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.

Do I Really Need to Bid on Branded Keywords?

brandedkeywordIf someone is already searching for your brand online, do you really need to bid on your branded keywords?  I did some research on this question and found the answer to be a resounding, “yes.”  In this post I share why you need to bid on your branded keywords and how you can measure the effectiveness of your branded PPC campaigns. And I also share a little news about Google currently testing branded banner ads for search. Here we go!

Why You Should Bid on Branded Keywords

According to Ben Lloyd of Amplify Interactive, click through rates are higher for brands that have both an organic and a paid presence on the web. Putting effort into your organic SEO and your PPC will help your brand own more space on the search engine results page, which is extremely helpful in getting more clicks and traffic for your site. Conversion rates for keywords that show both an organic and paid result are higher as well. Lloyd suggests that the dual results can create more credibility for your brand in the eyes of the user.

It’s also important to control what shows on the search engine results page for your branded keywords because you want to make sure the searcher is receiving the right message and the right link for a given keyword. You can use your PPC campaign to better direct traffic for those keywords because you can target your ad copy and use ad extensions to provide even more information if needed. It’s simply not possible to have this level of control over your search results by using organic SEO alone.

Another important factor to think about with regards to the search engine results page is browser size. If you don’t own the top ad slot for your branded keywords, your competitors will end up pushing your organic result way down the page. Lloyd gives great visual examples of this on his blog post. He has also published some extremely useful graphs that show the differences in conversions and click through rates between PPC & organic vs. organic only campaigns. You can see the full post here:  http://www.amplify-interactive.com/blog/ppc/6-reasons-to-bid-on-branded-ppc-keywords/

Measuring the Effectiveness of Branded Campaigns

It might be a good strategy to separate the goals you have for your branded vs. non-branded campaigns. Branded keywords and non-branded keywords most likely have different objectives, so you may have different ways of measuring whether or not they are successful. For example, you may use branded keywords to encourage specific action from users, such as clicks and conversions, so you’d want to measure those. On the other hand, you may use non-branded keywords to try to get your company in front of users searching for those terms to generate brand awareness. In this case, you’d want to measure the number of impressions instead of clicks and conversions.

A great way to find out if your branded PPC campaign is effective or not is to do a before and after test and then compare the total traffic. According to Craig Galyon of SwellPath, you should choose a period of time to run your PPC campaigns without the branded keywords and again with branded keywords. Of course, there will be some variance because your test will be over two different date ranges, so you will want to make sure that you have chosen a time period for your business that has the lowest amount of fluctuation (no major events or seasonality factors involved).  Galyon also created an excellent step-by-step guide of how to measure the effectiveness of your branded keywords. You can find it here: http://www.swellpath.com/2013/10/ppc-cannibalization/

New Branded Banner Ads Test on Google

Bidding on your branded keywords may become even more important in the future. Search Engine Land reported that Google is experimenting with branded banner ads attached to branded keywords. It’s being called “the brand image experiment” and approximately 30 advertisers are participating, including Crate & Barrel and Virgin America. @SynrgyHQ provided Search Engine Land a screenshot of Virgin’s banner ad. Have a look at it here: http://searchengineland.com/faq-all-about-the-banner-ad-test-in-googles-search-results-175045.

The banner ad is paired with organic search results for Virgin, making it appear to be one large ad. If these new branded display ads are fully rolled out, branded keywords will become even more important for any business. If your competitor has a branded banner ad, it will take up the majority of the real estate on the first page of search results, and therefore, the majority of clicks and traffic. Since we can already see Google putting more emphasis on branded search, it’s probably a good strategy to keep up your efforts regarding your own branded search.

Conclusion

Branded keywords are highly relevant to the searcher. If someone is searching directly for your brand, they know exactly what they’re looking for. In turn, your branded keywords will also end up being your highest-converting keywords because of how relevant they are to the user. However, don’t fall into the trap that customers who search for your brand will find you whether or not you bid on your branded keywords. If you aren’t bidding on your branded keywords, you will become an open target for your competitors. Don’t forget, relevant keywords cost less so it will be less expensive for you to take the top paid spot for your brand. And now with Google testing large branded banner ads,  it is probably a good time to take control of your brand and make sure that you are in the top paid spot for all your branded search terms.

A Guide For Getting and Keeping Online Customer Reviews

Online ReviewsMy last post was supposed to be about how to get more reviews on your site, however I got sidetracked by the concept of Social Proof so I went with that instead. I thought I could sort of touch on both in one post, but quickly realized that how to get more reviews on your site needed its own post. Boy, was I right!

I apologize in advance for this lengthy post! Researching this topic really took me on a journey. As I read more, I found lots of contradicting info out there. It goes to show how the rules of review sites change as sites wise up to the incentives and tactics being used to boost review numbers. So I wanted to share not only what you should do, but what will get you into trouble with review filters as well.

