The permalink is the full URL you see – and use – for any given post, page or other pieces of content on your site. It’s a permanent link, hence the name permalink. A permalink could include your domain name (www.yoast.com) plus what’s called a slug, the piece of the URL that comes after the domain name. This might include a date or a category or anything you please. A simple permalink makes a URL easy to understand and share. In this SEO basics article, we’ll take a closer look at the permalink.

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Permalinks should be SEO friendly

Permalinks are an important part of your site as both search engines and visitors use these URLs to index and visit your site. The type of permalink you pick influences the way these two parties see and value your site. A URL with a load of incomprehensible gibberish at the end is a lot less shareable and enticing than a short and simple SEO-friendly URL. An example permalink could be:

https://www.yoast.com/category/post-name

It could also be something like:

https://www.yoast.com/10/10/2017/post-name

or

https://yoast.com/post-name

By default, WordPress uses a permalink structure that’s not SEO-friendly. These look something like this:

https://yoast.com/?p=101

The number you see is the ID WordPress had in mind for this particular article. It’s article number 101 in the database of your site. While Google still understands the content on that page, a URL like this does nothing for your SEO. It does not describe what kind of content the page offers and it’s not something that users are inclined to share. And did we mention that it’s not very professional looking? If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page than any ID or parameter would.

permalink common settings

Common permalink settings in WordPress

Considerations for your permalinks

Make sure you pick a permalink structure that fits your goals. If you have a news site, it might make sense to add the publication date of the article to the URL. If, however, you are planning to write killer cornerstone content that has to stand the test of time, it’s not recommended to use a date in the URL as this could make the content look ‘old’.

We recommend using a simple and clear permalink structure. For most sites, it makes sense to append the post name to the domain name. So in WordPress that would be the /%postname%/ option. In some cases, a category will help create a hierarchy in the URLs. Keep in mind that this could also result in too long URLs.

Yoast SEO and permalinks

Yoast SEO is a must have tool that makes SEO available to everyone. It’s an easy to use tool that gets out of the way and helps you make a perfect website. For instance, if you install WordPress and don’t change the default permalink settings Yoast SEO will urge you to change it.

Yoast SEO has several other options that can help you clean up those permalinks, like keeping stop words from appearing in the slug or stripping the category base (usually category). You can find the permalink options in the advanced settings of Yoast SEO. Last but not least, Yoast SEO Premium has a brilliant redirects manager that helps you to fix your redirects.

Finally, a word of warning

Pick your permalink structure wisely. Don’t change your permalink structure for the sake of it. Incorrectly redirecting your old URLs to the new URLs might lead to problems and could get you dropped from the rankings. Please think about your permalink structure before launching your site. Should you need to change your permalinks you can find more information on how to change your permalink structure or visit Google’s page on moving your site.

Keep reading: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

This is the fourth post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Previously, I’ve listed the most important aspects that influence your local ranking, discussed how to get the most out of Google My Business, and covered best practices for on-site optimization. Here, I’ll focus on another essential asset for local SEO: earning inbound links to your local business website. Learn why and how to do that!

Since the ascent of Google as the world’s #1 search engine, links have been the primary concern of most SEO practitioners. The seminal idea behind Google’s ranking technology makes it clear that inbound links are the primary vehicle by which Google discovers new pages and websites on the Internet, and they’re the primary way Google assesses the credibility of a given website.

Google’s emphasis on links is the most significant area of overlap between its organic and local ranking algorithms. According to the experts of the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, links make up the biggest piece of the pie in localized organic results. They’re the #1 competitive difference-maker across all types of local results.

Local businesses can’t be fully evaluated on the basis of links, for reasons you’ll see in my next post. But there’s no question that a strong inbound link profile (links pointing from other websites to yours) has a positive impact on how well your business ranks. 

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Why links in the first place?

I know you’re probably thinking, “hey, I want to rank #1, just tell me what to do!” But understanding why Google values links so highly can help you assess the strength or weakness of your own link profile. This can help you determine your link acquisition strategy.

Google’s robots, or “spiders,” crawl the Internet by “clicking” one link after another after another. They discover new pages and websites as part of that crawl, and store the content of each of those pages in a giant database.

In addition to storing the content of each page, Google also stores how its crawlers arrived on the page. In other words, it remembers the pages and websites that were linking to it. A link from one site to another is like a vote or endorsement for the credibility of the second website.

google crawling links

Diagram courtesy of Aaron Weiche, GetFiveStars

Sites with the most endorsements (green circle) tend to rank better than those with few or no endorsements (yellow circle). Especially links from websites that are heavily-endorsed themselves improve your ranking. You need endorsements in order to get elected, and you need links in order to rank well.

Link attributes

Topical context

Google counts thousands of PhDs as employees. And while its algorithm over the years has been incredibly vulnerable to abuse by spammers, increasingly it’s taking into account the context in which a link appears. Google largely devalues links that appear on completely unrelated websites. For example, a personal injury lawyer that receives a link from a Russian real estate forum. In fact, increasingly these kinds of links put you in jeopardy of a Google penalty.

Conversely, links that you acquire or earn that are likely to refer you actual customers are increasingly the ones that Google values. For example, a personal injury lawyer that receives a link from a neighboring chiropractor’s website.

Eric Ward a.k.a. “Link Moses,” was building links before Google was even a gleam in Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s eyes. As such, his still-highly-relevant advice is to build links as if Google didn’t even exist. Living by this “first commandment” of link building makes it incredibly unlikely your site will ever be penalized by Google. And, it will make the impact of your link building more permanent and effective.

Page / domain authority

The source of a link matters a great deal to how much weight it carries in Google’s algorithm.

Going back to my earlier analogy, endorsements from major groups and figures help politicians earn votes more than do endorsements from anonymous individual voters. In the same way, links from pages and websites that are themselves heavily linked-to (such as BBC.com or WashingtonPost.com) are going to benefit the linked site much more than a link from a hobbyist blog or tiny startup.

In particular, links from government, school, and non-profit websites tend to be particularly powerful. These are high-trust websites that aren’t going to link to low-trust businesses or scam artists very often. So websites that earn links from these high-trust, high-authority websites, have a leg up on their competition.

Anchor text

I mentioned the concept of anchor text briefly in my last column. Anchor text are the words that make up the link itself. Such as “my last column” in the previous sentence.

The text of the link helps provide Google additional context about the topic of the linked page, i.e. what keywords that page should rank for. So links that contain keywords related to what you sell or where you’re located – and even links for your brand name – are going to help you rank. They’ll help you more than links using generic terms like “click here” or “read more.”

