Ian: Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the hot issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses. I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine. And we’ve developed this Podcast in cooperation with BMO Bank of Montreal.
A recent cover story in PROFIT Magazine revealed the seven best ways to grow your business now. And among them was Search Engine Optimization. That’s the art and not the science of modifying a website to make it rank higher in search engine results. But despite the important role that web searches play today, the vast majority of SME’s are working with websites that simply aren’t being found by the major search engines. So, here to teach us a little bit about SEO, as it’s called and how your website can rank higher is Gord Hotchkiss, the president and CEO of Enquiro Search Solutions in Kelowna, British Columbia and a regular columnist for one of the leading online web search publications, the Media Post Search Insider. Gord, welcome to the Business Coach.
Gord: Thank you for having me Ian.
Ian: So I gave a very short definition of search engine optimization, how you would describe SEO?
Gord: Well, what I would like to do first of all, is step a little bit back from SEO, because SEO is one aspect in kind of the broader search marketing umbrella. So SEO is kind of as you explained it, that’s modifying your site so it ranks higher in what we call the organic or the algorithmic listing. So those are the ones you are not, advertisers don’t pay for and those are the ones that most people tend to click on. But in the broader sense, there are also links you can pay for and those are the ones that tend to show up at the top of the page and you know, the shaded box behind them and along the right side of the page.
So, there’s two parts. So going back to SEO, basically it’s thinking about what a customer or a prospect might be searching for that what key words might be used and making sure those key words are adequately represented on your website.
Ian: Now how important is search engine optimization for small and mid-size businesses today?
Gord: Oh, it’s vital. I mean, one of the kind of ironic things is, and there has been a number of statements to support this. Canadians are among the most wired people in the world. We used websites and internet more than almost anybody else on the planet. Yet, Canadians businesses are pretty far behind the curve in understanding the importance of search in consumer patterns. We are a little better on the SEO side than we are on the search marketing side, you know, there are a lot of companies that have started or have been doing organic optimization for a while, but generally, we’re are pretty far behind the curve. Even from where the U.S. is and you know certainly overseas as well. So, and when you, I think the best way to figure out how important it is, it’s just go to your customers and say, when you are looking for something or when you decide you want to buy something, where do you go and, I know that most of them are going to say, well, I go online and I search for it.
Ian: Speaking of organic search results, what could be the difference between a well-optimized site and a non-optimized site in terms of the results you would get?
Gord: Well, I think there’s a few key fundamentals you’ve got to remember. The first thing is think in the language of your customers. One of the biggest problems and one of the biggest challenges in organic optimization is making sure that the words you use are the same ones that a customer might use. We tend to, within our business, get caught up in the industry jargon or, you know, product descriptions that mean something to us but might not necessarily be what someone would be searching for. So just make sure your vocabulary is aligned.
Then the next things are you want to make sure that there is no technical obstacles that your site throws at the search engine and those can be, you know, content management systems, flashes is a notorious one that keeps content from being indexed, you basically want those search engines spiders which are the robots that come through and crawl your site and find out what that site is about. You want to make sure they have open and easy access to your site. Also the navigation structure and the actual structure of the site. How are the links from one page to the other shown. Are they buried in a java script pull down or are they straight html. And kind of the rule of thumb is the more straight forward the structure of your site, the easier it is going to be to crawl.
Then probably the last thing you want to do is make sure that there is good rich content supporting, you know, whatever the main key words are. Content is still the number one thing that engines are going to be looking for. And that content should be useful to users, you know, if you sell a particular product, think of the content that would support that product on your site, whether it is, you know, support guidelines, buying guides or comparisons or customers testimonials, that stuff is goal to search engines. So make sure you get that. And that will in turn lead to the last piece and that’s linking. You want sites to link back to you as in the forty on a particular topic. And if you do all those things well, you’ll do well on the search engines.
Ian: Not all search engines use the same algorithms to find content. Do you really need to pick a search engine to optimize for or are they all close enough that you can optimize your site and get good results across the board?
