In an ideal world, every single page of your website would be accessible from that one, site-wide website menu. But as you, as a web developer or website owner, undoubtedly know, the real world of websites is far from ideal. We struggle with multiple devices, fixed-width websites, themes that can hardly be changed without creating new problems, and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, the website menu is the most common aid for navigation on your website and you want to make the best possible use of it. Here, I’ll address a number of useful best practices that allow you to optimize your website menu for both your users and SEO.

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Website menus

First of all, I think we should forget the assumption that a website can only have one menu. I think we have become used to the small links in the upper bar on a website.

Website menu: greenday.com

Like so many other websites, Greenday.com has a first menu in the black bar, whereas the red bar also contains a number of links to internal or external pages. Social profiles, Apple Music and Spotify links, but also a newsletter subscription.

Website menu: Manhattan College

Manhattan College has a clear second menu leading to internal pages, aimed at specific audiences. It just goes to show that these extra menus are everywhere.

My point here? Don’t put everything in one menu. Doing that clutters your website and makes your main menu a poor reflection of your site structure. Focus on the most important content. For instance: I do like a ‘Contact’ link in a menu. But only add one if your main goal is that your visitors contact you. Otherwise, that link can be placed in a second website menu without a problem.

The downsides of too many links in your website menu

Too many links, anywhere on your page, isn’t recommended. Yes, Google may allow up to 250 links and perhaps even more on a page without any problems. But your website’s goal’s probably not to make sure your visitors can’t see the wood for the trees. We recommend against:

  • Tag clouds (what’s the use, really?)
  • Long lists of monthly links to your blog archive (don’t use date archives!)
  • Infinitely scrollable archive pages with links to articles (at least add excerpts and load more articles on scroll)
  • A hundred categories in a list (why so many!)
  • Menus with submenus and sub-submenus and so on

Why do we recommend against this? Having too many links on a page messes up your link value, for one. With so many links on a page, every link from that page is just a little less valuable for the page it links to. Besides that, it messes up the focus of your visitor. With every link, you add a diversion from the main goal of your website.

In my opinion, you do need to have a solid reason to add more than one submenu. And if you feel you need that extra level in your menu, monitor the number of clicks that menu gets and adjust if needed. I think you are much better off creating good landing pages for your submenu items, in many cases.

Read on: ‘How to clean up your site structure’ »

The perfect menu

Of course, there is no template for ‘the perfect menu’. Much of it depends on your site and on what your goals are. In any case, there are two important questions you should ask yourself when optimizing your menu:

  • What is the best menu structure for my site?
  • What menu items should at least be in my menu?

Two more tips we can give you is to use a drop-down menu for important sub items. And don’t add too many links to your menu, or they will lose their value. Do you have other tips for a good site menu? Let us know in the comments!

Read more: ‘The Ultimate guide to site structure’ »

The post Optimizing your website menu for SEO appeared first on Yoast.

In WordPress, content can be grouped using categories and tags by default. WordPress calls these groups taxonomies. When you are serious about your content and have a lot of it, it will pay off to create other groups as well. By creating these custom taxonomies, you’re making your life as a content writer easier. More importantly, you’ll structure your website to your best effort for your visitors. They’ll be able to locate content that’s relevant to them and find related content more easily. This article will dive into the use of custom taxonomies.

Hierarchical versus non-hierarchical

WordPress introduced the concept of tags in version 2.3. As described by Wikipedia, a tag is ‘a non-hierarchical keyword or term assigned to a piece of information.’ This means WordPress has had a hierarchical way of classifying information (categories), and a non-hierarchical way of organizing information (tags) since version 2.3. As far back as 2006 (!), people were discussing the fact that tags are not categories. The problem is that WordPress calls them both ‘taxonomies,’ but that’s not entirely correct. The word taxonomy assumes a hierarchy of sorts, as explained on another Wikipedia page

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With version 2.8, WordPress introduced custom taxonomies. Or actually, allowed easier access to the already available backend for custom taxonomies. These custom taxonomies can be either non-hierarchical (e.g. ‘tag’-like) or hierarchical (e.g. ‘category’-like). But for now, only the non-hierarchical taxonomies benefit from the smooth integration. These are more like actual taxonomies though, as they add a kind of hierarchy to the tag structure.

Let me give you an example: you could have a ‘People’ and a ‘Places’ taxonomy. Say, you write a new post and decide to add a keyword in the ‘People’ taxonomy. By doing that, you’re saying that it’s a keyword (or tag, if you want) of the type ‘People,’ so it is hierarchical in a way. But it also makes the keyword that much more informative, as it adds another layer of information.

Some years ago, Roy Huiskes made this visual for us by making a graphical explanation of the subject:

custom taxonomies

Fun fact: That People taxonomy section in the image above would include some more branches nowadays.

You can imagine using this for locations, or employees on a company site, but also writers on a book site, destinations on a travel site, etcetera. It groups items in a convenient way, both for maintenance and your visitors.

Custom taxonomies in WordPress

Adding custom taxonomies in WordPress isn’t that hard. To manually register a taxonomy, you can use the register_taxonomy() function. Most WordPress developers have probably used this one time or another, right?

WordPress.org has an example of how to approach this for a People taxonomy:

function people_init() {
	// create a new taxonomy
	register_taxonomy(
		'people',
		'post',
		array(
			'label' => __( 'People' ),
			'rewrite' => array( 'slug' => 'person' ),
			'capabilities' => array(
				'assign_terms' => 'edit_guides',
				'edit_terms' => 'publish_guides'
			)
		)
	);
}
add_action( 'init', 'people_init' );

This piece of code adds a meta box to your WordPress post edit screens, that looks like the tag box. It even works in the same way. I’m not a fan of tag clouds, but yes, in theory, you could even create a cloud for your new taxonomy. For a more in-depth explanation, check this post by wpmudev.org (2016).