You have complete control over anchor text on your own website, and you should use it to your advantage. But you don’t really have control over what text people use on other websites. In general, it’s not the best use of time for local businesses to influence what anchor text others are using. It’s just a ranking factor to be aware of.

Assessing your existing link profile

Any number of tools exist to analyze your existing link profile, but in my experience the one that gives the most complete picture for local businesses is aHrefs. It’s a robust product that provides more information than the average local business needs. But just take a free trial and capture a high-level summary of your link profile. Most small businesses won’t need to continue usage beyond a day or two.

hrefs for inbound links local seo

 

The key aHrefs numbers are in the top row of the screenshot above: UR, DR, and referring domains. UR and DR refer to Page / domain authority. The number of referring domains is the best heuristic for most local businesses as to how strong their existing link profile is. Click the number under Referring Domains to view a list of the sites that are already linking to you. Are there obvious sites not in that list that should be linking to you? Consider reaching out to them to let them know how much a link would help your business.

During your free trial of aHrefs, I also recommend researching the profiles of the sites that rank above you for your target keywords. Take a look at their DR and number of referring domains. In particular, comparing those two metrics will give you a rough sense of how much link building work you’ll have to do to move the needle on your rankings.

Links that move the needle in local search

Google likes to pretend that great content, and great websites, will naturally acquire links. But for 99.999% of businesses, that’s terrible advice. The old question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?” applies to content and links.

If you produce great content, but no one’s there to see it, does it acquire links? The answer is a resounding no. Businesses need to be proactive about acquiring links. As long as you follow Eric Ward’s first commandment and acquire links that will actually send you customers, you shouldn’t fear a Google penalty.

Over the years, many local businesses haven’t followed Eric’s advice, have fallen victim to scam artists selling hundreds of links. Or have otherwise been too aggressive about acquiring links. The reality is that, for many businesses, 10-20 high-quality links will lead to top rankings in short order – sustainable rankings will last for years. Take the time to earn these high-quality links and don’t pursue those over-aggressive tactics.

Industry-relevant links

Industry-relevant links are often the easiest links for small business owners to acquire. Many of them simply involve asking your existing contacts at companies or organizations with whom you do business.

Local business and neighborhood associations

Are you a member of your local chamber of commerce, business association, or neighborhood association?  Most groups like these operate a member directory, and you want to make sure that directory is online, visible to the public, and to Google’s spiders.  If the websites of these groups are not showing up in your aHrefs backlink profile, bring up the issue with the director or marketing manager of these associations and ask them to put up a webpage that links to each member.

Regional/national certification boards and industry organizations

Depending on your industry, you may also be licensed by, or participate in, a regional or national organization.

Don’t just display your certification on your website. Link to your business’s online profile on the websites of these certifying boards and industry organizations. This not only increases the credibility of your business to potential customers, but helps Google’s spiders discover and crawl your profile on these highly-trusted sites.

Distributors (directories or announcements)

For those of you who are retailers, think about the products that you sell in-store. Are you unique, or one of the few stores in your local market that carries a particular product? If so, consider asking the manufacturer or distributor of that product for a link from their website. Preferably from a “where to buy” directory. At the very least these companies should partner with you on a press release – containing a link to your website. For example, to announce to their customers (and Google!) where people can buy their product in your area.

Vendors (testimonials)

Are there particular vendors from whom you purchase a lot of goods or services? Ask them if you can contribute a testimonial to their website, and if they really appreciate your business, that testimonial will contain a link back to your site.

Interviews and guest columns

Getting featured in a trade publication is not only a great driver of business – especially referral business – but can provide a powerful link back to your website. These links are a little more difficult to acquire, as they require building a relationship with authors or influencers in your industry.

To get started, see if a friend can make an introduction on your behalf to one of these key columnists.  Intelligence Software offers this free tool that taps some of Facebook’s more advanced search capabilities. (LinkedIn Premium offers some of the same features, but it’s a paid product.)

Essentially, you want to search for writers and editors who are employed at some of the key publications in your industry to see if and how you’re connected to them through friends. Once you see how you’re connected, you can ask specific friends to put in a good word for you.

Here’s an example of the output of an Intelligence Software search for employees at Third Door Media (the parent company of Search Engine Land, one of the top news outlets in SEO):

https://www.facebook.com/search/str/third%20door%20media/pages-named/employees/present/intersect

As you can see, the search would be pretty complicated to type in, but the tool from Intelligence Software makes it easy.

Locally-relevant links

Charities—or schools—to which you’ve donated money or goods, or volunteered with.

Many of you, and perhaps many of your employees, are likely involved in local charities on non-profit organizations. These links are highly-valued by Google, as charities tend to be trusted institutions in the offline world as well as online.

You want to make sure your involvement is acknowledged online.  As my friend Mike Blumenthal likes to say, “You don’t need a thank-you from the executive director. You don’t need a plaque. If they really want to thank you for your involvement, they’ll give you a link from their website.”

Groups for whom you host events at your physical location

Hosting events for outside groups is one of the lowest-cost, lowest-work link building initiatives you can undertake. Chances are good that the business or group hosting the event at your business will link to your website’s contact/directions page when they post their invitation online. Someone else is doing your link building for you – and who knows – some of the attendees may even turn into customers!

Complementary businesses

You probably have colleagues in related industries to whom you refer business, and from whom you’re referred business, regularly. Make sure these referral relationships are represented online in the form of links. That way Google knows that your businesses vouch for each other just as you do in the offline world.

Interviews and guest columns

Local publications like newspapers and alternative weeklies or monthlies are terrific places to get your business featured. And the chances may be better, especially in smaller towns or tightly-knit neighborhoods, that a friend of a friend works at one of these companies.

Using the same Intelligence Software tool, you can perform searches to get a list of journalists (or columnists) in your city. See how you’re connected to them through friends or family:

https://www.facebook.com/search/str/journalist/pages-named/employees/present/intersect/str/portland%2C%20oregon/pages-named/residents/present/intersect

The future of links and rankings

Some SEO professionals have been predicting the demise of links for a several years. But there’s little evidence to support this trend so far. Certainly Google has gotten better at penalizing low-quality links over the course of various algorithm updates, but if anything, high-quality links have been that much harder to come by, and even more valuable to their recipients.

Links may very well become “democratized” as they become less representative of the overall sentiment of the online world. A very small percentage of internet users has ever published a link on a website or blog. Also, more and more non-link signals are available for Google to assess the popularity and credibility of a local business. More on these signals coming in the final installment of this series!

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More on links

You can truly go crazy with link building, and there are entire companies and agencies devoted to this SEO niche. It’s probably not the highest and best use of your time as a local business owner, or even a local business marketer. But it is important that every local business has a reasonable link foundation underpinning their other marketing initiatives.

