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What is Search Engine Optimisation, and why is it important for small businesses

What is Search Engine Optimisation, and why is it important for small businesses?

If there’s one thing that every small business owner and sole trader should ask themselves when looking for a decent web design company, it is:

What on earth is search engine optimisation, and why do I need it?

The next most important thing, is asking:

Am I confident that my chosen web designer knows how to do it? 

So, without further ado, let’s get into answering those questions!

What is search engine optimisation?

Put simply, SEO is basically a way of referring to a whole list of techniques that you can use on a website to make it easier for search engines to know that your site is relevant for a particular search query. 

For example, at a very basic level, a webpage with the title “Qualified Electrician in Staffordshire” is more likely to appear in a search for “Electricians in Staffordshire” than a page that is titled “We cover the areas of Staffordshire”. 

Now, when it comes to SEO there are many more things to consider than just page titles! 

You can check out Google’s humongous guide about SEO and see just how many things there are to consider! 

Build in other considerations like Google’s guidelines on website quality, and you can start to see just how complex it can all be. 

The key thing to point out here is that Google (or any major search engine) doesn’t publish the exact way they score a site, or how they order their search results. 

After all, it’s their secret sauce. 

Why do you need SEO?

SEO, then, is all about making sure websites are optimised according to the guidelines that are out there, and combining this with tried and tested experience of where to best focus effort to get the best results. 

It’s important for any website owner to employ these techniques in order to get more visitors. When done right, it essentially means free advertising!

Without SEO, it’s a bit like opening a shop on a deserted street – sure you’ve got a shop, but where are the customers?

What are the key things to know about search engine optimisation? 

For your average small business looking to have a website made for them, the whole point of paying someone to do it for you is to have them worry about things like SEO. 

Unfortunately, though, some web designers will say that they offer SEO and use jargon to obscure what they actually do. 

In most cases, this just means that they aren’t really sure themselves – they can look at the guidelines, but they don’t have actual experience of consistently getting a website to the top spot of Google. 

In the worst cases, though, it could mean that they use shady techniques (called “black hat SEO”) to quickly get a site to rank. The problem with this, though, is that Google is constantly on the watch for these techniques and will penalise and de-list websites that they find using them. 

Goodbye to any visitors! 

So, if you’re shopping around for web designers, look for the following terms.

On-Site SEO

This is the stuff that you want. This is all about using techniques to optimise a site for search engines to take notice of it. 

It doesn’t involve anything off your website, so it means that the chances of your web designer doing anything too bad are minimised. 

At Over Alt, we only offer On-site SEO. And, we include as standard in every one of our small business web design packages because we think it’s essential. 

Off-Site SEO

Off-Site SEO basically means using techniques outside of your website to give it a search engine boost. 

At its core is a concept called link building, which is where someone will go out to other websites and get them to link to your site. 

This was one of the original methods that Google used to determine website quality – the thinking being that a website would only link to another if it was credible.

However, like all things, people abused this and created lots of fake sites to link over to real ones (don’t forget, there’s a lot of money at stake here). Google quickly clocked onto this and so a game of complex cat and mouse started and still goes on to this day, with people trying to get links but stay on the right side of the rules. 

The right way to go about off site SEO is through getting people to link to your website naturally.

High-end SEO agencies do this by using techniques and creating online content that gets company headlines. If you ever see a random poll by, say, an oven cleaner manufacturer that has a surprising result like: “7 out of 10 Brits admit to never cleaning their ovens” – well that’s often an example of a well-done PR campaign to get a company website links from other places like news websites.

Don’t forget – ranking at the top of Google for things like “best oven cleaner” can be worth millions. 

Now, there are also agencies out there that do Off-Site SEO at suspiciously low prices… 

This is where things can get a little bit murky. 

They may look to build links by doing things like writing a “guest article” on another site which includes a link to yours, or by straight out just paying for a link. Or even worse, paying for a whole network of fake websites to link to your site.

While these techniques can get good results, they are mostly only good for the short term and most of them violate Google’s guidelines. It allows an agency to say, “see it worked!” but then – depending on what they’ve done – your site is always at risk of getting dinged by Google. 

Not great if you want a long term web presence, and costly to put right.

At Over Alt, we don’t offer off-site SEO services. To do it right costs thousands every month, and, quite simply, the majority of our customers who are all small businesses and sole traders, wouldn’t be likely see a return on their investments. 

We never take risks with our customers’ sites.

How do you know if a web designer understands SEO? 

We think the best way to know if a web designer understands SEO is to ask them about it. 

Like all things in life, it’s always best to trust your gut when judging their answers.

If they spew jargon at you, ask yourself whether it’s because they’re insecure about their own knowledge. 

If they can’t point to an example of a site they’ve made getting to at least the first page of Google… well, then, does that sound like they know SEO? 

If they can, ask them how they did it – if they bring up link building and mention any of the off-site, murky techniques mentioned above – we wouldn’t recommend that at all. 

Finally, if they offer any sort of guarantee then steer clear.

To achieve the guarantee they either need know what Google’s search algorithm is (very, very, very unlikely), or they’re going to use techniques that are against all search engine guidance (a quick win for them, at a long term cost to you).

Ultimately, when looking for someone to carry out SEO for your website, we think it all boils down to experience and people putting their skills to the test. 

At Over Alt, that’s what we do. Before we started our web design business in Staffordshire, we made our money from running our own advertising and marketing sites.

These sites are still live, and continue to rank on the first pages of Google for specific search terms. They don’t make us millions, but they do provide a nice supplementary income. We’ve found that the best way to get a site to the first page of Google and stay there is through on-site SEO techniques only. 

We build in our expertise into every site we work on to give our customers the very best chance of ranking highly with search engines. 

Does that mean you’re guaranteed to rank number one with us? No. 

We will never offer a guarantee on that – it’s just too hard to predict, and doesn’t just depend on what your site is doing or the thousands of other sites out there. Google and other search engines are constantly tweaking their search criteria, which means someone who is number one today may not be number one tomorrow. 

What we do say, though, is that we feel that by building in our SEO knowledge to every site we build, we help to give your site the best chance of getting “noticed” by search engines. 

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