We’re in the middle of November and halfway through 4th quarter. You might be prepping for the holidays, planning for 2014, or both. If you’ve been active in the online space for some time, you understand how quickly the rules change and how hard it can sometimes be to stay on top of the latest ‘best practices’ along with the activities to avoid.

This post will discuss the current state of SEO and what to look for in 2014. To be clear, we offer SEO training and services for individuals and small business owners. We can help you with SEO both on your website or online store, and off. We do not, however, work on enterprise websites. So the type of help we provide and training we offer is geared toward the Average Joe Business Owner.

Additionally, I think it’s important to note that our own SEO efforts are the main driver for new business for us. There is not one current or former client, or potential prospect who came to us via some type of paid campaign. When people we have absolutely no connection to in the online or offline worlds contact us for social media, business blogging, SEO, and online marketing help, they found us by googling the services we offer. SEO is also to thank for our media interviews for websites like Examiner.com, The Atlantic, and CNN Money.com, and linked to by the NYTimes.

So while we’ll never claim to be SEO experts or equipped to handle large, multi-national corporations, we are proud of the great work we’ve done for ourselves and our clients.

Let’s look at some SEO tips and practices to take to heart for 2014.

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SEO Practices to Follow and Avoid in 2014

In no particular order…

  • Avoid anyone promising you guaranteed page 1 search results  A skeptic will read this and say, “I’m not going to believe that coming for YOU.” If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. But what about believing Google? If you scroll a little more than halfway down, you’ll see 7 bullets of SEO things to avoid. Here’s another great read from Moz on the topic.
  • Learn about the animal-centric Google algorithm updates Panda and Penguin are now old news in comparison to Hummingbird. Hummingbird is also the first major overhaul made to Google’s search algorithm in quite some time. The basics behind these 3 algorithm changes is to weed out those trying to trick the SEO system, and favor those quality sites that produce good content. Hummingbird is particularly good news for those who blog as it has changed in a way that it better understands long, specific questions posed by the searcher. So if you’re blogging about how choose the best replacement windows for your brick home, Hummingbird is good news for you!
  • Avoid those spammy emails you get (have you noticed they are a direct copy/paste, just from different senders?) They usually start of by saying they’ve spent some time reviewing your website and it does not rank well in search. It’s through these emails that you’ll often see the promise of page 1 search results. If you take a look at the email signature, you’ll often see some US-based mailing address but no website URL or social media accounts.
  • Start blogging If you are going to try to tell me your business or industry is too boring, or you have nothing to blog about, I’m still going to tell you to blog. The best place to start? Generate a list of FAQs about your business. Off the top of your head I bet you can come up with 5-6 months of blog post ideas (if blogging once a week). Think about it: if you answer the most popular frequently asked questions about your business, you’re greatly improving your chances that your blog posts – and business – will show up higher in search results than your competitors.
  • Avoid talk of directories, link exchanges and the like Not only are these old school, “black hat” SEO techniques, using them can and will hurt you in today’s search. A good SEO will talk to you about optimizing your home page, and static pages and products on your site, business blogging, the use of social media, optimizing & putting time into your social media accounts (since social media profiles are highly favored by Google), adding a sitemap to your website, verifying your site Bing and Google, developing a presence on Google+ (set up Authorship or Publisher if you have a blog, and create your Google+ Local listing if you have a brick & mortar location), and potentially even some brand reputation management measures.
  • Get acquainted with SEO best practices and keyword research methods You aren’t going to have amazing SEO chops immediately, but it’s one of those skills that improves with practice. And if you blog for your business, even better! Each new blog post is a new chance to rank on a new keyword phrase, along with serving as another opportunity to hone your SEO abilities.
  • Buying Adwords is NOT an SEO solution This is an important distinction to make. If someone tries to sell you on Adwords campaigns, the first question you need to ask them is this: “What does this mean about my site’s rankings once the ad funds are used up?” Google Adwords is a short-term campaign that does guarantee you top of Page 1 results. However, you will only sit at the top of Google’s page 1 while you are funding that campaign. While SEO isn’t immediate, it is long-lasting. What I’ve seen some business owners pay for 1 Google Adwords campaign could have instead paid for the SEO work done to their entire website.

When people ask me for my thoughts on the impact social media, blogging, websites and SEO have on business today, I always say that it’s a great time to be a small business owner! I feel like the playing field has been leveled in so many ways for those doing business online. Gone are the days when the big brands – and their accompanying deep pockets – dominated over the little guy.

So the online marketing moral of the story for 2014: Employ legitimate, solid SEO practices, and your website traffic and accompanying sales will greatly improve.

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