Local SEO Tips & Tricks

Whenever I need a service or a product, the first thing I do is an online search. And I’m not alone – according to Google, 97% of consumers now search for businesses online. Most people searching for a service or product in their local area are ready to buy, which means local search is one of the best opportunities for business owners to capture highly qualified leads. Here’s how to optimize your website for that valuable local traffic:

Set Up a Google Places/Google+ Page

Since most people use Google as their primary search engine, it’s a good idea to begin your local SEO efforts by optimizing your Google Places/Google+ profile. Better yet, setting up a Google Places account is free! It’s also quite simple to set up a profile. Just follow Google’s quality guidelines and you’ll be good to go. Here are some tips:

  • Only business owners or authorized representatives can verify their business listings
  • Use a shared business email account, preferably under your business domain (this is especially helpful if more than one person will be making updates to your profile)
  • Use your actual company name and don’t include anything extra in the name such as taglines or keywords you’re trying to rank for
  • Use an accurate physical address for your business location (don’t use a P.O. box)
  • Local phone numbers are best to use for your phone listing
  • Choose the most accurate category for your business from the provided category list

Keep in mind, most Google Places profiles will be upgraded to a Google+ page once the listing is verified. You can also use analytics in Google+ to check on the performance of your page and make improvements in the future.

Optimize For Local Search

Provide Accurate Information

I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure your business information is accurate and consistent across all local listings. Research compiled by HubShout, an online marketing company, showed that 43% of business listings have an incorrect or missing address. Having the correct information on every site your business is listed on will improve your credibility. More credibility and a higher level of professionalism will also make your site more favorable to search engines (and customers, too).

Have a Fully Completed Profile

It’s also important to fully complete your local business profiles. Huffington Post contributor Jonathan Long states business’s should not leave any sections of their profiles blank. Including videos, photos, contact information and detailed business descriptions will have positive effects on the long-term search performance for your website. Including keywords you want to rank for in your business descriptions is another way to fully optimize your local business profiles. On-page optimization is also extremely important when it comes to local search. To learn more tips about on-page optimization, check out my blog post on the topic.

Get Listed on Multiple Local Sites

Being included on local listing sites can also improve your local search rankings. Search Engine Land states your business should be listed on as many local listings websites as possible. Of course, it’s important to make sure the sites are high quality. Listings on spammy or thin directory sites should be avoided. It’s also a great strategy to form relationships with influential media sources, bloggers and/or customers. This will pay off in news articles, blog posts and positive reviews of your business. Online reviews can help differentiate your business from local competitors in search. See my guide to getting and keeping on-line reviews for more tips on this subject.

Be Seen in the Google Carousel

Google recently made changes to its local search. Local availability and local storefront features have been added to Product Listing Ads, making information about local stores more easily available to searchers. Read more about the changes in this article from Search Engine Watch.

One newer feature of local search is the Google Carousel. The Google Carousel is a black box including a marquee of listings that appears at the top of local search results. The listings include pictures and ratings for each local search result. Clicking on one of the pictures leads to a new search based on the business whose image was clicked.  As of right now, the carousel appears mainly for searches related to travel, hospitality and restaurants. Search Engine Watch predicts Google may be expanding the carousel into more categories soon. See a screenshot of the carousel below for a search on “gourmet food shops tampa”:

localsearch

The Google Carousel is yet another tool local businesses would be wise to utilize to its fullest potential. The carousel already puts your business at the top of the search, which is a great advantage. However, your business will be more visible if you follow these optimization tips (from Search Engine Watch):

  • Optimize your Google+ Local Business Page
  • Make sure your Google product feed is up to date through regular audits – accuracy and relevancy is key
  • Include professional, high resolution business images in your profile to be used in the carousel and put them in order of priority
  • Ensure business contact information is accurate and consistent across all your listings and social profiles (Google+, Yahoo Local, Bing Places, etc.)
  • Have a strategy for acquiring online reviews

Implementing Local SEO Strategy

Optimizing for local search can seem like a daunting task. The company Hallam created an infographic guide to prioritizing your time and accomplishing your local SEO goals. View it here.

