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Lately, we’ve noticed a lot more interest in search engine optimization (SEO) from small business owners here in Mississippi. Rightly so. According to some very recent research, more than 95% of all non-branded search traffic from search engines comes from page-one results. In other words, if your website doesn’t come up on the first page, most people are simply not going to see you.

Often, small business owners believe that their website is properly optimized because, when they search for their company’s name, it shows up on the first page of Google. But, the reality is, good “branded search” results don’t necessarily indicate good SEO. Performing well for non-branded searches is really the key is being competitive on the Web.

Think of it this way: Let’s say you own a store that sells diamond rings. Most people who are searching the Web for your company’s name (let’s say Maris Jewelers), already plan to do business with you. They’re just looking for your address or phone number. So you haven’t really won a customer. You’ve just made it easier for your customer to find you.

Now let’s say someone hasn’t decided where to buy their ring. Google and other search engines want to deliver the best search results to their users. So they rank relevant Web pages highest in their search results. Relevancy is determined by factors like what keywords appear in key places on the Web page. For example, let’s say someone Googles ‚Äúdiamond rings.‚Äù A Web page with the the words‚Äúdiamond‚Äù and ‚Äúrings‚Äù in the title bar, main headline, and several places throughout the page is very likely to contain that relevant information.

The domain name is an especially important factor for SEO, but one that’s often overlooked when businesses build their first website. Using the above example, the URL ‚Äú‚Äù would rank higher on the search engine results page (SERP) than, say, It seems obvious, but most small business owners don’t factor SEO when choosing the domain for their first website. And, many of us, built our first website many years before the rise of SEO. (Our url is It’s a trade off: nice and short, but keyword poor.)

Location is another extremely important consideration for small business SEO. We used to advise clients that more than half of all search queries include geographic information like city or state. But Google Instant now automatically suggests location data as you type your search query. So it’s likely a much larger percentage of searches now include location content. And it’s critical for small business websites to be optimized for their location.

Many website design, ad agencies and consultants claim to be knowledgeable about SEO. But we see major blunders frequently from firms that should know better. One client (formerly with another agency here in Mississippi) came to us complaining that their website wasn’t showing up on search engines. There were lots of problems with the website. But one of the main ones was that the firm had placed spaces between each letter of the company’s name in the title bar of each page. It looked like this “C O M P A N Y N A M E.” Maybe that looks nice to some people. But many search engines won’t likely connect the letters together to form words.

Another word of caution: Some SEO consultants promote the sneaky tricks (sometimes called black hat SEO) they use to game the system. Don’t buy it. Search engines like Google are constantly adapting their algorithm to account for tricks like keyword stuffing, invisible page text and dummy redirects. Many of the tricks that worked in the past often have zero impact today. Some of them will actually get you blacklisted or at least penalized from Google searches.

Good SEO is more about building your website correctly, providing high quality content, marketing through appropriate online channels, and networking with like-minded people (bloggers, online news editors, online forum participants, etc), and getting in-bound other relevant websites (especially those that Google considers to have higher authority).

So, ultimately, it all boils down to good, old-fashioned hard work. The key thing to remember with SEO is that search engines seek to deliver the best and most relevant content to their users. So the best way to rank high in search is to offer exactly that.