Search marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) have been a huge part of the digital marketing landscape for nearly two decades, yet a lot of non-technical small business owners still seem confused whenever I begin to discuss SEO. Sometimes it's that they've never heard the term (I'm still not sure how this is possible these days). More often, however, SEO tends to be this nebulous service a lot of small business owners and marketers know they need, but they have no idea what's involved or what to expect.

While I'll save the details of SEO for another day, the basic premise of search engine optimization is to find ways both on and off your website to boost your position in search results. There are a number of tactics that are used to accomplish this, but the basic building blocks we always focus on are outstanding content that lives in a well-built and properly structured website. From there a lot of things can be done, but today's search engines are hungry for original content.

If you've never had someone help you with your search engine optimization, it's important to remember that SEO is an ongoing process; it's a battle against your competition and a game of keep-up with the search engines themselves. It's surprising how many small business owners I've talked to who believe that SEO is still a matter of slapping some meta keywords onto your pages in the hopes that will result in a first page placement for those terms.

To understand the job of an SEO, you need to think like a search engine provider. Google exists to present the absolute best option to a user's query out of the billions of options available on the internet. It's their job to present the best option and provide the best experience for their users. In the earliest days of the search engine, meta keywords went a long way. But as SEOs took advantage of that fact, search engines evolved.

Today's search engines are extremely sophisticated. They take into account factors like mobile-friendliness, geographic location, page-load speed, backlinks, on-page content, the structure of your markup, social media, and countless others to provide a ranking score for each page on your site and present the best results to their users.

The secret to search engine optimization is that their is no secret. Your site needs to be well built. It should be hosted somewhere that provides enough bandwidth to offer competitive load times. Your markup should be well formatted and conform to W3C standards. Your content should be original and exceptional. It should be updated often. You should actively market your content to generate quality inbound links. Your website needs to be mobile-friendly. Most of all, your approach should be genuine. Make sure you deal with an SEO that trades in techniques designed to benefit potential customers, not ones that are designed to trick search engines.

Chris Searles is President of Searles Media and specializes in helping small businesses maximize their available resources to market themselves effectively using a wide variety of media. Visit Website

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