If the very mention of SEO makes your palms sweat and sounds technical and boring and way outside of your comfort zone, you’re not alone. As creative small and medium-sized business owners, we’re already stretched with a dozen other roles, from Creative Director to HR and Accounting, Social Media Manager to Product Designer. The acronym makes me feel like avoiding it because, well, if it needs an acronym, it’s probably too complicated.
In the spirit of personal growth and not wanting to disable my new business from the beginning, I set out to learn what I could about SEO in one evening. It was, surprisingly, interesting which has encouraged me to keep current with the topic. What I learned wasn’t too complicated. It just needed to be translated.
So let’s break SEO down into real talk before taking a quick look at how it helps people (like potential new clients) who are searching, how it can help your business, and what you should do first, before you touch anything.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is just a fancy term for producing the most relevant results for someone searching for something online. From a business owner perspective, it means getting more of the right people to visit your website site when they are looking for something (that you offer) online.
Search = Give me the answer Engine = Go to work for me Optimization = Make it the best fit
Or, as I like to reorganize it in my head, the Engine of Optimized Searches. In other words, as a googler I want to be presented with the most relevant answer to my question in the most relevant order. As a business owner, I want my potential customers to be presented with my products and services as the most relevant answer to what they are most looking to buy.
Sounds great, right? But with all the competing demands on our time, is it even worth it? Can’t I just outsource this to an SEO expert?
Short answer; Yes and maybe. Yes, it’s worth spending a couple hours on SEO here and there because a little can go a long way, if you are strategic about it.
And yes, maybe you can just outsource it. Even if you do, one of the first questions your SEO expert is going to ask you is:
“What keywords are your target customers using?”
Which also happens to require you to be strategic about your approach to SEO. So, whether you hire someone to assist you in improving your website’s ranking in search results, or you decide to try it yourself, either way you are going to need to start by stepping away from your website dashboard, coding, keyboard, etc and take some time to make sure you have great clarity in the following areas:
SEO Prep 101: Do this First
Before you touch anything, take some time to think / write / decide on your vision for the following:
1. Define your specific target audience.
Example: A wedding photographer with a target audience of “engaged couples” has defined their market too generically. Your target audience should answer at least 4 of the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, why). For example, the same photographer could want to work with, “engaged same-sex couples eloping in Hawaii,” for a much more targeted (and authentic) approach.
2. Know WHAT they are looking for and WHY.
Example: A baby bib designer may have a line of colorful washable bibs in a variety of sizes. Her target audience is well defined (busy suburban parents with multiple kids under 5), but in order for her product to stand out, she has to clearly define what problem she can solve for this audience. Are busy parents looking for bibs that are fashionable and Insta-worthy, washable, reversible, great at catching food, or easy to get on and off? Why are they looking for your product or service?
3. Research HOW they search for it.
Example: A working professional bride in LA with a modern and casual personal style (our target audience) is searching for a tea-length strapless dress for her beach wedding. She wants to be able to wear the dress again, and find a style no one else has in a Tall size (her search What and Why). When she searches for the dress online, what does she type into the search bar in Google? “Beach wedding dress with pockets for tall women,” or “Ivory and black short calf length strapless dress,” or “Tall designer tea length strapless gown” are all possibilities.
These are all keywords, or in plain language, the most unique and specific search terms we type into Google when we really want to find something.
Side Note: The farther along someone is in their search, and the more specific they are with their keywords (and phrases), the more likely they are to buy. Also, the more specific the search term, the more manageable it is to rank highly in the results. So it is worth spending some time getting very specific about the keywords for which you want to rank highly. There are some great keyword research tools out there that can help you see the volume and difficulty of ranking in specific searches.
4. Offer the solution (product or service) to what they are looking for.
Example: When your target audience of wealthy New York art collectors wants some new art from emerging designers to hang in their weekend or summer beach house, and they type “relaxing beach scene on canvas emerging artist” into Google, you already know you can solve that problem for them. You’ve been painting relaxing beach scenes on canvas for years, so your website already has a full collection of paintings that would be perfect for them. You just need to get connected.
SEO is a great tool that has the potential to place your website in top ranking search results to make these ideal, buying customer connections for you. Next steps will involve working on your website (hint; you can use images, page titles, product descriptions, and urls) to tell the search engines that you are the best place to find an, “afternoon cooking class bridal shower in Sioux Falls,” or what have you. But please, do the above exercises first.Then you’ll have your keywords. So you can SEO.