These custom taxonomies can be public and private, which also makes them extremely useful for internal grouping of elements as well. I can imagine grouping VIP users, social influencers; you name it. 

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Note: (Custom) Taxonomies and Gutenberg

As Matt Cromwell describes, “Gutenberg is the future of content in WordPress. It will deliver the elegance of Medium but with far more power and flexibility of layouts and content types”. But Gutenberg is currently in development, and 99% of WordPress users probably won’t see any of it until it’s finished.

However, just last week, my colleague Tim added an issue to the WordPress/Gutenberg Github repo: Gutenberg shows private taxonomies in Category and Tag lists. Just dropping this here as a note, as I am sure the development team fixes this before releasing Gutenberg to the public. But if you are test-driving Gutenberg on a live site, and you are using custom taxonomies somewhere on that site, it could be something to check. Just to be sure!

How are you using custom taxonomies?

So, in conclusion, custom taxonomies can be very useful. If you have loads of content and want to create order, for both yourself and your users, you could use them.

That leaves me with two questions: Are you using custom taxonomies and if yes, how did you add these to your site? I’m looking forward to your answers in the comments!

Read more: ‘Using category and tag pages for SEO’ »

One of the most frequently asked questions by fellow SEO consultants probably is: “What online marketing tools do you use?” In the ever-changing SEO world, it was time for us to update our list with the present day tools we use on a very frequent basis in a variety of projects. Some of these tools are mainly for SEO use, but they all come in handy for every website owner. Use them to check on your site’s health, improve communications and keep track of your traffic. And these are, of course, all important aspects of online marketing. So let’s dive straight in!

Google Analytics

The heart of many a search engine optimization/search engine marketing campaign is Google Analytics. You can use it to track the clicks on your website and the impact of the things you change over time. It is, for example, effective to track how successful your advertisements, email blasts, and SEO campaigns are.

To install Google Analytics on your site you have to put the Google tracking code on every page of your site. If you use a CMS like Joomla, Drupal or WordPress to create your site, you should find this easy to do, using one of the freely available extensions, like MonsterInsights.

Online Marketing tools - Google Analytics

Page Analytics by Google

This handy little Chrome extension is an online marketing tool that will help you read your Google Analytics data on a per page basis. There are more extensions like it, but this one is from Google. You can use it for any site that you have Google Analytics access to.

Online Marketing tools - Google Analytics extension chrome

Google Analytics Tracking Code Debugger

If you want to take your Google A=/=nalytics tracking to a more advanced level, the tracking code debugger extension for Chrome is very helpful. It allows you to see what Google Analytics tracks for the current page.

GetClicky

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Get Clicky is another great online marketing tool for analyzing the traffic on your site. Especially if you’re one of those people that don’t want to use Google Analytics. It has one nifty feature that GA doesn’t have: you can watch users navigate your site in real time. This means you can see what pages they land on, what they click on, what they download and where they leave. Using the Spy tool you can even track a given IP address on your site in real time. This will help you check what content on your site is attractive to people, and what content they ignore.

Tip: There’s a free WordPress plugin for Clicky (by Yoast) that makes it easy to install on every page.

Clicky Screenshot

Google Search Console

Google Search Console has many useful options for analyzing and evaluating your site’s performance. It’s still underused by people all over the web. We have written several articles about Google Search Console, so go read if you want to learn more. You’ll also find a few articles about Bing’s webmaster tools there, by the way.

Search Console Structured Data

A nice section to check is the Structured Data section, under ‘Search Appearance‘. See if your shop is well-configured in terms of structured data. This helps search engines understand your site, you can read more about that here. You can also check out our online course about Structured Data for more insights.

Fetch as Googlebot is one of our favorite features, because it allows you to fetch a page exactly the way Googlebot would. It then shows if there are any issues that prevent Googlebot from accessing your content.

Google Cache (Text Only Version)

To check how Google sees your site you can also search for your page, then click the small triangle next to the URL in the search results and click ‘cached’.

This will show you a (hopefully) recent version of your page. Click on ‘Text-Only version’, in the upper left corner of your page (in the gray area), to see the text on your page as Google sees it.

Google Cache

When indexing your site, Google looks for keywords in the domain name, in the Title tag, in the Heading (H1, H2, H3…) tags, etc. So check how Google sees your site to ensure that everything is clear. If you want to sell Motorcycles on your site, but all the keywords are Sales, Training and Special Offers, Google won’t send you much traffic. Also, when your content is buried under loads of paragraphs about other stuff, it won’t work well for your online marketing.

Wirify

Wirify allows you to see the relationship between text and graphics on a page. This is practical when you’re looking at complex pages and you want to see the relationship between the number of graphics and the amount of text on a site. Wirify lets you see where these elements appear respective to one another in a schematic way. It’s also a useful tool if you just want to use the layout of another site as inspiration for your own site. 

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To use this tool, just visit the Wirify page, drag the Wirify by Volkside link into your bookmark toolbar. Visit any page and click the link to see a wireframe version of your site.

MajesticSEO

MajesticSEO lets you see all the people who link to your site. Incoming links from other relevant and well-linked websites are crucial to ensure that your page will rank well in Google listings. This tool is also useful to see who links to your competitors. Checking that will give you new people to contact for your link building. Recently, we interviewed Dixon Jones, Marketing Director of Majestic, and he shared his views on link building and using Majestic. You can read it here.

Alternatives are Open Site Explorer and aHrefs.

Google Trends

Some search terms are just better than others, and search term value changes over time. Google Trends lets you rank keywords against each other, allows you to see their performance over time, by geographic location if desired.

Online marketing tools: Google trends

From a marketing perspective, the best thing is to have a website that focuses on a keyword that is starting a meteoric rise. For example, if you are the only cell phone accessory store with content about the iPhone, the week the new iPhone is announced, and your site is equipped to close sales, you’ll likely draw a lot of traffic and sell loads of products.

Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Another important tool for evaluating the usefulness of keywords is to examine them with Google Adwords Keyword Planner. You input a series of search terms and Google shows you how many people searched for those terms, and related terms, both globally and locally. Click on the headings at the top of the table to sort by keyword, by the number of searches or by competition.

Keyword Planner Google AdWords

Competition is a measurement of how many people are actively marketing that term through Google Adwords. This gives you an idea of how hard it may be to rank for the term.

BrowserStack

Online marketing tools: Browsershots

As time goes by, the number of browsers people use to surf the Internet increases. Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Mozilla, IE, Opera… and for every browser a dozen or more versions. BrowserStack (free trial) makes it easy to see how your page looks in all these browsers, highlighting any issues that may make the site unusable.

An alternative online marketing tool with the same purpose is BrowserShots, see screenshot.

Contrast Ratio Calculators

For anyone who creates websites, Contrast Ratio Calculators are critical. These allow you to check colors, and indeed entire pages, to conform to international accessibility standards. One such test is Lea Verou’s Contrast Ratio. It will instantly tell you if two colors are a match or not.

Contrast Ratio test

Remember when choosing colors for your website that a pretty large percentage of men around the world is, at least partly, color blind. Having good, contrasting colors in your design is important for them!

Quix

Quix is an extensible bookmarklet, developed by Joost himself. It allows you to easily access all your bookmarks and bookmarklets, across all your browsers, while maintaining them in only one spot. All you have to do is remember the shortcut for the bookmarklet.

Basically, it is a command line for your browser. So you can type ‘bitly’, and bring up a tool to shorten with bit.ly, etc. If, like most developers, you have fifty browser-based analysis and editing tools you use every day, Quix will save you many clicks and key strokes.

Share your tools!

The web is always coming up with new tools, new techniques, and new utilities, but this list provides a quick overview of things we use and refer people to regularly. We hope it proves useful for your online marketing efforts. Of course, we understand that this list might be a bit basic if you’ve been doing SEO for years. So feel free to drop your suggestions in the comments. Thanks!

Read more: ‘SEO tools’ »

You are a small business owner with a local target audience. Of course, your local audience needs to find your shop or office, and you want to use social media for that. But, in the plethora of platforms, you just have no clue where to start. So you post something on Facebook, try a tweet now and then, but nothing happens. To small business owners, social media can feel like a struggle every time. And perhaps that last word sums it all up: you are probably just putting your extra time into social media. Whereas investing actual, accountable time in social media will probably pay off way more.

Investing that time deliberately means you need to figure out some things first. Let us help you with that.

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What platforms should I use?

You need to find the social platforms your target audience uses. Otherwise, you won’t be able to reach the right people. There are (at least) two ways to find out what these platforms are:

  • Ask your customers what social media they use. That might be Twitter or Snapchat, but can also be Yelp or Meetup.com, depending on your type of business. Simply ask your customers and see what response you get. If you have hundreds of customers a week, this is probably not the best course of action.
  • Simply start using a certain social platform. And see what happens. I prefer this option over the alternatives. Try everything, keep track of the results, and stop doing the things that don’t work for your business after a couple of months. Don’t give up the next day, but set a goal for yourself and see if you can achieve that.

Read more: ‘Social media strategy: where to begin?’ »

Factors that influence social media for small business

There are many things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about social media plans as a small business owner. Your results will depend on the platform you’ve chosen, but the three factors below also definitely play a part.

Give it time

Keep your expectations in check: your social following won’t grow overnight. Don’t expect people to follow you right after creating a profile. You need to invest that time we talked about. And creating a profile isn’t investing time, that should be done in a few minutes. The actual time investment starts right after that.

Create relevant content

You need to make sure your messages/mentions/promotions/articles are worth sharing. In other words, your content, in general, must be relevant and worthwhile. At Yoast, we try to publish five articles a week, but only if we have something that deserves publishing. We’d rather skip a day than publish something that could backfire on (for instance) social media, due to lack of relevance.

The need for relevance can hold back certain businesses from using social media. People often say:

“But I have nothing worth sharing.”

That’s nonsense. If you are good at what you do, you’ll have projects, testimonials, pictures, and quotes worth sharing. No need to write new blog posts every day, simply find something you’re proud of and share it. And if you do want to start a blog, Marieke has some tips to get inspiration for you. For those who want to dive into blogging, there is always our ultimate guide to blogging.

Don’t give up

The third factor that influences social media for small business is determination. To work properly, social media for small businesses has to be a continuous process of publishing and engaging. Saying “I have tried social media and it’s just not my thing” doesn’t show determination. You may have tried Snapchat, and it’s not your cup of tea. That’s fine. But perhaps Facebook is. And maybe posting on Facebook isn’t for you, but engaging in Facebook Groups might be. I call bullsh*t on the statement that “social media isn’t your thing.” You probably just haven’t found the right medium or platform.

Social media usage for small businesses

Let me go over some social platforms and give you some ideas on how to use them. This isn’t a blueprint for your own social media strategy: the actual use will depend on your type of business and the time you are willing to invest in social media. Here are some ideas:

Twitter

Twitter is an excellent way to send messages and interact with your local community. Two things come in handy here:

  • Hashtags. Hashtags allow you to connect your tweet to an individual subject, without having to add an extensive introduction. It’s being used to tweet about television shows like #GoT or cities like #Seattle. Especially adding your town’s name to a tweet will get you local attention. We can confirm this works even for #Wijchen, the small town where we’re located.
  • Advanced Search. If you are looking for a way to get involved in relevant, local conversations, you should try the advanced search option on Twitter. It allows you to search for any subject you like, in the area you want. See screenshot below.

Social media for small business: Twitter Advanced Search

Facebook

First things first: is your company already on Facebook? I recommend adding it as a local business or place. Facebook has 1.94 billion monthly active users and 1.28 billion daily active users on average (Source: Facebook). Facebook is huge. That alone should be reason enough to add your business to Facebook. And adding your company to Facebook isn’t that hard. It’s a relatively small effort when it comes to social media for small business owners.