Here are four amazing resources for those of you wanting to take an even deeper dive into link building:

Neil Patel has this great summary of link building tools and techniques that have helped him build his own, and his clients’, businesses.

The aforementioned aHrefs has published this excellent guide on the discipline their company was founded to help master.

Phil Rozek has a terrific series of questions you can ask yourself as you try to identify what low-hanging link opportunities might be available to you.

And Megan Hannay of ZipSprout has created an awesome product to help you identify non-profit organizations that recognize supporters and volunteers online.

Summary

  • Inbound links pointing from other websites to your website are critical to establish the credibility of your business in Google’s eyes.
  • Build links as if Google didn’t even exist – links that will bring you customers in addition to rankings.
  • Assess your existing link profile, and the profiles of your competitors with aHrefs. Pay special attention to DR (Domain Rank or authority) and the number of referring domains.
  • Seek out industry-relevant and locally-relevant links from groups and websites with which you already have an offline relationship.
  • Ask for introductions from colleagues, friends, and family to key influencers who write for industry and local publications.

Read more: ‘Ranking your local business at Google: Introduction’ »

Our mission is ‘SEO for everyone’. We keep that in mind, in everything we do. But what do we mean by it? And why is it our mission? In this post, I’d like to explain Yoast’s mission.

A little bit of history

To understand why we pursue this mission, we’ll have to go back in history. Let’s start in 2006: Joost de Valk was building SEO plugins because he strongly believed that everyone could benefit from the SEO knowledge he had collected in his work for large agencies. As a WordPress fanboy, he could quickly translate his technical SEO skills into a useful plugin for WordPress. 

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The WordPress SEO plugin, which was rebranded to Yoast SEO later on, got an enormous amount of users. What’s more, Joost received an overwhelming number of support requests and was unable to handle those, as he was still working for an agency as well. At that point, Joost decided to start his own company. Selling premium plugins and doing a little bit of consultancy enabled him to further invest time and resources into the free Yoast SEO plugin as well. This allowed us to improve the quality and features of our products, and also resulted in a growing company. Moreover, it meant we could further define our mission.

WordPress’ mission and Yoast’s mission

The mission of WordPress is to democratize publishing with open-source GPL (General Public License) software. Yoast’s mission builds on WordPress’ mission, just as Yoast’s software is an extension of the software of WordPress. Everybody can create a website using WordPress. However, not everyone is able to rank in the search engines. In some niches, the search results are dominated by large companies with even larger marketing budgets. The Yoast SEO plugin, combined with the SEO knowledge Yoast shares, enables small entrepreneurs to compete with these large companies.

A ‘fair’ chance in the search results

We believe the web will benefit from all people having an equal chance in the search results. We would love for great new ideas and inventions to spread over the world. And great ideas don’t always come from large agencies but are created everywhere around the world. That’s why we believe that every idea should have a fair chance in the search results. WordPress and Yoast SEO cover most of the technical SEO challenges of a website. But to seriously compete with the big boys, every website owner still faces content SEO challenges. In our blog posts, we explain to our audience how to write awesome and SEO-friendly content and how to set up a decent site structure. Using the Yoast SEO plugin and reading our posts should help everyone to have a fair chance in the search results. That’s what ‘SEO for everyone’ is all about.

Making money and maintaining the mission

Pursuing our mission doesn’t mean we’re not making any money while doing so. On the contrary: the company Yoast is thriving. The money we make enables us to keep on pursuing our mission. We continue to tweak and improve our plugins and we write more and more articles about SEO. Making money makes pursuing ‘SEO for everyone’ easier. We can have a bigger impact. And, it allows us to contribute more and more to WordPress core.

The premium version of Yoast SEO has some practical features, which will make SEO a lot easier. However, all essential features you need to have that fair chance in the search engines, are available and will remain in our free plugin. Our online courses are powerful to quickly learn about (one or multiple aspects) of SEO. But all the SEO information you need is also available in our many blog posts. It’s important to us that everyone – even if you haven’t got much money to spend – can benefit from our SEO products.

Read more: ‘Victory of the Commons’ »

Why do so many eCommerce sites have a blog? Is that because online shop owners love to write posts? Or perhaps they have a lot of spare time on their hands? Probably not. Although blogging is lots of fun, it also is a great marketing and SEO strategy. And because of that, eCommerce site owners start a blog. Here, I’ll explain why blogging is such a great marketing and SEO strategy. On top of that, I’ll give some practical tips on how to set up blog on a eCommerce site. 

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Why blog on an eCommerce site?

Inform your audience about you and your products

Blogging is a great way to inform your audience about your product. In a blog post, you can show how to use a product and why people should buy it. You can also tell your audience about yourself and your company. And you’ll be able to tell the story of your products from your perspective. If you’re, for instance, selling baby clothes on your site, a blog about children and children’s fashion is a great idea.

Stay top of mind

If you blog on a regular basis and post your blog posts on social media, you’ll stay top of mind of your audience. You want your audience to remember you, even when they’re not going to buy anything just now. If a visitor encounters one of your posts on how to dress children on a hot day, for instance, this visitor may not immediately want to buy new clothes for his or her children. But, they got to know you and your eCommerce site through your post. That way, you increase the chance people think about you when they DO need new clothes for their children.

Blogging is a great SEO strategy

Maintaining a blog contributes to SEO as well. Every time you write a new blogpost, you’re adding fresh content, which Google likes. In addition to that, maintaining a blog will allow you to start writing content related to those keywords you would like to rank for.

Practical tips for your blog on an eCommerce site

What to blog about?

You can write about all kinds of things on your blog, but make sure to do proper keyword research first. You need to know what search terms you want to be found for. These keywords should be leading when you choose what to blog about. A keyword, however, is not a topic yet. You need an angle, a story around such a keyword.

A great way to come up with ideas for blog posts is by referring and writing about current events. Keep an eye on different news sites, and write posts in which you incorporate your views on the news in your niche. Another way to get ideas is to invite your audience to leave comments on your blog. It may take a while to get them, but you could receive some questions or feedback that are excellent starters for your next post.

Read more: ‘6 tips for coming up with blog ideas’ »

Blog in the menu

The menu or top navigation of your site helps visitors understand what your website is about and what you’re offering. It should reflect the structure of your website. If you add a blog to your eCommerce site, you should make sure it also appears in your menu. A blog should be in your main menu.

