All you need to do is read our recent Sensis e-Business Report 2014, to see that 26% of Australian small businesses now use search engine marketing, up from 21% last year.

Search-engine marketing has been around for well over a decade now, but many businesses still don’t have a handle on how it works.

Such a position is unfortunate. Given nearly half of Australians research products online before buying, and the vast majority of online users never click through to a second page of Google results, being at the top rankings for a particularly category is crucial.

All you need to do is read our recent Sensis e-Business Report 2014, to see that 26% of Australian small businesses now use search engine marketing, up from 21% last year.

The basics of SEM are simple, but it’s important to realise the basics are also changing. The proliferation of smartphones and the rise of new devices in the wearable tech space – along with the inevitable rise of digital assistants such as Siri on the iPhone – mean things are more complicated.

So what are the basics?

Website design

Too many business owners don’t consider content when thinking about Google rankings. But as Hibermate founder Chris Thomas points out, it’s essential to have a good navigation system. Google is a robot – and it needs to have its categories and site sections clearly labelled.

“Search Engines typically need a minimum of 350 words per page to get a clear ‘relevance picture’ of the theme for each and every page in your website. Search engines like key phrases in headings, body text and links (in the form of anchor text).”

Images, categories and more

The same goes for images. Google can’t see images, so putting plenty of pictures on a page won’t do much for Google searches. However, clearly labelling any photos you do have on your website can be a bonus, as Google will put those in its Image Search section.

Fresh, original content

Google has changed its priorities over the past several years – it gives preference to websites that are constantly updated with new, original content written by individuals. Monte Heubsch, founder of Aussie Web SEO, says content such as blog posts about your particular area of expertise are so much more valuable than trying to game the system through backlinks.

“Traditional black hat techniques such as links and scraped data – that’s all dead. Now, SEO requires a lot of care and intention.”

Keywords, but not too many

Some of the old basics are still true. Google wants to see plenty of keywords on your site, but updates including the infamous Penguin algorithm change, mean Google understands context better than ever before. Stuffing keywords into a random piece of text won’t work.

“If you’re talking about pasta, for instance, Google wants to see you talking about recipes, pesto, tomatoes, and so on,” says Heubsch. “Everything associated with that topic.”

Website speed

The basics of SEO remain the same as they always have, but some are new. Heubsch says given the rise of smartphones, Google wants to see something else in your line-up as well – a fast site.

“Google won’t show your site if it’s slow on a smartphone, as they consider that a bad user experience,” he says. “If I had to pick one signal that’ll make a difference on both the desktop and the phone, it’s speed.”


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