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Many small business owners are hesitant to really put an effort into SEO or their online presence because they feel like the web is already conquered by big companies they can’t compete with. It is common to feel like you don’t have the resources, time, or manpower to achieve any sort of success on search result pages, but local businesses actually have a much larger opportunity than they usually think.

Search engines provide a more leveled playing field when it comes to corporations and local businesses. All you have to do for efficient SEO is know where to invest your limited resources to get the most return, and show your value to the search engines. Nick Stamoulis recently discussed three main ways you can achieve SEO success, even with the limited means of a local business.

1) Build links naturally, one quality link at a time

While links have lost some of their influence in SEO, they are still a serious consideration to search engines. Google’s latest updates have many business owners scared of link building, but the truth is it will always be an important part of SEO and you can’t ignore it. The key to link building is to ensure that you are building quality links from various sources, which is best done by focusing on one at a time. This keeps your linking pattern looking natural and stays away from any gray areas.

Some will try to set link building goals or try to take short cuts, but Google has made it clear that if you don’t get penalized for your cheap tricks now, you will eventually. Arbitrary quotas only inspire efforts to get bulk links when your self-imposed deadline approaches, and easy links come with a big target on their backs.

2) Create Content For Your Audience

Content marketing is a buzzword for SEO at the moment, but some have already lost the real reason content has come to have such impact on SEO. Quality content has been favored by search engines because that is what audiences and customers want, and it inspires interaction between businesses and their customers. One of the things lost in the feeding frenzy of tasty blog posts, infographics, and ebooks is that those methods aren’t relevant for many smaller businesses.

Small businesses often offer services that draw customers not looking to spend a lot of time reading or watching videos. Instead, they want to be able to see what businesses have been doing, and what value they are contributing to the community. This can be as easy as semi-frequent announcements or updates on G+ or pictures and status updates on Facebook. Just focus on providing the information customers will want. Answer their questions, direct them to solutions, and provide something of value to those who find you online.

3) Find Your Niche

It is true that if you run a small flower shop you won’t have the same online presence that a national brand like 1-800-Flowers does. However, your smaller local net can catch better fish than a large net a national brand uses. You can establish yourself in your small market by pinpointing a variety of different ways your service can be used. That theoretical florist, for example, can cater wedding parties and high-end hotels, educate gardening enthusiasts, and help decorate local restaurants. Find what small markets aren’t cornered in your local area, and make your place.

Remember, national brands may have more money and people available to use for SEO, but value is what matters to the search engines. Ask yourself why customers keep coming to your local business rather than those corporate giants, and adapt it to the internet. If your site is worth visiting, the search engine results will reflect your worth.

Anytime a new website owner starts looking for an SEO, they always want to get to that precious number one spot for searches on Google. It’s hard not to want it, especially when quite a few people don’t even scroll down the page when they search for something. However, you shouldn’t be measuring SEO success by rankings.

There are plenty of SEO metrics to measure site success with, and rank isn’t near as important as you might think. Nick Stamoulis pinpointed three reasons you shouldn’t be focused on rank when you start using an SEO service.

Search is Personalized – Search engines are getting more advanced with their searches, and Google has a huge amount of user data they can take advantage of to craft search results that are personalized for every user. If you manage to show up in the number one spot for one searcher, you likely won’t for another. Rankings aren’t a concrete list of sites anymore, but a fluid collection of sites based on what you have shown interest in before.

Rankings Fluctuate – Aside from the differences in search results from user to user, Google is constantly updated their algorithms and finding new content. The web is in a continuous state of change, and the rankings evolve to match this. While Google’s big algorithm changes may make drastic differences to results, the smaller continuous updates going on can change a couple rankings for any keyword every day. Search engines also favor brand new content, so sites that have slacked off start to fall down the rankings.

Ranking for the Wrong Term is Useless – No honest SEO company will promise to get you a specific ranking. Some markets are more competitive than others, and you can’t control what Google does. That doesn’t stop some less reputable SEO services out there from promising they can get you the number one rank. The problem is, they will get you the number one rank for a keyword no one is searching for. If no one is searching for it, no one will notice that your page is the first result.