I would advise you to set it apart from the categories of your eCommerce site. Put it all the way left (next to home), or all the way right in your menu, for instance. You should be able to click through to your blog from your homepage. After all, you want visitors to find your blog easily. And linking to your blog from your homepage will indicate to Google that your blog is important, which can increase the ranking of your blog. Also, make sure your blog is on the same domain as your eCommerce site, this way both your eCommerce site and your blog will profit from each other’s rankings.

Use of tags

If you have a blog on your eCommerce site, you’d probably write a lot on topics related to your products. Maybe about events where you use them, or what to use them for, how to use them best, comparisons between different products etc. Therefore, it makes sense that your tags will partly overlap with the product categories and subcategories of your shop. This is OK. Because in the end, you’d like to rank with those posts to draw people to the products you sell. And, if you group products, whether that’s in categories or tags, it’s easier to make them rank.

Social media and newsletters

If you start a blog on your eCommerce site, make sure to share these posts on social media as well. In addition to that, you should definitely send out a newsletter promoting your latest blog posts to your audience. People need a reminder of the existence of you and your blog once in a while.

Conclusion

A blog is a great marketing and SEO tool for eCommerce sites. In your posts, you can tell readers about your brand and products, and perhaps also about yourself. No excuses here, just start blogging!

Keep reading: ‘How to start a blog’ »

With our Ask Yoast case studies we help clients with their SEO by reviewing the website and giving clear advice and hands-on tips. Those clients send us their website because they’re curious what improvements can be made to improve the overall rankings. This time, we reviewed the website of a high-quality sun protection brand: Calypso. The brand started many years ago in the UK but is nowadays sold all around the globe. Let’s dive into the website to see what they’re doing well and what things need improvement. 

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A clean entrance

On entering the website, we immediately see a clean and inviting homepage. The homepage makes sure visitors can easily navigate to the most important content of the website: the actual products. However, we also see things that can be improved.

First of all, we see the slider on top of the homepage. We’re not a big fan of sliders because different studies show that only around 1% of your visitors would actually click on a slide. Besides, sliders often slow down your website a lot, and there are a lot more reasons which you can find in the post linked above.

We think the slider on Calypsosun.com is even more confusing because it contains a video. When a visitor presses the play button within the video, he or she is sent to the video on YouTube:

Slider image link to video

The play button which sends visitors to YouTube

This means that you say goodbye to your visitors in an early stage of their visit. Try to keep them on your website and send them to your content.

What is the best practice in this case? In our eyes, another image, which is now below the fold on the homepage, would be a great top image:

Sun Protection banner

This banner would be a great top image for the homepage

The image contains some introductory content which tells your visitors what’s on the website. Adding a clear call-to-action below this image would be great. Think of a button with a text such as ‘See all products’ to guide your visitors to the product overview page. Below this call-to-action, you can still show the top sellers as you do now.

What are the site’s pages about?

Google needs to understand what a website’s pages are about before the pages can rank for certain keywords. Of course, textual content tells Google what a page is about. An important part of your text are the headings. Headings are meant to tell Google what the main subject of a page is and what other relevant subjects are on the page. This means that the main subject of a page should always be an H1 heading. Subheadings in the text should be H2 or H3 and less important headings should be H4, H5, etc. We recommend using H4 and higher for headings in a sidebar or footer because Google shouldn’t use those to determine what the page is about.

For example, checking one of the product pages of Calypso, we noticed there is no H1 or H2 heading.

The headings on a product page

The name of the product is an H3 heading, but this should be the H1 heading. The subheading ‘Directions of Use’ doesn’t tell so much about the subject of this page so this could indeed be an H5. When the subheading is relevant to the text, it should be an H2 of H3 heading.

Another way of telling Google what a page or post is about is optimizing your site’s metadata such as page titles and meta descriptions. We noticed that Calypso uses great page titles and meta descriptions so they’ve already understood how important this can be for SEO.

Making your pages stronger

It’s clear that every website needs content to rank for certain keywords. If content is well-structured with headings, and page titles are optimized, it’s time to make your most important pages stronger. For Calypso, their product pages are most important because these reflect the products the company is based on. In this case, the product overview page could benefit from a little more SEO-optimized copy.

You might think that blog posts on the website are less relevant. However, blog posts can be valuable in another way, which we’ll explain in the next paragraph. You’ll always have important content and less important pages and posts, but even those have their purpose.

Let Google know what’s important

How do you let Google know what pages are more important? By adding internal links from all relevant pages to the most important pages, you make those pages stronger. When a certain page has lots of links from relevant other pages, Google understands that this page might contain the most important content around a keyword. Make sure you add relevant anchor texts to the internal links to make Google understand for what keywords the most important pages of your website should rank.

For example, when you write a blog post about the best sun protection for kids, you should add internal links to the actual products. If you use anchor text such as ‘Sun protection for kids’, it will be clear to Google what the relevancy between the pages is. Doing this consistently, your product pages will get more and more links and will become the strongest pages of your website.

The ‘Be Sun Ready’ page could be a great cornerstone article for ranking on relevant keywords. This page, however, could benefit from a few optimizations: they could add links to relevant products in the content and a call-to-action-button to the products page. Doing keyword research should provide them with enough keyword suggestions to make this great page SEO-proof.

The products overview

Navigating to the product overview page, we noticed that the categories are visible in tabs above the products:

Product overview Calypsosun

The categories are shown in the tabs above the products

We recommend adding narrow signs to make sure visitors understand that more content can be found clicking on those tabs. Think of a drop-down sign like we use in our main menu:

Screenshot of the main menu of Yoast.com

The drop-down signs after each menu item

You’ll see that these signs will make it clearer to your visitors that they can click on the tabs. Make your site as user-friendly as possible, because the signals users provide are precious as Google uses these as well in their algorithm. Since SEO and UX are increasingly tied, it’s important to improve those user signals.

Using buttons to guide your visitors

Clear buttons can have a positive effect on the page path visitors take. You can guide your visitors to the pages you want them to go to next page. For example, you could add a button below each product which says ‘More information’. Doing this, you guide the visitors to the specific product pages and you make sure visitors understand that they can find more content related to the product by clicking on it. Now, the only way visitors see that there is a link behind the product on the current overview is by hovering over the image.

The product pages already have clear calls-to-action added: buttons which say ‘Where to buy’:

The ‘Where to buy’ button is a clear call-to-action

However, there is a way to increase the number of clicks on this button. We recommend changing the color of the button into a color that’s not in your color scheme. Doing this, the button will stand out more and might get more visitors to click on the button. Don’t you think the button catches your eye when it’s in another color?

We’ve changed the color of the button to make it stand out more

Of course, if you have a sufficient amount of traffic you can – and should – do A/B tests for these kinds of things. After an A/B test, you can easily conclude what color works best.

