All Things Upwork
June 21, 2010 by Brian McDonough

In business, location is everything — and that includes where you are on the Internet. The way people find that online location is through search engines. So, while a pure brick-and-mortar consideration of location involves being on a good street with a highly visible sign, the online version means ranking high when someone does a search to buy what your “store” sells. Search-engine optimization, the art of improving your search rank, isn’t hard, but it’s something a lot of small businesses don’t pay attention to — either because they’re too busy, or because it sounds both technical and scary. We chatted with Amit Bakshi, who oversees oDesk’s SEO efforts, to put together a very basic primer.

SEO Crash Course“It’s mostly about common sense,” he says. The Internet is a crowded, noisy place, and SEO applies a few logical techniques to make your web presence stand out.

“The biggest bottleneck is prioritization,” Bakshi says. “The small business owner has so many things going on, SEO’s not going to be top of the list. But you can quickly become your own SEO expert and educate your team on some basic priorities.”

SEO in a nutshell

All search engines, like Google, Yahoo and Bing, want their users to find the quality websites they are looking for. You need to make a top-notch website, in a way that both human customers and search-engine “spider-bots” can identify. These programs crawl the Web to find sites, and send back information that allows the search engineers to rank the sites through complex algorithms. So SEO is the process of establishing your site as attractive and relevant to these Web crawlers. There are three main steps or considerations: Clean up your site design, create quality content and reach out with links.

Step 1: Designed to Succeed

Your website needs to be both easy to find and easy to read. To make it easy to find, consider what your customers would search for. “The first step is to figure out which keywords you’re likely to be discovered with,” Bakshi says. “The basic terms should be pretty obvious, but later you can augment that with a bit of keyword research.”

If you’re a florist in Boston, the searches you want to top are variations of flower delivery in Boston. Start with the page title, that field in the code that tells search engines what the page is called. “Bob’s Blooms” won’t tell Google anything. “Boston Flower Delivery — Bob’s Blooms,” or “Bob’s Blooms — Boston Florist,” will be more relevant to someone trying to get a fistful of peonies to Beacon Hill. Working with your web designer and/or webmaster, make sure your site is easy for search engines — and humans — to navigate, and make sure the key terms appear prominently.

Step 2: Quality

Wins Google and its competitors spend millions of dollars on search algorithms that have just one purpose: to present the highest-quality websites to users anytime they search for something. An important aspect of rising to the top of a search is to actually be a quality website. Smart, well-written content on the topics close to your heart (and bottom line) will improve your rankings, and it’s an ongoing effort. You or a qualified marketing writer should routinely expand your site with good content on relevant subjects, such as how to preserve fresh-cut flowers in a hot Boston summer, which flowers are the best deals in Boston, season by season, or a feature on arrangements you’ve done to suit various Boston wedding venues.

Step 3: Get Out There

What search engines value most is a site that real humans value, and that appreciation is measured by inbound links. When other sites start pointing to your site, you look more authoritative and rank higher in search engines. As a Boston florist, you’d would probably want to trade links with local wedding planners and party stores, and might comment on forums and blogs about the community or industry, with a link back to your site. There’s considerable etiquette involved in link exchange (check out the resources below), but the basics are: relevance, politeness and quality comments. You can take the time to do this yourself, or delegate it to your linkbuilder.

Don’t be intimidated by SEO. There’s a lot of information online, and the basics are pretty easy to pick up. After all, knowing who your customers are and how to create an appealing storefront were part of your original business plan, right? Bakshi emphasizes that SEO shouldn’t take over your life. At oDesk, he manages customer acquisition, of which SEO is only a small part. “I don’t think about SEO day and night — I can’t,” he says. “I’ve always got five things on my plate at a time, but I do keep a basic SEO strategy in place.”

With a quick education, you and your team can effortlessly incorporate SEO principles into many of your existing tasks. For a deeper look at the topic, here are some high-quality resources.

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Brian McDonough has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years, and has written newsletters, case studies and other material for oDesk since 2008.

Brian McDonough

Freelance Writer

Brian McDonough has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years, and has managed teams of in-house and freelance writers for newspapers, magazines and web sites.