SEO for the Small Business Owner
By: C. Reid Thornley B.Sc.

Howdy. I am the proud owner
and operator of a web-based business
that sells water purification equipment
to homeowners and small businesses.

I'd like to take a few moments to describe my experience in search engine
optimization: the mistakes, the successes, and my resulting philosophy on getting
found in the World Wide Web.

Like most small web-based startups, my business relies exclusively on traffic that is
generated through the major search engines with, of course, Google carrying the most
weight. When I started this business I understood intuitively that Google placement
would most likely predict the success or failure of this venture but I truly had zero
experience and faced a very daunting learning curve.

As many entrepreneurs on a shoe-string budget do, I started asking people that I knew
-- people who were experts in this field -- exactly what I should do to get found. And
by experts, I mean people like my web-hosting tech support guy, my graphic designer,
my buddy who works for IBM, and finally my Dad's friend who runs the "Friends of
the Lower Saugeen River Society" webpage. Oh ya -- I forgot about the guy I met
perusing the "Search Engine Optimization" section at Indigo.

What would possess me to trust the opinions of this motley crew is beyond me now,
but I guess in fairness to myself, desperation and ignorance have resulted in worse
decisions than the ones I was about to make.

The advice I received I acted on with reckless abandon.

I bought dozens of domain names, hundreds of dubious links and read countless
grossly outdated articles ("try adding a few hundred keywords at the end of every
page for some added SEO punch!").

It took a few months but it soon became clear that a new strategy was necessary. I had
exhausted my SEO budget going after very competitive key works like water softeners
and water filters and all I had to show for it was a measly 10 visitors a day. But, it was
in this defeat, that I wrested the one gold nugget that would be the foundation for later
SEO success. The epiphany went like this: people were finding my website based on
searches they made in Google. Wait, it gets dumber. Google was connecting these
searchers to me because I was perceived by Google to be a trustworthy and relevant
information source for the search string. I later came to realize that the meager traffic I
was receiving was for extremely obscure searches but the learnings were of value

The core principal I pulled from this experience was this:

Google is a business with a primary goal of making money. All of Google's core
revenue streams are ultimately related to the massive numbers of people using their
web search services. Searchers only return to Google if they are consistently connected
with relevant results. If Google loses these searchers, they lose their ability to make

There it is man. Google will always reward websites that make their patrons (the
"searchers") happy with their service. They can't afford not to. With this new mantra I
took a critical look at my existing site. Ya -- it was pretty, but I could not properly edit
and format many of the critical fields necessary to describe to Google what I was
about. I'm talking about very fundamental things like Page Titles, Meta Descriptions,
and Meta Keywords.

No wonder Google didn't send many people my way -- it had no idea what my
website was about. It was a risk for Google to send a searcher for Waterwise Distillers
to my site because I didn't have a single page that showed this phrase in the title,
description, or keywords.

Who cares that I had the content if I could not show Google that I was a trustworthy
authority on the topic.

Imagine cruising down the road that most cities have, where all the car dealerships are
lined up. You want to buy a Honda Civic. As you drive down the road you see a sign
that say "Cars" and there's a bus, a Ferrari, a John Deere tractor, and a Hummer in the
parking lot. You gonna stop?

Another sign reads "Honda Internal Combustion Engine Homo Sapiens Transporters
for Sale" and there are a bunch of Honda Civics parked in a nice row. Maybe you'd
stop there, but probably not if there was another sign that read "Honda Civics" and in
the lot you saw hundreds of brand new shiny Honda Civics. Adding to your
confidence, the sales office had an overhead sign that read "Honda Civics on Sale".
When you stopped and spoke to the salesperson he said, "We sell Honda Civics".

My simple point is to make sure that you accurately describe the content of your
website to give Google confidence in sending its valued searchers to your site.

I am amazed today at how many webmasters spin 500 mph circles executing the SEO
fad of the week without any apparent realization of Google's core duty in connecting
searchers to high quality content.

There are many, many webmasters who spend countless dollars on SEO without
paying much attention to the simple, inexpensive, and effective results of on-page
optimization. Spend time creating original, interesting, and keyword rich content and
then do everything possible on your own site to ensure that Google knows what the
page is about.

Don't jam repetitive keywords in critical fields. Again, remember that Google's number
1 job is connecting it's patrons to web pages they will find informative and useful. If
your Titles, Descriptions, and Keywords look spammy your website probably will
too. Do you like visiting spammy websites? Would you keep using Google if it always
connected you to junky sites? My point exactly.

I ultimately had to re-build my website from scratch because it did not allow me to
manipulate key areas to allow me to describe my content accurately. The results of the
change were staggering. With no other SEO effort -- none -- my traffic grew to about a
hundred visitors a day. Just by accurately describing my content I had grown my
traffic by 10X.
Just by using my keyword in the title, the meta description, the meta
keywords, and of course within the content I was able to grow fast.

After this point, I quickly realized that on-page SEO would only take me so far. I
needed a link building strategy to continue to grow -- but this is a topic for another

My simple advice to novice webmasters is to avoid getting caught up in time
consuming and often expensive off-page SEO until you are 100% sure that your
on-page tactics are locked down. You may find yourself wasting lots of time and
money in link-building strategies with little payoff if Google can't properly decipher
the content or message of your web pages.

And, as a final caveat, consult as many resources as you can in your quest to becoming
your own personal SEO guru. If you hear the same thing from a number of reliable
sources, it's probably true.

But never abandon common sense and never allow yourself to become so
self-obsessed that you lose sight of the goal of the search engine who's patrons you so
desperately need. Keeping this top-of-mind will always keep you in-bounds and on
the path to web-business success.

About the author: C. Reid Thornley holds a B.Sc. in biology and has worked in Research &
Development for a major manufacturer of home water purification systems. He has also been a
presenter to the Water Quality Association. He now owns and operates
aQuatell Water Softener

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