The last tip we want to give for the product page is related to the ‘Where to buy’ section. After clicking on the button, a screen pops up with the names of all the different resellers of the products. However, the only supplier which contains a link is Amazon and this logo is placed at the bottom of the popup screen. When visitors come to your website, they are already online, and they might immediately want to buy your products online. This means that it could be a good idea to guide them to Amazon first to give them the opportunity to buy your products directly.

Make sure your website loads fast

An important issue on the website of Calypso is page speed. Page speed is crucial in the eyes of Google and is considered to be a ranking factor in the future mobile-first index. The longer it takes to load a page, the less user-friendly the page is. Probably you’ll agree that it can be annoying if you have to wait too long for a web page to load. Visitors will bounce because of the loading times and this is a negative user signal, like we mentioned before.

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Testing the website of Calypso in the Google PageSpeed Tool we noticed a very low score: 18/100. This means you’ll have to start working on the loading times of the website. All possible improvements regarding speed are listed in the Google PageSpeed tool. We recommend starting with enabling compression and with optimizing images. Resolving those two issues probably results in the quickest and easiest increase in the page speed score.

To sum it up

We really loved reviewing the website of your well-known sun protection brand. You’ve created a very clean and clear website and with a couple of changes, you can improve your site’s SEO as well.

For your homepage, we recommend removing the slider and instead, add a clear image which reflects the website. Some introductory content will tell your visitors what the website is about and with a clear call-to-action you can guide your visitors to the most important pages.

To make those crucial pages even stronger, we recommend setting up an internal linking strategy. Make sure your internal linking reflects the hierarchy of the website to help Google understand the site structure. Besides that, using the right headings will improve the site structure as well.

And last, but definitely not least, working on your site’s loading times can be very beneficial. Increasing the page speed score will be valuable for both your visitors as for your site’s SEO. Good luck!

Read more: ‘Ask Yoast case study: SEO of an online shop’ »

This is the third post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Previously, I’ve listed the most important aspects that influence your local ranking and discussed how to get the most out of Google My Business. Here, I’ll focus on another essential asset for local SEO: optimizing your website for local search. Learn why and how to do that!

Your website is one of your most important pieces of digital equity, and one of the fundamental components of a successful local marketing stack. It’s a crucial communication vehicle from you to your customers. Regardless of changing consumer search and social media behavior over time, it will remain a place that consumers visit. It’s the place to get more information about and connect with your business.

All that being said, it may surprise you to learn that your website makes up a relatively small part of Google’s local ranking algorithm. Google is famously secretive about how it ranks local businesses. But the experts surveyed for the Local Search Ranking Factors peg website influence at only around 14% for local pack results, and only 24% for local organic results. More on the distinction later in this post.

Your website is the ranking factor over which you have complete control, however. This makes it an ideal asset from which to begin your local marketing campaigns. Let’s take a look at the most important website optimization criteria (also known as on-site optimization or on-page optimization). Improving your performance across each of these criteria will help you rank better for local searches, and attract more customers.

Crawlability

Google has built a giant database of hundreds of trillions of webpages which its algorithm then analyzes and ranks. It does this by sending out scores of digital robots, or “spiders,” which visit page after page. They “click on” the links on each page to see where they lead. We refer to this activity as “crawling.” 

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Technical issues

As a business owner, you want to make sure that Google’s spiders are crawling your website and storing its contents in their database appropriately. The quickest way to assess your website’s crawlability for major hurdles to Google’s spiders is to enter this search at Google: [site:yourdomain.com]. For example:

number of results in search

Before you browse the list of results, take a look at the number that Google returns and judge whether it’s more-or-less accurate. For example, if you have a 5-page website and Google returns 1000 pages, or if you have a 1000-page website and Google only returns 5 pages, you have a major technical issue with your site. You may want to dive into that with the Yoast SEO plugin, or even bring in outside assistance.

You should also register your website with Google Search Console for additional technical advice and other testing tools. You can read more about GSC here.

Site architecture

The term site architecture, for the purposes of this article, refers to the arrangement of the functional and visual aspects of your website. Essentially it’s the hierarchy of pages within your site, and the hierarchy of content within each page.

When it comes to local search, there are a couple of key best practices to follow for your site architecture.

First, place your basic contact information in the header (usually at the top righthand side) and footer of your website. You want to make it as easy as possible for customers who land on your website to contact you or to make a transaction. No matter what page they enter first.

My friend Willi Galloway’s Perch Furniture website does an excellent job with this feature.

It’s also a good idea to have a dedicated “Contact us” page with more detailed information about your business. Make sure you link to this page from your homepage, and ideally from your primary navigation menu as well.

Contact page content

Your contact page should contain the same information you submitted to Google My Business (address, phone number, and hours). It should also contain an email address or contact form for customers who prefer email to voice calls. If you collect reviews and testimonials from customers, this is a good page to include at least a handful of those.

If you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar business, you should include written driving directions from population centers near you. These driving directions not only help prospective customers but also help Google identify markets you serve (more on this in the Relevance section below). Include an embedded Google Map too, as Google may track clicks for driving driving directions as a ranking factor.

If you’re a Service Area Business, your contact page should mention the major surrounding towns and cities that your business serves. You might even consider building a unique page for each of these major towns and cities. Link to them from your contact page and fill them with case studies and testimonials from customers in those markets.

The Perfectly Optimized Local Landing Page, by Bowler Hat and Search Engine Land

 

Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat Marketing has put together this excellent example above.

Advice for businesses with multiple locations

If your business operates more than one physical location, it’s essential to create a unique page for each one. Including a unique page for each location helps your customers (and Google) avoid conflating contact information between them. It’s also the best way to expand your local ranking potential to multiple cities.

If you operate a handful of locations, link to the contact page for each one from the footer of each page of your website.  If you operate more than a handful, link to a store locator page from your primary navigation or other utility menu.

Special markup: Schema.org

Schema.org is a code protocol developed jointly by the world’s top search engines. It’s created to make it easier for companies to structure the data they present on their websites. One of the most widely-used schemas is for business contact information.

As my friend Mary Bowling says, marking up your contact information in schema.org is like “handing Google a business card”. Google’s pretty smart, but rather than leaving to chance that it will be able to crawl your contact info, why not do everything you can to guarantee it?

It’s not clear that marking up your contact information in schema.org will directly improve your rankings. But it can give your organic results some extra visual impact, increasing chances that customers will click on your result.

schema.org local seo

There are various schemas for LocalBusiness, with more added every year, including LegalService, AutomotiveBusiness, and more.