Just remember to perform these top five tasks (from Moz) and your business will be in good shape:

  1. Choose the most accurate business category for your Google Places profile.
  2. Use a correct, consistent company name, address and phone number across all your local business listings.
  3. Claim listings on important sites other than Google (Yelp, City Search, Yellow Pages, etc.) and other high quality local listing sites. Services such as Localeze and Axiom can help.
  4. Optimize your website by including your address and phone number on your web pages.
  5. Follow through on your natural link building strategy to continually acquire high quality links to your site.

Summary

Including helpful details about your business, such as photos and a description, in your local profiles and listings helps provide more value to potential customers. If the user has a seamless experience when searching for your site (i.e. they find the correct contact information on each page), they will be more likely to trust your business. Keep the user in mind and try to understand what they’re looking for when they search for your company, then optimize your profiles, listings and site accordingly for the best results.

Advertisements

On-Page SEO Tips From The Experts

Search algorithm updates that focus on content and user experience have brought along with them new on-page SEO strategies. While keywords still play an important role, relevancy and user experience are taking center stage in all SEO efforts. Rand Fishkin from Moz states that effective on-page optimization should:

A) Have the best opportunity to rank highly in Google and Bing

B) Earn traffic from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.

C) Be worthy of links and shares from across the web

D) Build your brand’s perception, trust, and potential to convert visitors

Here’s what Rand and many other influential SEO’s consider to be the most important elements of on-page SEO:

Provide Content That Makes A Difference

When content truly makes a difference, it provides unique value to the user. It can help to solve a problem or improve a process, for example. Adding interesting visual elements to your content is one easy way to add more value for users. If the content is useful and valuable to the user, it is much more likely that the content will be shared. We’ll talk more about why social sharing is so important later.

Create A Flawless User Experience

As noted by Brian Dean of Backlinko, Google has made no secret of the fact that page loading time is an important SEO ranking factor. A MunchWeb study found that 75% of users won’t return to a site that takes longer than four seconds to load, so it’s important that your pages load in under four seconds. Dean states the easiest way to reduce page loading time is to invest in a quality web hosting service.

Internal linking is important to user experience as well. From my own experience, I find internal links extremely helpful. I enjoy being directed to related content on a website and relevant, well-placed internal links do help keep me on a website longer. Dean states it’s a good practice to include internal links towards the beginning of your content because users tend to be more “click happy” when they enter your page. Again, from my own browsing habits I also find this to be true.

Clear, clean design and navigation are also an important elements of user experience. The number of steps it takes for a user to complete any action on the site should be as minimal as possible.  It’s now becoming clear that mobile-friendliness is no longer optional. Mobile-friendly design and fast loading time are both necessary for SEO. We’ll talk more about that later on as well.

Put Keywords Where They Belong

Keyword targeting is here to stay, but the way to do it for SEO has evolved. Here is what is still considered important when it comes to keywords (I used a mash-up of data from Moz, Whole Brain Marketing and Backlinko for this section):

Page Title

The page title is extremely important. A user wants to see the keyword they’ve searched for in your page title so they’ll know it’s worth a click. The primary keyword should be used at least once, preferably at the beginning of the title. Read more about writing great titles here.

Page/Meta Description

The meta description of your page is another place the primary keyword should appear. Don’t stuff the description with as many keywords as possible. Two to three keywords is a good limit. The goal of the meta description should be to compel the user to click on the link, so be specific and explain how the page creates value. Search terms are also bolded in the page description which can help increase your page’s visibility to the user. Remember, the page description will be cut off after 155 characters on the search results page.

Body Headlines

Much like the page title, including the targeted keyword in the headlines of the page is a way to let the user and search engines know your content is relevant to the search.

Body Copy

Get right to the point in your content by including your keyword within at least the first 150 words. This not only helps SEO but your reader as well (we have short attention spans). And again, don’t stuff your content with tons of keywords. Follow the two to three keyword strategy from the description for your copy as well.

Page URL

Most content management systems today will generate a URL for the page based on its title. If your title is already optimized with a keyword, the URL will be optimized as well. Also, URLs will serve as anchor text around the web when people share your content, so they should fully optimized.