Promote your page to your personal friends, get likes, and share updates and photos. Note that for sales posts (“Buy our product!”), you have a better chance of success if you ‘boost‘ your post just a little bit. Boosting can be done for a specified audience, with the location being one of the filters.

Another reason Facebook is an attractive choice for your social media efforts is Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups can be about just about everything. A quick search for Facebook groups about Milwaukee shows how much variety there is:

Social media for small business: Facebook Groups Milwaukee

Pokemon Go, Refugee supporters, Saab, ukulele, auto modelers, running – you name the subject, and Facebook has a group for you. Usually, there are also networking groups for local business people. Just search and find the group that fits your need. Introduce yourself and your business, and engage in discussions. That’s an easy, time efficient way to promote yourself and your company to a local audience.

Instagram

Do you have product images or photos worth sharing? In that case, Instagram might be the social platform for you. Instagram works with hashtags, much like Twitter. I use hashtag apps like Hashme or Tag o’Matic to find the right ones matching my content. Hashtags on Instagram work like a charm when adding local content. An example:

#seattle #seattlelife #seattleart #seattleartist #seattlelove #downtownseattle #spaceneedle #spaceneedleview #spaceneedles #washington #spaceneedleseattle #washingtonstate #seattlewa #seattleskyline #seattlecenter

It took me 30 seconds to find 15 relevant local hashtags using that last app. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags a post, by the way. Use these to your advantage!

Of course, there are many more social media platforms for small businesses. But I don’t want to overwhelm you with options right now. One thing I would like to mention is that review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are also social sites. They shouldn’t be forgotten if your business is mentioned on these sites. Be sure to monitor your mentions there and act on them if needed. That’s also being social!

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Measure your social media efforts

We have written some articles on the various analytics tools for social media networks, and I’d like to point you to these as well. Keeping track of followers and reach gives you an indication of how well your strategy is working. Focus on the numbers that tell you something about engagement, to see what social networks do indeed help you build your community. Here we go:

  • Facebook Insights: Get 30 likes, and Insights will be available. After 100 likes on your page, you can even compare your numbers to the competition.
  • Twitter Analytics: See who your influencers are: the people that like your tweets and have a nice following of their own. Find local influencers and get acquainted with them: ask them to tweet about you now and then.
  • Iconosquare for Instagram: As there still is no proper analytics for Instagram from Instagram, I rely on Iconosquare for that. Use it to find the best time to post, and see what kind of content works best for your business.

Please check out these tools yourself. Keep a keen eye on trends and engagement, as that is the most important thing in my opinion.

The obvious social media strategy works best

I want to leave you with two final thoughts here:

  • Post engaging content, because that is the best way to build an audience. Sounds simple, but it is pretty hard. Don’t be afraid to experiment here. Usually, personal stories lead to the most and best engagement. Having said that, Yoast office life pictures on social media often lead to questions about the awesome features of Yoast SEO Premium (for instance). Keep an open mind and help any customer with whatever question they have, related or not. The engagement counts, not the subject of your post.
  • Your employees are your brand ambassadors on social media. They love your company, enjoy working there and are most likely to share a lot of your social content if not all. Your employees create that local snowball effect. After all, most of their connections on Facebook are probably/usually living in the same geographical area as you. Acknowledge this, and stay aware of the value of these ‘in-house’ shares.

That’s it for now! I’m sure I’ve convinced you that even as a small business, investing some time and effort into your social media strategy will pay off. So go for it! And feel free to drop any questions or thoughts about social media for small business in the comments!

Keep reading: ‘Ultimate guide to small business SEO’ »

Those used to tabbed browsing know why favicons are important. Your site will stand out from the rest if your favicon is recognizable. After all, a picture says more than a thousand words. Personally, I often find myself pinning websites in Google Chrome, still my browser of choice. As a to-do list, or simply because I want Gmail at hand anytime. Or that specific spreadsheet in Sheets. Or Facebook. That little favicon is the only reference to what site is hidden in that tab. You simply need a good favicon for your website.

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Make your favicon stand out

You should make sure your favicon stands out from that long list of tabs. Check if it matches your logo and website well. Especially when you are not one of the big brands, you want people to recognize your favicon. Two tips directly related to that are:

  • avoid too many details in your favicon,
  • and please use the right colors, so the favicon doesn’t blend in with the gray of your browser tab.

Both are closely related to branding. Your brand should be recognizable in your favicon. Although we’re able to use more colors and more depth in our favicons nowadays, the fact is that the space available on that browser still hasn’t improved from the small 16×16 pixels it used to be in the early days. It doesn’t look like 16×16 pixels anymore, but that’s because we have better screens, not because that space increased. The main improvement is that lines are sharper and you can use all the colors you want.

Proper branding is making sure people will relate your favicon to your website immediately. I listed a number of favicons for you to test. Drop me a line in the comments about what favicon belongs to what brand:

favicons quiz

Too easy? In that case, these brands did a good job on translating their brand to their favicon.

SEO benefits of favicons

Are there real SEO benefits to favicons? Tough one. Besides branding, probably not, though opinions may differ on this a bit. One might argue that you can now add an image of 1MB as a favicon and that this will slow down loading times. You could say that a proper favicon highlights a bookmark and might increase return visitors. I have even found a story where someone stated that some browsers automatically look for a favicon and return a 404 if it’s not there.

My 2 cents? If there is an SEO benefit, it’s so small that all other optimization, like proper site structure or great copy, should always have priority. Does that mean you don’t need that favicon? Hey, didn’t you read that part about browser tabs? You do need it, even if it’s just to stand out.

