. “Make sure the words that people would type in a Google search are prominent on your website,” Grant says. “And look for ways to use those same keywords in the headlines of your blog posts.”

Blog posts, along with other social media tools, are also essential to improving SEO. Chamber member Nancy Wigal, who owns and operates Search Engine Academy Washington DC, an SEO training and consulting company, notes that having a presence on multiple social media platforms profoundly affects SEO.

In her SEO training classes, however, Wigal discusses the importance of being selective when deciding which social media platforms to use. “Smaller businesses must use the limited time they have for SEO by limiting the social media in which they present. Pick the two or three best suited for your business and work on posting on them.”

Wigal also suggests authoring articles on a website or in a blog post solving a problem, tips for “how to,” information about your business you freely give away to show your expertise. “Do your market research to find out what they need,” she emphasizes.

For business owners with some experience in SEO, Wigal suggests taking time periodically to compare your business to the competition. “Find out what they are doing right and what you are missing,” she says. Two suggested tools are Google Analytics, to track visitors’ time on your site, and Google Webmaster Tools, which provides detailed reports about your pages’ visibility on Google.

The Chamber means Business. For more information visit caglcc.org or like us on facebook.com/CAGLCC. On Twitter, follow @DCLGBTBIZ.

Robert E. McLean, a CAGLCC member, owns REM Association Services, a full-service association management company in Arlington, Va.

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