Images

Images are often forgotten because they’re not known for high traffic or conversions. However, images should be optimized for at least one keyword. If anything, it will help emphasize the topic of your content and improve your search rankings. Besides including the primary keyword in the title of the saved image file and alt text for your code, adding a title or caption for the image in the text with the keyword can be helpful as well. Also, when an image is linked, the alt attribute is viewed like anchor text by search engines.

Outbound & Inbound Links

Using outbound link keywords to authoritative sites has been shown to increase page rank. Linking to relevant sites with high page ranks helps Google better understand what your site is all about. Additionally, users find value in being directed to related content and this added value can contribute to return visits. As for internal linking, a user should be able to find a page in no more than four clicks or three clicks if the site is smaller. It’s also always a good idea to link to relevant pages on your site within the content or post, as we talked about in the User Experience section.

Meta Keywords

Meta keywords are so yesterday. Google announced way back in 2009 that meta keywords are no longer used to determine rankings. Therefore, you can forget about using meta keywords in your on-page SEO strategy forever.

Make Content Easy to Share

Social sharing buttons are key for this component of on-page SEO. There’s no need to include a social sharing button for every social network on the web though. Just focus on the networks your target audience uses most. Social proof is extremely important for any business because it helps instill customer trust. Google also takes social proof into account for search rankings as it helps determine how relevant users found the site’s content. A study by BrightEdge found that making social sharing buttons easy to see and use can increase social sharing by 700%. Obviously, the use of social sharing buttons is an on-page SEO opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Design For Use On Any Device

Web traffic is becoming increasingly mobile. Is your site responsive (meaning the design of your site is optimized for all screen sizes)? According to Frank Isca of The Weidert Group, Google prefers responsive sites over ones that have a separate sites for desktop and mobile. Leverage responsive web design to provide a better user experience and to prevent double SEO work for two sites (one on the m. domain and one on your regular domain). Also, as Rand from Moz says,

If you’re not optimized for all devices, you’re missing critical opportunities for amplification to a broader audience.

Let The Crawlers/Bots Find You

Making sure your pages can be found by the search engines is another critical piece of on-page SEO. Follow these guidelines from Moz when it comes to being crawler/bot accessible:

  • Avoid duplicate content: If you have identical content on two different URLs of your pages, use the rel=canonical tag to direct the bots to the original page
  • Follow best practices for URLS: They shouldn’t be too long, should be static instead of dynamic and should be included in the correct RSS feeds or XML sitemaps
  • Don’t make the mistake of blocking bots: While it’s ok to block bots from certain content, be extremely careful that you don’t stop them from indexing your important pages
  • Use the proper redirects: Make sure you are using the right codes and protocol when you have to redirect your content (read this article on best practices for SEO redirection)

Take Advantage of Additional Markup (Authorship, Rich Snippets, Etc.)

There are many new ways to include additional markup for your content in search engine listings, such as Google Authorship and Rich Snippets. Rand from Moz suggests identifying the markup that will  provide the most value to your potential customers. Avoid using every additional markup that’s out there because it could be damaging to your online reputation. Learn more about rich snippets here.

Conclusion

While on-page SEO is needed to achieve higher rankings in search results, content is truly the key. When the content provides unique value to the audience, many of the other on-page SEO elements, such as social sharing, will naturally take place. Following the key practices of on-page SEO will help your content perform at its best and help make the most of your content marketing efforts.

How To Naturally Build Links Without Guest Blogging

LinkWhen I was a digital marketing intern over the summer, I spent weeks sorting through client link profiles trying to rid them of “bad links.”  Many of the sites I looked into barely had any “good links” to speak of.  This experience made me realize how important it is for companies to take control of their link profiles.  However, “link building” can be a touchy subject in SEO as it is often associated with less-than-honest marketing tactics.  Marketers have taken to calling it “natural link building” to avoid being associated with pre-Penguin link spammers.  Although “link building” carries a stigma to some extent, it is still an extremely important part of successful digital marketing strategy.