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Crawlability made easy: the Yoast Local SEO plugin

Whew! That’s a lot of advice to consider. Luckily, you can use the Yoast Local SEO plugin to take care of lots of it. You’ll have to add the proper pages to your WordPress-powered website and link them appropriately from your menus yourself. But the plugin handles most of the technical details required for your contact page, and I highly recommend it.

Mobility

At the moment, the average consumer is surprisingly forgiving of non-mobile-friendly websites. 70% of all local searches, however, are projected to come from mobile devices within the next two years. So businesses that fail to prepare their websites for this reality are going to see customer conversions – and search rankings – drop significantly.

The SEO industry cried wolf on Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update a couple of years ago. But now the tea leaves are very clear that mobility will be a significant ranking factor in the coming years. You can prepare for the inevitable by making your website faster, and making it easier for mobile visitors to use.

Test your site’s mobile friendliness

Google provides this easy-to-use free tool to test how friendly your website is for mobile visitors. It warns you about any major suboptimal features, and renders a screenshot of how your site appears for the majority of mobile visitors.

Improve mobile user experience

Google also provides a detailed guide of how to improve the user experience of your website for mobile visitors. Key aspects of user experience to keep in mind:

  • Does the width of your website automatically adjust to the screen size (“viewport”) of the visitor’s device?
  • Does text automatically resize for mobile visitors, so that they don’t have to pinch-and-scroll to read it?
  • Are your calls to action and other buttons large enough for people to click with their fingers and thumbs?

These kinds of adjustments for the mobile visitor comprise what’s known as “responsive” behavior. If your WordPress website is not yet responsive it’s time to upgrade your theme to one that is.

Make your site faster

And of course, one of the biggest website improvements you can make is to get your site to load faster. We’ve all been frustrated by sites that load slowly, or won’t load at all, on slower data connections. Sites that load quickly help build positive digital engagement with your business, and there’s some evidence to suggest that both load time and engagement with your content improve your rankings.

Conveniently, Google also provides a free tool to assess how quickly your site loads relative to others. This one is an extremely tough grader though! It’s rare to see sites score above the 75-80 range. Nonetheless if you want to supercharge your website speed, Google provides free advice for how to do it. Find it in the Possible Optimizations section of this tool.

Relevance

Thus far I’ve focused mostly on the technical aspects of your website. But if your technically-optimized website features weak or irrelevant content, you’re going to rank poorly – and attract very few customers.

From a content standpoint, the goal of your website is to communicate a strong “scent” to both Google and users about exactly what products or services you offer, and where you offer them.

What keywords (keyphrases) to target

At the risk of stating the obvious: you want to be relevant for keywords and phrases that your customers are searching for. This typically means using generic layperson’s terms to describe your products and services as opposed to industry jargon. (Unless you’re in a very niche business-to-business industry.) An example from the medical field would be to use “ear, nose, and throat doctor” instead of “otolaryngologist.” 

Keyword research is an entire sub-discipline within SEO and it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole. But there are a couple of easy sources for good keywords to target:

  • Pay attention to the language that customers use in their phone calls with you (or your staff) and in emails and contact forms.
  • Pay attention to the category terms that Google My Business returns when you type related keywords.
  • Perform a search for each of the terms above and scroll to the bottom of the results page. Google will list terms related to the one you searched for, front-and-center.

Build a master list of these terms and match them up with pages on your website, one keyword to one page. It’s entirely likely each page will rank for far more terms than the keyword you target. But it’s good to keep your pages focused on a small handful of terms.

In addition to talking about your products or services, you should include your city and state or metropolitan area as part of these keyphrases as well. As I mentioned in the comments of my previous post Google has gotten better at detecting the area that a local business website serves – particularly for websites that use schema.org. But it’s still a good practice to sprinkle these geographic keywords liberally within your website.

Where to place your keywords

Your Title Tags are far-and-away the most important places to put your keywords. Note that Title tags and the Page or Post titles that you enter in WordPress are not the same thing.

To see what your existing Title Tags are, perform the “site:yourdomain.com” search I mentioned earlier in the Crawlability section.

The blue link text associated with each page in these results is the Title Tag of that page.

For editing your Title Tags, the Yoast SEO plugin is a godsend. Pull up your list of keywords to target from the previous section and add them to the corresponding pages. Personally, I like to use the Yoast plugin Bulk Editor (SEO -> Tools -> Bulk Editor in your WordPress dashboard) to make these changes efficiently.

Take some time in crafting each Title Tag, though. Don’t just stuff your keywords in willy-nilly and then tack on your city and state (or region or county) at the end. Remember that in addition to conveying to Google the terms for which you want your business to be relevant, these are the phrases that your prospective customers will see when they’re searching. So make these Titles enticing for visitors as well as keyword-focused.

For example, which Title Tag would you be more likely to click on?

Option 1:

Car Insurance Agent – Luxury Car Insurance Agent – Car Insurance Agency – Portland, Oregon

Option 2:

Portland’s Top Locally-Owned Car Insurance Agency since 1954: Smith Insurance

I’d certainly choose Option 2, and most of your customers would also.

It’s also a best practice to include your target keywords in your WordPress page/post titles and other headlines. Nevertheless it’s far more important to write these for your visitors than it is to write them for Google.

The final place to use your keywords is within the text of links you use on your website (known as “anchor text”). So for example, instead of saying “click here,” you might say “click here to contact our insurance agency” to help Google gain a little more context about what services your contact page is relevant for.

The changing place of your website in Google’s Local SERP Topography

As I hinted in Part I of this series, we’re moving into a world with more place-based (mobile and voice) results and fewer website-based (desktop) results. Increasingly, Google is trying to extract as much structured information as it can from your website and place it front-and-center in the Knowledge Panel it constructs with the information from Google My Business.

This Knowledge Panel information will form the basis for voice responses from Google Home and other personal assistants. After all, listening to an assistant read an entire webpage after you asked it a question would not be much fun!

This shift is why the Crawlability section above was the longest part of this article. It’s important that your website give Google (and visitors) a strong sense of what you do and where you do it, but it’s even more important that Google can crawl that information, assimilate it, and present it in a structured format.

As a result, tactics like Schema.org markup and tools like the Yoast Local SEO Plugin that help structure information about your business are becoming that much more important. Your content is still critical, but start thinking of your website primarily as a data source for the Knowledge Graph and as a customer destination secondarily.

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Summary

  • Ensure your website is crawlable with the site:yourdomain.com search. Note the number of results.
  • Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly and Page Speed tools to ensure your website converts the most mobile visitors possible, and make it easy to contact you from the top and bottom of every page.
  • Build a unique contact page for each location that you operate and mark up your location information in Schema.org with the Yoast Local SEO Plugin.
  • Use keywords relevant to your products and services that your customers are searching for, especially in your Title Tags and internal links.
  • Continue to monitor your Knowledge Panel, and those of other businesses in your industry, for additional structured information sought by Google.