Why Reviews Are Important

So what’s the big deal about reviews (and why is this post so long)? Reviews help to build trust for your website and your business. Potential customers want to eliminate their feelings of uncertainty when they’re buying a new product or looking for a new service provider. Reviews help them to quickly learn from the experiences others have had with your company, which makes them feel more confident in their purchase decision.

Maybe you’re thinking reviews don’t really matter for your business because most of your competitors don’t have any. It’s true that some industries are naturally reviewed more than others. But even if your competitors don’t have any online reviews, you still need to be focused on acquiring reviews for your site. Reviews can be your unique competitive advantage.

Speaking of competitive advantage – in the world of search engines and rankings, competition is fierce. It’s possible that reviews can help your site rank higher in search results. However, a proven benefit of reviews is that they bring more traffic to your site. Positive reviews give potential customers reason to click on your site, and more click-throughs mean more business for you.

Which Sites to Focus On

The most important thing to do when you decide which review sites you want to focus on is to read the guidelines. Tactics such as incentivizing users to review your site may be fine on one site, but it may get you filtered on another.

So how do you determine which review sites are the best for your business? Start off by doing a competitive analysis and see where the most valuable reviews are for your industry. Take note of how many reviews sites in your industry typically have to create a benchmark for your review acquisition efforts.

Also, be aware that some review sites are more influential than others. A good way to figure out which ones are the most important is to see where they rank on the search results page. Obviously, you’ll want to focus your efforts on the review sites that show up on the top of the list, such as Google+ and Yahoo Local. However, you don’t want to ignore the less popular review sites. A lot of times, reviews from less popular review sites like CitySearch and Insider Pages will be picked up and displayed on other local search engines. You probably won’t want to focus your efforts on these less popular sites, but you need to be aware if your reviews ever do show up there.

What NOT to Do

There is a lot of misinformation out there about how you should go about getting those reviews. Certain tactics that are published out there you really should avoid. Here are three I found that I’d like you to take out of your review acquisition strategy right now:

1) DON’T set up a computer at your business for people to write reviews.

Review sites, especially Google+, know the IP address the review is coming from. If your page has a ton of reviews from one IP address, that’s a sure way to get them filtered and removed.

2) DON’T copy testimonials from your website to create reviews.

Duplicate content will get you a penalty in search engine results and could get your reviews filtered and removed. Don’t ask your customers to just re-write their testimonials for you word-for-word. If you want to use a review as a testimonial on your website, you can do so by taking a screen shot and using it as an image instead of text.

3) DON’T use incentives.

For one thing, if Yelp catches you incentivizing for reviews, you’ll be in big trouble. Other review sites are a bit more lenient on this policy, so you may be able to use incentives like discounts and coupon codes to get more reviews. However, your loyal customers don’t want to be bought. They want to feel like they’re a valuable partner in your business, so trying to buy them may actually insult them. Letting them know that their opinions and thoughts are valuable to you is a much better way to get their attention.

How to Get Reviews

OK, now that you know what not to do, how should you go about getting those reviews?

Timing

Space out your campaigns so you receive a slow stream of reviews over a longer period of time. Short spurts of lots of reviews set off red flags to the filters. You should also try to have the reviews posted as close to the time of the transaction as possible. That way it’s on top of your customer’s mind and therefore easier for them to write a review.

Segment by Account

If your customers have a Gmail or Yahoo account, start by asking them to review you on those sites.

Let Your Customer Choose Where to Review You

You can tell your customers that you prefer certain review sites, but ultimately you should leave the decision up to them. You want to make the process of reviewing you as simple as possible, so let the customer use the site they’re most comfortable with.

More On Keeping it Simple

The simpler your review process is, the more reviews you’ll get – it’s as simple as that!

Go through the process yourself, then create easy-to-follow instructions. Make sure to include many options on it so your customer can pick the one that works best for them. Check out this great review flowchart from Phil Rozek at Local Visibility. You can print these directions out and hand them to your customers or send them in an email.

Promote Your Review Sites

Include links to your profiles on Google+, Yelp and anywhere else you are accepting reviews on your website, email signature, business cards, etc. Letting your customers know where your profiles are will make it more likely that they’ll go there and post reviews on their own.

Tell Your Customer to Be Honest

In some of the other articles I read, it was suggested that you should only ask your happy customers to review you. While positive reviews are best for your business and for getting traffic to your site, ignoring negative reviews isn’t going to do you any good. Reviews not only help to drive more business to your site, they also should help you have a realistic idea of how your customers perceive you. You should take negative reviews into consideration and use them to improve. Don’t try to shield yourself from them. Besides, 100% positive reviews looks suspicious to the filters so you need a few negative ones in there anyway. Just remember to always respond to both your negative and positive reviews. You want to show your customers that you are learning from the negative feedback and that you truly appreciate the positive feedback.

Resources

This is by far the best resource for how to get more reviews I found on the Internet. It’s primarily focused on Google+, but it’s still a comprehensive resource on this topic with lots of helpful advice:

The Complete Guide to Google+ Local Reviews – and Especially How to Get Them – Phil Rozek

What are your tips for how to and how NOT to get more reviews for your site?