T324 owner David Daniels recently gave a talk on SEO at the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce.
One of the big issues raised by small to medium business owners was the question of search engine optimization versus advertising: where do I spend my money?
In the old world, you would take out ads, and your spend on ads would scale to the amount of budget you had. Today, you take your ad budget and pay someone to do content marketing and SEO.
Your customer is looking online to find goods and services, not in the Yellow Pages or your local paper.
Why does search engine optimization equal advertising?
Search engines determine how likely a potential customer is to find you listed online before they find your competitors.
Our business owners asked, how do search engines rank my business?
Search engine ranking is a popularity contest. Google looks at what other people think of you to see what to think of you. They look at who links to you and how much "authority" (credibility within Google's search algorithm) they have. They look at who has shared content from or links to your site on social media. They look at how many people have reviewed you on Yelp.
Your ranking is a moving average over a period of time. You can't do something today to fix your rank tomorrow; anything that can be done quickly- bought- is suspect. Google doesn't want to be manipulated; achieving a high rank can take a long time.
The next question was, can a small business achieve first place ranking on Google?
It depends on several things, from whether you're talking about local search or global to what search terms you're talking about. For example, there's a Japanese hand-hammered tool company in Berkeley. If you Google "Japanese handmade tools" and you're in the Bay Area, you'll come up with Hida Tool. It's really easy to score highly for search terms a very select group is searching for, especially when your highly specialized business is decades old.
One of the business owners present was starting a Berkeley tour guide business, a concept she described as a personalised "welcome wagon". That's a relatively unusual concept- but she named the business "Love Berkeley"- two VERY common terms, very difficult to optimize for.
The very first, most basic thing you can do to help your SEO is have your exact product or service and your location in your URL- like "BerkeleyOrganicManicure.com".
If you don't want your customers to have to type in such a long name, you can call your business something like CalOrganicMani, buy both domains, and have the short URL aliased to the long one. An alias is a redirect that tells Google "I don't have two sites". You can have a short one for your business card and a longer one that's the official one for search.
In addition, the business owner descrined above had set up her site on LoveBerkeley.net, because LoveBerkeley.com was already taken.
Does Google look at URLs like dot.net, dot.me and dot.ly differently? It doesn't matter, because people do.
People will likely remember your URL as ending in .com whether it does or not, so they may find your competitors if it doesn't. It's always better to find a name that's available as a .com.
Next time we'll talk about search terms: how do I figure what the search terms for my business are?