WordPress just made your day: favicons in the Customizer

If you use WordPress, you might already know that there’s been a favicon functionality in WordPress core since version 4.3. So you can use this default functionality, without hassle. It’s located in the Customizer and is called Site Icon. In fact, WordPress recommends using this option to add a favicon. You don’t even need to create a favicon.ico file, like you used to, years ago. Just use a square image, preferably at least 512 pixels wide and tall. That seems to contradict with the recommendation to keep it as small as possible. But if you optimize your image, it won’t slow down your site :)

More information on how to go about this in WordPress is in the WordPress Codex. Go read and add a nice favicon to your own site!

Read more: ‘5 tips on branding’ »

SEO isn’t just for large companies. As a small business or local business, there is actually a lot you can do to achieve local goals yourself. Many of these things relate to focus. In this ultimate guide for local and small business SEO, we’ll tell you about finding your niche, optimizing pages and social media efforts.

Way back in 2014 we promised you in our post on local SEO that we’d be writing a bit more about local and small businesses. Considering that local SEO is basically the optimization process for the local results in search engines, we can say that local SEO is often closely related to small business SEO. This is why we decided to discuss both in this article.

In this article, you’ll find a variety of related topics:

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As long as Google’s local search result pages continue to grow and improve, we’re not done with this subject. But in the meantime, we’d like to present you our ultimate guide to local and small business SEO. Let’s start at the beginning of your SEO process.

Finding your shop’s niche

Especially for local or small businesses, determining your niche is very important. When you know your niche, you can emphasize what makes your products or brand unique, therefore improving your odds to rank well for them. If you have a clear niche, you can locally compete with large national brands in spite of their multi-million advertisement budgets.

Find out who your customers are and what words they use to describe your product, because people will use the same terms to find your website. Using these terms, often made into long-tail keywords, can really help you optimize your local business SEO. Make your keywords as specific as possible.  Once you’ve done all this, don’t forget to monitor your niche as it evolves with the growth of your company.

Find your shop’s niche

Low budget branding

We have mentioned this over and over: branding is very important for SEO. Branding deals with things like your logo and your tagline. How do they represent your company without further context? What do your logo and tagline reveal about your values and your field of expertise? It’s all about recognition.

Read more: ‘Low budget branding tips for small businesses’ »

A tip for branding: share your expertise! You can do that in blog posts and on social media. We’ll talk about this some more, further down this guide.

Start writing great content

Your small business SEO will get a significant boost from the right content. Many small business owners put products and contact details on their website and that’s basically it. But there is so much more to tell and share!

Focus on making an awesome first impression on your potential customer. Write about your business, your business goals, how great your products are and things like that. You can also discuss market developments or local events that relate to your business. These are just a few tips for your local SEO content strategy.

When writing your content, be realistic about the chances of that content to rank. If you are in a highly competitive market, content works very well as a marketing tool and/or as input for social media. But it will probably not get you that number one spot in Google, and that’s fine. Manage your expectations.

Picking the right keywords to optimize for is very important. Usually, it’s a good idea to pick mid-tail keywords, including the local area you are focusing on. It really doesn’t matter if you add this content to your site as a page or blog post. Just make sure that you write about things that people want to talk about or that make people talk about your business in a positive way.

Keep reading: ‘Improve your small business SEO today’ »

Share your content on social media

Did you know you can actually sell your products on social media itself? While that’s very cool, in most cases social media are used for brand awareness or to lead potential customers to a sale. Using social media as a small business is all about promoting your brand, your company, and your products to establish a certain image and to get the right traffic to your company website. Social media, used in the right way, can contribute to small business SEO.

I tend to compare social media to a marketplace where all the stand owners know each other and customers browse among the products. At some point, someone will tell other visitors where to go to for a product: “The cheese over there is delicious”, “you should really check the fruit over there”. This is what real life social media are like. So make sure people start talking about you. And start talking about yourself online, to make others start talking to you on social platforms. Lastly, actively engage in social media conversations, to let people know you are listening.

Use Social Media to increase your sales

Local ranking factors that help your small business SEO

There are many things that influence your local rankings, but there is one very obvious one: your address details (NAP). Make sure to add these in the right formatting (in code), using schema.org details. You can use our Local SEO plugin for that. Furthermore, ask your web developer to dig into AMP, like Joost mentions in this Ask Yoast about AMP for small businesses. Besides that, it may help to add your city, and perhaps your state, in the title of your pages for easier recognition as well.

Google My Business

Make sure you use the exact same NAP details on both your website and your Google My Business listing. This is the only way for Google to understand the relationship between them. Add these details for instance in your footer and of course, on your contact page. Google My Business really is your friend if you want to rank in your specific geographical area, so get your details right!

Improve local SEO with Google My Business

Adding ratings and reviews

Google My Business, like Facebook, allows others to leave a review of your company. If your company has a good rating, people will be more inclined to click to your website from any of these two websites. Be sure to monitor and maintain these reviews.

If you get a negative review for some reason, react by solving your customer’s problem. Ask them to change their review afterwards. In other words, turn that dissatisfied customer into a brand ambassador!

It’s not that hard to get involved in these reviews and ratings. Find more information on that in the article below.

Read on: ‘Get local reviews and ratings’ »

Social ‘proof’, like the ratings and reviews mentioned above, should be backed by a sufficient amount of links from local directories like:

  1. Yelp
  2. SuperPages
  3. YP.com
  4. ReferLocal.com
  5. Yahoo
  6. Bestoftheweb
  7. etc.

You should be mentioned on these pages, for the obvious reason that this means your website is linked. If you manage to get some links from the related local websites in that directory, that will also help your site’s findability. Note that the last category of links has to be from websites that are in a related profession. It’s of no use to have your bakery website linked from an accountant’s website. 

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If your small business is closely related to other businesses that are not located in the same area, you should definitively also ask these businesses for a link. Google spiders the web link by link. If your business is linked from a website that is in the same field of business, that link is extra valuable to you.