In this post, I share some creative ways to gain more “good” links for your website (without being shady, of course).  And in case you’re wondering about the title, guest blogging is not on the list because everyone is already doing it.

How Does Hummingbird Affect Link Building

Before we talk about how to naturally build links, we of course need to discuss Google.  As we know, Google is constantly changing its algorithm to make search results more relevant for the end user.  According to Nate Dame at Search Engine Land, the Hummingbird update is a new search engine rather than just an algorithm update that is forcing marketers to focus even more on linking to quality content.  Read more about the update in Dame’s Hummingbird article.

Make a Consistent Effort

It is important to make natural link building a constant part of your strategy instead of a sporadic effort for two reasons.  First, you want to make sure that your company stays relevant.  To do this, you should be putting effort into your content strategy and providing value to your customers on a regular basis so they will return to your site.  Second, you will set off red flags if you have sudden spikes in linking activity with long periods of nothing in between.  That will make it more likely that your link building efforts will end up being penalized and hurt you in the long run instead of help you.

Have a Presence on Google+

It’s becoming more and more apparent that Google+ is an important factor in search rankings.  And now Google+ posts are even showing up in search results, which means it’s absolutely necessary for your company to post content on Google+.  Get more tips on getting Google+ shares and other scalable link building tactics from Jason Acidre on the Moz Blog.

Reclaim Links

According to Acidre, reclaiming links is “probably the oldest trick in the book of white-hat link building.”   You can reclaim links by using tools like Open Site Explorer to locate all the links to your site that are no longer working or are linking to the wrong version of your page.  Some of your broken links may just require a simple fix.  Other links might need a 301 redirect, which is a bit more time consuming but doing this will not only improve your link profile, it will also improve the user experience on your site.  (No one likes being directed to a page that no longer exists.)

Another way to reclaim your links is to find out who is talking about you on the web by using tools like Google Trends or browser alerts.  Search for reputable sites with strong PageRank that are mentioning you.  If these sites aren’t already linking to you in their content, you can get in touch with the site to ask them to kindly link back to you in the content.  Emma North wrote a great post on how to reclaim links and more creative link building techniques for the Koozai blog that you should check out.

User-Generated Content Sites

The method I came across in my research that I liked best is utilizing user-generated content sites.  These sites rank highly in search results, especially for long-tail keywords.  My favorite UGC site is SlideShare, but Pinterest and YouTube are also up there.  What I like best about SlideShare is that it’s a great forum for you to be able to repurpose your content and get more use out of it.  You can easily make a SlideShare presentation out of a popular blog post or video you have created, for example.  The goal of using UGC sites in your natural link building strategy is to provide something that is useful to your audience and matches the long-tail keywords they search for.

You might also take a popular news story and figure out a way to relate it to your industry.  For example, digital strategists Kristian Henschel and Julian Cole used Lindsay Lohan, a very popular figure in the tabloids, as inspiration for a SlideShare presentation.  They created “A Digital Strategy for Lindsay Lohan,” which to date has received 71,792 total views, 131 embeds and 24,626 embedded views.  Finding a fun and creative way to demonstrate their knowledge of digital strategy really excited Henschel and Cole’s audience and inspired them to share and link back to the content.  This also brings up the importance of linking to your website through all your UGC site efforts so you receive the full benefits for your link profile.

Conclusion

Natural link building can sound like an intimidating and complicated process.  However, the more I read about “natural link building,” the more I see that it is simply content marketing with an emphasis on promoting your content and building relationships.  Create great content that your customers and others in your industry find useful, make sure to place it where they can find it, and they will naturally want to link and share.

If you have more natural link building tips, share your comments below.

Want to Design an SEO-Friendly Website? Be User-Friendly Instead.

Web DesignWhen you think about design for your website, you’re not only going to be determining the layout, colors and font. The most important thing for you to consider is the overall user experience. A good user experience will make customers more likely to stay on your site and perform the actions your site is intended for, like make a purchase or request more information. Thoughtful design will also make your site easier for search engines to crawl, which will improve your ranking in the search results, and in turn, revenue or conversions for your site.

