This post originally appeared on the Pathway Women’s Business Center blog. Since it offers value to all Pathway Lending clients, we decided to share it here as well. Be sure to check out Pathway Learning’s on-demand  content and courses since our loan clients can always register for free by requesting a code.
Interview with Kelly Koeppel, SEO and marketing expert (Nashville)

Kelly Koeppel, owner of k2forma, inc., Nashville-based marketing and design firm, previews SEO basics for our readers.

What should SEO mean to business owners?

The first thing business owners should know about SEO is that it’s the baseline for what you should be doing online. In the past, it was a strategy businesses used to get an edge over competition. But now it’s a “need-to-have” in order for your business to show up online. Without an SEO strategy, you might as well not exist on the internet.

You also need to know that SEO is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” strategy. It should be something you’re always working on and optimizing. It takes time to move the needle online. Google is a powerful search engine, but it takes six to 12 months to continuously crawl and rank the billions of sites online. That means you can expect it take at least that long to determine where your site fits into the mix and maybe longer for your efforts to show results.


What are some of the technical aspects that make up SEO?

Some of the main things to think about are keywords, meta descriptions, backlinks, reviews, local listings, social media, and site health.

Keywords are the search phrases that people type in on Google to find what they’re looking for. As Google has become more and more sophisticated, the keyword phrases we use to find what we need have become more varied and simplistic. For example, if you’re looking for a brunch spot on the weekend that serves eggs benedict, you can just type in “eggs benedict,” and Google will automatically return a map with restaurants that serve eggs benedict near you. Typing in keywords like “French breakfast near me” or “brunch with eggs,” would likely return similar results. Understanding this user behavior is key to knowing which keywords your customers are using to find businesses like yours.

Ranking on keywords means that your site comes up within the first 100 listings for those specific keywords. The higher you’re ranked, the easier it is for users to find you – the first restaurant listed in search results for “eggs benedict” can expect more traffic than one listed on the second or third page.

A meta description is a summary of a webpage. It should include the keywords that people might use to search for the information on the page. On each search engine results page (SERP), Google displays the meta description, if available, or pulls the first lines of text from the page. Because meta descriptions tell users what’s on your page, view them as a way to persuade users to click on the link to your page. That goes for images, too: take advantage of meta descriptions and alt text so your images can rank in search results, particularly if you own a business like a clothing store or a restaurant where images can drive users to your website.

Backlinks are any link to a page on your site from an outside source. The more authentic backlinks you have, the more likely Google will rank your pages higher. It’s a way for Google to see that you’re a credible source of information that more people would like to see. This is where your SEO strategy also ties in with public relations. Any press mentions that you have and that link back to your site are examples of authentic backlinks.

We all know the importance of reviews in today’s world. We almost can’t commit to anything without making sure it’s the best of the best, especially when that information is so readily available. Because reviews are important for customers, they’re also important to Google. Authentic, high-rated reviews of your business tell Google you’re a trusted, helpful company.

Local listings show Google that you’re a real business with a brick and mortar location or headquarters. While Google My Business is the easiest way to manage your listing on Google, keep in mind other sites you should update to make sure the information across all of them is consistent and current. The easiest way to manage your local listings is through a service like Moz Local, which helps you update all listings in one place.

Social media posts are a big piece of SEO. You may have noticed sometimes when you search for something a string of Twitter posts will come up on the results page, or the image results will link back to Pinterest. Your social media accounts offer more than credibility for your business — they create additional touch points for Google to serve to users.

Site health plays into SEO more than you may think. This means everything from your loading speed, broken links, broken pages, and responsive design. The majority of people now surf the web on their mobile phones, and Google has factored that into how it ranks search results. You should continually monitor your site health to make sure it loads on mobile just as fast as on desktop and that visitors can easily use your mobile site. If your site is not mobile friendly, it is imperative that you fix it immediately or you won’t rank. Remove and replace broken links often, and make sure to remove or redirect old pages. Google has many free tools you can use to check the different aspects of your site health. To start, you can visit the Google Webmasters support page.


What is Google’s relationship with SEO for businesses?

Google’s main goal is to deliver the best information possible to its users. It’s constantly trying to make it easier and faster for users to find what they need. With an SEO strategy, you’re basically helping Google to help you do your job. The better your strategy with the keywords you use, the better Google understands what you’re offering and how it connects with search behavior. The more backlinks and local listings that you have, the more Google knows you’re a credible business. And the more you maintain your site health, the more Google knows it will offer a good user experience.

We all use Google every day, but it can be hard to start thinking of it analytically. Google has a symbiotic relationship with its users, and this impacts the way we market our businesses. As the algorithm changes to make it easier for users to find information, it also changes the importance of the technical aspects above. While right now social media is still an important platform for businesses, that could change in a couple of years just like our transition from desktop to mobile has changed.


What are some common misconceptions about SEO?

One common misconception business owners have about SEO is that it’s something you can jump on quickly and begin to see results. I’ve already touched on how much time it takes for Google to rank all your efforts, but it’s also a matter of the time you’ve been in business. The longer you’ve been in business; the more SEO is likely to help you. Older businesses usually just have more content, more backlinks, and more credibility overall if it’s a quality business. The earlier you start focusing on SEO, the more likely you are to have a successful strategy when you have 10 or more years under your belt.

Another misconception people have is that they need to place all their focus on SEO. While it’s necessary to include SEO in your marketing efforts, it’s only one piece. You still need to keep up with your social media, advertising, public relations, email strategy, and everything else in between. In the end, these strategies should all be informing and helping each other.

Lastly, it’s still a misconception these days that SEO is all about search terms. In reality, SEO encompasses so much more, and it’s even expanded to voice commands. Devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are only becoming more and more common, and people have already been using voice assistants on their phones for years now. Business owners need to be thinking about a voice search strategy within their approach to SEO so they can begin capturing the people who are looking for information through these devices.


How can a small business owner get started on their own?

Your SEO strategy should start from the very first day of your business. Since it all comes down to your website, the best thing to do is work with a website designer you know and trust. If you don’t have the money or ability to find a designer, there’s still so much you can do on your own. Sites like Shopify, Squarespace, and WordPress themes make it easy for anyone to set up a website. If you’re using template sites like these, just make sure you aren’t skipping any steps. Even if you aren’t sure what it means, make sure you’re going through the SEO recommendations and filling in as much information as possible as you build the site.

Next, make sure your local listings are as accurate as possible. Even if you aren’t using a service like Moz Local to handle this automatically, you should put in the time to manually review your listings and add as much information as possible.

Start thinking about the different ways people could find your site. While many people may be searching the name of your business, these branded searches will be a small percentage of the amount of traffic that comes to your site. If you own a restaurant, people could find you through the images of your food, the items on your menu, or even the size of your parking lot. Your clothing store could be found by the brands you carry, the sizes, or your return policy. All of these characteristics about your business should be readily available on your site and properly described so Google knows to show it to its users.


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