Near me searches

When speaking about local rankings, we also have to mention near me searches. These are searches and search suggestions that include words like “near me”, “closest”, “open” and “nearby”. Optimizing for these searches is similar to optimizing for local, but applies for global brands as well (“buy legos near me”). So you’ll have to think a bit outside of your usual box – there’s probably more to optimize for. Google really focuses on search terms like these, as you can read here:

Is that a Possum near me?

In conclusion

As we’ve seen, there are many things you can do as a small business to improve your site and rank better. You should start by focusing on your niche and emphasizing your uniqueness. Think about how you present your brand: logos and tag lines are important to give your customers an idea of who you are as a business.

You can increase your visibility by creating great content on your site, optimized for the right keywords. Also, it always helps if you present yourself actively on social media. There are several factors related to local SEO that help small businesses. Make sure Google My Business has the right details, keep track of your ratings and reviews, and try to get linked by related small businesses. Finally, try to optimize for ‘ near me’ searches.

Read more: ‘5 questions: Talking local SEO with David Mihm’ »

If your business website’s goal is to get in touch with (potential) customers, you should avoid a number of contact page mistakes. Here, we’ll mention the mistakes we find most annoying. And we’re not unique in that.

In my previous post about contact pages, I already mentioned that the right content on this page can improve both user experience and SEO. In the comments on that post, Simon asked: “What do you think are the 5 most common mistakes on a website contact page?” What I think are the most common mistakes makes it my personal list, so I decided to dedicate this post to what I find the most annoying :)

Let’s dive straight in with number one. 

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#1 Just a form

If your contact page consists of a form and nothing but a form, you are not serving all of your visitors. Naturally, there will always be people that don’t understand the form. Provide a fallback option, like an email address or a phone number. Here are some reasons why people might dislike / do not understand your form:

  • Your form is too long. People get lost or simply don’t take the time to fill out all the things you want to know. Keep forms short and clear.
  • Your form isn’t responsive. This ruins the mobile experience on your contact page. Labels might get lost, as a mobile browser will focus on the form fields.
  • Your form can get broken. Perhaps you missed an update of your favorite contact plugin, just to name one reason.

#2 Fancy names for your contact page

Don’t you just hate it when you have to do an internal search on a website just to find their contact page? In my opinion, there are two options:

  1. Add the menu item “Contact” to your main and/or footer menu.
  2. Add your contact page at example.com/contact/.

I won’t look in any other spots. It’s straight to your search or back to Google to find the next company that’s going to answer my question. Preferably, you want that link to your contact page to be above the fold. But I have to say that a footer link is common as well, both as an extra and as the main link.

Just like the link in the URL, I’d like the title of that page to be “Contact” or a variation of that, like “Contact us” or “Get in touch”. Don’t use “Let’s talk business” or whatever strange sentence that won’t cover the immediate goal of the page. It will confuse people, even in Google already. Make it clear that this is the page where they can get in contact with you.

#3 Outdated information

C’mon people. Like all your other pages, your contact page needs some tender love and care from time to time. Moving offices? Adjust your website. New sales rep? Change profile picture and email address. Make sure your information is accurate at all times.

Don’t take this lightly, I think outdated information is one of those contact page mistakes that we choose to ignore sometimes. “I’ll get to that one of these days”. “It’s on my to do list”. No, update it when it changes. And if your address changes, let Google know in the process.

#4 Make sure people can contact you privately

That means “Reach out to me on the WordPress Slack”, “Talk to me on Twitter”, or even “Drop a comment below” isn’t enough. And yes, contact pages that use a comment form as a contact form do exist. People that want to talk to you probably just want to talk to you. Make sure they can.

Is it wise to display links to social profiles on a contact page? I believe that only makes sense if you want people to contact you on, for instance, Twitter and you monitor these social profiles for questions. If you mention Instagram on your contact page and don’t check Instagram at least every other day, it’s probably not the preferred way to contact you. In that case, that link shouldn’t be on your contact page.

Best case scenario: two options to contact you privately (form and email address or phone number would be a nice start), so if one fails, visitors can use the other.

#5 Not having a contact page at all

If only I got a penny for every website I came across that lacks a (clear) contact page… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: every website should have a contact page. Most websites are set up to interact with the visitor, get them to buy products or provide information. But they can always have extra questions or interesting business opportunities for you. Make sure it’s clear how they can get in touch.

It’s probably the most obvious of all the contact page mistakes listed here, but I just felt the need to mention it.

Are there any more contact page mistakes you can think of?

For sure. And if you’d ask me the same question on another day, I could probably come up with more. The above ones are the ones I find most annoying, but what about:

  • No clear confirmation that a form is sent. So I’ll send it again. Just in case.
  • Crappy captchas. The horror! Need I say more?
  • Contact pages that are flooded with distractions. I just want to contact you!

Now over to you

Feel free to spill your guts in the comments. Let me know what annoys you the most about contact pages!

Read more: ‘What makes a great contact page? With lots of examples!’ »

Why should you block your internal search result pages for Google? Well, how would you feel if you are in dire need for the answer to your search query and end up on the internal search pages of a certain website? That’s one crappy experience. Google thinks so too. And prefers you not to have these internal search pages indexed.

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Google considers these search results pages to be of lower quality than your actual informational pages. That doesn’t mean these internal search pages are useless, but it makes sense to block these internal search pages.

Back in 2007

10 Years ago, Google, or more specifically Matt Cutts, told us that we should block these pages in our robots.txt. The reason for that:

Typically, web search results don’t add value to users, and since our core goal is to provide the best search results possible, we generally exclude search results from our web search index. (Not all URLs that contains things like “/results” or “/search” are search results, of course.)
– Matt Cutts (2007)

Nothing changed, really. Even after 10 years of SEO changes, this remains the same. The Google Webmaster Guidelines still state that you should “Use the robots.txt file on your web server to manage your crawling budget by preventing crawling of infinite spaces such as search result pages.” Furthermore, the guidelines state that webmasters should avoid techniques like automatically generated content, in this case, “Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value”.