Here are some tips on how to design a user-friendly and SEO-friendly website:

1) Pick One Target Audience

It’s not a good idea to try to create a website design meant to appeal to more than one target audience. If you try to satisfy everyone, you’ll end up satisfying no one. Find out which customer segment most frequently visits your website and tailor your website to that one segment.

Now that you know your target audience, you need to do lots of research to truly understand your customer. You need to know how they browse the web (mobile? desktop?) and what they want to find on your site. What keywords do they search for? What stage of the buying process are they in – research or purchase? You should also establish how your customer likes to be communicated with. Does your product or service require a more formal tone or can you be more laid-back? Choose your voice and be consistent throughout your site.

Along with researching your target customer, you need to analyze your competitor’s sites. Find out what methods they’re using to accomplish their goals and whether or not those methods are successful. See what they are offering customers and find a way to offer something better with your site that will set you apart. Also, learn what keywords your competitors are targeting. You can use tools such as Moz’s Open Site Explorer to gain insight into your competitors.

2) Architecture

When you begin constructing the architecture of your site, your business’s mission should be the foundation. As you design each page, you should be able to determine how the page will impact your mission so you can create a structure and user experience that will bring the best possible results.

Websites that are architected correctly organize content into related categories that use intelligent internal linking. Check out this infographic of a silo structure from Trond Lyngbø at Search Engine Land. Using a silo structure of Home – Category- Sub-Category – Topic – Content makes it easy for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for and navigate quickly through many different pages on your site.

3) Design

Appearance

As I mentioned earlier, design encompasses much more than just the appearance of your site. However, the appearance is still extremely important. You don’t want to over-design your site. If a user can’t find what they’re looking for in as little as three seconds, they’re going to leave. You want your website design to facilitate your customer’s course of action, not inhibit it. Think about if there are any extra, unnecessary steps that are blocking your customer from their ultimate goal. For example, years ago it was trendy to have a fancy introduction page for your site. Today, if users are blocked from the content they want by some useless, minute-long introduction, they’re definitely going to leave.

When you’re choosing your web designer or agency, research your needs and determine a realistic budget. Then find a web designer or agency who can deliver what you need. If you’re a small company, you probably don’t need a huge, super-expensive agency. But you shouldn’t just hire the cheapest designer you can find either. You’ll get what you pay for in terms of design quality.

Content

Your content should be designed around a call to action. Don’t leave your customer wondering what they should do next on your page. Have a clear call to action that will help your customer get exactly what your content has been guiding them towards. If they’re in the research stage, you can offer a free white paper download. If they’re ready to purchase, get them to your shopping cart in one click.

Having great content is important, and continuously updating your content goes hand-in-hand with that. New, fresh content has a number of benefits for your site including showing your customers that you are a thought leader in your industry as well as causing your site to be crawled more often by search engines.

The keywords you choose are also an important part of your site design. You should include relevant keywords in your titles, urls and categories. Good titles will help draw users to your site much like an enticing news headline. Including keywords in your page titles will also improve your page rank for those terms. By including keywords in your urls and categories, you help improve the ease of navigating your site, not to mention SEO. There are a number of keyword research tools available you can use for free, like the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

4) Maintenance

One thing you should avoid is taking all the time and effort needed to create a flawless experience for your users only to never check on your site’s performance again. Just like you want to test your site before you make changes, you should continuously check your site to make sure it is still working as it should. Put systems in place to make sure your links are still functioning. Do continuous competitive analysis, keyword research and usability testing. Monitor your site analytics to see what works and what doesn’t so you can keep evolving your content to fit customer needs. User experience and design is not a one-time endeavor but a continuous process that your organization will need to commit to in order to stay ahead of the competition and keep users engaged with your site.

What do you think is the best way to make your site more user-friendly? How can you use web design to improve SEO? Leave your comments below.

More Reading

I referenced these articles to create this post. Check them out!

The Pillars Of Strategic SEO & A Primer On Website Design – Trond Lyngbø

SEO Web Design Methodology – Bruce Clay, Inc.

8 Web Design Mistakes Small Businesses Make – Illya Pozin