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Remember when small businesses would choose a name like Aardvark Plumbing or AAA Towing just because it would come first in the phone book? Meet the Internet-age equivalent: Search Engine Optimization.

Simply put, what the webheads refer to as SEO is just a series of tricks and techniques that webmasters use to make sure a website shows up at or near the top of search results. Own an Ethiopian restaurant in Edmonton? Then you really, really want to be the top result when someone types "Ethiopian food Edmonton" into Google.

"More and more small businesses are becoming savvy about this," explains Melanie Nathan, who runs "Five years ago, many small businesses had no idea they could affect search rankings in such a way."

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(Case in point: I contacted Nathan, in large part, because her website came up first when I Googled "Canadian" and "SEO." ) Here are some ways you can make your business easier to find online.

Keep it relevant

If you want to ensure that your business comes up when people search for the words "cooking with Gouda," create more content about cooking with Gouda. As well, choosing a domain name that's relevant to your business, just as Nathan clearly did, is another no-brainer.

Keep it clean

Tactics for improving search engine rankings are generally divided into two categories: white hat and black hat. A white hat tactic would be making the content on your site more relevant. Black hat tactics are techniques that search engines like Google frown upon. For example, it's poor form to merely copy and paste the words "cooking" and "Gouda" all over your site, without creating anything of value. Furthermore, search engines often drop companies that use black hat techniques, so their names never come up at all.

Keep it connected

Search engines often rank sites by how many people link to them-the more links, the thinking goes, the better the site must be. Businesses can create appealing content that people might link to, or they can ask bloggers to review the company's products or services. But the fact remains, link-building is more art than science. "Links are on everybody's minds," says Nathan. "It's one of the hardest aspects of SEO." For this, you might want to Google a pro.

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The missing link

Proportion of businesses that have a corporate website

  • 1 to 19 employees - 36%
  • 20 to 99 employees - 75%
  • 100 to 500 employees - 90%

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