However, blocking internal search pages in your robots.txt doesn’t seem the right solution. In 2007, it even made more sense to simply redirect the user to the first result of these internal search pages. These days, I’d rather use a slightly different solution.

Blocking internal search pages in 2017

I believe nowadays, using a noindex, follow meta robots tag is the way to go instead. It seems Google ‘listens’ to that meta robots tag and sometimes ignores the robots.txt. That happens, for instance, when a surplus of backlinks to a blocked page tells Google it is of interest to the public anyway. We’ve already mentioned this in our Ultimate guide to robots.txt.

The 2007 reason is still the same in 2017, by the way: linking to search pages from search pages delivers a poor experience for a visitor. For Google, on a mission to deliver the best result for your query, it makes a lot more sense to link directly to an article or another informative page.

Yoast SEO will block internal search pages for you

If you’re on WordPress and using our plugin, you’re fine. We’ve got you covered:

Block internal search pages

That’s located at SEO › Titles & Metas › Archives. Most other content management systems allow for templates for your site’s search results as well, so adding a simple line of code to that template will suffice:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow"/>

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Meta robots AND robots.txt?

If you try to block internal search pages by adding that meta robots tag and disallowing these in your robots.txt, please think again. Just the meta robots will do. Otherwise, you’ll risk losing the link value of these pages (hence the follow in the meta tag). If Google listens to your robots.txt, they will ignore the meta robots tag, right? And that’s not what you want. So just use the meta robots tag!

Back to you

Did you block your internal search results? And how did you do that? Go check for yourself! Any further insights or experiences are appreciated; just drop us a line in the comments.

Read more: ‘Robots.txt: the ultimate guide’ »

We often get questions from people asking about the influence of domain names on SEO. Is there any relation at all? Does it help to include keywords like product names in your domain name? Is the influence of domain names different per location? And what’s the use of using more than one domain name for a site? In this article, I’ll answer all these questions and more.

What’s a domain name?

Let’s start at the very beginning. A domain name is an alias. It’s a convenient way to point people to that specific spot on the internet where you’ve built your website. Domain names are, generally, used to identify one or more IP addresses. So for us, that domain name is yoast.com. When we are talking about www.yoast.com, which we rarely do, the domain name is yoast.com and the subdomain is www.

Note that I deliberately included “.com” here, were others might disagree with that. In my opinion, most common uses of the word “domain name” include that top-level domain. 

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Top-level domain (TLD)

Where “yoast” is obviously our brand, the .com bit of our domain name is called TLD (or top-level domain). In the early days of the internet:

  • .com was intended for US companies,
  • .org for non-profit organizations,
  • .edu for schools and universities and
  • .gov for government websites.

We’re talking 1985. Things have changed quite a bit. For the Netherlands, we use .nl, but lots of companies are using .com instead, for instance, when the .nl domain name they wanted was already taken. Things have gotten quite blurry. These days, TLDs like .guru and .pro are available. Automattic bought .blog a while back. And what about .pizza? We call these kind of TLDs generic TLDs.

Country code TLD (ccTLD)

I’ve already mentioned the .nl TLD. We call these kinds of TLDs country code or country specific TLDs. Years ago, Tokelau – an island in the Southern Pacific Ocean – started giving away their .tk TLD for free, and thousands of enthusiasts claimed their .tk. If I would have claimed michiel.tk, there would have probably been nobody in Tokelau who could have pronounced my domain name well. It’s like .cc, which you might have heard of, because it was once promoted as the alternative to .com. It’s actually a country specific TLD belonging to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, although the people of Cypres might disagree.

This brings me to the first statement about domain names and SEO:

ccTLD or subdirectory?

If your website is available in multiple languages, you might be wondering what the best solution is: domain.com/uk/ and domain.com/de/ (subdirectories or subfolders) or domain.co.uk and domain.de (ccTLDs).

For SEO, the subdirectory makes more sense. If you use a subdirectory, all links will go to the same domain. Marketing is easy because you have one main domain. If there are language differences per subdirectory, use hreflang to tell Google about that. If you include all in one (WordPress) install, maintenance is easier. Just to name a few advantages.

Note that a subdomain, like the “www” I mentioned, is something totally different than a subdirectory. Google actually considers kb.yoast.com to be a different website than yoast.com, even though I’m sure they can connect the dots.

Age of a domain

These days, the age of a domain – referring to how long your domain already exists – doesn’t matter as much as it did before. It’s much more about the content, the site structure and basically how well your website answers the query people used in Google. To become the best result and rank top 3 for a query, you’ll have to be the best result.

As a matter of fact, John Mueller of Google confirmed just a few weeks ago that domain age doesn’t matter:

Is it that black and white? No, it’s not. Domain age as such might not influence ranking, but older domains probably have a nice amount of backlinks, pages in the search result pages etc. And obviously, that might influence ranking.

Exact Match Domain (EMD)

BuyCheapHomes.com is probably an existing domain name. This is an example of an Exact Match Domain name. In 2012, Google introduced what we now call the EMD Update. Google changed it’s algorithm, so websites that used domain names like that wouldn’t rank just for the simple fact that the keyword was in the domain name. And yes, that used to be the case, before the update.

So, after this update, does it still pay off to use a domain name that includes a keyword? Only if the rest of your website adds up. Homes.com works pretty well :) And in the Netherlands, the Dutch equivalent of cheaploans.com, goedkopeleningen.nl, probably gets a decent amount of traffic. But that’s because Google is better in English than Dutch (but catching up on that).

My advice: if you managed to build a brand around that EMD, and you still get lots of traffic, keep up the good work. If your money is still on BuyCheapHomes, please make sure your branding is absolutely top notch. You’re in the hen house and a fox might be near.