Read more: ‘Ranking your local business at Google: Introduction’ »

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’ »

Today we’re releasing Yoast SEO 5.2. In this brand new version you’ll find some feature enhancements, accessibility improvements and a couple of bug fixes. In addition to that, we’ve laid some groundwork that will help us make Yoast SEO work well with the plugins our users use most. Read about all the improvements here!

Accessibility

Web accessibility is something we always urge website owners to think about and improve. As we can’t let our own products fall behind, we regularly work on the accessibility of the plugins we develop. This time, we scrutinized the accessibility of the onboarding wizard of Yoast SEO and improved it so everyone will be able to use it well. 

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Redirects for private posts

The redirects manager of Yoast SEO Premium is one of the features we’re most proud of. It makes creating redirects – and therefore preventing 404s – so much easier, and helps site owners to be less dependent of developers. As of this release, we’ve added an enhancement to this feature. From now on, if you trash a post that’s set to private, Yoast SEO Premium will also ask if you want to redirect the old url to a new one. 

Compatibility

One thing that keeps challenging plugin developers like us is to make plugins work with all the different plugins that our users use. There are so many plugins out there – not even to mention the various combinations of plugins that exist. To improve the compatibility of our plugins, we’ve added tracking to find out which other plugins our Premium users have installed. This will help us tremendously in making Yoast SEO work flawlessly on more WordPress installs. For the same reason, we’re tracking which PHP version our user’s websites are running on.

Speaking of PHP, if your site is running on PHP version 5.3 or lower, you couldn’t have missed the notice to urge you to move to a newer version since our 4.5 release. Does this WHIP notice keep annoying you? Then we have some good news for you. You can now dismiss the notice. After 4 weeks it will pop up again though, as we still believe upgrading to a newer PHP version is the best way to go.

That’s about it. Go update to 5.2 and enjoy this brand new version of Yoast SEO!

Read more: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

This is the second post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Google My Business (GMB) is a free product that allows business owners to verify and submit basic details about their business to Google. Owners can also engage with existing and potential customers across Google’s properties.

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After starting its life as a rudimentary web form called the Local Business Center, Google My Business has matured into a highly sophisticated product over the last decade. In the last couple of years, GMB received many improvements. GMB is an essential part of a well-thought-out local SEO strategy.

GMB offers highly-rated companion apps on both the App Store and Google Play. It also provides metrics about the visibility and engagement with your business that no other product does (including Google Analytics).

Eligibility for Google My Business

Any business with a bonafide brick-and-mortar location is eligible for a Google My Business listing at that location. For businesses with two or more locations, each location would be eligible for a distinct GMB listing.

A common question I get from business owners at conferences is:

“I operate my business out of my house and I don’t want people to know my address–what do I do?”

Well, if you don’t operate a walk-up brick-and-mortar location, but visit your customers in a particular geographic area, you’re what’s called a “Service Area Business.” Examples of Service Area Businesses are plumbers, carpet cleaners, and courier services. In this case, you’re still eligible for a listing. However, you’ll want to choose “Yes” when Google asks if you deliver goods and services to customers at their location.

Google My Business

Just because you serve customers in a given market does not mean you’re eligible for a Google My Business listing in that market. For example, an eCommerce company based in Chicago would not be eligible for a GMB listing in Dallas just because they had customers in Dallas.

Verifying your location

Google tries to make sure that only legitimate businesses are represented in GMB. It requires anyone who attempts to claim a Listing verify their association with the business in some way.

The easiest way to start the process is to perform a desktop search at Google for your business name (for example, “Pacific Seafood Portland”). In the panel on the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see a link that poses the question “Own this business?” Importantly–before you click that link to begin the verification process–make sure you are either not signed in to Google (you can create an account in the next step), or are signed into a Google account for your business as opposed to your personal Gmail.

GMB own this business

It’s not a GMB requirement, though; however, it’ll be much easier to share access to your listing with employees or other agents of your company from a business account.

Once you fill out the most basic information (see below for what these details are), if it can corroborate your address and phone number, Google will call and ask you to enter a PIN number on screen. If it hasn’t previously seen a business with the phone number and address you submitted, you’ll be mailed a postcard within a week with instructions for how to PIN verify.

Primary Business Information

Name, Address and Phone

This sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many business owners overthink these core attributes or try to “optimize” them.

Your Name, Address, and Phone (NAP) are your basic thumbprint online. If they don’t reflect your business accurately at Google My Business, Google (and your customers) lose trust that you are who you say you are. They will stop sending business your way.

  • Do NOT stuff keywords in your business name. Represent yourself as you would answer the phone or welcome a customer into your store. You probably see spammers doing this and succeeding all the time, but at some point, it’ll come back to bite them. Google is monitoring for these kinds of abuses all the time and getting better at blacklisting the abusers.
  • Submit the same address you use on your website. (If you’re a Yoast user, this should be the address you enter in the Yoast Local SEO plugin.) Even if you’re a service-area business, you’ll have to submit a physical address and not a PO box or other mailing-only address.
  • You’ll see a map displayed just alongside your address. Zoom in and double-check that the pin is in the correct place on your business. Google’s pin precision for U.S. addresses is typically pretty good, but it can be spotty in other countries.
  • Don’t use a tracking phone number to segment customers coming from Google vs. other sources. There are ways to do this, but they’re pretty advanced. Implementing tracking numbers incorrectly can do tremendous damage to your local search rankings.

Category

From a rankings standpoint, the category field is the most important attribute you can optimize at Google My Business. In my experience, it’s best not to listen to Google’s advice on categories on this one, particularly since that advice has changed so frequently over the years.

GMB category selection

Google maintains a taxonomy of several thousand categories to describe local businesses. By typing in a few characters of a keyword that describes your business, you’ll probably find a match pretty closely.

Google suggests “using as few categories as possible,” as well as categories that are “as specific as possible.”  And while it’s true that Google can and does “detect category information from your website and from mentions about your business throughout the web,” my advice is to explicitly specify as many relevant categories as you can on your Google My Business listing.

If you operate a small restaurant that’s open from 7 am – 3 pm, select “Breakfast Restaurant,” “Brunch Restaurant,” “Lunch Restaurant,” “Restaurant,” “Cafe,” “Coffee Shop,” and any other relevant category. Take the time to enter multiple keywords that describe your business and see which categories match. Use all of them that are relevant.

