SEO and Small Businesses: An Interview with Mark Cenicola

I have run a small business for a long time now and it's been downright fascinating to watch the technological sea change that has taken place. As I write in The New Small, no longer are the most powerful tools only the purview of large enterprises. Even in this most democratic age, however, it's not always easy for small businesses to be found. Against this backdrop, I recently sat down with Mark Cenicola, Chairman, President, and CEO of The following are excerpts from our conversation.

PS: What's the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) to small businesses?

MC: For many small businesses with limited advertising budgets, SEO is a way for them to get traffic to their websites which can result in qualified sales leads. Unlike paid advertising, SEO has a lasting benefit that doesn't disappear once you stop paying.

PS: What can businesses do to improve their search rankings?

MC: Improving a website's search ranking involves many factors including both onsite and offsite optimization. Since a business has direct control over their onsite optimization, they should start there first. We've created a free website keyword optimization tool. It allows a business owner to enter specific keywords. It then provides tips that can then be implemented that should help improve the possibility of ranking higher for that set of keywords.

PS: What's the difference between onsite and offsite optimization?

MC: Onsite optimization is everything a website owner has control directly on their website. It includes the content of the page and the code behind the scenes that can tell the search engines how to index the website. Offsite optimization is everything that happens outside of the website. Google revolutionized search by taking into account what was happening on other websites along with what's happening on the website to determine the search ranking. A link from another website to your website based around a certain set of keywords is an example of offsite optimization.

PS: What can businesses do to improve their offsite optimization?

MC: Activities like guest blogging or doing interviews such as this can help improve offsite optimization. When you do guest posts or offer to do an interview, it's typical to ask for a link back to your website either within the article or via a byline. It can also help to build relationships with complementary organizations where it makes sense to trade links. However, only non paid links are considered valuable in the eyes of Google.

PS: How does Google know the difference between paid and unpaid links?

MC: It can tell if a link comes from an advertisement server. The company's algorithm knows that certain websites accept payment for direct links to a third party website. While they don't necessary always know whether a link is paid, they are pretty good at discounting low quality links, those that don't appear to be natural.

PS: How is the explosion of mobile devices affecting SEO today?

MC: One of the biggest factors affecting search rankings is ensuring a website is mobile responsive. This means the site automatically adjusts (responds) to the device that's viewing it. For example, if you view our website on your desktop, it will stretch to fill the screen. When viewing it on a mobile device, the format of the page will adjust so that you have to scroll vertically and the menu will condense to make it easier to use. It's reported that Google changed its algorithm to favor websites that are mobile responsive when people conduct searches directly from their mobile devices.

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