When business owners finally decide to use SEO, they are often uninformed or confused on a lot of the basics of the industry. It isn’t surprising, considering how complex and ever-changing SEO is. While trying to explain all of SEO to a client or business owner is impossible, Nick Stamoulis thinks a few key ideas can help orient people new to the industry with a better understanding of what we do.

SEO is Long Term

One of the most common misconceptions about SEO and the internet as a whole is that there is some magic way to dominate search results or gain visitors overnight. There are a select few cases of websites that have sprung up over the span of a couple months, but those are rare, and there were other factors contributing to their quick success.

SEO is a long term process that builds on itself over time. It can take months just to see the kind of effects your SEO strategy is having on your site. For example, content creation and marketing are huge parts of the current SEO field, and SEO companies pump content out steadily through the work week. Most of this content can go unnoticed, while an occasional article gains gets some attention, but in the end they are all positively contributing to the sites SEO strategy and SERP placement.

No one wants to wait to see positive results, but some things you just can’t force.

Always Put Visitors Before Search Engines

Good SEO relies on creating a good user experience. No marketing campaign in the world will raise an objectively bad website out of the ether, because people won’t return to a site, or even stay on the page long enough to matter, if the site doesn’t work well or have interesting information.

The types of people who put all of their focus on what search engine algorithms want are the type of people who try to take advantage of every loophole and questionable strategy they can find. It might even work for a while, but eventually a new algorithm will identify what they are doing and, as Liz Lemon would say, shut it down.

Conclusion

Stamoulis has two more ideas in his article he feels it is important for business owners to understand but these two points identify the biggest misunderstandings the uninitiated have. If you’re a business owner trying to get into SEO, ask yourself why you want to start now. If you want to dominate the rankings to start making tons more money tomorrow, you are barking up the wrong tree (is there even a right tree for that?). But if you are trying to make your already reputable product or brand more available to the masses over time, SEO can help.

Anyone starting an SEO from the ground up knows how difficult it can be to choose your clients. Many will just accept anyone that is willing to pay them for work. Many can’t afford not to.

But once you have established yourself, you can begin to be a little more choosey with your clients. You are not forced to work for clients that do not appreciate your work, or try to get a ton out of you without compensating you equally.

Nick Stamoulis has gone through these stages, and collected a set of reasons why you may decide to decline a client. The reasons are varied, but the main point is while you want to work with anyone that comes to you for business, sometimes it is better to let one prospect pass so that you can catch a better one a little later.

Many SEO companies know that sometimes their clients have in mind that they must rank for a specific keyword. No other options are acceptable for them. And even though you try to tell them that ranking for that keyword will take a great amount of time and effort because of their competition or that ranking for that keyword isn’t worth the effort they think it is, they do not budge.

It can be intensely frustrating (check out this story at Search Engine Journal for a good example) and even if you accept the request by the client, sometimes they are not happy with the results produced even if/when you satisfy their needs. What can be learned from this?

If you need SEO for your site, realize that keyword targeting is still important but is not the ONLY thing SEO does. SEO is about generation of quality traffic. If you focus only on ranking for keywords, you’re missing a lot. When you show up for keywords on the SERPs it’s good as a testament to the work that you’ve done, but are you getting quality traffic for those positions and those keywords?

In many cases the keywords you get better traffic from may not be the keywords you’re actively checking. The best way to find these are to check your Analytics tools to see what people are finding you with on the search engines.

Real SEO brings quality traffic to the site in many different ways, not purely from specific keywords you might be targeting. This has changed especially since the Panda and Penguin updates – overoptimization of specific keywords is penalized even more readily now. So if you’re focusing on just one keyword, that runs a big risk of making all of your rankings worse than they were before, even using what used to be fully functional SEO tactics.

If you do hire a professional SEO team, keep in mind that they should be doing work beyond just trying to rank for specific keywords, and if they don’t, be cautious. And don’t expect rankings to be the only positive results from this work – you should want to get some quality traffic from the work being done. Good rankings is just extra gravy on top that you can look at and be happy about.