More on EMD in Moz’s The Exact Match Domain Playbook: A Guide and Best Practices for EMDs.

Branding

Following the EMD update, branding became even more important. It makes so much more sense to focus on your brand in SEO and your domain name – as opposed to just putting a keyword in the domain name – that a brand name would really be my first choice for a domain name. LEGO.com, Amazon.com, Google.com. It’s all about the brand. It’s something people will remember easily and something that will make you stand out from the crowd and competition. Your brand is here to stay (always look on the positive side of things).

Make sure your brand is unique and the right domain name is available when starting a new business. By the way, this might be the reason to claim yoast.de even if you’re mainly using yoast.com – just to make sure no one else claims it ;)

By the way, I mentioned that a (known) brand is usually easier to remember. For the same reason, I’d prefer a short domain name over a domain name like this. Pi.com was probably already taken.

Read more: ‘5 tips on branding’ »

More than one domain name for the same website

Does it pay off to claim multiple domain names and 301 redirect all the domains to the main domain name? In terms of branding: no. In terms of online ranking: probably not. The only valid reason I can think of to actively use multiple domain names for the same website, is offline and sometimes online marketing. If you have a specific project or campaign on your website that you’d like to promote separately, a second domain name might come in handy to get traffic straight to the right page on your website.

“Actively” is the main word in that last paragraph. As mentioned, feel free to register multiple domain names, just make sure not to confuse Google. Besides that, actively using multiple domain names for the same website will diffuse the links to your website. And that isn’t what you want, as mentioned at the subdirectory section as well. 

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Domain Authority (DA)

I feel I have to mention domain authority here as well, as you hear a lot about it nowadays. Domain Authority is a score that predicts how well your website will rank on the search results pages. It’s based on data from the Mozscape web index and includes link counts, MozRank and MozTrust scores, and dozens of other factors (more than 40 in total). Source: Moz.com. It’s Moz-specific, so if you are using Moz, go check it out. And if you are a heavy user of domain authority, please elaborate why in the comments, as it’s not a metric I use, to be honest :)

Keep reading: ‘SEO friendly URLs’ »

If you’re a well-known local business owner, one of your online goals should be getting more local reviews from your (satisfied) customers. These reviews or ratings help Google in determining the value of your company for their users. If you have a nice amount of four-star and five-star ratings, Google considers you a more valuable result on their search result pages, which contributes to better rankings for your site.

Today, we’ll dig a bit deeper into these local reviews and convince you to ask your customers for reviews.

Google and local reviews

First, let’s see what Google has to say about local reviews. On their review datatype page, they clearly state that Google may display information from aggregate ratings markup in the Google Knowledge Cards with your business’ details.

They state that they’re using the following review snippet guidelines:

  • Ratings and reviews must come directly from the users.
  • There is a difference between these user ratings and critic reviews (human editors that curate or compile ratings information for local businesses). That’s a different ball game.
  • Don’t copy reviews from Yelp or whatever other review site, but collect them from your users directly and display these on your site.

There is a clear focus on genuine reviews. Add name, position, photo and any other relevant, public information on the reviewer. That always helps in showing that your reviews are indeed genuine

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Ask your customers for a review in person

It’s really that simple: ask your customers for a review. Yelp may advise against this, Google promotes it (Source: SEL). I agree with Google on this. A friend of mine is in the coaching business and he asks his customers after finishing the coaching process to leave a review on his Google My Business page. This, plus obviously an optimized site, has helped him achieving a local #1 ranking.

It might feel a bit odd, to ask your customers for a positive review. However, I bet most of your customers will be more than happy to do this for you. It’s a small token of appreciation for your great service, product or your friendly staff. If you believe in your business, and you’re taking extra steps to help your customer, your customer will for sure leave that review for you. Especially in local businesses, where you know your customer and perhaps have been serving him or her for decades, just ask.

Ask your customers for local reviews online

Feel free to ask your customer for a review on your website, for example, right after a purchase. If a customer wanted your product so bad he or she made the purchase, they may be willing to leave a review about their shopping experience as well. Even a simple “How would you rate your experience with our company” could give you that local rating you want.

Twitter

And why not leverage Twitter here? I find Twitter to work pretty decently for local purposes. There’s a separate ‘community’ of tweeps talking to each other on Twitter in our hometown. I’m sure most of them visit local stores. Not just that, but they’ll probably also have an opinion on these stores. And they might just be willing to share that opinion.

Facebook

One of our local shops won a national award and a lot of locals congratulated the owners with this ‘very much deserved’ win on Facebook. How’s that for an opportunity to ask for Facebook reviews? Let me elaborate a bit on the Facebook reviews. These are local reviews as well! The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in NY has over 16,000 reviews already. Most good, some bad:

Local reviews on Facebook

Facebook is an awesome opportunity for any local business to get reviews. Don’t underestimate how many people search for your business on Facebook.

As mentioned in the section about Google and local reviews: “Don’t copy reviews from Yelp or whatever other review sites”. The same goes for these Facebook reviews. It’s very nice to get them, but leave them on Facebook (or use them in your offline print campaign) and get separate local reviews for your website.

Even negative reviews matter. Don’t feel bad when you get one, feel motivated!

Asking for reviews, for instance, right from your (support) email inbox, like in the signature of your email, might feel a bit strange at first. However, it will trigger your brand ambassadors to leave a review, after seeing that signature email after email. And yes, you will get some negative reviews as well from people that are not completely satisfied with your product or service. And you want these.

Negative reviews give you a chance to go beyond yourself in showing how customer-driven you are. They allow you to fix the issue this customer has. After fixing it, ask them to share the solution / their experience with your company, so others can see what you have done to turn that disappointed customer into a satisfied customer.

It’s your job to make your customer happy, and good reviews will follow. Speed up that process by asking your customers for their feedback!

Read more: ‘Local ranking factors that help your local business’ SEO’ »