I get a lot of inquiries from niche, small business, eCommerce type sites. Most of them want to know what they can do to get more search engine exposure… while keeping their limited budgets in mind.

Seeing as a lot of these site owners are often struggling to get their businesses off the ground, and because I started out in this industry with my own small eCommerce site, I’m sensitive to their situation and I always do my best to accommodate their needs.

While examining their sites I look for certain issues, which I know from experience, are usually hampering their search engine presence. These issues normally consist of three main things; repetitive page titles, lack of keyword research and absolutely no link building.

In fact, it’s such a common theme with small site owners that I’m dedicating an entire article to it in the hopes that my advice will help clarify what SEO – at the bare minimum - they can and should be implementing on their websites.

If you’re already a hard-core SEO guru then you should stop reading here as this post probably won’t teach you anything you don’t already know.

All others who’d like to learn 3 things they can do to their site today - that would be a step in the right direction as far as getting found on Google - should definitely keep reading.

1. Keyword Research:

Just because you think you know what people are searching for to find your products or services online, doesn’t mean you’re correct.

keyword research

You should definitely take the time to explore your industry via keyword research, even if you feel you already know it inside and out. Not only will it give you valuable information into your target online market (which can often be substantially different than the ‘real’ world market btw), but it will also provide intelligence that you can use to shape and mold your website into a targeted conversion machine.

For example, do you sell running shoes? Great! Are there related terms that are also highly searched, yet less competitive to rank for (athletic shoes, womens shoes)? What about other variations of running shoes (runners, sneakers etc)?

How about if you sell car accessories? Which specific car accessories receive the most search engine traffic? How do online searchers even look for car parts (By year? Model? Manufacturer? etc)?

Doing even some basic keyword research can answer many of these questions and more.

A savvy SEO also knows that keyword research can help take the guess work out of many decisions when it comes to a website. Things that a lot of site owners struggle with, such as navigation structure, URL structure, anchor text for internal links, product names and descriptions, special landing/focus pages etc, can all be determined by tailoring your content to the way people are searching, which in turn contributes to a better user experience.

Bottom line; do the keyword research and get educated. After that, here’s (at minimum) what to do with some of those juicy, relevant, high traffic search terms you've uncovered.

Note: Don’t worry about filling in your meta keyword tags. The only purpose they serve is to make your competitors privy to your targeted keywords.

2. Unique, Optimized Page Titles:

Page titles are the text that appears at the very top of the browser on any given web page.

Your page title is the most valuable area to place (not stuff!) your keywords (at least where search engine presence is concerned). Why? Because it’s often the first on-page text a search engine spider will ‘read’ when it visits your website (and we all know how important first impressions can be).

Your title should therefore be a non-sales, single line of text that accurately describes the page contents. Your website homepage title should only read “Welcome!”, “Home”  or "Your best source!" if you’re trying to rank for those specific keywords (and if you are, you probably should re-read tip #1).

Your page title is also what Google may display as the click-able text in its search results.

If you need further convincing about the importance of page titles, take a look at how the big boys are doing it.

For example, you can see the page title at CNN, is “CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News”. Although it’s not an ideal page title (just a list of words really), it at least contains keywords that highly relate to their content.

It also doesn’t contain that many characters (although 70 is a good rule of thumb) and their most important terms appear towards the beginning. Notice how their titles change to reflect each page as you click around the site too.

Given the sheer number of pages CNN.com has, it would’ve definitely been easier to implement a generic “CNN.com – Breaking News” site-wide page title. Luckily, someone at CNN recognizes the importance of accurately describing each page on their site though.

If your current CMS doesn’t allow you the capability to utilize different titles for each page on your site, then I strongly urge you to consider switching to one that does. It’s THAT important to the SEO process.

Once you’ve implemented some of those juicy keywords into your page titles, here’s what I recommend you focus on next.

3. Link Building:

As important as page titles are, consider this… could CNN.com possibly rank top 10 for the extremely competitive “breaking news” without the term appearing in their homepage title?

In my opinion, yes. They might not rank #1 but they could definitely rank top 10. This is because, in SEO, there’s one thing that trumps page titles and that’s Link Building (i.e. authority).

When a search term is highly competitive, although keyword placement and well optimized page titles are important, just THAT alone isn’t enough to hold #1 rankings. Use authority in combination with optimized page titles and you’re a force to be reckoned with. (Note: In their case, the links come naturally because, well, they're CNN. This doesn't mean that as a small business site owner, you can't build authority by seeking out and building your OWN links though.)

The search engines (and Google specifically) don’t just want to hear from YOU what your site is about, they want to hear it from OTHER sites too. This is precisely why Google pays such close attention to not only which sites are linking to yours, but it also looks for other variables such as the age of the link, what the anchor text is and where the link is placed on the page.

The sheer amount of other sites that link to CNN, a number of them using either the word ‘breaking’ or ‘news’ btw, is continually building authority and trust for CNN, with Google. This works the same for any website.

So, what can the average small business site owner take away from this example? That the combination of having the term they want to rank for in their page title AND acquiring links from related sites using variations of that term, will eventually get them the authority they need to reach their online audience and grow their business.

This is called building authority and trust. If I were a small business eCommerce site owner, all of the above is where I would be concentrating my efforts for my most important search terms - at least as a start. Perhaps you should too.

Some free tools I use and recommend:

  • Google Keyword Tool - Keyword research data straight from the horse’s mouth.
  • KWmap – Use this tool to get ideas for terms that might be related to your products or services.
  • Related Link Suggestion Tool – Good for finding different types of link prospects.
  • Yahoo Site Explorer – Get the scoop on precisely which sites already link to your competitors.

Oh, and If CNN.com would be so gracious as to volunteer to remove ‘breaking news’ from their title, you know just temporarily to see if they maintain their ranking, I’m sure the SEO community would be eagerly watching and recording the results 😉

What a neat experiment that would be!