Google’s automated review system may remove one or two from your listing, but this is not spam–provided you select relevant categories–. It helps you show up for as broad a range of searches as possible.

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Website

Google calls this field “website,” but it doesn’t have to be your “website” per se. In particular, if you operate more than one location, you may want to enter the page on your website that corresponds to the location you’re submitting to Google (rather than your homepage). Opinions are mixed as to whether listing your homepage or a location page will help you rank better, so do what’s best for prospective customers. If you think your homepage will give them the best initial sense of your business, then submit that as your “website.” If a location page (or even some other page) will give them a better sense, submit that instead.

Secondary Business Information

After entering the attributes above, you’re asked to verify your listing. But don’t stop there. There are a few other attributes that are well worth your time to add.

Photos and Images

Photos may be the most neglected attribute in all of local search. The success of Instagram, Pinterest, and any number of lesser-known apps indicates just how visual our internet culture has become. Consumers often select (or reject) a business because of its photos. Not only on the content of the photos but their quality and professionalism.

Photos are especially important in the mobile ecosystem that Google My Business powers (including Google Maps), where they are the dominant representation of a business in Google’s card-focused user interface.

As with all local media or social media sites, Google My Business has its own image format requirements. Take some time to review them and make sure you have high-quality assets for each format.

Optimizing your photos also offers a great opportunity to engage your customers. At the very least place the ones you’re considering at your point of sale and ask them to choose which one they like better.  Or get even more creative and start a contest among your customers to show your business in its best light, with the winner–as voted on by other customers–receiving a cash prize or gift card.

Hours

Selecting your opening hours is pretty straightforward. Google has dramatically improved its interface for telling customers when you’re open over the past several years. Hours will be front-and-center wherever customers interact with your business on Google so they should definitely be accurate.

You can now even daypart multiple times during the day, and add specific hours for holidays and special events.

GMB popular times

While you can’t control it, you may be interested to know that Google now displays the busy-ness of your business in real-time. This is based on aggregate location-tracking of visitors with Android phones and iOS Google Maps users with location services enabled.

Menu URLs

Certain categories of businesses will have the option to add a link to a menu.  If you’re lucky enough to be in one of these categories, I highly recommend adding this link, as it gives Google an additional set of keywords that your business for which should be considered relevant.

Advanced Information

These are low priority fields. All three are geared primarily towards large multi-location businesses and franchises.

GMB advanced information

Ranking factors beyond your control

Two significant ranking factors over which you have little control have to do with the physical location of your business.

The first is the proximity of your business to the location where your prospective customer is performing her search. All other things being equal, Google will choose to display a business closer to the searcher than one farther away from her.

In the early years of Google, its algorithm favored businesses which were close to the center of a given city or its “centroid.” Google simply wasn’t as good at detecting the location of the searcher. It defaulted to showing businesses in the areas of highest population density.

This factor has declined in importance, especially for mobile searches where Google has a precise idea of where you are. Google has also gotten better and better at detecting the location information of desktop searchers, partially through surreptitious means of collection.

The second factor is having an address in the city in which your customer is searching.  If your customer is searching in Seattle, your Tacoma or Bellevue-based coffee shop won’t appear, simply because it’s not relevant for that search.

Short of opening additional locations to target areas where high concentrations of your customers are searching, there’s not much you can do to optimize for these ranking factors, but you should be aware of their importance.

Google My Business Insights

Google provides a free, lightweight analytics package as part of GMB. This gives you a basic sense of how customers and potential customers are viewing and interacting with your listing.

Insights shows how many times your listing appears in plain old search vs. Google Maps. It also shows the number of clicks to your website, requests for driving directions, and phone calls.

There’s also a simple breakdown of how many customers see your listing for direct searches (for your business specifically) vs. discovery searches (for businesses in your category). While no one outside of Google is entirely sure how they calculate the discovery number, it’s probably as good a barometer for the overall strength of your local SEO as any, particularly if you track it over time.

Unfortunately, this is harder than it should be, as GMB Insights are only visible as snapshots-in-time. Unless you remember to check them regularly and transfer them to a spreadsheet along with the date, it can be difficult to track your growth. Strangely, there’s no default longitudinal view built into the product.

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Troubleshooting GMB Listing Issues

The most common GMB troubleshooting issue continues to be the existence of duplicate listings for the same business. While it’s gotten harder to detect duplicate listings, it’s much easier to close them. I’ll cover why duplicate listings are bad for your business in future installments of this series.

The first step to identifying duplicates is to search for your business name on maps.google.com. You’ll see a little more comprehensive list of potentially-matching results than Google is willing to present on Google.com.

GM duplicate closure

If it looks like multiple listings refer to your business, select the one you’d like to report as a duplicate and click “Suggest an Edit.” On the following screen, slide the “Place is permanently closed or never existed” bar to “Yes,” and select the radio button next to duplicate.

Google support staff are generally responsive to these kinds of reports within a week.  If you continue to have trouble, ask multiple people–co-workers, friends, family members, or relatives–to report the same problem, and it’s more likely Google will look at it.

If your issue seems particularly thorny, you’re most likely to get a response by tweeting @googlemybiz, the official Twitter support channel for GMB. And if Google support just isn’t cutting it, Joy Hawkins, who just started her own company last year after years as the GMB expert at a large agency, is an invaluable resource for troubleshooting additional issues.

The future of Google My Business

At various times in its past, Google My Business has seemed like the hot potato no one wanted to wind up holding at Google Headquarters.

That no longer seems to be the case. GMB has become Google’s front-line defense against Facebook’s overwhelming mindshare among small business owners. The main product has become much more robust. Google has released two major sub-products within GMB–Messaging and Posts–just within the last couple of months.

The goal of both products seems to be to get small business owners to engage with their customers via GMB on a regular basis, as opposed to a “set it and forget it” basis.

We’re also starting to see a handful of third-party integrations that allow customers to book appointments or order products directly from the Google search result for select businesses.

While it’s too early to tell whether usage of any of these new features might benefit your rankings, it’s something that experts in the local search community will be following closely in the coming months.

Summary

  • Represent your Name, Address, and Phone exactly as they appear to customers in the real world. These are not attributes to optimize.
  • Pay special attention to categories and select as many categories as are relevant for your business.
  • Upload great photos of your business, and if you don’t have any, consider hiring a professional photographer to do so.
  • Take advantage of the relatively new option to add a menu URL if you’re in a relevant business category.
  • Consider using the Discovery metric from GMB Insights as a barometer for the overall strength of your local SEO.
  • Pay attention to new engagement features from Google as they’re released.

Read more: ‘Ranking your local business at Google: Introduction’ »

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’ »