Gord: Yes, there’s kind of two parts to that question. The algorithms have converged a lot more so the difference between a Yahoo algorithm and a Microsoft algorithm and a Google algorithm and an ASCII algorithm aren’t as great as they’re used to be. They’ve all decided that some mix between linking structure and on the page content is the way they all go. You know, they all have their tweaks and different nuances, but generally, you don’t have to worry about, you know, I got to optimize one site for Yahoo and another site for Google.
Now the other part of that question is market share and Google rules. And you know that’s, in Canada, I think they’ve got about 80% of the market shares. So you know, if you are tweaking your site, Google is the one you’ve got to tweak it for.
Ian: Now, search engine optimization as I said earlier is an art and not a science, it’s probably not something that the average small business owner has expertise in, they probably don’t have anyone on their staff who has this expertise, so a lot of them will want to hire an outside provider. What does search engine optimization cost and how would you pick a third party provider?
Gord: Well, it really depends on the nature of your site, it depends on how much content you have on the site, how competitive your category is, all those things will impact the scope of your optimization. You know, how many sku’s you have, how many different products you have. Those are all factors, so you know, it’s really a wide range when you are looking at costing.
You know, sometimes a quick kind of one time help in optimization the site overcoming some technical obstacles would be enough to open that content up to the engines. In other cases, it’s an on-going process where you continually introducing new products or you know, in the case of online publishers continually posting new content to your site and you want to make sure that you tap into all the potential traffic that might be interested.
You know, so there is a wide spectrum and you know, budgets will wary accordingly anywhere from, you know, one time engagement of a couple thousand dollars up to an on-going contract, you know, well into the six figures and sometimes approaching seven figures. So, you know, that’s not kind of a one-size fits all.
As far as finding the right partner, you know, it’s like finding a partner in anything, business, relationship, you want to find somebody that you see eye to eye with and that you trust. And I think that’s the biggest thing. So what you are going to do when you start talking to vendors is you’re going to want to see how much you’re talking and how much you’re listening. And what I think a good rule of thumb is, is you should be doing at least as much talking as listening. So the vendor should be asking you a lot of questions about your business, about what your business objectives are, and what the challenges you may have had in the past and probably more importantly they’re going to be asking you a lot of questions ideally about who your customer is and what that customer interaction looks like. If you’re spending a lot of time listening to a sales pitch about how great they are, that’s a red flag and you are going to want to proceed with caution.
This is a marketing channel and it’s all about understanding the business and the customer and search is no exception. There are some technical parts to it but it all comes down to user and how they’re interacting with search and whatever partner you pick should understand that. Kind of going beyond that, if they have expertise in your area, that’s great and that’s going to help reduce the learning curve about your business and also find out if they do have experience, other clients they’ve dealt with. I always recommend to people that are out there and say, don’t just ask for the success stories, probe a little deeper and say ok who are the clients that are o longer with you and why and can I talk to them. That will give you some really good indication as to what the reasons were when the relationship decides to split apart for whatever reason that might be.
Ian: So it really sounds like when you’ re choosing an SEO provider, you’re asking all the same questions you would have to just about any other suppliers or any other business functions.
Gord: Yes, I mean, one of the things that drives me nuts about this industry is, you know, some vendors get into this whole black box proprietary, you know, technology thing and you know what, in a lot of cases, organic optimization is common sense. And it’s just doing the things right, the basics right in a lot of the cases. Sure there are more complicated technical challenges but those apply to probably less than a hand full of percentages of the companies out there, way less than 5%. 95% of the companies just need good basis advice. So don’t get too carried away with looking for someone that has you know proprietary technology that you know guesses what the algorithm might be looking for. Look for somebody you feel comfortable with.
Ian: There is no magic formula for doing business. Gord Hotchkiss is the president of Enquiro Search Solutions in Kelowna, BC. Thanks for joining the Business Coach.
Gord: Thank you.
That’s it for another episode of the Business Coach Podcast. You can download other installments in this series from BMO.com, profitguide.com or iTunes. And as always, I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions for future topics. You can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, I am Ian Portsmouth, the Editor at the PROFIT Magazine, wishing you continued success.