DIY SEO for Small Business

For the past year, about 10 to 20% of my time has been spent on the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for our website, – that’s a large chunk of my time, and a major project for me and the company.  Here’s the sad part: we just started paying attention to SEO a year ago, even though we’ve had a website since 2007.  If we had factored in SEO and learned it from the start, it wouldn’t have taken up so much of my time, and we would’ve been more successful from the start. No bones about it – I’m here to convince you: if you’re a small business with a website, learn SEO immediately. If you’re looking into running your own business, then just keep in mind that I’m not an SEO by trade, and I didn’t go to school for computer engineering – but right now 10% of my time or more is spent poring over HTML code and excel spreadsheets – so be prepared to learn new things and doing more than just “what you’re good at”.

Why it’s important for you to learn how SEO works

When you want to find something online, what do you do?  You wander around online and click on the most appealing advertisements until you’ve found the product you love, right?  Yeah.  Wrong.  You search on Google, and you click one of the Top 10 results that comes up – just like 52% of all Google users, and 35% of all people on the internet.  That’s an insane statistic.  Page 1 of Google is where it’s at – in fact, Google in general is where it’s at.  If you sell Blue Shoes and you don’t show up on Pages 1, 2, or 3 in Google when I search for “Blue Shoes”, you’re a nobody – can we agree on this?  OK – well, this is why SEO is important.  SEO means that you’re keeping in mind the rules and algorithms of search engines when you’re designing your website and creating new content. Google is essentially a massive computer running massive amounts of analysis on the entire internet and deciding what is important and what’s unimportant. As you already know, computers are not humans, and they cannot think like humans. Therefore, even though you may *think* you have a well-designed website, and every human you know loves it, you need to make sure Google loves it. This means learning how to format it in a way that a computer understands – this is a major part of SEO. Put another way: you may have the greatest, most beautiful website on earth, but if Google can’t understand it and therefore can’t index it in their search results, no one will ever even see it. So you need to learn SEO.

Learn from my SEO mistakes, see my SEO results

So for the past year, here’s what we’ve had to do on our website – these were some major mistakes we had and things we did to fix them. I’ll also tell you how we could have prevented the whole damned event by just learning SEO from the start.  One thing to keep in mind, though – I just provide these for illustration.  Your website is different from ours!  It has its own SEO needs and goals – I’ll show you in a bit how to evaluate your site.  Here’s what I had to work with:

1) Google loves good links to your website, and we killed 800 great links to our site, so I had to restore them. Part of Google’s algorithm is to see who links to your website – this is how they determine how relevant you are on the web.  Since 2007, we had 800+ links to our website, but in 2011, we redesigned our website, and unknowingly made all of these links dead (404 not found). How I fixed it: created 301 redirects for all 800 dead links to the new pages, thus restoring the link. How this could have been prevented: it’s so simple it’s painful to think about.  If I had known anything about SEO when we redesigned the site, I would have built in these 301 redirects from the start, using a database we had ready to go.  It would have taken 15 minutes – literally.  Instead, the fix I had to perform 1 year later took about 6 hours and we lost 1 year’s worth of traffic in the meantime.  What a shame!

2) Google hates duplicate content, and we created a website that had 1,000+ pages with 95% duplicate content, and only 20 or so truly unique pages – so we had to create unique content by hand for hundreds of pages.  This was an epic task.  If Google crawls your site and sees 2 pages that are pretty much the same, it basically knocks down your ranking for at least those two pages.  If it sees 1,000 pages with near-duplicate content like we had – you’re hosed.  We weren’t ranking for anything.  And for a year, we had no idea. How we fixed it: everyone at the company chipped in, and we all re-wrote each of the 1,000 pages to make them unique.  It took months. How this could have been prevented: our old site didn’t have duplicate content – we already wrote unique content for each and every product way back since 2007.  When we re-designed our site in 2011, our new design had a lot of boilerplate content – things that were the same across all products. The major unique content – product descriptions – were shrunk down to nothing, and our Google-friendly, hand-written descriptions from the old web site were tossed out. In other words, we replaced our unique content with duplicate content. All we would have needed to do was migrate our old hand-written descriptions to the new site (1 hour of work total), and we would have been fine. Instead, we had no idea about SEO, and deleted all this great content.

3) Google does not like to see more than 100 links per page – we had 700 links per page due to a bloated navigation bar. This actually wasn’t too hard to fix, though we wish we had just known from the beginning not to use that particular style of navigation. We had spent hundreds of dollars having a developer redesign our site with this insane, link-heavy navigation.  We later determine we have to spend another couple hundred dollars to have the developer replace that same navigation bar with one that has 100 links or less.  It wasn’t time consuming, but it did cost us a year’s worth of traffic, and a couple hundred dollars.


The Results: When we blindly redesigned our site in 2011, we weren’t ranking anywhere in the top 50 on Google.  Our website sales had dropped in half.  We couldn’t explain why.  Now, one year later, after learning how to sift through HTML, learning SEO, and re-building our site, we rank at least in the top 50 for many of our keywords, and have even achieved impressive rankings for very competitive keywords – for example, we were ranked #11 on Google for “iPhone 5 Screen Protector” on iPhone 5 launch day.  That would have never been possible 1 year ago.


I’m an SEO (And so can you!)

Have I sold you on why you need to learn SEO?  It isn’t all about just being the best.  Sure, being in the top 10 or top 20 on Google would be great, but ignorance is deadly – I think the true value is in preventing major mistakes with your site.  If you know nothing about SEO right now, you need to learn.  Even if you’re going to hire an SEO company, you need to learn the basics.  Believe it or not, the SEO industry is filled with some really bad companies – they’ll do more harm than good.  They’ll sound professional, promise top 10 results, and they’ll spout off tech jargon to throw you off.  Learn SEO yourself first and you’ll be able to spot these “black hat SEO” companies in no time.  So, ready to learn SEO and evaluate your own site?  Here’s where you start:

SEOMoz – This website has two parts to it – one is their service, which basically crawls your site, analyzes the competition, and helps with keyword analysis.  The service is $99/mo – and you can go month-to-month.  I know, it’s a lot.  The other part, however, is their community.  It consists of tutorials, how-to’s, blog posts, and great Q&A’s.  That part is free, and I suggest if nothing else, you pay the $0 and start reading there.

Distilled U – This is a brand-new entry to the SEO world – an online learning place that will take you from absolute beginner to competent SEO using a great online instruction format.  I use their classes all the time to brush up on new info.  To be clear, Distilled is not new – they’re veterans of the SEO world – it’s their Distilled U offering that is new.  It’s only $40 a month.

Yoast – This is a great site for Magento and WordPress SEO.  100% free, and frankly, some of the best advice out there.  It tends to be very specialized, meaning he’ll write articles addressing specific SEO problems or platforms, but always a great read if you’re looking to learn something new.  Distilled and SEOMoz have more of the broad stroke, “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” type stuff.

One more thing – if you’re going to get into SEO, I recommend following the these guys on Twitter: @RandFish, @yoast, @CyrusShepard.  They always recommend great articles, and always have an ear to beginners.

Hope this either proved useful or at least entertaining!  Have fun learning something new – I know I did!