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

5 Essentials For An Effective Email Campaign

ImageCustomers Still Want To Be Emailed

There are so many channels marketers can use to communicate a company’s message. Some may argue that email marketing is becoming outdated and will soon fall by the wayside. However, forecasts from the Radicati Group show that email marketing is going to continue to grow, with the number of worldwide email users predicted to reach over 2.7 billion by the end of 2017, and email market revenue to reach $20.4 billion.

Email is still the preferred marketing channel for users as well.  Research from Host Papa and ExactTarget has shown approximately 75% of users prefer email marketing over other methods of marketing.  Also, according to Salesforce blog contributor Chad White, return on investment is much higher for email marketing than for search, social media, mobile and many other marketing channels.

As the preferred method of customers and with high return on investment, it’s obvious that email is still a relevant marketing tool that companies should be taking advantage of. Here are five tips on to optimize your email marketing campaigns for customer engagement, conversions, and positive ROI:

1) Segmentation Is Key

Unlike social media where your message is widely broadcasted, email marketing offers the opportunity to share personalized content meant for a specific group. According to the Grasshopper marketing blog,  segmenting your email messages can lead to about 15% more clicks on links than non-segmented emails. There are many ways to segment your contact lists. For example, if you’re an ecommerce company, you can segment by frequent purchasers vs. customers who only purchase once in awhile. Then you’ll be able to customize your offers to better satisfy each group. For example, you could send frequent purchasers an email highlighting new products or offering free shipping. Then you could send less frequent customers a discount code to encourage them to come back to your site.

2) Shine In The Subject Line

Use the subject line to your advantage by creating something that will compel the customer to open your email and read on. Writing a spectacular subject line is something that will take time and effort, but the effort will pay off significantly. MailChimp reported open rates up to 93% when their clients really put in the effort to make a subject line that would appeal to their customers. Analytics and A/B testing can be your friends when determining what subject lines your audience responds to most. There are also lots of studies that can help you determine what words may send your email to the spam filter or what could lead to more or less opens. MailChimp conducted a study that broke down subject lines by words and determined the effects these words had on open rates overall and by industry. Read it here.

3) Be Purposeful, Consistent and Error-Free

We hate pointless emails at work and in life, so we definitely don’t want to receive an email with no clear purpose or intent from the brands we subscribe to either. A great email tip from The NextWeb contributor Abhimanyu Ghoshal is to always have a clear message and help the users accomplish some kind of goal, such as providing access to new features or details about an upcoming event. It’s also important to maintain consistency with all your communications so users will easily be able to associate your emails with your brand. Errors can have a negative impact on your brand, so don’t negate the importance of passing your email onto multiple sets of proof-reading eyes before you hit send. Always check for typos, incorrect dates, broken links or anything else that could hinder user experience or potentially communicate the incorrect information or message to users.

4) Optimize The Design

People are suffering from email overload every day. Therefore, email design is more important than ever. Effective design techniques and best practices should be used to highlight the most relevant information and so the call-to-action clearly stands out. Also, it’s no secret that most people check email on mobile devices now, so it’s no longer optional to design your emails for mobile. Use responsive design on your emails to be optimized for any screen size. Users should be able to perform any desired action from your email easily from a phone or tablet as well as a laptop. Luckily, most email marketing software products offer responsive email templates. Use them to your advantage!

5) Leverage Email Analytics

One of my favorite companies I receive emails from is HauteLook, a fashion flash-sale site. Their sales begin every day at 11 AM, and I receive their email at about 10:55 AM. It is a great reminder that the sale is about to start. Even if your company doesn’t have a time-specific offer, it is still a great practice to create a regular distribution schedule for your emails.  You can use email analytics to determine the day of the month, week, or even specific time of day when your customers are most likely to open your emails. MailChimp has also compiled data about the best times to schedule your emails. You can read the report here.

Analytics can also help you determine what works best for your email campaigns as well as which offers or subjects didn’t receive as much traction. This in-depth knowledge will help you make better-informed decisions about future campaigns and allow you to effectively measure each email campaign’s success. Email analytics can also help you to further segment your customers and create campaigns that are truly tailored to your customer’s specific wants and needs.

Summary

While marketers have an arsenal of communication channels to choose from when attempting to engage and interact with customers, email is still the channel most customers prefer. When creating an email campaign, it is important to follow a strategy for each communication. Every email should have a clear purpose and benefit for the customer, as well as provide a fantastic user experience. The high level of data available for each email campaign can also make it much easier for marketers to understand what kinds of emails provide the most value for customers. Use email marketing to the fullest by going back to the data to measure each email’s success.

What is your strategy for a successful email campaign? Leave your comments below.

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.

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

What I Learned About “Social Proof” From My Trip to Total Wine

Total WineThe other day I was at Total Wine, a wonderful store. I don’t know anything about wine, which is why this store is perfect for me. They have so many features on the shelves that help me pick out a wine. They tell me if the wine has won any fancy wine awards or if it has a high rating from those people who rate wines. I told you, I know nothing about wine!

What I love the most about Total Wine are the “staff favorites.” “Staff favorites” are marked throughout the store with a picture of the staff member and a callout that says, “[Staff Person]’s Favorite.” Then, the staff member will personalize it by writing a short statement about why they love that particular wine. For me, it’s a no-brainer: If the price is right on a bottle of “staff favorite” wine, that’s the one that’s going in my shopping cart. It saves me from spending hours wandering around the store trying to find the right wine and it cures me of the uncertainty that I’ve just purchased a crappy bottle. If someone who works at a wine store recommends it and it’s a style of wine I know I like, I’m willing to give it a try! And I’m not the only one – there were consistently less bottles left on the shelves where the little “staff favorite” cards were positioned. Some of the staff-picked wines had already sold out, or only one or two bottles were left.

It is obvious that personal recommendations are extremely important for businesses today, whether or not the store has a physical location. I’d say it’s even more important for an online business to eliminate customer doubt because of the lack of physical evidence when it comes to online purchasing. Everyone needs assurance that what they’re buying, whether it’s a bottle of wine or a bigger commitment like a car, is going to be a good investment. As I looked at the dwindling inventory of staff picks at Total Wine, I wondered what the best way would be to create an experience like this online where the customer feels more assured of their purchase. What was the answer? More reviews on Yelp? More Facebook likes? I wasn’t really sure.

About a week later, I read an article on Fast Company by Russell Kogan that identified what I’d experienced at Total Wine as “Social Proof.” The article talks more about how people tend to follow a crowd (i.e. pick a crowded restaurant over an empty one) because if other people are doing something, it lets our brains know that it is safe for us to do the same thing. That’s because we assume that the other people have assessed the risk and deemed the action as safe or good. In the case of Total Wine, it only took one person (a staff member) to say that a certain bottle of wine was good. However, coupling that with the missing bottles demonstrated that lots of other people agreed, making it more likely that I would trust the recommendation and buy the wine myself.

The problem for an online business is that people can’t see whether or not you have a crowd. Reviews and likes on social media are definitely a great way to show people that you’ve built a community and that people trust you . One way to get more reviews for your site is to ask your customers for them. You can prompt them to write a review after they make a purchase, for example.

While reviews on social media are important for any business (not just ecommerce sites), there are a lot of other methods you can use to “Social Proof” your business’s online presence. For example, Kogan uses a live sales feed on his business’s website. Having a live sales feed creates an environment where the customer feels less alone in their shopping experience. Seeing that others are making purchases at the same time will make them feel more at ease that the products are good and the site is trustworthy.

Do you have any ideas on how you can “Social Proof” a website or get more online reviews?